Hyderabad: With the State government making it clear that it cannot extend the Rythu Bandhu scheme to tenant farmers mainly on account of difficulties in identification, the appeal to medium and rich farmers to transfer the scheme benefits to their tenant farmers is gaining momentum by the day. The argument is that the tenant farmers can be helped by reducing the lease amount or other means of benefit. About 5.46 lakh of total 57.24 lakh farmers own more than five acres area each and will receive nearly Rs 1,795 crore under the scheme.
Though accurate data is unavailable, more than 13 lakh tenant farmers are estimated to be cultivating lands on lease in Telangana State. Tenant farmers in the State pay about Rs 15,000-Rs 50,000 per acre every year depending on the crop, location, soil quality and irrigation facilities available. They argue that landlords were already availing benefits like input subsidy from the government, but not extending the benefits to them.
“Landlords in my village avail crop loans for lesser interest rate and use the amount for other purposes, while tenant farmers like me struggle to get even hand loans at a higher interest rate. We appreciate the State government for launching the Rythu Bandhu scheme, and if the benefits are passed on to us, we would be able to cultivate larger areas and earn better profits,” urged P Sudhakar Rao, a tenant farmer from Ashwapuram near Dummugudem project in Khammam district.
However, the land-owning farmers argue that they lease out lands for small amounts on a demand-and-supply basis. “Unlike residential and commercial spaces, agricultural land does not earn us huge rents. I leased out my land for Rs 20,000 per acre per annum to protect my land from occupation as I am away in Hyderabad. As my tenant is not ready to hike the rent, why should I lose the crop investment provided by the government,” questioned G Tirupati, a land-owner from Shanigaram village in Siddipet district. He earns an annual income of Rs 60,000 from three acres land from tenant farmers.
Amidst these arguments, agricultural experts and farmers unions’ leaders are suggesting that the government consider various options to extend the Rythu Bandhu scheme to tenant farmers.
Indian Institute of Millets Research Director Vilas A Tonapi felt that a mechanism should be worked out to identify genuine tenant farmers with the involvement of officials from revenue and agriculture departments as well as other stakeholders. “Given the long-term benefits of the scheme, we cannot support fly-by-night farmers who are not serious about agriculture or just eyeing benefits from the government. Unless we identify genuine tenant farmers, it would be a tough task for the government to benefit tenant farmers,” he said.
Admitting that the Rythu Bandhu scheme was one of the best agricultural schemes introduced by any government, Telangana Rythu Sangham general secretary T Sagar felt that denying benefits to tenant farmers can be avoided through identification of tenant farmers. He suggested that the government issue identity cards on the lines of loan eligibility cards (LECs) issued for tenant farmers to avail crop loans from banks. “Though they (LECs) were issued to only 50,000 tenant farmers in 2015, many of them were able to avail crop loans from the banks,” he said. He suggested that tenant farmers can be identified by the government with the help of grama sabhas and keep track of the data using latest technology.
However, the State government had already ruled out the possibilities stating that all options were explored before the launch of the scheme. During the launch of the scheme, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao already pointed out that tenant farmers have no legal right on the land that they cultivate and also the government has no role in agreements between land-owning and tenant farmers. The officials also stated that they cannot afford misuse of the scheme as more than 51 lakh farmers will be benefitted from the scheme directly.
Rythu Bandhu cheque encashment made easy
Farmers who have not been issued new pattadar passbooks but have been handed their Rythu Bandhu cheques will be able to encash them once their cheques are certified by the respective tahsildars, the government said.
In a GO issued on Wednesday, the Agriculture and Cooperation Department said that it was agreed upon by the government and bankers at a meeting on May 14 to allow encashment of cheques by such farmers. As per the amendment issued in G.O. RT No. 317, farmers to whom pattadar passbooks have not been issued but have been given the Rythu Bandhu cheques, can have their authenticity attested by the respective tahsildars using a simple proforma.
This will enable farmers to encash their Rythu Bandhu cheques as long as the farmer presents, instead of the passbook due to him or her, a valid proof of identity to the bank which includes photo identity documents such as Aadhaar or PAN card, NREGA job card, driving license, Indian passport or voter ID, the government said.