India’s economy under the British colonial rule remained fundamentally agrarian — about 85 per cent of the country’s population lived mostly in villages and derived livelihood directly or indirectly from agriculture. Agriculture and allied activities contributed nearly 50 percent to India’s national income. However, despite being the occupation of such a large population, the agricultural sector continued to experience stagnation and, not infrequently, unusual deterioration.
Agricultural productivity became low though, in absolute terms, the sector experienced some growth due to the expansion of the aggregate area under cultivation. This stagnation in the agricultural sector was caused mainly because of the various systems of land settlement that were introduced by the colonial government. Particularly, under the zamindari system which was implemented in the then Bengal Presidency comprising parts of India’s present-day eastern states, the profit accruing out of the agriculture sector went to the zamindars instead of the cultivators. However, a considerable number of zamindars, and not just the colonial government, did nothing to improve the condition of agriculture. The main interest of the zamindars was only to collect rent regardless of the economic condition of the cultivators; this caused immense misery and social tension among the latter. To a very great extent, the terms of the revenue settlement were also responsible for the zamindars adopting such an attitude; dates for depositing specified sums of revenue were fixed, failing which the zamindars were to lose their rights.
Besides this, low levels of technology, lack of irrigation facilities and negligible use of fertilisers, all added up to aggravate the plight of the farmers and contributed to the dismal level of agricultural productivity.
There was, of course, some evidence of a relatively higher yield of cash crops in certain areas of the country due to commercialisation of agriculture. But this could hardly help farmers in improving their economic condition as, instead of producing food crops, now they were producing cash crops which were to be ultimately used by British industries back home.
Despite some progress made in irrigation, India’s agriculture was starved of investment in terracing, flood-control, drainage and desalinisation of soil. While a small section of farmers changed their cropping pattern from food crops to commercial crops, a large section of tenants, small farmers and sharecroppers neither had resources and technology nor had incentive to invest in agriculure.
Above points can be summarized as :-
State of Indian agriculture at time of Independence :-
- Outdated Technology.
- Old technique of production was used.
- Inefficient use of fertilizers.
In 1950-51, there were only 7 tractors, 62 oil engines and 16 irrigation pump-sets per lakh hectares of gross cropped areas of the country. A very negligible amount of fertilizer (0.66 lakh tonnes in 1952-53) was also applied on agriculture.
- Dependence on Rainfall.
- Agriculture was excessively dependent on monsoon rainfall.
- Low level of Production.
- Output per hector was extremely low.
- Subsistence Farming.
- Primary objective for a person was to produce for his own family only.
- Wedge between owners and tillers of the soil.
- Owners never shared proper information with tillers regarding cost of output.
Causes of Stagnation of Indian Agriculture Sector:
- Land revenue system imposed by Britishers ruined Indian agriculture – these policies put heavy rent burden on the peasants.
- Zamindari system
- Mahalwari system
- Ryotwari system
- Commercialization of agriculture.
- Production was not for self-profit moto for farmers, instead cultivation was done to be sold in British market (e.g.: Indigo).
- Partition of country.
- Food crises in India.
- Rice food producing area went in Partition to the new formed country Pakistan.
- The agriculture land distribution was uneven which leaded to shortage of raw resources in various industries.