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Land reforms in post-colonial India

Land reforms in post-colonial India

(A) Land Reform (1947- 70):

  • The main characteristics of the agrarian structure which independent India inherited were
    • absentee land ownership;
    • exploitation of tenants through high rents and insecurity of tenure;
    • unequal distribution of land;
    • tiny and fragmented holdings; and
    • lack of adequate institutional finance to agriculture.
  • On this agrarian structure was imposed a situation in which bulk of the cultivators were short of fixed as well as working capital. This resulted in low investments and thereby low yields in agriculture.

Difference between Agrarian Reform and Land Reform:

  • Agrarian reform:
    • It includes land reform and also addresses education and training of farmers for better produce and marketing, rural credit, easier access to markets, and so on.
    • Agrarian structure is a broad concept comprising land tenure system, credit, marketing, etc. Thus agrarian reforms would imply corrective measures in land tenure system, credit and marketing.
  • Land reform:
    • The concept ‘land reforms’ is narrower and relates to the corrective measures in prevalent land tenure system.
    • Land reform was initiated by governments to achieve their social and political objectives and also to bring about changes in the lives of the poor landless peasants.
    • Over the years, it has dawned upon the experts and governments that land reform alone is not sufficient for optimal development. This has led to the introduction of agrarian reform that is a broader term than land reform.

Nehru on Land Reform:

  • Nehru strongly backed the implementation of land reforms, believing them to be necessary because, as he said: “We felt that this was the inner urge of our people because we heard the cry of millions of people and sometimes deep murmurs and rumblings which, if not listened to and if not answered, create big revolutions and changes in the country.” He viewed land reforms not only in terms of social equity but also within the larger perspective of economic development.
  • In a letter to chief ministers in 1954, Nehru observed: “The whole policy of land reforms apart from moving the burden of the actual tiller was to spread the income from the land more evenly among the peasantry and thus give them the purchasing power. In this way the internal market would expand and productive forces of the country would grow.”

Why Land Reform Needed (with background)?

  • Before Independence, there were three major systems of land tenure
    • Zamindari System,
    • Mahalwari System
    • Ryotwari System.
  • The Zamindari system was introduced by Lord Cornwalis in 1793 through permanent settlement that fixed the land rights of zamindars in perpetuity without any provision for fixed rents or occupancy rights for actual cultivators.
    • Under the permanent settlement, zamindars were found to be more interested in higher rent than in agricultural improvement.
  • During the early nineteenth century, efforts were made to undo the adverse effects of permanent settlement and to provide for temporary settlement as a matter of policy.
    • Regulation VII of 1822 Act provided for temporary settlement with provision for periodic settlement in parts of the United Provinces.
  • In the provinces of Madras and Bombay, Ryotwari system was prevalent.
    • Each ryot was recognised by law as the proprietor with the right to transfer or mortgage or sub-let his land.
  • In parts of United Provinces and Punjab, Regulation VII of 1822 Act and Regulation IX of 1833 Act provided for Mahalwari Settlement with the entire village community.
    • This required each peasant of the village to contribute to total revenue demand of the village on the basis of the size of holding.
  • In 1885, the Bengal Tenancy Act was passed with a view to conferring occupancy rights upon ryots who were in continuous possession of land for 12 years.
    • The tenant could not be evicted by the landlord, except by a decree of court.
    • Similarly, the Bihar Tenancy Act of 1885 and Orissa Tenancy Act of 1914 granted occupancy rights to tenants.
    • Besides, the Madras Tenancy Act of 1908 provided for protection of ryots from eviction as long as they paid the rents.
  • Nevertheless, since majority of actual cultivators were unrecorded tenants-at-will, these legal measures could not bring much relief to the tiller of the soil.
    • Although the adverse effect of landlordism on agricultural production was most profound in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa, other states that were under Ryotwari and Mahalwari Systems also witnessed the growth of a large number of intermediaries with all its adverse impact.
  • The leased-in area constituted nearly 35 per cent of the total operated area in 1950-51.
    • Most of the leases were unwritten and tenants did not have legal security of tenure.
    • The rents varied from 50 per cent to 70 per cent of gross produce.
    • In addition, tenants were often asked to provide free labour to landlords.
  • After Independence therefore, it became necessary to undertake some land reforms measures for removing the feudal character of the agrarian economy and paving the way for rapid agricultural growth with social justice.
  • Objectives of agrarian reforms:
    • To change the unequal and unproductive agrarian structure;
    • To remove exploitative agrarian relations, often known as patron-client relationship in agriculture
      • Patron-Client Relationship refers to exploitative agrarian relations in which landlords exploit the tenants or workers and yet there is so much dependence on landlords that the tenants or actual workers cannot severe the relationship.
    • To promote agriculture growth with social justice

