Amid backlash from farmers, labourers, environmentalists, and opposition parties, the BJP government in Karnataka promulgated the Land Reforms Ordinance, 2020, to allow non-agriculturists to purchase agricultural land, besides easing a host of other restrictions. The development came following Governor Vajubhai Vala’s assent.
The sweeping manner in which the amendments were passed without consulting the stakeholders and without a debate in the state Assembly, drew criticism from all quarters.
The amendment drops Sections 79A, 79B and 79C of the Act that imposed stringent restrictions on ownership of agricultural land. It also gives scope for huge land banks and aggregators to own land. It also removed the clause on the ceiling on income for the buyers. Now, any Indian citizen, a trust, a society, an educational institution or a company, can buy farmlands in Karnataka, regardless of their income limits.
The state government said the amendments will give industries easy access to purchase farmlands and that farmers will get better prices in case they wish to sell their land without involving intermediaries.
Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (farmers’ collective) president Badagalapura Nagendra urged the government to immediately repeal the amendment and said the farmers will lay siege to Vidhana Soudha on July 21, coinciding with Farmers Martyrs Day. “The fact that the government passes an ordinance in COVID-times without public discussions and consultancy violates the basic norms of democracy,” he said.
Nagendra and other farmer leaders wrote to Governor Vala last month saying all farmer leaders in the state were aged 60 and above, and cannot come outside their homes to protest against this, risking the COVID-19 pandemic. But their request went unheeded.
“Land is not just a business opportunity but also relates to the country’s food production. Food and nutritional security can only be assured by farmers. So the amendments threaten public food security and the food farmers’ sovereignty,” Nagendra added.
Though there were apprehensions that the amendments would allow farmers to mortgage land and get into debt trap, the ordinance specifies that mortgage of agricultural land will be permitted only to government institutions, companies and cooperative societies.
The ordinance faced stiff resistance from the Congress. As a mark of protest, Congress workers in the Vokkaliga belt in Mysuru burnt the gazette notification of the ordinance to the Karnataka Land Reforms Act.
Former chief minister and Opposition leader Siddaramaiah said if the government had good intentions, it would have introduced the ordinance during the assembly session and conducted a public debate on the issue. He further alleged that the BJP government bowed down to real estate and corporate pressure, and accused the Centre of supporting such anti-farmer policies.
“This looks like a scam bigger than the mining scam. Several cases or petitions that were pending under sections 79 (A), (B) are dismissed in one go,” Siddaramaiah said. While the mining scam in Karnataka during the BJP government’s previous regime was about 35,000 crore, Siddaramaiah estimated that the agricultural land related cases could be anywhere between ₹45,000-50,000 crore.
“About 13,814 pending cases of violation in land use would get dismissed under the latest ordinance,” he added. According to reports, about 1.73 lakh acres of land (Bengaluru urban and rural districts alone contributing to 40,000 acres of land) locked up in revenue cases across the state, will soon have ownership titles.