Karnataka

Farm tenants out in the cold

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When TheHindu reached the relief-cum-gruel centre at Kothar village late on Friday night, a scuffle broke out among the men there over who should be the first to narrate his tale of woe.

When tempers cooled, the residents apologised for the fracas and said they could not control their emotions after all that they had been through in the past week. “I am sorry for this trouble. Nobody has come to visit us ever since the relief camp was set up on October 4. That is why we became so excited,” said Sripad Ravidas Govekar (36), who was one of the more aggressive combatants in the brawl.

The reason nobody has bothered to visit the village and provide more than just a barebones relief centre, according to Chandrahas Ravi Kotharkar (28), is because revenue records show that nobody owns any land or property there. Consequently, no one is entitled to compensation.

Of the 380 people (75 households) dependent on the relief centre in Kothar, nearly 250 are from the Padthi Samaj, an extremely backward community that is fighting for Scheduled Caste status. The rest are employed as daily wage labourers.

While none of the members of the Padthi community is registered as a ‘farmer’, all of them are, quite visibly, ‘cultivators’. Together they cultivate nearly 80 acres of prime agricultural land situated along the banks of a local rain-fed river, but they own none of it.

Mr. Kotharkar explained that they were trapped under a widespread tenancy system referred to locally as the ‘Geni Paddathi’.

Shantaram Nayak, district secretary of the Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha, explained that under this system, which persists to this day despite being outlawed by the Land Reforms Act, the person registered as the ‘farmer’ is actually nothing but a “new-age zamindar or landlord”.

The deal, said Mr. Kotharkar, is that the cultivator makes all the investments on the land. The owner, who appears on the scene only at the time of the harvest, takes half of the produce.

In the aftermath of the floods, the Government will compensate the so-called ‘farmer’ for the loss of the entire crop. While the cultivators incurred the loss on investment, all they can look forward to is another season of toil and risky investment propositions.

Mr. Govekar, for instance, cultivated three acres of land on which he invested nearly Rs. 10,000. This does not include the Rs. 2,400 that he owes the tractor operator who tilled his land. Of the Rs. 10,000 he invested on the land, he borrowed Rs. 6,000 from the landowner. “I can only hope that my owner waives the money I owe him after he gets the government compensation,” he said. This year, he also lost one crop to the failed monsoon in June and had to sow again in July.

Deputy Commissioner N.S. Channappagowda said that compensation would be provided to the cultivator and not the owner. However, on being questioned further, he agreed that the name of the cultivator must be included in the title document.

“How can a title document have the name of a cultivator who is not an owner,” asked Mr. Nayak. If such a document does exist then it is in violation of the Land Reforms Act, he said. “And the Deputy Commissioner should know this,” he said and added that revenue officials would never register a document where the owner and cultivator were different individuals because if they did they could be prosecuted. “But they do nothing to stop this illegal activity either,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 3:39:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/Farm-tenants-out-in-the-cold/article16885901.ece

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