Land reform Measures:

Agrarian Reforms Committee:

  • After Independence, the Indian National Congress appointed the Agrarian Reforms Committee under the Chairmanship of J.C. Kumarapppa, for making an in-depth study of the agrarian relations prevailing in the country. (He was an Indian economist and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. He coined the term “Gandhian economics.”)
  • The committee submitted its report in 1949 which had a considerable impact on the evolution of agrarian reforms policy in the post-independence period.
  • The committee did not recommend any uniform method of agrarian reform but instead led down certain principle on which land reform should be based upon.
  • The committee recommended that all intermediaries between the state and the tiller should be eliminated and the land must belong to the tiller subject to certain conditions.

Land reform and states:

  • Land reforms have been a major issue in developing countries because of their dependence on agriculture. Recognizing its importance in the post Independent India the Planning Commission in its First Five Year Plan declared that the future of land and cultivation constitutes perhaps the most fundamental issue in the national development.
  • However, according to the Constitution, agriculture and land belong to the State List and it is the states’ responsibility to implement the land reforms.
    • The central government’s role is restricted to providing overall guidance and support to the states.
    • Therefore, we find that the right after the Independence considerable variations in the manner in which different states have formulated policies and implemented them.
  • Some states have moved quickly by passing necessary legislations, while other states have adopted a slower and piecemeal approach in this regard. Consequently there are considerable variations in the results achieved by different states.
  • The Planning Commission, set up in 1951, began to look at land reforms from a national perspective.
    • Land policies evolved over time according to the priorities identified by the Planning Commission.
    • The Planning Commission also learnt from the experiences and made necessary changes in the policies.

Components of land reform:

  • The five components of land reform are:
    • Abolition of the Intermediataries
    • Tenancy Reforms
    • Ceiling on landholdings
    • Consolidation of holdings
    • Compilation and updating of land records.

(1) Abolition of Intermediaries

  • Following the recommendation of Kumarappa Committee, all the states in India enacted legislation for the abolition of intermediary tenures (Zamindari Abolition Acts) in the 1950s, although the nature and effects of such legislation varied from state to state.
  • In West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir, legislation for abolishing intermediary tenures was accompanied by simultaneous imposition of ceilings on land holdings.
  • In other states, intermediaries were allowed to retain possession of lands under their personal cultivation without limit being set, as the ceiling laws were passed only in the1960s.
    • As a result, there was enough time left for the intermediaries to make legal or illegal transfers of land.
    • Besides, in some states, the law applied only to tenant interests and not to agricultural holdings. Therefore, many large intermediaries continued to exist even after formal abolition of zamindari.
  • Upon the legal abolition of intermediaries between 1950 and 1960, nearly 20 million cultivators in the country were brought into direct contact with the Government.
  • Advantages:
    • As a result of the abolition of intermediaries, about 2 crore tenants are estimated to have come into direct contact with the State making them owners of land.
    • The abolition of intermediaries has led to the end of a parasite class. More lands have been brought to government possession for distribution to landless farmers.
    • A considerable area of cultivable waste land and private forests belonging to the intermediaries has been vested in the State.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Abolition of intermediaries has resulted in a heavy burden on the state exchequer .The ex-intermediaries have been given a compensation amounting to Rs. 670 crores in cash and in bonds.
    • It has led to large-scale eviction. Large-scale eviction, in turn, has given rise to several problems – social, economic, administrative and legal.
    • Instead of the abolition of the official land-lords, absentee land-lords as a class have emerged. Hence the claim of the official documents pertaining to the abolition of intermediaries has no logical foundation. The truth is that it has changed only its garb.
  • Analysis of Zamindari abolition Act:
    • The provision in Zamindari Abolition Act accommodates that the Zamindars can retain some lands for their personal use.
      • However, how much personal cultivable land can be retained was never defined.
      • Ceiling of holdings was not yet introduced by that time.
    • When the act was passed, there were no records that have the information about the tenancy. Zamindars showed the tenants as their servants and retained the lands.
    • Forests were massively depleted as there was a provision in the act that forests under the control of Zamindars shall be transferred to the village panchayats.
    • The government has to pay compensation for the confiscated lands. This provision in the act increased heavy pressure and burden on the State treasury.
    • States in the India were empowered to make laws related to Zamindari abolition act since the land comes under state list of the seventh schedule of the constitution of India. There was no uniformity in the act in each State.

