Dear Middle class of India,

It is now time for you to make up your mind. There is an important topic you have avoided discussing so far, and it is high time you did it now.

The topic you need to talk about is restriction you put on farmers, preventing them from selling their land for non-agricultural purposes. No, please don’t change the topic or use euphemisms. Your romantic view of farming is directly responsible for keeping farmers in penury and bound to their land.

Because of your support for those rules, farmers cannot sell their land. If an industrialist wants to set up a factory in a rural area, he cannot approach the farmers directly and cut a deal. He has to approach the government to acquire land for him. Because of you, local politicians can run reigns of terror over entire districts, because they have feudal power over which land gets acquired and which doesn’t. Your support for these rules is directly responsible for thousands of crores worth of corruption in India.

Your support for this idiotic restriction forces landless labourers to travel long distances, to cities in different states to get seasonal jobs. If you had let industries come up in backward areas, they would have got jobs close to their homes.

Your support is directly responsible for the stunted and haphazard growth of our cities. You are responsible for not letting small towns in India develop. These restrictions put inordinate amount of pressure on large cities and have made them unlivable. You are directly responsible for that, and if you own a house or piece of land in those cities, you are directly benefiting from the cruelty you are inflicting on farmers.

No, please don’t give me excuses for why you do not support lifting this restriction fully. I have heard those and I don’t care. I don’t care for what your theoretical ideal of village life is. These are the facts. 60% of our people are working on an activity that contributes only 30% to the GDP. There are more farmers than needed, producing more food than can be consumed, using land less efficiently than necessary. There really is no way to get a better income for the farmers without making food more expensive for the poor. Don’t try to juggle the numbers. There really is no way. The only way out is for us to have fewer farmers working more productively on less land. But the rules you are supporting make it tougher for the transition from agriculture to industry to take place gracefully.

I am accusing you, the middle-class Indian, with good reason. Usually the reason for the existence of idiotic laws is that some interest groups benefit from them. This is true of laws related to agricultural land too. Corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and land sharks derive their power from this rule. Industrialist prefer to grab land through politicians rather than buy it and leftists use the opportunity to extract their pound of flesh in the name of protecting the interests of the poor. And people like you who have no idea of village life, whose parents or grand parents have abandoned a lifestyle in favour of city dwelling, still continue to insist on romanticizing the village and agriculture. It is this attitude that makes it almost impossible to find any columnist or editor who will say that farmers should be allowed to sell their land.

The root of so many of the problems you find in India lies in this problem, whether it is the BMIC or Singur. The next time you want to ask someone “Why have the benefits of liberalization not reached the poor even after 15 years of liberalization?” ask yourself “Do I support the right of farmers to sell their land to anyone they want?” If your answer is “No”, then the you have found the answer to your first question. It is because of you.

65 thoughts on “Dear Middle class of India,

  1. Excellent post, Ravi. I’d contend, though, that “the middle-class India” you speak to doesn’t necessarily support that stupid law: he is probably ignorant of it, and perhaps apathetic towards its consequences.

  2. What Amit said struck me too when I read your post. The middle-class Indian is guilty of supporting other stupid policies and laws – such as the restriction of FDI or the restriction of free trade in general, continuation of minimum support prices etc., but I don’t expect many people to be even aware of this particular law. I, atleast, wasn’t until this Singur thingie came about.

  3. I think there are 2 very important things that the middle class is ignorant about. One is the issue you write about. Second is how difficult it is for small private players to open schools in villages.

  4. What are the chances of us influencing VV Chopra to make this as the central theme for Munnabhai-3? Munnabhai saying to the PM – “Arre Mamu, agar iss kisaan ko apna zameen bada log ko bechneka hai to bechne de na. Tu kaay ko beech mein ghusta hai?”

    That might raise awareness. Editors are columnists will take too long to see the point.

  5. The article was very enlightening. I was ignorant of the fact that farmers could not sell their land for non-agricultural uses. I read very often in the news about state governments promising corporations land, such as in AP, West Bengal and for those SEZ’s, but never understood why it was like that.

  6. Ravi,

    While agreeing with everything you say, how did you reach the conclusion that middle class favors these laws? In fact, middle class it self suffers from laws like ULCA which have ensured that property prices in India are among the highest in the world.

