The agricultural workers and sharecroppers are the real backbone of the agriculture of Odisha but the Government’s apathy continues for their welfare in absence of formal legislation for their identification. The allocation in agriculture sector by the State and the Centre out of public money must have non-discriminatory share for the people engaged in agriculture. Bringing inclusiveness in benefit sharing of agriculture sector of the State is highly required to boost production.
But this seems to be a far cry as for last 65 years, the Government of Odisha has been neglecting rural agricultural producers, agriculture workers, tenants, sharecroppers, minor forest producers, milk farmers, livestock farmers, fish farmers, plantation workers, poultry farmers, and many informal farmers of Dalit communities engaged in agriculture, without protective laws for them and also with poor sharing of benefits under the State policy. The agriculture crop loan is the best example of it.
Though there has been a consistent increase in crop loan disbursed to farmers in the State but this has not been reaching to the real farmers. It was Rs 5,449 crore in 2010-11 and reached to Rs 15,531 crore in 2016-17 as reported in the Odisha Economic Survey 2017-18.
The loans are made available by public sector banks, private sector banks, RRBs, commercial banks and cooperative banks under annual credit plan of Nabard. The 2,708 PACS of the State under Registrar, Cooperative Societies, have enrolled 55.51 lakh of agricultural families as its members and the crop loan financed by these PACS was 66 per cent of the total crop loan.
There has been increase in membership as well as crop loan to Rs 10,200.65 crore in 2016-17 from Rs 9,572.22 crore in 2015-16. It is reported that 32.35 lakh members were covered under season –wise dispensation of short term credit for Kharip and Rabi crops, by cooperative banks in Odisha.
It is reported that under credit linkage to Tenant Farmers Groups (TFG), the sharecroppers and oral lessees of 8,872 exclusive self-help groups were formed and 5,641 of them were provided credit of Rs 44.94 crore by cooperative banks at the end of 2016-17. Then under credit linkage to sharecroppers and oral lessees through Joint Liability Groups (JLGs), 70,831 groups were formed and 67,715 groups were provided credit amounting to Rs 394.40 crore by cooperative banks at the end of the year 2016-17. On which basis these groups were formed and who has identified these people as sharecroppers when there is no formal process of identification? There is a serious need for investigation to the credit disbursement.
The most vulnerable section in agriculture is the agriculture workers. The census 2011 says there were 67 lakh agricultural workers in the State and there has been no survey by the Government about the number of sharecroppers in the State though it has been officially told that nearly 85 per cent of the land is being cultivated under sharecropping. Mayurbhanj district alone has about six lakh agricultural workers. Such a huge manpower needs to be productively engaged for the development of the State by creating space for their creative engagement in agriculture and allied sector.
In comparison to other developed States, Odisha has lowest wage rate for agricultural workers and their cost of living is one of the lowest in the country. No protective laws for sharecroppers and special schemes or programmes for their development out of Agricultural Budget have been made. As a result, the production in agriculture has not been improved to meet the State’s domestic consumption. Agricultural labourers in rural Odisha are struggling hard to survive with the changing economic scenario. Agricultural workers mostly belong to Dalits, Adivasies and most backward communities and women. They get about three to four months’ employment due to seasonal nature of agriculture and single cropping pattern.
In recent days, about 60 per cent of agricultural works are being done by machines resulting in a decrease in demand for labour. The labourers in agriculture sector get the lowest wage in comparison to others. In spite of instructions by the Government against use of machine, it is known to everyone that most of the MGNREGS works are done by machines. Without any other alternative, the village folk resorts to distress migration. Way back in 1950 and later in 1956, the Agriculture Labour Inquiry Committee also had recommended land for agricultural workers and self-employment schemes. Sadly, they are not being implemented in true spirit.
The minimum wage of agricultural workers should be increased at par with other States along with social security measures like free housing, medical benefit, education, insurance and other incidental coverage as complimentary to their income. The quality of life of the people in villages needs to be improved with sanitation facilities, roads, electricity, safe drinking water, school, hospital and marketing places to minimize rural and urban gap in social infrastructure.
Paddy continues to be the monsoon dependent principal crop with low productivity and still Odisha is largely dependent on neighbouring States for agricultural products. The production as well as per capita consumption of vegetables, milk, egg, fish and meat in Odisha is less than the national average. Agriculture is seasonal in nature and mostly people in agriculture are seasonally employed. The agricultural workers and sharecroppers constitute a major portion of the rural poor and they mostly belong to the socially marginalized sections, socially excluded in many ways, and remain resource less, without land, education, skill and access to credit.
For a long time, they have been excluded from State sponsored social security measures in healthcare, maternity benefit, old age pension, housing etc. The traditional farmers and forest dwellers are not given title rights over their land they are cultivating for centuries. For last 65 years, the State Government has failed to bring a legislation to protect the interest of the sharecroppers.
It is a fact that the leaders of the ruling parties of the State are mostly drawn from the rural land owning upper caste feudal families and urban middle class intellectuals who have never paid adequate attention to the issues of socially marginalized section in rural areas. Various studies show that the rural land owning class is a major beneficiary of all kinds of subsidy for agriculture and a huge agricultural credit mostly goes to the use of non-agricultural purpose. The MSP has been very well beneficial to private money lenders and rice millers and transporters because mostly poor producers and sharecroppers are prone to distress sale for timely financial need.
In last few years a majority of farmers those committed suicide were sharecroppers and under debt burden of private money lending with higher rate of interest. The sharecroppers are not given membership in the agricultural cooperative societies for any loan facility. The financial organizations, banks and cooperatives enjoying State patronage are very casual about the financial need of agriculturalworkers and sharecroppers. A vast majority of people in agriculture in rural and interior parts are illiterate and without a bank account.
Private money lending is still predominantly operational in rural and tribal parts.
Therefore, the Government must ensure institutional credit facilities through financial inclusion and land distribution to the real farmers by creation of new land. The credit policy, land distribution and Government rural employment schemes must be linked to integrated agriculture development. The issues of agricultural workers and sharecroppers of the State never feature in the political agenda and political economy of the State as there has been absence of powerful mobilization of agricultural workers and sharecroppers though very insignificant movements by political parties. In the absence of genuine farm leaders the few farmer outfits in the State highlight little about the condition of agricultural workers and sharecroppers.