(2) Tenancy Reforms

  • The Agrarian Reforms Committee recommended against any system of cultivation by tenants and maintained that leasing of land should be prohibited except in the case of widows, minors and disabled persons.
  • This viewpoint received further strength subsequently in various Five Year Plans.
    • According to the Second Five Year Plan, abolition of intermediary tenures and bringing the tenants into direct relations with the state would give the tiller of the soil his rightful place in the agrarian system and provide him with full incentives for increasing agricultural production
  • Immediately after Independence, although the major emphasis was on the abolition of intermediaries, certain amendments to the existing tenancy laws were made with a view to providing security to the tenants of ex-intermediaries.
    • But these legal measures provoked the landlords to secure mass eviction of tenants, sub-tenants and share croppers through various legal and extra-legal devices.
    • Following factors were utilised by the landlords to secure eviction of tenants:
      • Highly defective land records,
      • Prevalence of oral leases,
      • Absence of rent receipts,
      • Non-recognition in law of share- croppers as tenants and
      • various punitive provisions of the tenancy laws
  • To counteract such a tendency, therefore, it became necessary on the part of the State Governments to enact or amend the laws in the subsequent years and provide for adequate safeguards against illegal eviction and ensure security of tenure for the tenants-at-will.
  • Four distinct patterns:
    • Tenancy reforms undertaken by various states followed four distinct patterns.
    • First,
      • The tenancy laws of several states including Andhra Pradesh (Telengana region), Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh banned leasing out of agricultural land except by certain disabled categories of landowners, so as to vest the ownership of land with the actual tillers. But concealed tenancy continued to exist in all these states.
    • Second,
      • The state of Kerala banned agricultural tenancy altogether without having any exception.
    • Third,
      • States like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Haryana did not ban tenancy as such.
      • But tenants after continuous possession of land for certain specified years, acquired the right of purchase of the land they cultivated.
      • However, in all these states, leasing out by both large and small farmers continued. In fact, a tendency towards reverse tenancy in which large farmers leased-in land from marginal farmers was set in since the advent of green revolution in the mid-sixties.
    • Fourth,
      • States like West Bengal, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra area of Andhra Pradesh did not ban leasing-out of agricultural land. But share-croppers were not recognised as tenants.
      • The State of West Bengal recognised share-croppers as tenants only with effect from 1979, with the launching of ‘Operation Barga”. (explained later on)
  • Almost all State Governments provided for the regulation of rent, excepting Kerala where leasing out was completely prohibited.
    • The regulated or fair rent ranged between 1/4th to 1/6th of the produce. But actual rent remained always higher than the regulated or fair rent.
    • In many places where small and marginal farmers leased-in land from large or absentee landowners, the situation continued to be exploitative, thereby discouraging the actual tillers to cultivate the land efficiently.

(3) Ceilings on Land Holding:

