Need to Redefine farmer – UPSC GS3

Is land ownership right criterion?

  • Traditionally, land ownership is a mandatory criterion for availing benefits under various agricultural schemes in India.
  • Laws governing land leasing operate at different levels across India.
  • The Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016 was introduced to formalise land leasing.
  • However, except a few States, a majority of State governments have not extended the scope of the Act to farmers.
  • According to the 2015-16 agricultural census, about 2.65 million operational holdings are either partially or wholly leased.

How this impact tenants?

  • The impact of agrarian distress is felt disproportionately by tenant farmers.
  • The tenant farmer incurs the costs and faces the risks, while the owner receives the rent, subsidies and other support.
  • The lessees do not benefit from loan waivers, moratorium and institutional credit, and are forced to be at the mercy of moneylenders.
  • The distress is reflected in the fact that tenant farmers account for a majority of farmer suicides reported in the NCRB data.

Multiple definitions of farmers:

  • There are multiple definitions for a ‘farmer’ in official data published by the Government of India.
  • The population census defines ‘cultivators’ as a person engaged in cultivation of land either ‘owned’ or held in kind or share.
  • The 59th round of the Situation Assessment Survey (SAS) of farmers also stresses on ‘possession of land’ either owned or leased or otherwise possessed for defining ‘farmers’.
  • Delinking of land as the defining criterion for a ‘farmer’ was done in the 70th round of SAS carried out by the NSSO.
  • The 70th Round of NSSO refined the definition of a farmer as one who earns a major part of the income from farming.


Access to land as a policy instrument in bringing about equitable growth of rural economies needs no further emphasis. However, until the time ‘land to the tiller’ remains just wishful thinking, adopting a broader definition of a ‘farmer’ is a short-term solution to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth.
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