Santu Singh, a farmer of Sartha gram panchayat under Balasore Sadar, lays bare the difference between the claim and actual execution of the work.
A paddy cultivator, Santu says he sells his paddy to local private procurers at Rs 1200 – Rs 1300 per quintal as against the minimum support price of Rs 1815 (paddy MSP has been hiked to 1868 on June 1, 2020).
Why does not he sell his paddy in government-run Mandis of procurement centres?
“Ame bhaga kuruchhe. Mandire aame biki pariba nahin karan aame chaasi nuhen (We are sharecroppers. We are not allowed to sell our crops in mandis),” he replies.
Santu is one of the scores of farmers in Balasore district who survive on paddy cultivation. But the government, as he claims, has not yet facilitated any procurement facility for them.
The sharecroppers make the investment themselves in agri-inputs like buying seeds fertilizers and pesticides; sometimes from their own savings or selling their household things. They even go for borrowing from local money-lenders at high-interest rates.
In July 2020, the Odisha government had announced to provid crop loans worth crores of rupees to seven lakh landless sharecroppers in the state through joint liability groups (JLGs) in the next two years through a new called Balaram Yojana. It is a sequel to the Kalia scheme announced in 2029, just before the polls for small and marginal farmers and would enable sharecroppers to get loans of around Rs 1,040 crore.
However, for Santu and others, this scheme remains unreachable.
In April this year, the Odisha government had framed draft legislation to recognise the rights of sharecroppers in the state. The draft legislation “Odisha Agricultural Land Leasing Act,” it was claimed by the state government, would help a sharecropper into a written lease agreement on mutually agreed terms and conditions, with a landowner for the cultivation of agricultural produces. Once passed by the assembly, the legislation would have marked a change of fortunes for millions of sharecroppers in Odisha.
Though Odisha has banned sharecropping long ago following an amendment in Orissa Land Reforms Act in 1974, sharecropping is practiced in more than 70 percent of land.
Odisha government was supposed to introduce “Odisha Agricultural Land Leasing Act” in the monsoon session of the State Assembly. But it was mysteriously kept in the cold storage.
Now, Santu and others, stare at the same dark and uncertain future as they have been experiencing for decades now.
They will vote for exercising their democratic rights. But they do not know much their ballot will help them address their grievances.
The sharecroppers, most of whom are landless, also complain about their villages lacking good roads and the poor not getting benefits of the government’s housing and other welfare schemes.
“We are living in kutaghar (thatched house). We were promises pucca houses but our names are not yet enlisted,” say the farmers.