  • The term ‘ceiling on land holdings’ refers to the legally stipulated maximum size beyond which no individual farmer or farm household can hold any land.
  • Like all other land reforms measures, the objective of such ceiling is to promote economic growth with social justice.
    • It has been duly recognized by India’s planners and policy makers that beyond a point any large scale farming in Indian situation becomes not only uneconomic, but also unjust.
    • Small farms tend to increase economic efficiency of resource use and improve social equity through employment creation and more equitable income distribution.
    • Small farms offer more opportunities for employment compared to large farms. Hence, even if large farms produce relatively more output per unit of area, they cannot be considered more efficient in a situation of widespread unemployment and under-employment prevalent in this country.
  • In 1942, the Kumarappan Committee recommended the maximum size of land a land lord can retain, it was three times of the size of the economic holding i.e. Sufficient livelihood for a family. The All India Kisan Sabha recommended that the land that can be retained by a family shall be 25 acres.
  • In 1959, Indian National Congress (Nagpur Resolution) resolved that agrarian legislation to cover restrictions on the size of land holdings must be implemented in all states by the end of 1959 and and surplus lands shall be brought under co-operatives.
    • Accordingly, all the State Governments excepting north-eastern region imposed ceilings on land holdings in the 1960s.
  • The states of West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir had already imposed ceilings on land holdings along with the laws for abolition of intermediaries in the early 1950s.
  • However, the Nagpur Resolution of 1959 had significant impact as various State Governments immediately took to the ratification of ceiling legislation. Some of the results of the Nagpur Resolution on Land Reform were:
    • The Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960;
    • The Madhya Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960;
    • The Orissa Land Reforms Act, 1969,
    • The Uttar Pradesh Imposition of Ceilings on Land Holdings Act, 1960;
    • The Bihar Land Reforms Act, 1961;
    • The Karnataka Land Reforms Act 1961;
    • The Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1960;
    • The Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Land) Act, 1961 and
    • The Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963
  • However, as the ceiling laws were not ratified simultaneously with abolition of zamindari, except in West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir , several nami and benami transfer of land took place. This reduced the potential ceiling surplus land that could be available for redistribution.
  • Besides, several states including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal followed individuals as the unit of application for ceiling, while family as the unit of application was adopted in Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
  • Ceilings were quite high in several states.
  • In addition, the several categories of land were exempted from the ceiling laws, for example:
    • Land under Tea, Coffee, Rubber, Coco and Cardamum Plantations
    • Land used for cultivation of Palm, Kesra, Bela, Chameli or rose when such land holders have no land for any other cultivation (U.P.)
    • Sugarcane Farms
    • Co-operative Gardens, Colonies
    • Tank Fisheries
    • Area under orchard up to 4 hectares (Punjab and Haryana)
    • Co-operative farming
    • Land held by religious, charitable and educational institutions
    • Land awarded for gallantry
    • Land held by sugarcane factories
    • Land held by state or Central Government
    • Land held by a public sector or industrial or commercial undertaking
    • Land vested in Gram Sabha, Bhoodan or Gramdan
  • These exemptions as provided in the ceiling laws gave rise to problems of law evasion by manipulating the classification of land.
  • Also the size of the ceiling surplus land available for redistribution was consequently reduced.
  • Analysis of Land Ceiling Act:
    • From 1960 to 1961, several States brought into force the Land Ceiling Acts. However, there was no proper result till 1972 due to the following:
      • The zamindars transferred the lands on to the names of their farm servants or other family members,
      • The act exempted the plantation industries and co-operative farming has got exemption which was tactfully utilized by the landlords.
    • In 1972, Basing on the recommendations of the Central land reforms committee, government of India issued the following new guidelines to the states with regard to land ceiling act:
      • Ceiling for the double crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 10 to 18 acres.
      • Ceiling for the single crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 27 acres.
      • Ceiling for the dry land it shall be 54 acres.
    • The above ceiling measurements were applicable to a family of five members. The family with more than five can have additional area of land for each additional member but the same cannot be extended beyond twenty acres.

(4) Consolidation of Holdings

  • The term ‘Consolidation of holdings’ refers to amalgamation and redistribution of the fragmented land with a view to bringing together all plots of land of a cultivator in one compact block.
  • Due to growing pressure of population on land and the limited opportunities for work in the non-agricultural sector, there is an increasing trend towards sub-division and fragmentation of land holdings. This makes the task of irrigation management, land improvement and personal supervision of different plots very difficult.
  • After independence, almost all states excepting Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and parts of Andhra Pradesh enacted laws for consolidation of holdings. But the nature of legislation and the degree of success achieved varied widely.
  • While in Punjab (including Haryana) it was made compulsory, in other states law provided for consolidation on voluntary basis, if majority of the land owners agreed.
  • Generally speaking, the consolidation acts provided for:
    • prohibition of fragmentation below standard area
    • fixation of minimum standard area for regulating transfers
    • schemes of consolidation by exchange of holdings
    • reservation of land for common areas
    • procedure for payment of compensation to persons allotted holdings of less value in exchange
    • administrative machinery for carrying consolidation schemes
    • filing of objections, appeals and penalties.
  • Advantages of Consolidation of Holdings:
    • It prevents the endless subdivision and fragmentation of land holdings.
    • It saves the time and labour of a farmer.
    • It effect improvement on land in the form of bunding, fencing etc.
    • It promotes large-scale cultivation by using mechanical machines like tractor.
    • It brings down the cost of cultivation and reduces litigation among farmers.
  • However, due to lack of adequate political and administrative support, the progress made in terms of consolidation of holding was not very satisfactory, excepting in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh where the task of consolidation was accomplished.
  • But in these states, there is a need for reconsolidation again due to subsequent fragmentation of holdings under the population pressure.

(5) Compilation and updating of land records.