  7. Here is an anecdote.
    On one of the travel forums, a similar question of not allowing farmers to sell land to non farmers was raised.One poster made a point that this was discrimination against the farmer. To which a senior government servant ( I think it was an IA& AS officer ) responded that she ( he ? ) did not understand how this law was discriminatory. So it had to spelled out, that by removing all non farmers from the list of potential buyers, you were reducing the choice for the farmer to sell land to i.e restricting demand & therefore depressing farm land prices and hence was anti farmer.
    The point of the anecdote : No point blaming middle class for not knowing the existence of the law. Even if you told them that such a law exists they would not know how it affects others. Instead focus on our education system. Is it teaching people to put 2 & 2 together to get results. Sadly an India Today survey published last month, that Indian students are good at rote learning and not at applying them.

  8. “And people like you who have no idea of village life, whose parents or grand parents have abandoned a lifestyle in favour of city dwelling, still continue to insist on romanticizing the village and agriculture. It is this attitude that makes it almost impossible to find any columnist or editor who will say that farmers should be allowed to sell their land.”

    Great! I guess, such an attitude is among the most difficult non-tariff barriers to cross – both in domestic and international trade.

  9. Not only are farmers not allowed to sell the land for non-agricultural use, but also in many states there are further restrictions, e.g., in Maharashtra you can’t sell land to somebody who is not an agriculturist already. This means if a new person wants to indulge into agricultural activity, he can’t do so as he cannot purchase such land. Moreover, tribal land cannot be sold to a non-tribal for agricultural or non-agricultural purposes, whatsoever. In some states, you cannot sell the land to any outsider.

    The actual figures are in fact worse than what you have quoted. The agricultural sectors accounts for 70% population surviving on it, but contributes only about 21% to the GDP as per the latest data.

    With land-holding reducing increasingly due to further fragmentation of land between sons of the exising generation farmer, etc., and so on, most of the farmers cannot expect to be more than marginal farmers. How much can you earn with a tiny land holding? The system is deliberately devised by the politicians to serve their interests.

    An excellent and timely article, indeed!

  10. Agriculture is dead; and has been dead since the birth of the industrial revolution, which helped make mechanized farming possible.

    Why do some insist on saving agriculture? And for whom? I guest for these left-wallas there is dignity in poverty, but in reality there is none.

  11. Ravi,
    Do you mean farmers or land-owners when you say…

    “… restriction you put on farmers, preventing them from selling their land for non-agricultural purposes.”

  12. Well… so land-owners really… who may or may not be farmers..

    Ok…

    I agree with you that govt. intervention for this only aggravates the problem. Though I am not convinced that the middle-class is responsible for that law staying.

    However, I’d be interested to know if you have a good solution to the broader problem? There is a large section of poor people in India who do the farming and collect daily wages (and an arbit no. of bags of rice after harvest). Zamindars can do whatever they want with the land at any point in time and sometimes even causing large scale deaths (debts, suicide).

  13. Most SEZ deals with farmers are on a willing-buyer – willing-seller basis. The government has procured land only for a handful of SEZ, admittedly in AP the government has been very proactive (such as in Chittor / Vizag).

    Most SEZ players are finding it difficult to buy not because of the rules against selling, but the owners rarely have the papers to establish their claims over the lands. They then hire consultants/ex-state govt officials to first help the farmers get the papers and then execute the sale deeds. There are some variations in laws in each state.

    You have a point about absolute freedom for farmers, but I am afraid that wont work without modifications in India. Strike that – it wont work without causing violent strife in India. Add to this mix, the narrow caste profiles of land owners and daily wage farmers and you will get the picture.

  14. I suppose this law is required as

    most of the farmers were given govt. land as they were landless. Mainly, these were forest land. Now, if farmers are allowed to sell their lands, they again become landless and demand more land.

    it checks landgrabbing to some extent.

    the major point is indescriminate sale of land for non-agricultural purpose may greatly affect india’s self reliance of agri-products.

  15. How do you know if the farmer gets a just price for the land that he is selling. In many instances, the industrialists buy bulk-land at throw away prices, especially because the farmers are currently living in penury and starvation.

    How do you prevent the farmers from becoming victims of land sharks ?

    Imagine a relatively well off farmer who has 10 acres of land. He would not sell his land when an industrialist comes to purchase. Instead, the relatively poor farmer who has only 1 acre of land sells it off immediately to get quick money. Thereby,he loses his only source of capital. The rich farmer holding 10 acres keeps his land knowing that the price will only increase in the future.

