(GS Paper 3) Land reforms in India (Part 2)

Land reforms in India (Part 2)

(Sources: IGNOU materials, GOI websites, Planning Commission reports, EPW)


We will divide the study of “Land reforms in India” in two parts:

  1. Land Reform (1947- 70)
  2. Land Reform (After 1970)


(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 will be divided into six points:
  1. Lowering ceiling limits and thrusts on effective redistribution of ceiling surplus land
  2. Amendments in tenancy laws
  3. Computerisation and updating of land records
  4. Changes in the agrarian structure
  5. Changes in the status of consolidation of holdings
  6. 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:
  1. Land held by religious, charitable and educational institutions,
  2. Land for special cultivation of tea,
  3. Land held by a co-operative farming society for feeding a sugar factory (Assam)
  4. Land under plantations and private forest (Kerala)
  5. Land belonging to primary co-operative societies (Himachal Predesh)
  6. 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. I
  • 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, till September 1998, only about 7.4 million acres of land were declared surplus under the ceiling laws of various states and only about 5.3 million acres have been redistributed among 5.5 million beneficiaries.
  • Nearly 50 per cent of the beneficiaries were members of schedule castes and schedule tribes.
  • 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
  1. do not specifically provide for suo-motto action on benami transfer of land,
  2. do not ensure correct record of land owners about ceiling,
  3. do not ensure punishment for the law evaders, and
  4. 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:
  1. influence of landlords
  2. lack of organisation of potential beneficiaries
  3. lack of up-to-date land records, and
  4. 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 region of Andhra Pradesh, the amendment of 1974 to tenancy laws conferred continuous right of resumption on land owners. The right of resumption has ceased in the case of all leases subsisting at the commencement of the amending act of 1974, but it continues in respect of future leases.
  • 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 his annual income does not exceed Rs. 500 per month and 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 except by soldiers and seaman 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. 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.

“Operation Barga” by West Bengal Government:

  • 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.
  • Gave security of tenure: permanent and heritable

(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.
  • During 1971 to 1992 the Gini ratio of inequality remained constant at 0.71. 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:
  1. Computerisation of Land Records (CLR)
  2. 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 –
  1. Computerization of land record
  2. Survey/re-survey
  3. Computerization of Registration.
  • The District has been taken as the unit of implementation, where all programme activities are to converge. It is hoped that all districts in the country would be covered by the end of the 12th Plan period except where cadastral surveys are being done for the first time.

(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.

Government Policy: 

  • The government policy on land reforms has been more or less consistent since the 1970s. All the Five Year Plans have emphasised the need for effective implementation of land reforms for agricultural growth and equity.
  • Department of Land Resources under the Ministry of Rural Development is the nodal agency for matters related to land reforms including distribution of ceiling surplus land, computerisation of land records and updating of land records.
  • Under the 20 point programme of the Goverment of India,the Land Reforms Division fixes annual targets each year for distribution of ceiling surplus land in consultation with States on the basis of availability free from all encumbrances.
  • National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP)

Land Reform in 12th Five Years Plan:

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.


Q. “Land Reforms Remains an unfinished agenda.” Comment.

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