  • (Explained later)

Bhoodan and Gramdan Movement: (Land reforms “from below”)

  • Bhoodan and Gramdan: These refer to the land management launched by late Shri Vinoba Bhave in 1951 immediately after the peasant uprising in Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Movement known as Gramdan came into being in 1957.
  • The objective was to persuade landowners and leaseholders in each concerned village to voluntarily renounce their land rights, after which all the lands would become the property of a village association for the egalitarian redistribution and for purpose of joint cultivation.
  • However, this land could not be sold. In effect, landless labourers were being given a small plot of land on which they can settle, as well as grow some of their own food.
  • The Government of various Provinces, passed Bhoodan Acts which generally stipulated that the beneficiary had no right to sell the land or use it for a non-agricultural purpose- including forestry.
  • Vinoba Bhave hoped to eliminate private ownership of land through Bhoodan and Gramdan and maintained that the movement would go a long way to ensure the just redistribution of land, the consolidation of holding and their joint cultivation.
  • Defects of Bhudan and gramdan Movement:
    • The movement failed to achieve its targeted objectives and the degree of success in respect of both land acquisition and land distribution was very limited.
    • Of the total land of about 42.6 lakh acres, received through Bhoodan, more than 17.3 lakh acres were rejected as they were found unfit for cultivation. About 11.9 lakh acres were distributed and 13.4 lakh acres remained to be distributed.
    • In most cases, the village landlords donated only those pieces of land which were either unfit for cultivation or were in dispute with tenants or government.
    • In fact, the landlords preferred to part away with their disputed lands as a compromise formula for there was little hope under the existing law, of being able to keep this land with them.
    • Besides, in return for such land donation, the landlords also received input subsidies and other facilities, which was no less an inducement to part away with the land unfit for cultivation.
    • Furthermore, while it was provided under the Gramdan movement that private ownership in land is to cease, only the landholders right to sell land was restricted (though not banned), leaving intact the right of inheritance on such lands by the children.

Legal Obstacles in land reform:

  • After independence, zamindari abolition and land reforms laws were passed as a move towards more egalitarian society, but the Government efforts of social engineering faced several problems, the land legislations were challenged in the courts.
  • The first case challenging the land law was Kameshwar Singh V State of Bihar:
    • In this case the Bihar Land Reforms Act 1950 was challenged on the ground that the classification of zamindars made for the purpose for giving compensation was discriminatory and denied equal protection of laws guaranteed to the citizen under Article 14 of the Constitution.
    • The Patna High Court held this piece of legislation as violative of Article 14 as it classified the zamindars for the purpose of payments of compensation in a discriminatory manner.
  • As a result of these judicial pronouncements, the Government got apprehensive that the whole agrarian reform programmes would be endangered.
    • To ensure that agrarian reform legislation did not run into heavy weather, the legislature amended the Constitution in the year 1951 which inserted Ninth Schedule.
    • Article 31-B was inserted by the First Constitutional (Amendment) Act 1951.
      • Article 31-B of the Constitution of India ensured that any law in the Ninth Schedule could not be challenged in courts and Government can rationalize its programme of social engineering by reforming land and agrarian laws.
      • In other words laws under Ninth Schedule are beyond the purview of judicial review even though they violate fundamental rights enshrined under part III of the Constitution. The other feature of Article 31-B is that it is retrospective in nature.
  • The rationale for Article 31-B and the Ninth Schedule was to protect legislation dealing with property rights and not any other type of legislation. But, in practice, Article 31-B has been used to invoke protection for many laws not concerned with property rights in anyway.

Choice of appropriate for of farm organisation:

  • After Independence there was also a debate on the choice of farm organisation.
  • The Kumarappa Committee (1949) expressed the view that peasant farming would be the most suitable form of cultivation although small farmers should be pooled under a scheme of cooperative or joint farming.
  • Besides, collective farming and state farming was for the development of reclaimed wasteland where landless agricultural workers could be settled.
  • According to the First Five Year Plan, the formation of co-operative farming associations by small holders would ensure efficient cultivation.
  • The Second Five Year plan asserted that a step should be taken for development for co-operative farming, so that a substantial proportion of land is cultivated on co-operative lines.
  • The Third Five Year Plan agreed to this proposal, but maintained that with the implementation of the programme of land reforms, the majority of cultivators in India would consist of peasant proprietorship. They should be encouraged and assisted in organizing themselves on voluntary basis for credit, marketing, processing, distribution and also for production.