    And I am not even talking about the farmer who has 10 acres of land. It is that ultra-feudal landlord who owns 100 acres of land. This cheap bastard keeps all his land, and never invests in any industry. He would rather want to do real-estate business after the fruits of industrialisation come out in the open.

    All this talk about easy flow of land-capital doesn’t make any sense unless land reforms are properly implemented in our country. India is the proud bastion of feudalism in the world where it is possible to have several thousands of acres of land effectively concentrated within a single family.

    Capitalism is good, but feudalism has to go before any good can be done by the free flow of capital.

  16. The lands have already been grabbed.

    Haven’t you seen the footage?

    The poor will always be fucked.

    The rich will sometimes be.

    Now and then.

    There is no such thing as my land your land.

    There is no such thing as middle-class.

    The benches have already been broken.

    The black-board has faded.

    Children bring patched jute sacks to class.

    Poorers just sit down on the broken once-cemented floor.

    It’s winter and imagine a kid in class with cold slowly moving through his anus.

    To the already hungry stomach.

    There is no such thing as the Fucking middl- class.

    It was the class of 47 which fucked everyone.

    I don’t know I don’t feel.

    There is no pain and even the sadness has left.

    Stony is the word though grass is not available.

    For the green patches have industries running on them.

    Don’t let the farmers sell the land.

    It is the only land where they will be buried.

    Don’t give loans to the farmers.

    For they are always waiting to get rid of this beautiful life.

    A loan here and a body there. As if waiting for a chance.

    Get those foren companies here.

    Take all the lands. Fuck all the farmers.

    Who cares about agriculture when you got blogs to write shit.

    And good jobs to get feed.

    Why cry for a cause which doesn’t affect me?

    Not now not never.

    For if everyone comes to the city.

    I will go back to the village.

    Simple.

  17. Hi Ravi,

    I am surprized at some of the points you make here, and am really worried to see comments by your readers like “the agriculture is dead”.
    Singur has been hijacked by politicians, I agree. Land holders were offered very good compensation (if we believe the news paper reports), I agree. But, should that suppose to mean people are ‘willing’ to sell the land? What will they do after they sell their land? Do you think they will get a job that will keep them in good stead? All of them? It is fine as long as they are willing to sell, but forcing them to sell is what should be condemned. But to be honest, I do not know what’s up in Singur (and I think neither do you) – all we here is what Mamta-Brinda-Media washing the dirty linen in the public. And we assume things to suit our prejudice.

    Do you know of the protests by farmers in Maharashtra opposing the SEZs coming over there at their livelihood’s expense? Do you know of one Mr. Bhaskar Save and his Kalpavriksha farm that is about to be forced to be sold to an MNC named Unocal?

    Okay, let’s sell all our farmlands to these MNCs and let’s migrate to towns and cities. Who will produce the food for you? “Import that grains US is so eagerly waiting to sell to you”, shouldn’t we? And, the day we kill our agrarian structure, we would have sold our self-sustainance to outsiders.
    It’s very easy to think of the farmers as those who are illegally sitting on the lands that should have been sold to an MNC for SEZ before 1948. Let’s not discuss the middle-class stuff here, it’s everyone’s favourite punching bag.

    If the traditional ways of farming that was so very much Indian was allowed to be continued, then the farming would never have been the painful experience that it is today. Please search for ‘Sir Albert Howard’ and read what he had to say about Indian agriculture in the early 1900s.
    But with the invasion of chemical-intensive green revolution, our traditional farming has been devastated. That has lead to the problems that we face today. Please read my recent post from my blog.

    We hear so much about tribals, human-ecology conflicts, that famous discussion between Nehru and the tribal representatives. But none of us really see the things from their perspectives. We assume this birth-right to dictate everyone else’s (meaning those who are not so strong politically or who are not ‘civilized’ the way we want them to be) ways of livelihood as long as I’m not affected.

    And my words for you: I don’t know if you have ever lived in a village and did some farming, but it’s certainly not so good to assume things. The farm land that people own is their’s and they have every right to live the way they want. If you want a discussion on all these stuffs like no-agriculture-tax, MSPs etc, I’m open to it, as long as we keep it clean and objective.

  18. Prashant, regardless of what you are saying, here is the deal. If you have 60% of the country engaged in producing food, that 60% will be poor, unless the country spends 60% of its income on food. If the country spends 60% of its income on food, then a huge proportion of its population is starving.

