NITI Aayog favors legalizing land leasing

The NITI Aayog’s expert committee on land leasing has recommended legal sanction to such deals. This, the panel said, will “promote agriculture efficiency, equity, occupational mobility of the rural people and rapid rural transformation.”

The panel, headed by former Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices chairman T. Haque, has prepared a Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act keeping in view the need to legalize and liberalize land leasing. The model has been prepared for states which will have the freedom to formulate laws according to the local conditions.

The expert committee has had several rounds of negotiations with states, many of which are keen on bringing in legislation to legalize land leasing, according to official sources.

The model law puts the local community at the centre of land leasing. The deal will be sanctioned by the sarpanch, the pradhan, etc. In the case of any dispute, the local authorities would be involved in its resolution. However, if it is not possible, a tribunal will look into the matter. Civil courts, where land disputes languish for years, sometimes decades, will be kept out, said an official.

If and when adopted by states, the land leasing law will provide a legal, formal cover to tenants who at present have to rely on informal agreements. It will also help them avail institutional finance, insurance, and other benefits that the formal sector enjoys.

While land leasing is primarily for agricultural purposes, non-farming activities have not been ruled out. Contract and corporate farming can also be included within the ambit of the proposed state legislation.

At present, land leasing is highly restrictive in our country. first, there are such states as Kerala, Manipur, and Jammu & Kashmir that prohibit leasing out without exceptions. Then there are states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, UP, MP, Tripura, Telangana, and Odisha that allow leasing out but only to certain categories of people like the disabled, widows, minors, and defence personnel. States like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Assam do not bar land leasing, but a tenant acquires the right to purchase the leased land from the landowner after a specified period of time.

The almost absence of legal structure for land leasing precludes the tenant acquiring the benefits of credit, insurance, and the support that various government schemes provide to the cultivator. This lowers farm growth and development and perpetuates rural distress.

Niti Aayog officials believe that the model legislation will go a long way improving the conditions in rural areas.