Changes in Agrarian Structure:

  • After Independence, a number of land reform measures were undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s which were quite revolutionary in nature and impact.
  • As a result of abolition of zamindari, the feudal mode of production came to an end.
  • Also the proportion of area under tenancy declined.
  • However, tenancy reforms failed to yield much positive impact, as a large number of tenants-at-will were evicted from land.
  • Also the benefits of consolidation of holdings remained confined to Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
  • Thus, the first phase of post-independence land reforms in the 1950s and 1960s yielded a mixed result.
    • It could be termed successful in the sense that all intermediaries were abolished which provided the basis for improvement in agricultural productivity.
    • Nevertheless, the unequal agrarian structure remained in place.
  • In 1953-54 nearly 8 per cent of the ownership holdings accounted for about 51 per cent of the total area, while in 1971, about 10 per cent of the holdings accounted for 54 per cent of the total land.
  • There was an increasing tendency towards unequal power structure in terms of land ownership.
  • Although the average size of holdings declined from 2.39 hectares in 1953-54 to 2.21 hectares in 1971, in several states, the average size of large farms increased.
  • By 1972, laws had been passed in all the States to abolish intermediaries. All of them had two principles in common:
      • abolition of intermediaries between the state and the cultivator and
      • the payment of compensation to the owners.
  • But there was no clear mention about just and equitable compensation. Therefore, the Zamindari Abolition Act was challenged in the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • But the Government accomplished the task of abolishing intermediary tenures bringing nearly 20 million cultivators into direct contact with the state. Nearly 57.7 lakh hectares were distributed to landless agriculturists after the successful completion of the Zamindari Abolition Act.
  • The Zamindari abolition also had a favourable economic impact on the country.
    • By conferring the ownership of land to the tiller, the Government provided an incentive to improve cultivation. This paved the way for increase in efficiency and yield.
    • This was an important step towards the establishment of socialism and the Government revenue increased.
    • It also ushered in cooperative farming.

Protection of Tribal Land

  • All the concerned states ratified laws for prevention of alienation of the tribals from land. In all the scheduled areas, land transfer from tribal to non-tribal population was prohibited by law.
  • But due to various legal loopholes and administrative lapses, alienation of the tribals from their land continued on a large scale. In fact, mortgaging of land to moneylenders due to indebtedness, poverty and acquisition of tribal land for irrigation, dams and other public purposes were largely responsible for alienation of tribal land.
  • Since land is the main source of livelihood for the tribal people and they do not have much upward mobility, indiscriminate acquisition of tribal land for public purposes should be avoided.

(B) Land Reform (After 1970):

  • The failure of the first round of land reforms to remove the unequal power structure in the villages caused a lot of discontent among the poor.
    • Besides, the green revolution in the late 1960s further widened the income gap between the haves and the have nots.
    • In fact, the growing discontent led to land conflicts, including naxalite movement in West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of the country.
  • These developments forced the government to revise the ceiling laws in the early 1970s. In addition, some state governments amended their tenancy laws.
  • Further, a need for proper maintenance and updating of land records was felt.
  • Various measures of land reforms undertaken since 1970 and their analysis can be divided into six points:
    • Lowering ceiling limits and thrusts on effective redistribution of ceiling surplus land
    • Amendments in tenancy laws
    • Computerisation and updating of land records
    • Changes in the agrarian structure
    • Changes in the status of consolidation of holdings
    • Perspective of land reforms in the wake of economic liberalisation

(1) Lowering Ceiling Limits and Effective Redistribution of Ceiling Surplus Land:

