Viewers' Voice


Sharecropping and Bihar

Indra R Sharma


(BiharTimes) I came across two articles related to this highly debated subject recently, first on and the second in Business Standard. 

The news reports in media about the Bandyopadhyay commission has again raised this sensitive subject. The commission on land reform going by its experience of West Bengal suggests the state government enact a new act to protect bataidars (sharecroppers), cap land ceiling and computerize land records. The government naturally will have to weigh every aspect of the recommendations before tabling it. It must not take a course of appeasing some vote banks because of the assembly election next year.
Many, particularly left leaning thinkers, do fix the responsibility of the growth of naxalism in Bihar to the overdue land reform. The share cropping issue has some similarity with the house property in urban India and the whole world that are put on rent by the owner. Many states have age-old laws that protect the tenants, even the rogue ones. The issue relates to the right of property for individuals. The share cropping is also an issue of the right of property. 
I have been hearing about the issue of sharecropping since my childhood. Once my maternal grandfather lost his four well bred bullocks in a burglary. They were the envy of his neighbours. He stopped farming and switched over to sharecropping.  And I closely followed the system that was so informal. He used to give the land for a year’s two crops. It was either a fixed amount of the paddy or on sharing basis that used to be 50-50 or 75-25 of the produce depending on the land quality and irrigation facility. The tenants used to take concessions with many excuses, but the relationships were never bitter unless some tenant cheated him. He used to look after the fields and suggested the actions required to the tenants. He quite often provided financial support too. After his death my parents took the responsibility and my mother played the main role as she knew all the tenants. I remember how she got a well built for a plot of land that lacked the irrigation facility. For all practical purposes, I took a leave and got that done to make her happy. Mother managed the landed property till she was alive, But after her death I found it unmanageable from a distance and I sold all the property. Perhaps that was the best option. 
Later on the system changed to cash payment in advance, an amount depending on the quality of land. With the prices of produce increasing significantly, it has become a win-win for the both.     
With the landholding reduced with divisions among the next generation heirs who decide to be independent, the farming is hardly profitable. Many small land holders who remain in farming occupation even lease the land of other smaller ones to make it viable. The myth that the sharecroppers are all from deprived class is totally false. According to me putting a low figure for land ceiling has caused the maximum damage to the business of farming. With increasing cost of the inputs and the use of machines in farming, the land holdings must be consolidated to a higher limit of ceiling. The divisions in the families of the land holders over years   have hardly left few with land that the present land ceiling act allows. On average the landholding has come down to 5 bighas in the villages that I know. How can a 5-bigha farm sustain even a nucleus family? 
It is not share cropping that is the issue. The issue is to find answer to make a farming of 5-bighas viable.