Land-on-lease offers cash but leaves no work for farmers in Andhra’s Amaravati

Money from the recent development program in Andhra Pradesh enables some farmers to go into business, but others struggle adjusting to life without their farms

india Updated: Jun 13, 2017 18:39 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Hindustan Times, Amaravati
Amaravati,Land pooling,Andhra Pradesh
Mannava Murahari makes more money than he used to thanks to land pooling, but he doesn’t know what to do with himself after giving his land to the government.(HT Photo)

Until a couple of years ago, Mannava Murahari was a hard-working farmer, struggling all through the day in his two-acre plot to grow vegetables.

Now the 55 year old is idle. Like all the other farmers Krishnayapalem, a village in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, he surrendered his land to the state government for its construction of Amaravati. Formerly villages and farmland, the area has been getting developed as the new state capital since 2015.

The project has transformed the daily lives of everyone in the area: major landowners, small-scale farmers, tenant farmers, and daily labourers alike.

Murahari was sipping tea a roadside stall in his village, a blank expression on his fire. “I can’t do anything else except farming,” he said. “With the land being taken away by the government for capital, I have no other work to do.”

A man named Prasad, who had less than an acre of land in Venkatayapalem, an adjacent village, described a similar predicament. Wealthier farmers, he said, were able to buy land in other districts, whereas those who had only small plots were stuck aimlessly subsisting on the annual government handouts. “We have no resources to buy land elsewhere to do farming,” he said.

According to Ch Sridhar, the commissioner of the Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority, as many as 27,000 farmers, across 29 villages, have surrendered nearly 35,000 acres under ‘land pooling’. This is a system in which landowners voluntarily give their land to the government. In exchange, they start receiving an annual fee. When development is finished, the government returns a portion of their original holdings.

In Amaravati, farmers are being paid Rs 30,000 to 50,000 per acre, depending on the quality of their land, with annual compensation increasing by 10% every year. Once the capital city is built, the farmers will receive both 1,000 square yards of residential land and 250 to 400 square yards of commercial land per acre they gave up initially. They can sell or keep the developed land as they wish.

Most larger landowners quickly adjusted to this new economic order. Besides using the annual money to buy new land elsewhere, some have shifted into real estate or set up restaurants for the government employees now moving to Amaravati.

“I had no other option but to get into the real estate business,” said Nandakishore, a 30 year old whose father gave away eight acres under land pooling. Now Nandakishore runs his own office in Krishnayapalem. He said business was good.

For farmers who had less land to give and less capital on hand, the transformation of daily life has tended to be more bewildering. Many had known only farming their whole lives and are now jobless. Except for a few pockets of vegetables and fodder, there has been virtually no agriculture in these villages for the last couple of years.

Some former farmers have managed to learn another trade. Rama Rao set up an iron shop that does brisk business every day. Sukumar runs a tea stall. Subba Rao became a real estate agent. “We had two acres of land that have now gone into the core capital of Amaravati,” he said. “We need something to eke out a livelihood.”

Sridhar said farmers were getting a good deal. “Except in a few cases where there is litigation, all the farmers have been made provisional allotments of plots. The land value in these villages has already gone up, and once the capital construction picks up pace, they will reap rich profits.”

Murahari seemed convinced of the overall benefits of land pooling. “Even if we struggled in the fields all through the year, we never used to get a return of Rs 50,000 per acre,” he said. “Moreover, wages of agricultural labourers are too high in our area. We have not lost anything by giving our lands for the capital construction. Except,” he added, “that we have no work to do now.”

The unemployment caused by land pooling harms tenant farmers and agricultural labourers most, said Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, an MLA from the YSR Congress party whose constituency falls in what is now Amaravati. These people had depended completely on daily farm work.

With support from Reddy, farmers from the villages Undavalli and Penumaka refused to give up their lands. The government is now offering land acquisition instead of land pooling. With this system, the government pays four times the official registered value of the land. This price, however, is often lower than the market value.

“An acre of land in our area costs Rs 12 crore,” said D Balaji Reddy, a farmer in Undavalli, “but the government is offering us only Rs 40 to 50 lakhs. How can we give up our land?”

Elsewhere, there is evidence that even tenant farmers and labourers have found value in the government’s offers. Nandakishore, who set up the successful real estate business, said that most tenant farmers shifted to other districts to continue farming, and that others have become real estate brokers on a commission basis.

“For agricultural labourers, the government is paying each of them an amount of Rs 2,500 per month,” he said. “Besides, many of them are involved in the construction process.”

First Published: Jun 13, 2017 18:39 IST