Drought or cyclone, government relief bypasses Odissa sharecroppers

Bhubaneswar, Nov 1 (IANS) It’s a tale which repeats itself with regularity in a state which often bears the brunt of natural disasters.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik recently announced a Rs 1,000 crore special drought package for farmers. But the chance of that reaching the needy would be minimal.

In several affected districts of Orissa, farmers have several times heard of plans and promises, only to be left waitng for relief. The problem is particularly acute for sharecroppers who till the land.

“I have been cultivating two acres of land of a Brahmin for the last five years. First, my paddy crops were ruined during Phailin and Hudhud. Now, we are facing a drought situation due to scanty rainfall. But we have no hope to get any government assistance,” Krushna Nayak of Bhejiput village in Khalikote block of Ganjam district told IANS.

Ganjam district had faced the wrath of the the cyclonic storms Phailin and Hudhud.

More than 40 farmers in Orissa have already committed suicide due to crop loss and loan burden in this current Kharif season, a large number of them being sharecroppers.

Even though a majority of the big farmers of the state have given their land for share cropping, the agricultural package is unlikely to bring any benefit to the tillers as they are not officially recognised in the absence of any records.

Often, sharecroppers have nothing more than verbal agreements to fall back upon.

Be it drought, flood or cyclone, they fail to reap any benefit from the special compensation award by the state and central governments.

The current drought has dashed all their hopes, coming in the wake of two cyclones, when all they got was promises.

At present sharecropping is banned under the Odisha Land Reforms Act, except under special cases. But the ground reality is that over 50 percent of the agricultural land is under sharecropping.

Revenue Minister Bijayshree Routray said the government would amend the Act to give legal rights to sharecroppers.

“A committee has been constituted under the chairmanship of the development commissioner. We will take necessary steps to ensure the rights of share croppers once the committee submits the report,” Routray told IANS.

He said the proposed legislation would confer legal entity to sharecroppers so that they could get financial assistance from banks and cooperatives, and in case of natural calamities, they would be entitled to financial help.

Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Secretary Madhusudan Padhi, in a 2013 report, had said that the government may initiate steps to put institutional mechanism like lease or contract farming to recognize sharecroppers so that they do not have to collect the consent letters of land owners at the time of harvest every season.

But in times of natural calamities, the government does little to ensure that the relief gets distributed effectively.

For the sharecroppers, though, natural disasters are not the only threat. The menace of elephants destroying their standing crop is another reality.

Because of massive deforestation and industrialisation, hungry wild elephants are now intruding into local habitats and marauding crops and houses in search of food.

“Frequent raids of jumbo herds have damaged more than half of the standing crop over my two acres. If at all the forest department extends compensation, it would obviously go to the pocket of the land owner, says Bijay Kumar Nayak of Muktapasi village in Dhenkanal district.

According to the agriculture census conducted during 2005-06 and 2010-11, the number of small, medium and large farmers has dropped by 460,000 during this period, coming down to 1,299,170. Government intervention has been of little help.

(Chinmaya Dehury can be contacted at chinmaya.d@ians.in)

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