  19. I missed one more point. Per-capita land holding of India is much less than probably anywhere else in the world. So, mathematically, total land under cultivation is still not substantial. So, you need land to produce food if you need to be food-secure for the estimated 140 odd crore people by 2050. That means you cannot take substantial land out of farming.
    Now coming to the employment of people: If you need to keep some income flowing into these farmer’s families and provide jobs for them, you need to keep them engaged in farming. No industry can provide job for so many people.
    Yes, you do need industries to spread across the country. But then, you have got to keep the forest cover (if not increase it) for survival. So, someday, you need to have a fresh look at the mining and other area-intensive industries.

  20. Ravikiran, needless to say, I wasn’t even aware of the law that you’ve mentioned, but can you elaborate a bit on why it exists?

    I assume the supposed reason is that the government wants to control agriculture in general and the amount of food produced by the country overall. I’m just curious to know how could this (loosely put, self-sufficient food production) be controlled by a state, if at all it needs to be.

    In short, what do other liberalized countries do in this respect?

  21. Ravikiran,
    I remember my dad wanting to buy land and he’d always go, “Oh, that one’s agricultural” and I often asked him why and he’d just say “agricultural is treated differently” but I never understood why. Btw, part of why your post is so effective is you pinch where it hurts:)
    Prashanth,
    I’m not sure I agree with you wholly. Yes, selling “all” the farms would be stupid, but surely if Ravikiran’s figures are right, we have a surplus and legislation needs to move in a direction correcting for that, doesn’t it?

  22. Ravi,

    I will like to add something. The reason why farmers do not leave agriculture is in addition to government control of sale of land, lack of alternatives, because while a few can become enterpreneurs, historically population in agrarian economies became workers in industry, which can not go off in a big way in India as long as our dear comrades are bent on wrecking India.

  23. Ravi,

    “So, the logical conclusion is that we need to invade Pakistan, kill all its people and occupy their land?”
    Is that all you have got to say? May be you can try invading China, for, you’ll get more land.
    Putting it mildly, everyone wants to blow a trumphet and say ‘Hey, see, this is the problem. I deserve the credit for being the FIRST person to shed my tears and blowing (or blogging) the trumphet which atleast the next-guy-in-the-line heard’. To be brutally honest, no one seem to understand the scenario and only know a part of the problem. AND, no one has a thread to a solution.
    Have you done any research on the law that you are talking about here, or is it because you were about to buy a property cheaply and somebody told you that you cannot build a house over there without all those conversion stuff, that you attcked the oh-that-****-Indian-middle-class?

  24. No. It is difficult to invade China. We may lose. More importantly, even if we occupy China, just to the north of India is Tibet, which is infertile land and it is too much of a bother to transport our farmers there across the Himalayas. We could invade Bangladesh, but there is no point as Global Warming will mean that it will soon get flooded. That, I am afraid, only leaves Pakistan.

    I do not hate Pakistan. But simple mathematics tells me that we need more land:

    1) We need to increase per capita land holdings.
    2) Those who are currently farmers, should stay farmers.
    3) From 1 and 2, we need more land under agriculture.
    4) We need more forest land.
    5) We also need more industries. i.e. We need land for them.

    Quite clearly, this does not leave us with any options. Sorry Pakistan.

  25. I do not fully agree with your statement that “Middle Class of India” is responsible for the unequal industrial growth of the cities and also to the neglect of the the small towns. The fault lies with the goverment systems, the state governments ,the central government and to their lack of foresight and planning. No proper thought was given to develope the basic infrastrure like water, electricity,roads etc.which are essential for the subsequent industrial development in these small towns. Who should be blamed for this, the Middle Class of India or the the legislators and the government bodies who are at the helm of this affair.
    The resultant is the condition that we see of the mega cities like Mumbai which is now at the point of bursting at the seams and the middle class of India has no choice but to get drifted with the current.

  26. Hi People,

    We are discussing the problem and giving some or the other very impossible solutions , i.e to invade Pakistan and kill everyone over there just to have the Farm Land , one thing we are not USA and we dont have that much of inhumanity in us to do that.

    Coming to the problem why dont we find the good solution for it , i have one if everyone agrees on the same and i know over here there are many Professional i.e Doctors , CAs, CSs , Engineers , Bcoms and etc.. etc

    I think we can come togather and form a group who can invade this problem and find practical solutions for the same , if we want to earn and make this as our Profession as Consultancy to the Farmers where Farmers could also be saved and given the correct direction for the same , We can educate poor people and also earn our leaving and see what is village life and we can make that better place to leave in . What says friend , any one can Email me for their response on the same to keyurrut@gmail.com , Pls do revert back. Thanks KS

  27. Ravi

    The farmers ought to have the freedom to buy or sell land directly. Imposing regulations on the ‘freedom’ of people is a kind of ‘Social control’; whose only aim is to bring monies for the ‘political parties’.