  • The Union Government in consultation with state governments prepared national guidelines for more or less uniform ceiling laws.
  • Following the guidelines all the state governments lowered the ceiling limits and inter-state variations in the levels of ceilings as well as exemptions granted to various categories of land were reduced.
  • Besides, there emerged a uniform pattern of ceiling legislation in the country; the family being now the unit of application in all the states.
  • The ceiling limits in various states was about 4 hectares of irrigated land capable of producing at least two crops in a year and its equivalent of other categories of land.
  • The ceiling laws enacted in the 1970s were an improvement over the ones adopted in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Problems with new Ceiling Acts:
    • However, certain categories of land continued to be exempted from ceiling which left scope for law evasion through the device of shifting lands to the exempted categories. These included mainly the following categories of land:
      • Land held by religious, charitable and educational institutions,
      • Land for special cultivation of tea,
      • Land held by a co-operative farming society for feeding a sugar factory (Assam)
      • Land under plantations and private forest (Kerala)
      • Land belonging to primary co-operative societies (Himachal Predesh)
      • Land possessed by commercial undertakings (Tamil Nadu)
    • Moreover, although family is now the unit of application for the purpose of determining the ceiling, the term ‘family’ has been defined very broadly in many states and the majors have been granted separate units in almost all the states.
    • In other words, even the new ceiling laws did not attack the various sources of law evasion and the question of proper ceiling legislation and its implementation has not yet been solved.
    • This should have provided at least 90 per cent of the area required to give any/every landless family a minimum basic holdings. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
    • Of the total ceiling surplus land distributed, about one-fifth was in the state of West Bengal. Other larger states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have redistributed relatively smaller area.
    • The ceiling laws enacted by various states are often not properly defined and therefore, there is either law evasion or delay in the implementation of the law. For example, the existing laws
      • do not specifically provide for suo-motto action on benami transfer of land,
      • do not ensure correct record of land owners about ceiling,
      • do not ensure punishment for the law evaders, and
      • do not take possession of the wasteland for redistribution.
    • In many cases implementation of ceiling laws has been poor because the ceiling laws came into conflict with the law of inheritance.
      • For example, before the ceiling law was implemented the land was distributed among minor sons, daughters and grandsons and granddaughters which is permitted by the law of inheritance.
    • The available data suggest that large number of cases related to ceiling surplus land are pending in courts because of delay in judicial decisions. There are a lot of court cases pending.
    • Moreover, the implementation of ceiling laws has been very slow because of:
      • influence of landlords
      • lack of organisation of potential beneficiaries
      • lack of up-to-date land records, and
      • manipulative changes in the classification of land,
    • Furthermore, a large part of the ceiling surplus land acquired by the government is of inferior quality.
      • The allotees of such land need to invest substantially on land reclamation for bringing such land under cultivation.
      • Although there is a centrally sponsored scheme for reclamation of such lands, in most states, the scheme has not been operationalised because the state governments has to provide equal matching grant.

(2) Amendments in Tenancy Laws:

  • During the 1970s several state governments amended their tenancy laws.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, the amendment of 1974 to tenancy laws conferred continuous right of resumption on land owners.
  • In Gujarat, the tenancy act was amended according to which tenants who were evicted between 1957 and 1992 were entitled to restoration.
  • In Jammu & Kashmir, the J&K Agrarian Act of 1976 declared that all rights, titles and interests in land of any person not cultivated personally after 1971 shall be vested in the state.
    • The Act provided for conferment of right of tenant after allowing the resident land owner to resume land for personal cultivation provided the tenant is left with no less than 2 standard acres of land.
  • The Government of Karnataka amended the Land Reform Act 1961 in 1973, which provided for fixity of tenure subject to landlords right to resume half the leased area. In 1979 the tenancy law was further amended which banned leasing-out and conferred ownership right on a large number of tenants.
  • In Uttar Pradesh an amendment to the tenancy law was made in 1977.
    • According to this, Sirdars excepting those settled on vacant land were declared as Bhumidars with transferable rights.
  • In West Bengal, the law on acquisition and settlement of homestead land (amendment act 1972) provided that tenants of homestead lands would be given full right.
  • Besides, the Left wing government of West Bengal launched ‘Operation Barga’ for recording the share cropping tenancy in 1978.
    • It bestowed on the bargadars, the legal protection against eviction by the landlords, and entitled them to the due share of the produce.
    • Registration of Sharecroppers (Bargadar)
    • Fixed rent: 25% of the produce. Meaning landowner (Jotedar) can only get 25% of the produce. While Sharecropper (Bargadar) gets 75% of the produce.
    • It has been estimated that about 14 lakh share-croppers (bargadars) were conferred with permanent heritable right.
    • In fact, the impact of such special campaign for recognizing and recording the land rights of share croppers is said to have yielded positive impact on agricultural productivity and poverty reduction in the state.

(3) Changes in Agrarian Structure:

  • After implementation of land reforms, it was expected that there will be a remarkable change in the agrarian structure in terms of reduction in the concentration of land holdings and improvement in the economic conditions of poor tenants. However, the available data indicate that inequality in the ownership of land holdings has not declined much over time.
  • In a number of states including Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu &Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa and Rajasthan there was an increase in the concentration ratio of land holdings which indicates that the land reform measures have been mostly ineffective in reducing the level of rural inequality.
  • In many states since tenancy is legally banned concealed tenancy exists. In the state of Bihar, for example, the incidence of tenancy is reported to be above 30%. Thus, the agrarian structure seems to be as unequal and unproductive as before.

