While the TRS is hoping that welfare schemes of the K Chandrashekar Rao government will ensure its victory in the upcoming Assembly polls, the farmers in Telangana have a different story to tell.
According to NGOs working in the agriculture sector, 4,400 farmers in Telangana committed suicide in the past four years. And it is this discontent within the community that may dent the ruling party’s prospects.
Gangadhar is a kaulu rythula (tenant farmer) in Vemulavada, located around 150 km from Hyderabad and near the Sirculla Assembly constituency represented by KCR’s son and incumbent minister K T Rama Rao. As he harvests cotton on the four acres of land he has taken on lease, Gangadhar is sure that he would not be able to farm the next year. “I will hardly be able to make any profit from this as there was not enough rain. This year was bad and I have spent almost Rs 35,000 on this. I might get just 12 quintal cotton from this.”
Gangadhar is not a beneficiary of the state government’s flagship Rythu Bandhu scheme, which gives Rs 4,000 per acre to every farmer as investment subsidy for each of Kharif and Rabi crops. The scheme has excluded the tenant farmers — a reason for widespread dissatisfaction among the farming community. The subsidy goes to the landowners, most of whom don’t cultivate the land themselves and lend it to tenant farmers for cultivation. Most of these landowners have left the villages and taken up jobs in cities.
At Badanapalli in Sircilla, tenant farmer Shantamma is all set to harvest the cotton she planted on two acres of land. She says she does not understand the “logic” behind the scheme. “The owner of this land does not spend a penny or shed a single drop of sweat on this soil. I am the one who sows the seeds, takes care of them and harvests them. But I do not get a single penny from the government,” Shantamma. “We toil for six months to get this,” she said, pointing towards the cotton.
While the government claims the tenant farmers comprise only a small percentage of farmers in the state, NGOs say they account for around 30 per cent. According to Kondala Reddy of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, an umbrella organisation of farmer groups, there are 15 lakh tenant farmers, 5 lakh forest side farmers and 1.25 endowment farmers and none of them get benefits of the Rythu Bandhu scheme. “Above 30 per cent of farmers in the state are tenant farmers. Tenant farmers account for 75 per cent of farmers who committed suicide,” Reddy said.
The scheme covers 1.42 crore acres in 31 districts and every farmer owning land is eligible. Officials say 92 per cent of beneficiaries own less than 5 acres, 5 per cent own between 5 and 10 acres and the remaining own more than 10 acres. Support to farmers under Rythu Bandhu scheme could be increased to Rs 10,000 per acre per annum from the current Rs 8000, KCR announced last month.
Although official records show that the state has 57 lakh agricultural landowners, there is no record of tenant farmers. This is cited as one reason for not extending the scheme’s benefits to them.
Amendments to Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Passbooks Act 1971 in November 2017 removed mortgagees and tenants from the category of persons that can apply for passbooks, which are essential for receiving aid from the state. Banks too refuse to give them loans. These farmers staged protests recently demanding that the government implement Licensed Cultivators Act of 2011 that made them eligible to get Loan Eligibility Cards.
While Shantamma does not think the disappointment among tenant farmers would hit TRS’s prospects in the elections, Gangadhar said anger among farmers like him could at least dent the ruling party’s performance. “The party’s manifesto does not promise much for the farmers and is silent on tenant farmers. This could have adverse impact on its prospects. Especially, because Mahakutami [the Opposition alliance comprising Congress, TDP, Telangana Jana Samithi and CPI] has promised that the scheme could be extended to tenant farmers,” Reddy said.
Discontent among farmers is brewing in districts like Karimnagar, Warangal, Adilabad, Khammam and Jayashanker-Bhupalpally, among others, and has become a highlight of election speeches. At Parkala in Warangal, tenant farmers stopped convoys of incumbent Finance Minister Etela Rajender and other candidates and asked if they will press for inclusion of tenant farmers in Rythu Bandhu scheme. According to NGOs, in 2014-16, Warangal reported the maximum number of suicides as failed cotton crops left tenant farmers in debt.
At Mulugu in Jayshankar Bhoopalpally, tenant cotton farmers sought a promise from TRS candidate Azmeera Chandulal that he would take up their case if TRS comes back to power. Chandulal is Tourism and Tribal Development Minister in the incumbent KCR Cabinet. “Tenant farmers put everything at stake, unlike landlords, some of whom demand lease payment upfront. If the crop fails or sells at less price, tenant farmers are the worst sufferers. So it is unfair that we are excluded from Rythu Bandhu. KCR can stop farmer suicides immediately if he wants to, by including us in the scheme,’’ said Lokesh Naik, who sowed paddy this year.
A top government official involved in planning Rythu Bandhu scheme said the government excluded tenant farmers as it wanted to avoid litigation. “We knew the implications, but we took the decision to avoid legal problems. Tenant farmers cannot submit any proof of land they are cultivating. Real landowners may object if tenants are considered farmers and given the subsidy and may go to court,’’ the official said.
Incumbent Agriculture Minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy said, “We are very confident about the success of Rythu Bandhu scheme and TRS will be rewarded by farmers. You see, the Rs 4,000 per acre per crop subsidy provides a huge relief to small farmers who otherwise have to borrow money to prepare the field, purchase seeds and fertilisers etc. Farmers are really happy that they are receiving this help from the government before the sowing starts. Our ground reports suggest that farmers are on the side of TRS,’’ Agriculture Minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy said.