    Excellent post!

  28. OMG Are you completely deluded? Or is this what happens when your head is really really far up your ass?

    Excuse me, mister examined life, but a majority of the urban middle class in Bombay didn’t even get a vote the last time I checked. Everyone knows that the middle class is nothing but a hapless victim- too rich to get any sympathy, too poor to get any welfare. And the tax laws in our glorious country will perpetually fuck us over.

    Your argument is basically- govt makes rules, capitalists exploit farmers using those rules and therefore middle class sucks? And have you bothered offering a solution? Or is pointing fingers at factions of society too much hard work for one day?

    I’m a middle class Indian and to all your accusations of how I am somehow mysteriously responsible for the government’s legislations and the capitalists’ exploitation, I say FUCK YOU, YOU SELF-RIGHTEOUS WINDBAG.

  29. Wait a minute. That made no fucking sense. Let me read that again….

    Nope. Makes absolutely no fucking sense.
    BTW, How many middle-class people actually get to vote, you fucktard? If anything, accuse the middle-class of apathy and not voting like a retard (or was that ravikiran?). Of course, if your aim was to spout shit, bravo my good friend, you’ve done an excellent job. Do you take a special course to spout this bullshit or were you born with that particular ability. And don’t even fucking start with “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” shit. The Interweb doesn’t work that way. i get your fucking article emailed to me and I threw up all over my desk. Oh, and pull y’er head out of y’er ass. Or is it too far in already?

  30. Ravikiran Rao Says:

    Prashant, regardless of what you are saying, here is the deal. If you have 60% of the country engaged in producing food, that 60% will be poor, unless the country spends 60% of its income on food. If the country spends 60% of its income on food, then a huge proportion of its population is starving.

    Can you cite the source for this mindless statistic? Is the source your ass?

  31. Dear Sumo Wrestlers of Japan,

    It is time to talk about how your actions have impacted the retail prices of manicures and pedicures. Indeed your voracious food consumption has resulted in a biblical shortage of nail enamel.

    See how I related two completely different things? You see where I’m going with this?

  32. Bravo.

    For writing the most pretentious piece of crap I have ever seen.

    Do you do it on purpose or is your head so far up your ass that your turds have clouded your mind?

    Stop acting like a puffed up bullfrog, for all our sakes.

  33. The problem is that farmers will sell off their agricultural land for real estate development simply because agriculture is not very profitable and the gains from selling in the booming real estate markets are huge and immediate (Research has shown that human beings have a tendency to slant towards immediate gain rather than long term ones. It is how homo sapiens are different from homo economicus.)

    Now why is agriculture unprofitable for most farmers?

    The reasons are:

    Huge direct subsidies for farmers in the US and the EU.

    Huge subsidies for energy and transportation.

    Subsidies for energy mean that farmers in rich countries can use energy intensively to grow more in less space with less manpower.
    Energy subsidies also mean that transportation is below cost.

    Energy is kept subsidised by coercion and not factoring in the environmental costs.

    So we have a dysfunctional state in which many farmers are distressed and at a big disadvantage.

    Once agricultural land is moved over to development it is difficult to bring back to agriculture. It doesn’t work like in textbooks. Resources cannot be moved back and forth without losing productive value.

    I would say a case-by-case approval of conversion of agricultural land should be allowed. The Tatas have always been too naive politically in their dealings.

  34. Hi,
    In the context of West Bengal, farmers can sell their land for non-agricultural purposes. However they must buy an equivalent acreage of agricultural land within the fiscal or in a max of 17 mths if they have cunningly sold post-September.

    And, the farmer who sells plot number two of agri-land to farmer no:1 must again buy equivalent acreage within 17 months. And farmer no:3 who sold to farmer no:2 must again etc — the iteration can apparently legally continue forever.

    So, Ravikiran get your facts straight and don’t malign the good Bong middle-class.
    Farmers in WB can sell their land which can be converted to non-agri – it is merely that they cannot diminish the total land under agri-acreage or exit the farming profession!

    (Before you ask: No! nonagriculutural land cannot be converted to agri purposes – this would be negative value-addition or it would involve conversion of notified forest areas, etc.)
    Regards
    Devangshu

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