Even as crops offer diminishing returns to farmers, lease rentals on farmland in Punjab’s Malwa region continue to remain 25-30 per cent higher than Doaba and Majha, forcing farmers into a debt trap they find hard to escape. The region, which has 14 out of 22 districts of the state, has also seen 90 per cent of total farmer suicides in Punjab in the last two decades.
A large number of marginal, small and semi-medium farmers across the state cultivate land on lease. While lease rentals in Malwa are Rs 50,000 to 60000 per acre, they are between Rs 35,000 to 45,000 per acre in Doaba and Majha regions, barring a few exceptions.
According to records from office of Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue), total 2632 farmers committed suicides in Punjab in past two decades and over 90 per cent of these suicides were from Punjab’s Malwa region — mostly from Mansa, Sangrur, Bathinda, Barnala, Mukatsar, Patiala, Ludhiana districts. Even farmers suicides so far in 2017 have shown the same trend.
“In Malwa, south of Sutlej river and the main cotton belt of Punjab, lease rentals in some areas go as high as Rs 60,000 to Rs 65000 per acre, while the income from one acre is not more than Rs 65,000 to 75,000. In such conditions what is a farmer left with,” said Mukesh Malaudh, the Sangrur district president of Zameen Prapati Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC), which has been fighting to bring down lease rates. He added that when income is low, high lease rentals push farmers into debt and lead to suicides. Malaudh said that both panchayat and individual lease rentals were so high, that in most cases farmers only ended up paying the rent from their returns on the crop. He added that for Dalits who take land on lease mostly from panchayats, rates were brought down after struggle by outfits representing them.
General Secretary of Punjab Khet Mazdoor (PKM) Union, Lachhaman Singh Sewewala, said: “Whether crop is good or bad, the average rent rate per acre in Malwa remains Rs 50,000 to 60,000 per acre, which is very high comparatively.” He said that farmers take loan from institutional and non-institutional organisations to pay the rent and keep land with them.
Sewewala said the government must come up with a law to define land rentals against income.
Pendu Mazdoor Union, Punjab, spokesperson Kashmir Singh Kughshore, who is from Doaba, said due to their orgnisation’s struggle they could bring down the lease rents in the region, pointing out farmers here are now getting one acre at the rate of Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000.
Another reason for low lease rentals in Doaba, said Kughshore, was most of the land given out on lease being owned by NRIs, who strike deals from abroad. “Against low income, high rents are leading to severe economic distress among farmers resulting in suicides,” said Dr Amrik Singh, Agriculture Development Officer, Pathankot.
“When rent is almost equal to the earning, farmers would go under debt as apart from rent, they put money in the form of seeds, fertilisers, labour, pesticides etc… The rent must be controlled,” said a senior officer at PAU, Ludhiana.