Land reforms

  • In rural India, land is the single most important productive asset owned by the people

The basic objective of land reform is to do social justice with the tillers, land owners, landless labourers, and rural community with the set objective to provide security to the cultivators, to fix a rational rent, the conferment of title to the tiller and to increase the agricultural productivity.The entire concept of land reforms aims at the abolition of intermediaries and bringing the actual cultivator in direct contact with the state.

The scheme of land reforms includes:

  • abolition of intermediaries,and
  • tenancy reforms, i.e. regulation of rent, security of tenure for tenants, and confirmation of ownership on them
  • ceiling on land holdings and distribution of surplus land to landless labourers and small farmers,
  • agrarian reorganization including consolidation of holdings and prevention of subdivision and fragmentation,
  • organisation of co-operative farms, and
  • improvement in the system of land record keeping.

Consolidation of Holdings

  • Consolidation of holdings means to bring together in compact block, all the fields of land of a farmer which are well scattered in different parts of the village.
  • Under the scheme, all land in the village is first pooled into one compact block and it is divided into smaller blocks called chaks, and allotted to individual farmer.
  • This is a useful scheme which helped in overcoming the problem of fragmentation of holdings.
  • But unfortunately, the scheme has not been implemented in all the states of the country.
  • There are many hurdles in the implementation of consolidation of holdings in some of the states.

Computerized Land Records

  • The centrally sponsored scheme on computerization of land records was started in 1988-89.
  • At present, the scheme has been implemented in 582 districts out of the 640 districts of the country, leaving those districts where there are no proper land records.


Why are land reforms needed?

  • Land reforms serve two purpose: raise productivity and end exploitation of the underprivileged
  • Institutional factors such as existence of feudal relations, insecurity of tenure, high rents, sub-division and fragmentation of land are disincentives for the cultivator to raise production
  • They reduce the capacity of the farmer to save and invest in agriculture. Surplus is siphoned off by the semi-feudal landlords
  • The measures of land reforms such as land ceiling and floor aims to make the best use of a scarce resource like land and generate maximum output.

But productivity can be raised through technological factors as well. Why land reforms?

  • Land reforms and technological change are not mutually exclusive. They are complementary in the process of agricultural development.

Discuss the scope of land reforms.

  • Abolition of intermediaries
  • Tenancy reforms i.e. rent reforms, security of tenure and ownership of land to the cultivator
  • Setting land ownership ceiling and floors
  • Preventing fragmentation of land and consolidation of holdings
  • Organisation of co-operative farms

Can land reforms be effective in alleviating poverty? If yes, how?

Surplus land can be procured through land reforms. This can be used in the following way for poor

  • By providing ownership of land
  • By fixing rents and providing security of tenure
  • Preventing the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal people
  • By consolidation of holdings to raise productivity
  • By making provisions for access of women to land
  • By earmarking public land that can provide access to fuel and fodder to the rural poor
  • By providing house sites to rural poor for residential purpose

Having mentioned the scope of land reforms in India, we can now go into detail in each of those reforms mentioned

Abolition of Intermediaries

  • Before Independence, three major types of land tenure systems existed in India: Zamindari, Mahalwari and Ryotwari. <details already read in history>
  • Legislations were passed by the states to abolish intermediaries. The first such legislation was in Madras in 1948
  • About 30 lakh tenants acquired land rights over a cultivated area of 62 lakh acres throughout the country
  • But all this didn’t happen very smoothly. Several challenges were made to the land reform legislations in courts.
  • The legislation only recognized zamindars as intermediaries; thus leaving out a class of other intermediaries.
  • Compensation was provided to the Zamindars

Tenancy Reforms

  • Three types of tenants: occupancy or permanent tenants, tenants at will, sub-tenants
  • Tenants at will and sub-tenants experience high degree of exploitation {through frequent enhancement of rent, eviction at minor pretexts and beggar}
  • NSS in 1953-54 estimated that about 1/5th of the total area under cultivation was held under tenancy. Besides, there was also informal or oral tenancy accounting for anything between 30-40 percent of the total cultivated area.
  • Measures of tenancy reforms include: conferment of ownership rights, security of tenure, regulating rents
  • Regulation of rents
    • 1st and 2nd plans recommended that rents should not exceed one-fourth or one-fifth of the gross produce.
    • Several states enacted legislations <Gujarat-maharashtra: 1/6, Punjab: 1/3, TN: 1/3-2/5)
    • Law observed more in breach owing to the weak position of the tenants
  • Security of tenure
    • Insecurity of tenure leads to lack of initiative on the part of the cultivator to improve productivity of land
    • Three types of legislations were framed by the states for providing security of tenure
    • In the first type, tenants – full security, owners- no right of personal cultivation (UP, Bengal, Delhi)
    • Second, owners have right to resume a limited area for own cultivation but tenant should have a minimum area for cultivation (Kerala, MP, Guj-Maha etc)
    • Third, owners can resume certain area but tenant not entitled to retain a minimum area for cultivation (J&K, Manipur etc)
    • Many forced ‘volunatary surrenders’ were made by the tenants due to the power of the landlords.
  • Ownership right
    • The second plan had provided ownership to be optional. This wasn’t effective. Hence in third plan, recommendation was made that the peasants be required to purchase the land
    • Legislations for the same enacted in UP, MP, Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa, Maha-Guj. Optional in Punjab

Ceiling on Land Holdings

  • Why do we need such ceilings?
    • Land is the principal source of income in the rural areas. Social justice is compromised if land is concentrated in hands of few
    • Application of capital intensive techniques in agriculture will lead to large scale unemployment. Hence it is necessary to have a large number of small peasant proprietors.
  • But aren’t small farms less productive?
    • No conclusive proof.
    • Contradicting studies exist
  • Legislation on ceiling in India has been enacted in two phases
    • Upto 1972, landowner was treated as the unit of application
    • After 1972, family was treated as the basis of land holding.
  • Problems relating to ceiling
    • Malafide transfers
    • Compensation and allotment of surplus land
  • Till 1972, no land was declared surplus in Bihar, Karnataka, Orissa and Rajasthan
  • Only about 23 lakh acres were declared surplus (till 1972)
  • New ceilings were prescribed in 1972
  • Till 2004, a total of 73.36 acres of land was declared surplus out of which 54 lakh acres has been distributed to 54.84 lakh beneficiaries.
  • Tardy progress of land ceilings may partly be explained by litigation

Is land ceiling a failure?

  • A large number of loopholes existed in the legislation, making evasion possible
  • Law provided a number of exemptions for sugarcane farms, orchards, grazing land etc. They exemptions were used for vested interests
  • SC ruled that compensation should be paid at market rate
  • The definition of family under the legislations made it possible to still amass huge land holdings

Appraisal of LR

Reasons for poor performance

  • Lack of political will
  • Absence of pressure from below because the poor peasants are passive and unorganised
  • Apathetic attitude of the bureaucracy
  • Legal hurdles
  • Lack of proper land records
  • Loopholes in the laws

So how can it be improved?

  • Judiciary should not be involved at any stage in the implementation of land reforms
  • Organise rural peasantry into strong trade unions
  • Provide representation to poor peasantry in the administrative machinery
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