Definition of a Farmer – Question in Rajya Sabha

Why in news?

The Agriculture Minister evaded answering a question over the government’s definition of a farmer and the number of farmers in India by that definition.

What happened in Parliament?

  • The question was posed in the Rajya Sabha by BJP MP Ajay Pratap Singh.
  • He also asked whether any survey had been conducted to find out the number of farmer families.
  • In a written response, the Agriculture Minister evaded giving any definition of a farmer.
  • He instead said that agriculture was a State subject.
  • He provided data on the number of agricultural landholdings.
  • He noted that the Centre provides income support to all farmer families who own cultivable land via the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • In the following discussion, MPs pointed out that the number of land holdings do not necessarily equate with the number of farming households.

What is the definition in the National Policy?

  • There is a clear and comprehensive definition available in the National Policy for Farmers.
  • [The policy emphasises the need to substantially increase the net income of farmers.
  • It also aims at developing support services for them, using that comprehensive definition.
  • It was drafted by the National Commission of Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan.]
  • The definition was officially approved by the Centre in 2007 following consultations with the States, for the purpose of the Policy.
  • Accordingly, the term ‘FARMER’ will refer to a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops.
  • It will also apply to those producing other primary agricultural commodities.
  • It will include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers.
  • Others include beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting labourers.
  • Besides these, those engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermiculture and agro-forestry are also covered.
  • The term will also include tribal families/persons engaged in shifting cultivation and in the collection, use and sale of minor and non-timber forest produce.

What is in practice?

  • There is a deliberate attempt at avoiding this pre-existing official definition.
  • In practice, those who cultivate or work on the land but do not own it are excluded from the definition of farmers.
  • Thus, dairy farmers, fisherfolk, fruit and flower growers would not fit into it.
  • Also, landless agricultural workers who cultivate the land belonging to others would not come under it.

What are the implications of this?

  • The government’s ambiguity has serious implications for the design and beneficiaries of the schemes meant to help them.
  • According to Census 2011, there are 11.8 crore cultivators and 14.4 crore agricultural workers.
  • The excluded ones do not get access to agricultural credit and interest subvention for farm loans.
  • Crop insurance and loan waivers go to loanees so they are left out of that as well.
  • Most schemes meant for farmers’ welfare, including the procurement of wheat and paddy at MSP, are effectively available only for land owners.
  • Access to subsidised crop inputs is difficult without identification as farmers.
  • In the event of crop failure too, compensation is only given to owners.
  • Tax exemption is usually claimed by owners who give an unverified affidavit that they cultivate the land.
  • Direct income support schemes such as PM-KISAN  (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi) are also limited to owners.
  • Those who work on the land may not be identified as farmers for the purposes of counting farmer suicides.
  • Women – Linking the identity of a farmer to land ownership has devastating consequences for another category – women farmers.
  • Some studies estimate that 60%-70% of farmers are actually women, but their names are rarely on ownership documents.

What does this call for?

  • The definition of a farmer is not merely a philosophical or semantic question, but rather has practical implications.
  • There is a need to convert the M.S. Swaminathan Commission’s definition into a legal and actionable tool for identification.
  • Already, the revenue department is supposed to annually record who is actually cultivating each piece of land.
  • In an era of GPS, GIS and Aadhaar, this should not be that difficult. It simply takes political will.
  • Apart from adding inclusion criteria other than land-ownership, the Centre must add exclusion criteria so that absentee landlords are left out.

 

Source: The Hindu

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