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Ground into dust

india Updated: May 04, 2007 00:00 IST
SB Misra
SB Misra
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As we approach the last leg of the Uttar Pradesh elections, it is time to take a look at those completely left behind, whichever caste they may belong to — UP’s farmers. They may not be committing suicide like their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, or be on the warpath as farmers in West Bengal, but their fate is as unfortunate. Mostly illiterate, they are easily exploited, not less by government officials on matters related to land consolidation, land revenue and irrigation charges.

Land consolidation began some 13 years ago, and is still continuing. Litigation is only an excuse for foot-dragging. The
main reasons are favouritism, manipulation and corruption. During this process, 4 per cent of the land of each farmer (except for those from the Scheduled Caste) is deducted for community purposes, like village expansion, roads, playgrounds and schools. However, this public land is manipulated in such a way that it falls adjacent to the fields of those who bribe the Chakbandi staff through the Lekhpal. Later, it is easily grabbed through encroachment.

After land is consolidated, it is measured and possession of chaks or gatas is given to each farmer. But the land on paper is not necessarily the same as on the ground — and the farmers usually have no idea if they have been duped or not. For one thing, they are illiterate and the measurements are in ancient ‘zarib’ and ‘gattha’ units, rather than ‘beegha’ and ‘biswa’ or metres or yards.

The payment of revenue for their land holdings is further cause for worry. Revenue is collected through a person designated as ‘Amin’. He issues receipts that do not follow the Gregorian, Hizri or Vikrami calendar, but ‘Fasli’ years. This calendar and the measurement units are reported to have been started by Raja Todarmal. But clearly, the world has not moved on for UP’s Revenue Department.

For example, according to the Fasli calendar, the year right now is 1414, but how many farmers or others know this? As a result, many farmers do not even know for which year their dues are being collected.

The receipts issued are also not of standard size, are without stamp and do not bear the number of the land holding (gata number). In most cases, a reference number is also not included. Since Amins are unfamiliar faces to the villagers, in many cases there is no way to distinguish genuine personnel from fake ones or genuine receipts from fake receipts.

Then, there is the issue of the evaluation of land for exchange, pricing and registration. This is done by revenue staff in terms of rupee and paisa. The best lands are evaluated at Re 1, while the inferior ones are less than a rupee. However, Scheduled Caste farmers have to sell even the best quality land at a much lower rate, since their buyers are restricted to their own community.

The method of collection of charges for irrigation from canals, also realised by the Amin, is worse. A person called ‘patrawal’ issues the bill for inflated amounts. If the farmer pays some amount, he may even reduce the bill. Sometimes, the patrawal issues a general dues bill, calling it ‘sailab’ (flood irrigation). It is most unfair, since farmers should be compensated for floods, not penalised to pay irrigation charges.

Also, the pricing of water for irrigation is made on the basis of area irrigated, and not the water consumed. In the process, the farmers have to pay the same amount of money even if they use less water. The only solution to this problem is establishing a ‘paani panchayat’ in every village, which would evaluate the quantity of water used and the charges.

In fact, there is justification to decentralise all such functions related to land revenue, irrigation charges, etc. All such collections should be made by village panchayats to make the procedure safe and simple. Panchayats are anyway given grants of millions of rupees by the government for various development purposes. The money is deposited by the government into the panchayat account. Likewise, the revenue collected from farmers can be deposited in the bank account and used for development purposes. With proper accounting and auditing, any misappropriation could be avoided.

Clearly, this step is required to protect the farmers from undue exploitation.