Interview: Prof T.N. Prakash Kammardi

‘A majority of farmers oppose the changes to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act’

Print edition : July 31, 2020

T. N. Prakash Kammardi. Photo: Sudhakara Jain

Interview with Professor T.N. Prakash Kammardi, former chairman, Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission.

Professor T.N. Prakash Kammardi, former chairman, Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, and retired professor of Agricultural Economics from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, cautions that the proposed changes to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act (KLRA) will pave the way for large-scale “de-peasantisation” and corporatisation of agriculture in Karnataka. Excerpts from an interview.

What was the intention behind the passage of the historic land reforms act in Karnataka in 1974?

Karnataka has been a pioneer in introducing several radical reforms and progressive policies and programmes pertaining to the agricultural sector. The land reforms Act passed in 1974 under Chief Minister Devaraj Urs was a prominent piece of legislation. It was the result of struggles led by veteran socialists such as Shantaveri Gopala Gowda and Dinakara Desai and agitations such as the Kagodu Satyagraha of 1951 in Shivamogga district, in which Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan participated. The intention of the Act was to free the agriculturist from exploitative feudal practices where the landlord would lease out land at a high rate of rent. The core idea of the law was that the person who tills must be the owner of the land, and that is prerequisite for growth in agriculture. That is why land reform legislations have been referred to as the “mother of all reforms”.

Now that the State government has made it clear that the KLRA will be amended to allow non-agriculturists to purchase agricultural land, what will be the consequences?

The move will facilitate companies, businessmen and others with abundant [black] money to purchase hundreds of acres of land, inaugurating a corporate agricultural model analogous to crony capitalism, across villages in Karnataka. The company will grow rich and increase its assets at the cost of hundreds of farmers who will become landless. With the government capitulating to the neoliberal policies of Bretton Woods institutions like the World Bank, it is clear that the farming community will get “depeasantised” and become landless on a large scale.

As it is, the State’s farmers kept 21 lakh hectares of land uncultivated as fallow land. According to a study done by the Karnataka Agricultural Prices Commission, of those who had left their land fallow, 61 per cent were small and marginal farmers. If you look at this data from a caste perspective, 55 per cent of the farmers belong to backward castes and minority communities and 21 per cent belong to Dalit and tribal communities, together termed AHINDA [the Kannada acronym for minorities, Backward Classes and Dalits] communities. These poor farmers keep their land fallow as succour for times of crisis and migrate to cities to work as labourers. If the proposed amendment is passed, they may not be able to withstand pressure from the land mafia to sell off.

There are claims that farmers will benefit from the move and that they are even eagerly waiting for the proposed amendment. Previous instances of amendments made to the land reforms Act, however, shows that farmers have not benefited from such moves.

When you talk about previous experiences, are you referring to 1995 when H.D. Deve Gowda, who was the Chief Minister of Karnataka, amended the KLRA to allow companies and business firms to purchase vast quantities of land for floriculture?

Yes. In 1995, the Janata Dal government amended Article 109 of the KLRA to allow companies or a business firm to acquire up to 108 acres of land for floriculture. Consequent to this amendment, hundreds of acres of land around Bengaluru were acquired by such companies, which then commenced hi-tech poly-house floriculture.

In the context of these large-scale land transactions, the Department of Agricultural Economics of the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore [now Bengaluru] conducted a study to determine whether this actually benefited farmers. In Doddaballapur [a taluk in Bengaluru Rural district], around 750 acres of land was used to set up 14 hi-tech floriculture units. Eighty-six per cent of the farmers who had sold their land were poor farmers belonging to Dalit communities. Even if the price of an acre of land was more than Rs.1 lakh, on an average a farmer received not more than Rs.40,000. This amount was paid in three to five instalments over a period of three years. Local politicians who were often the middlemen in almost all these land transactions pocketed half the sum that was due to the farmers.

In this polyhouse hi-tech farming, excessive pesticides and fertilizers were also used which polluted the soil and groundwater, harming the environment. The results of that study should stand as a warning for farmers against selling their land to private companies.

According to statements from senior members of the State government in Karnataka, many farmers are in favour of the proposed amendments to the KLRA. What do you have to say about this?

I disagree with this assessment. I can say this confidently because an independent survey was recently undertaken by us to ascertain farmers’ views on several issues, including the proposed amendment to the KLRA and the ordinance amending the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act. [The APMC was amended on May 14, allowing private companies to directly purchase agricultural produce from farmers.] Our survey sought responses from 1,500 farmers across 31 districts, and respondents included farmers across all ages, classes, educational backgrounds, castes, and irrigation status of their lands.

A majority of farmers opposed this move, with only 33 per cent in favour of the government’s proposed changes in the agricultural sector. If we further break down this data, 64 per cent of famers who were graduates, 77 per cent of those who had irrigated landholdings, 67 per cent of Vokkaliga farmers in the Old Mysore division and 73 per cent of farmers belonging to the AHINDA communities opposed the changes. Surprisingly, only 37 per cent of Brahmin and Lingayat [castes which traditionally support the BJP] farmers supported the move. Further, 59 per cent of the respondents disagreed strongly with the manner in which these major changes in the agricultural sector were being thrust upon farmers via the ordinance route, precluding discussion and consultations. Three constituent organisations of the wider Sangh Parivar, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Krishi Prayog Parivar, have also opposed these changes.

What will be the social consequences of this proposed change in the KLRA?

In Karnataka, we venerate Basavanna who famously said that “Kayakave Kailasa” [Work is Worship]. If we understand this in the right spirit, agriculture is not merely an occupation for farmers but the route to a meaningful life. That is why Karnataka’s poet laureate Kuvempu described farmers as “Uluva Yogi” [Ploughing Yogis]. The socialist Ashok Mehta described the entire working culture of farmers, which is in sync and in harmony with their surroundings, as “culture of soil”. The fulfilment of these cultural aspects of a farmer’s life would lead to Gandhi’s concept of “Gramaswarajya”.

The Central government has contributed to the abysmal plight of farmers by not declaring an adequate support price for agricultural commodities. Instead of improving the functioning of the APMC, a government-controlled, democratically elected body, this regime is dismantling its entire structure under pressure from large companies and vested interests.

Owing to these anti-farmer policies and the government’s apathy, we are already losing approximately 1.5 lakh acres of food-producing land in the State every year. This will definitely have repercussions on food security and self-sufficiency in food production. While politicians may not be able to grasp all this, hopefully, the radical peasant movement nurtured by the veteran socialist Professor. M.D. Nanjundaswamy in Karnataka will be able to recognise the severe social consequences of these moves towards privatisation of agriculture.

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