Thousand of farmers in Punjab, most of them ‘kashtakar’, the landless who cultivate land mainly taken on lease from others, are likely to be hit by the new guidelines issued by the state’s Cooperative Societies department that put stringent conditions on them for availing short-term crop loans under the maximum credit limit (MCL).
As per the new conditions, any landless farmer seeking loan from a cooperative society to cultivate a plot of land taken on lease will have to submit an affidavit from the lessor mentioning details of plot. But what is more worrying for the landless farmer is that he will also have to mortgage some land to the cooperative society against the MCL on the leased land, a condition the lessor would be shy of fulfilling. Such farmers fear they may not be able to avail of cooperative loans from this Kharif season. This has happened for the first time in Punjab. Farmers say this will increase their dependence on private money lenders as well as commercial banks.
The new guidelines were issued recently by the office of Registrar of Cooperative Societies. The ‘kashtakar’ have been doing cultivation on leased land for decades. Chhota Singh of Khatriwala village in Buladha block of Mansa district is from the family of kashtakars. His family has been cultivating 6-7 acres of land for decades, growing wheat, paddy and cotton. “The owner of this land is settled in Patiala. Even on revenue records, we are the pucca kashtakar (permanent cultivator) of this land. And on that basis, we were getting the MCL for both Kharif and Rabbi crops from our village’s cooperative society,” he says. “For this Kharif season, our MCL was not made by the cooperative society because according to them, we are not eligible as we do not own the land,” he says.
“We went to an Arhtiya (private moneylender) and he promised us a loan,” Singh says. Balwant Singh, another farmer from the same village, says he owns two acres and takes another three acres on lease for farming purposes. “We used to get MCL on all five acres. This time, however, the cooperative society told me the MCL would be provided only on two acres which was in my name, and if I wanted to take MCL on the leased land, I needed to get an affidavit from my lessor and also mortgage some of my land to the cooperative society against the MCL of leased land,” he said.
“Even if I mortgage some of my land, my lessor will never give me an affidavit about the leased land. Such arrangements work on mutual understanding between the lessee and the lessor,” Balwant Singh says. Mehar Chand, secretary of the Khatriwala Cooperative Society, said, “Both these farmers earlier used to get MCL on the leased land too from us since they are ‘pucca’ (permanent) cultivators of that land as per revenue records too. But now, because they are not owner of that land, they will not get MCL for the same unless they provide an affidavit from their lessor.”
Kulwant Singh Kishangarh of Kishangarh village in Mansa district, who is also secretary of his village cooperative society, said loan disbursal had come down in his village too because of the new rule. He said “pucca kashtakars” are quite high in number in Mansa, Sangrur and and Patiala districts. “Neither farmers not their lessors will mortgage their land, which means all those who cultivates leased land will be deprived of MCLs,” says farmer Gurmit Singh, who takes 15 acres on land on lease for cultivation. He says his lessor has never given in writing that he cultivated his land.
“No landowner will give such an affidavit for the fear that the lessee does not claim the ownership of the land after cultivating the same for years together,” says farmer Satnam Singh, who has been giving 10 acres of his land on lease to a tiller for decades but there is no legal proof of it.
“Several cases of denial of MCLs for kashtakars are being reported from every village in Patiala, Mansa, and Sangrur districts and several other blocks across the state,” said Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakunda) general secretary Jagmohan Singh. Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan), said such cases were also being reported from villages in Moga, Faridkot, Firozpur, Mukatsar and Bathinda.
State’s Registrar Of Cooperative Societies Arvinder Singh Bains could not be contacted. Dr S K Batish, managing director of Punjab State Cooperative Bank Ltd., said the new guidelines would even facilitate the landless farmers to avail of MCL on short-term crop loan. Earlier, they were not eligible for the same but now they can avail of loan if they submit an affidavit from the lessor, he said.