Karnataka farmers oppose amendment to land reform act; threatens state wide protests

KRRS farmers burning a draft of the proposed amendments, in Mysuru on Saturday. (Image credit: Prajavani)

On June 11th, the Karnataka government announced that the State would amend the Karnataka Land Reform Act, 1961. It has decided to ease many clauses of the act to enable trouble-free buying of farmland. The new amendments will open the way for the purchase of farmland by non-agriculturists and removes the existing ceiling limits on land ownership.

The Karnataka Land Reforms Act-1961 was amended in the year 1974 which enabled distribution of land titles to the land tillers; many landless people who were cultivating the land under tenancy became landowners. This 1974 law is referred to as the most progressive agrarian reform implemented by any state in India.

The restrictions in the Karnataka Land Reform Act of 1961 for the purchase of farmland by non-farmers were gradually eased. The amendment in 1995 allowed farmers with less than ₹ 2 lakh per annum to purchase farmland. In 2015, that limit was increased to ₹ 25 lakh. The Land Reform Act of 1966 prohibited the conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural activities. However, in 2015, the amendment was done to give the power to District Collector to authorize land conversion.

Farmer’s movements have vehemently opposed the new changes to the the Act calling it an anti-farmer and pro-corporate move by the government. Farmers are worried that the new amendments would spell doom for the marginal and small landholders by reducing them to farm laborers. The new changes to the Act will only help the rich and the corporate to buy more land. It will have socio-economic impacts in rural areas besides its effect on food sovereignty and security. Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha leaders have warned the government of statewide protests in opposition and have called upon the government to withdraw the amendment.  

The government has decided to repeal Sections 63A, 79A, B, C and 80 of the Karnataka Land Reforms Act, 1961, through an Ordinance. In the present law, Section 79A prescribes income limit to purchase farmland, 79B prohibits non-farmers from purchasing agricultural land, and 79C imposes fine if a fake affidavit is filed. Section 80 prevents the transfer of farms to non-farmers.

The proposed amendment will allow non-agriculturists to purchase agricultural land and removes the cap on income from non-agricultural sources. The present law requires farmers to sell their farmland only to other farmers. According to the law, any person with annual revenue more than  Rs 25 lakh from non-agriculture sources would not be considered as a “farmer” regardless of the family background. The income cap was merely Rs 2 lakh earlier, and the earlier government had increased it to Rs 25 lakh in 2015.

Currently, Section 63 (a) of the Act imposes a ceiling of 10 units for a five-member family. Now this ceiling will be removed to enable a family to possess 20 units for a five-member family. The cap will be increased from 20 units to 40 units for a family having more than five members. One unit is 5.4 acre.

A few months ago, farmers protested the amendment to section 109 of the same Act that has allowed buying and conversion of agricultural land for industrial purposes within a 30-day time frame. 

Condemning the proposed amendment to the Land Reforms Act by the state government, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha staged protests in Mysore, Chikkaballapur, Shimoga, Raichur, Bagalakote, Kolar and other places. KRRS members expressed outrage calling it a reprehensible move by the government. We will intensify our protests, urging the government to take back the ordinance in the coming weeks. There are 80% of small and marginal farmers in the country. Corporations and the rich will invest more money to buy lands, which will lead to forceful land grabbing on a larger scale in the coming years. If farmers sell land for cash, he will never be able to buy land in the future. The government should withdraw the decision to amend the Karnataka Land Reform Act, which is fatal to the peasantry. Otherwise, we would fight across the State, members warned.

Our farmers did not acquire land as a free gift, but they got ownership after a prolonged struggle, which led to the 1961 legislation to protect their interests and make tillers the owners of the land. The ceiling on landholdings was introduced to bridge the gulf between small and large landholders and give ownership to tenant farmers and landless agricultural workers. The government has now overturned the very purpose for which the original law was enacted, said Badagalapura Nagendra.

“The state government move will certainly destroy agriculture and food culture of India. Our farmers will lose land and will be left in the lurch. If companies acquire a large agricultural land, it will destroy the diversity of food crops. Companies will start producing genetically modified crops. Those who will lose land will have nowhere to go,” he said.

The government has come under pressure from real estate insiders, capitalists and multinationals to amend the Karnataka Land Reform Act of 1961. This pro-corporate government is pushing farmers into the streets. The government, which is a puppet of real estate entrepreneurs, is following an anti-farmer policy. The new amendment will make it easier for the land mafia and real estate to buy lands from small and marginal farmers and develop them into land banks and property businesses. Farmers who sell lands will become farmworkers and migrant laborers in urban areas. The government, which has amended the APMC and the Electricity Act, is now giving farmers another shock, said Gangadhar KT, the senior leader of KRRS.

It is the ploy to destroy small farmers and enforce corporate agriculture. The tragedy of this country is that only a handful of corporate houses will survive. The farmer community is already at a loss and the agrarian crisis has pushed them into the path of decline. During these challenging times of the Corona, several relevant laws are being amended as the government knows that farmers cannot protest in huge numbers, said JM Veerasangiaha of KRRS

Speaking to The Hindu newspaper, T.N. Prakash Kammardi, former chairperson, Karnataka Agricultural Price Commission, said the easing of land purchase and removal of ceiling on income from non-agricultural sources would have severe implications on food security and sovereignty of the country. “Nearly 50 lakh acre of farmland has gone out of food production in the State in the last ten years because of various factors, including distress sale by farmers. This was despite all the restrictions in place imposed by the Act. Now that the government has decided to repeal certain sections in the legislation, the pace of transfer will accelerate and push farmers to the brink and render them landless and unemployed,” he said.

Agriculture land going out of farming is a serious issue, and it will have severe consequences in rural areas and trigger migration to cities that cannot provide jobs or absorb so many people. The resultant social implications are much more than what one can imagine, said Mr.Kammaradi.