Land reforms

Land reforms in India started immediately after Independence with dual objective of effective utilization of land and social justice. The system of Zamindari and feudal system had left farmers landless. To end these sufferings of farmers, land reform movement was advocated by many activists like Vinoba Bhave through his ‘Bhoodan’ Movement.

Land is the basis of all economic activities and for agrian society like India it was at most important for further progress. Indian rural Society is symbolized by rich landowning minority (landowners/zamindars) and an impoverished (peasants) land less majority.

Therefore, Land reform was vital step.

Immediately after Independence a Committee, under the Chairmanship of the late Shri J. C. Kumarappa (a senior Congress leader), was appointed to look into the problem of land. The Kumarappa Committee’s report recommended comprehensive agrarian reform measures. India’s land policy in the decades immediately following its independence was dominated by legislative efforts to address the problems identified by the Kumarappa Committee. A substantial volume of legislation was adopted, much of it flawed and little of it seriously implemented.

Several important issues confronted the policy-makers.

  • Land was concentrated in the hands of a few and there was a proliferation of intermediaries who had no vested interest in self-cultivation. Leasing out land was a common practice.
  • The tenancy contracts were expropriative in nature and tenant exploitation was ubiquitous.
  • Land records were in extremely bad shape giving rise to a mass of litigation. It is ironic that the Supreme Court of India in 1989 commented that the revenue records are not legal documents of title (Wadhwa, 1989). This is a sad commentary on the land records of the country.

It is against this background that land policy has been shaped in India. While land-reform legislation remained active, land policies in more recent decades have focused less on land reform and more on land development and administration.

Land policy in India has undergone broadly four phases since Independence.

  • The first and longest phase (1950 – 72) consisted of land reforms that included three major efforts:
    • Abolition of the intermediaries,
    • Tenancy reform, and
    • The redistribution of land using land ceilings.

The abolition of intermediaries was relatively successful, but tenancy reform and land ceilings met with less success.

  • The second phase (1972 – 85) shifted attention to bringing uncultivated land under cultivation.
  • The third phase (1985 – 95) increased attention towards water and soil conservation through the
    • Watershed Development, Drought-Prone Area Development (DPAP) and
    • Desert-Area Development Programmes (DADP).
    • A central government Waste land Development Agency was established to focus on wasteland and degraded land.

Some of the land policy from this phase continued beyond its final year.

  • The fourth and current phase of policy (1995 onwards) centres on debates about the necessity to continue with land legislation and efforts to improve land revenue administration and, in particular, clarity in land records.

In the earlier phases of land reforms the emphasis was on food production, extending technology and abolishing regressive institutions; poverty as an issue was not explicitly addressed.

Raj Krishna (1961) grouped land-reform measures into four groups:

  • Liberative, measures – it aimed at the emancipation of the actual tillers of the land from the yoke of the landlord. This was to be achieved by conferring the land title or occupancy rights of the tenant. Fixing of rent was undertaken in a few states, e.g. West Bengal’s “Operation Barga”, where tenancy was recorded.
  • Distributive, – these were meant to achieve this by delivering material resources to the poor as promised by the Constitution of India, especially those who required land as a productive resource. This was to be achieved by redistributing landownership from large landholders to the landless, specifically from socially weaker sections.
  • Organizational – they aimed at selecting and implementing a particular form of agricultural production practice, with the help of technological change, were introduced in the mid-1960s. These three policies operating together put pressure on land resources, prompting a need for developmental reform.
  • Developmental reforms encompassed other issues interconnected with land policy, which impacted the overall development of the agricultural sector.

All four components taken together form a part of the overall distributive and development initiatives that were taken immediately after Independence.

Immediately after Independence, four important components of land reform were thought of as major policy interventions in building the land policy. These included:

    • The abolition of intermediaries;
    • Tenancy reforms;
    • Fixing ceilings on land holdings;
    • Consolidation of landholdings.

Zamindari  Abolition  Acts Initially,  when  these  acts  were  passed  in  various  states,  they  were  challenged  in  the  courts  as being  against  the  right  to  property  enshrined  in  the  Indian  Constitution.  So,  amendments  were passed  in  the  Parliament  to  legalise  the  abolition  of  landlordism. By  1956,  Zamindari  abolition acts  were  passed  in  many  states.  As  a  result  of  this,  about  30  lakh  tenants  and  share acquired  ownership  rights  over  a  total  of  62  lakh  acres  of  land  all  over  the  country.

Land  Ceilings  Act Land  ceiling  refers  to  fixicroppers ng  a  cap  on  the  size  of  landholding  a  family  or  individual  can  own.  Any surplus  land  is  distributed  among  landless  people  like  tenants,  farmers,  or  agricultural  labourers.

Tenancy  reforms This  focused  on  three  areas:

    • Rent  regulation
    • Tenure  security
    • Conferring  ownership  to  tenants

Shortcomings of the reforms:

    • More focused towards Rural lands.
    • Exemption of North-East Indian states.
    • Coverage of Backward Classes.
    • Interconnections between demand for agriculture and Non-Agriculture land.

Recent Government Acts/Polices:

    • Land Acquisition Act, 2013.
    • Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016.
    • National Land Records Modernization Records.
    • Digital India Land Records Modernization Program.