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In June 2020, when India decided decided Hindustan Times Modi government doubles down on farm liberalisation Read more to liberalise trade in produce, it was hailed as a game-changer for agriculture. Farmers would no longer be constrained by the monopoly of regulated agricultural markets. They could now sell to anyone within the country, and long-locked doors would be thrown open for private investment private investment The Ken WayCool, DeHaat’s direct line to farmers as agri Licence Raj ends Read more .

But as important as allowing cultivators the freedom to choose their buyers is this question: just how much land does each of them legally own?

It’s not just the fate of India’s agricultural reforms that hinges on finding the answer to this. The allocation for India’s flagship welfare scheme for cultivators, PM-Kisan, was  cut cut The Economic Times Budget 2020: Govt cuts allocation for PM-Kisan by 27.5% for this fiscal Read more by more than a quarter to Rs 54,370 crore ($7.3 billion) for the year ended March 2020. This was partly because states did not have enough data on the potential beneficiaries.

The long-term success of a state-sponsored crop insurance scheme crop insurance scheme PM Fasal Bhima Yojana PM Fasal Bhima Yojana dashboard Read more would also be at risk if there was no clarity on which parcels of farmland to insure. The central and state governments’ share of the Rs 12,980 crore ($1.7 billion) premium for this kharif cropping season (June-October) is nearly 90%. This is part of farm subsidies farm subsidies Finance Commission Agricultural subsidies Read more for a range of things, including fertilisers and irrigation. Not to mention, lending to a farmer against their land would continue to be a punt. That is, unless one could conclusively prove that the land belongs to them and hasn’t already been used as collateral by someone else.

The heaps of public money at stake make a strong case for a rejig of a gargantuan but teetering 12-year-old government exercise. The Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) is supposed to digitise legally valid titles to plots—tied to their exact location using satellite data—and make them available on the web.

Digitisation, however, is not just about land coordinates, says SatSure co-founder and chief executive Prateep Basu.


Seetharaman G

Starting out as a business journalist in 2008, Seetharaman has written about energy, climate change, retail, banking, and technology. He has worked with Business Today, a fortnightly, and the Sunday edition of The Economic Times.

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