To build consensus with states on the Centre’s land-leasing policy, Niti Aayog has set up a special cell on land policy, which will be headed by T Haque, who also led the committee that recommended the land-leasing laws to the government think-tank, a senior government official said.
Haque is the former head of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.
“Haque has been brought on board as the honourary chief of the special cell on land policy. He would be responsible for building a consensus with the states so that their land-leasing policy is contiguous with the Centre’s,” the official said. He added that Haque has been appointed for two years, but his tenure may be extended.
On the basis of recommendations put forth by the Haque-led expert committee, which was formed in September 2015, the Niti Aayog formed a model land-leasing law, which aimed at increasing productivity by reviving lease farming by the way of securing rights of agricultural land owners and helping them lease their land to tenant farmers.
According to a Niti Aayog source, it has circulated the model law to the states, and most of those ruled by the BJP have given a positive response, following which the Centre is considering a legislation for land leasing.
Currently, land leasing is prohibited in several states such as Kerala, Jammu & Kashmir, and Gujarat as the exercise is considered to be a relic of the abolished zamindari system. In some states, however, such as Tamil Nadu, land leasing is allowed with certain conditions disallowing the landowner to evict the tenant prematurely.
The model law will help increase farm productivity by reviving lease farming through securing the rights of the agricultural land owners and helping them lease their land to tenant farmers, who can then access credit and insurance from the government.
Due to lack of any legal framework for leasing, the informal tenants of agricultural land have, in many parts of the country, been deprived access to institutional credit, disaster relief, and other support services.
Prior to submitting its report to the Niti Aayog, the committee held several rounds of discussion with states, farmer organisations and civil society groups.
The situation, where beneficiaries of agricultural support services have been the land-owners and not the actual tillers, has fuelled problems of farmer suicides, default on agricultural loans among others. The proposed model law, however, does not restrict the owner of the land from selling the asset even during the lease period, as long as the cultivation rights of the tenant are not affected.
One of the key objectives of the model law is to facilitate insurance, disaster relief, and bank credit to the tenant without mortgaging of the leased land. Since the draft model law moots clear ownership of land with the lessor, it disallows using the asset for mortgage purposes.
Agricultural land leasing has hitherto been informal due to legal restrictions imposed by some states, and the expert committee found out that these restrictions have affected agricultural productivity growth.