Viewers' Voice


A Debate over Share Cropping



Bihar is lagging far behind in land reforms in comparison to a left ruled state like West Bengal and a feudal state like Punjab (including Haryana) that represent two different models of development. The former implemented land reforms by granting full right to sharecroppers (jotedars) sending the land owners to the wind.

On the other hand, Punjab maintained the same feudal structure with better prosperous life of the farmers. However, one point of similarity in both the states is quite common i.e. farmer friendly cultivating conditions. Both the states have fertile land, fully developed canal system, all season flowing rivers, good climate, progressive ideas and better marketing options (Calcutta for West Bengal and Bombay for Punjab. On the contrary, Bihar has no such congenial conditions because drought in the south Bihar and flood in the North are destined phenomena. That is why farmers with 40-50 acres of land suffer owing to conditions the Mother Nature has thrust them into.

The share croppers, on the other hand, too, are the victims of powerful feudal structure of the society. Secondly, legal protection has been provided to SC/ ST Castes (who are by and large share croppers) but is not sufficient to live in the society with “head held high”. The caste based politics has generated enmity and social divide. To make the matter worse, media appear extra enthusiastic to widen this gap as any atrocities against these ‘unprivileged’ class is high lighted with specific epithet downtrodden (dalit) while other castes are never specified.

In Bihar, the share cropping act cannot be implemented in uniformed way because land is cultivated on various conditions as well as share croppers are enjoying many benefits. Many land owners have invested in developing infrastructure to improve the farming conditions such as providing irrigation facilities. Others are bearing half of the expenses for buying seeds, fertilizers and pesticides etc. Thirdly, share croppers enjoy upper hand by sharing crops dishonestly and claiming more input than the actual. The committee is silent on this complicated issue. It has not defined whether it is share cropping or contract cultivation. Even the land owners (in some cases) never charged any interest from the latter for the amount they invest in cultivation or help them on various occasions. The committee is also not vocal on this issue.

As reported in the media, the committee has granted some impossible propositions such as share croppers cannot be removed even after his death and his heirs will not be disowned. Suppose a widower government officer dies an immature death and his dependents have no provisions to sustain themselves. These orphans have lost their right to cultivate because another person has been a share cropper for a few years and he gives them as much meager yields as he decides.  A few years ago the Telegraph reported a case of a widow of a landlord family who had to starve after land reforms in Kerala. The committee does not specify the quantity of crops to be given as a share per kattha or per acre annually rather decides in ratio into two category i.e. sharing expenses and without sharing expenses. To make the situation worse, it does not specify minimum agricultural yields per acre or kattha and what if a share cropper shows (his words are final) ten kilos per acre. It also fails to provide any clue to solve the problem that arises when share cropper fails to pay the share of the crops. One may argue the court is open for all but a million dollar question is that if a family is struggling for its survival it will hardly be able to bear expenses of lengthy legal procedures and come out successful. The answer is a well known emphatic ‘NO’. The committee failed to provide any safeguard under these situations. At least, there must be incorporated some clauses to safeguard the interest of land owners too for maintaining a balance between the two and both of them will enjoy the happy and peaceful living. 

Mr. Bandopadhyay has fixed the following points of study  as shown below:-

  1. The Committee formed 7sub-groups to study the following major topics:
    1. 1. Land Ceiling, Distribution of Government Land and Bhoodan Land.
    2. 2. Tenancy, Sub-tenancy and Homestead Right.
    3. 3. Governance Issues and Policy on Land.
    4. 4. Tribal Land Alienation & PESA.
    5. 5. Modernization of Land Management with focus on record updation & maintenance.
    6. 6. Common Property Resources and Conversion of Agriculture Land for Non-Agricultural Purposes.
    7. 7. The Systems of Land Management in the North-East and Recommend Appropriate Measures in Relation to them.

Thus, the committee presented a most complicated and multi angular issue in the most simplified form doing little justice with its responsibilities. Its main emphasis is on bhoodan land, tenancy and protection of agricultural land. That is why it has become a bone of contention between the two ruling political partners, as a matter of ridicule for the opposition, a cause of worries for land owners (patrons of share croppers) and a matter of despise in the society. Sooner the government comes out with a proposal in unequivocal term, the better.
          If the political parties or the governments (State and Central) are very sincere to improve the lot of the poor it must take the following steps:-

  1. Introduce a new Right to Employment Bill;

Let the people show their preference to from the given options such as   service, farming, manufacturing, business, agency and so on to feel them occupationally secured;

  1. Introduce land ceiling in the strictest sense defining maximum as well as minimum land to be possessed by a family;
  2. No special preference to any type of land to any one in the name of farmhouse, club or ground of any sort.

If these steps are taken seriously, there will not be any resentment because people themselves will be fully responsible for deciding their own field of occupation and the architect of their own destiny.