The opposition Congress has called amendments to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act 1961 — which were passed in the state legislature last week by the BJP government with the support of the opposition Janata Dal (Secular) — a “death warrant” for farmers.
The amendments allow non-agriculturists to buy agricultural land in the state. Successive governments have in recent years gradually diluted land ownership norms under the Land Reforms Act to facilitate industrial growth and agricultural land ownership by non-farmers.
What are the latest amendments?
The Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2020 has repealed three key sections of the Karnataka Land Reforms Act of 1961 which imposed certain restrictions on ownership of farmland.
The amendments have done away with Section 79A of the Act that allowed only those earning less than Rs 25 lakh per annum to buy agricultural land, and Section 79B that said only people earning a living through agriculture could buy agricultural land. The amendment has also removed Section 79C of the Act, which allowed revenue departments to investigate alleged violations of Sections 79A and 79B during land purchases. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
What rationale has the state government cited?
Revenue Minister R Ashok, who piloted the Bill, said during discussions that the sections proposed to be repealed from the Act were only facilitating corruption in the offices of land registrars and tahsildars, rather than benefiting farmers who wanted to sell their land. He said over 13,814 cases of violation of Sections 79 A and B were pending without any action being taken. “The sections of the law are losing their relevance in the present situation and a report was given to carry out changes in urban areas during the tenure of the Congress itself,” he said.
Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa has said irrigated agricultural land, and land owned by SC/ST communities, will remain protected as farmland despite the amendments. Only 2% of the agricultural land in the state has been used for industrial purposes, he has said.
What is the Congress’s objection?
Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah has said the amendment will result in the loss of agricultural land that could have been cultivated to meet food requirements. He has alleged that the amendment is intended to benefit the real estate mafia in Bengaluru.
“Under Sections 79 A and B, there are 13,814 cases pending in the courts involving around 60,000 acres in and around Bengaluru. Assuming a rate of around Rs 2 crore for each acre, property worth Rs 1.2 lakh crore will be freed up by this Act,” Siddaramaiah has said. “The retrospective nature of the Bill shows the government is hand in glove with corporate bodies and housing societies,. The law will be a death warrant for farmers, farm workers and Dalits. Farmer groups like the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha too have opposed the amendments.
In August 2015, the Congress government headed by Siddaramiah, too, had eased rules for land acquisition by people not engaged in agriculture. The Karnataka Land Reforms (Amendment) Bill, 2015 amended Section 79A and enhanced the annual income ceiling for acquisition of land by persons not engaged in agriculture from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 25 lakh. At that time, it was the then opposition BJP and JDS that had argued that the amendment would only help real estate businesses acquire more land around cities.
And what is the JD(S)’s stand?
The JD(S) initially opposed the amendments proposed by the BJP on the ground that they were not in the interest of farmers. It specifically opposed an amendment proposed to Section 63A to increase the ceiling for land holdings — from 54 acres to 108 acres for a family of five, and from 108 acres to 216 acres for a family of 10. After the government dropped the move to amend Section 63A, the JD(S) supported the Bill. JD(S) leader H D Kumaraswamy said last week that he himself had to face allegations of violation of Sections 79 A and B over ownership of nearly 50 acres of agricultural land on Bengaluru’s outskirts.
Under what circumstances has the move been taken?
There has been growing pressure from industry to amend land ownership laws to bring them in line with those in the neighbouring states in order to facilitate growth away from the stagnant agriculture sector. Yediyurappa had promised such changes during his visit to the World Economic Forum at Davos early this year as an incentive to attract investors.
In March this year, the government passed a Bill to amend Section 109 of the 1961 Act to allow industries to sell agricultural land they had bought for industrial purposes (rather than return it to the government at no cost) if they failed to carry on with the planned industry. The amendment allowed such sale after seven years of running the industry.
The ruling BJP has argued that curbs on sale and purchase of agricultural land in Karnataka do not exist in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu. “In Ballari, land is Rs 1.10 crore an acre while in neighbouring Ananthapur (Andhra) the land costs only Rs 10 lakh. Investors were going to Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as a consequence,” said C R Janardhana, president, Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “The land reforms will change this. There is an opportunity to employ one crore people with acquisition of another 2% of land.”