(4) Updating of Land Records:

  • The maintenance of up-to-date land records is important not only for effective implementation of land records, but also for harmonizing the process of overall rural transformation.
  • During the Seventh Five Year Plan a centrally sponsored scheme was launched for computerization of land records.
  • However, the progress made so far is poor due to lack of adequate infrastructural and training support at the local level. Besides, there is a need to take steps to bring about transparency in the administration of land record.

The National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP)

  • The Land Reforms Division (Department of Land Resource, Ministry of Rural development) was implementing two Centrally Sponsored Schemes:
    • Computerisation of Land Records (CLR)
    • Strengthening of Revenue Administration and Updating of Land Records (SRA&ULR).
  • Later on 21.8.2008, the Cabinet approved merger of these schemes into a modified Scheme named National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP).
  • The main aims of NLRMP are
    • to usher in a system of updated land records,
    • automated and automatic mutation,
    • integration between textual and spatial records,
    • inter-connectivity between revenue and registration,
    • to replace the present deeds registration and presumptive title system with that of conclusive titling with title guarantee,
    • development of core Geospatial Information System (GIS) and
    • capacity building.
  • The NLRMP has 3 major components –
    • Computerization of land record
    • Survey/re-survey
    • Computerization of Registration.
  • The District has been taken as the unit of implementation, where all programme activities are to converge.

(5) Consolidation of Holding:

  • Since 1971 there has not been much progress in the consolidation of holdings.
  • In several states, the consolidation programme has not made any progress what so ever due to lack of compulsory provisions in the law.
    • In Bihar, the consolidation programme has been discontinued since July 1992.
    • The Government of Karnataka repealed the consolidation act in 1991.
    • The state of Maharashtra also suspended the implementation of consolidation programme with effect from 1993.
  • In view of the overall beneficial effects of the consolidation programme, state governments should give priority to it. Besides, the state governments should ensure that interest of small and marginal farmers and tenants are protected during the process of consolidation through appropriate and up-to-date land records and proper valuation of their lands.

(6) New Economic Policy and Land Reforms:

  • New Economic Policy: It refers to the policy of economic reforms liberalisation adopted since 1991. The new policy talks of a more liberal land ceiling and land leasing.
  • In the wake of economic reforms, land reforms appear to have taken a back seat in India. Sometimes even the philosophy of redistribution of land through land reforms is questioned. It is often argued that the existing land reforms laws restrict the growth of capitalistic/contract farming which is necessary for market-led growth.
  • Some state governments even proposed for relaxation of ceiling and tenancy laws for revitalizing the land market.
    • The Government of Maharashtra has already proposed for upward revision of land ceiling for horticultural purposes.
    • The state of Karnataka also has prepared an agricultural policy which mentions about the need for liberalisation of tenancy and upward revision of ceiling.
    • However, the Government of India has not so far agreed to such proposals.
  • In fact, the argument that land reform stands in the way of market-led growth appears to be misplaced.
    • The experience of countries like Japan and Korea shows that land reforms can help in the faster and more sustainable development of capitalistic agriculture, without creating much pain for the rural population.
    • But market-led economic reforms, not accompanied by land reforms, could be painful for the rural poor and may not be sustainable in the long run.
    • An a matter of fact land reforms should precede market reforms as a means of rapid and balanced economic development.

Land Rights of Women:

  • Land reform policy in the past did not address the question of land rights of women.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, the Zamindari abolition act banned a female child from inheritance of agricultural land. In some states, women cannot even buy agricultural land. In the absence of recorded land rights, they cannot prove that they are agriculturists.
  • In 1992 the revenue ministers’ conference recommended that:
    • In matters of distribution of ceiling surplus land and other public lands, women should be given equal opportunities.
    • The land should be allotted jointly in the name of husband and wife.
    • In practice, however, women are generally ignored as land ownership is given in the name of a male member of the benefited family.
  • If women farm the land but don’t own it, they are little more than migrant laborers tilling fields owned by others.
    • Without legal control over the land, or any documentation that they have rights to the ground they farm, they can’t access institutional credit, such as bank loans.
    • Nor can they take advantage of agricultural extension programs, such as government offers of subsidized seeds and fertilizers.
    • All of this stymies agricultural development.
  • Researchers have found that women simply direct more of their income than men towards their children’s education and nutrition, which in turn lowers child mortality and helps reduce diseases of poverty.
  • The 2005, Hindu Succession Amendment Act giving sons and daughters equal rights to inheriting family land and property was heralded as an important step forward for India’s women. But in India tradition dictates that sons inherit family property. To ask for her share, many women fear, would cause conflict within the family.
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