Land Reforms and Land use pattern


Land reform usually refers to redistribution of land from the rich to the poor

  • It includes regulation of ownership, operation, leasing, sales, and inheritance of land
  • In an agrarian economy like India with great scarcity of resources, and an unequal distribution of land, coupled with a large mass of the rural population below the poverty line, there are compelling economic and political arguments for land reform
  • The exigencies of time during Independence, led to reformative legislations in this perspective


Land reform in India, after Independence focused on the following features:

  1. Abolition of intermediaries—zamindars, jagirdars, etc.
    • This was important to remove a layer of intermediaries between the cultivators and state
    • This was done by state legislations, as the subject was included under the state list of Indian Constitution
    • This particular reform was the most effective, as it succeeded in taking away the superior rights of the zamindars over the land and weakened their economic and political power
      • The abolition of zamindari meant that about 20 million erstwhile tenants now became landowners
      • It brought more land to government possession for distribution to landless farmers.
    • However, the Zamindars retained large tracts of land as under ‘personal cultivation’ and the landlords tried to avoid the full impact of the effort at abolition of the zamindari system
      • Further, in many areas, the zamindars declared a large proportion of their land under ‘personal cultivation’, and this resulted in large-scale eviction of tenants as well
  1. Tenancy reforms
    • These were introduced to regulate rent, provide security of tenure and confer ownership to tenants
    • The reforms reduced the areas under tenancy, however, they led to only a small percentage of tenants acquiring ownership rights
    • Despite the measures, these laws were never implemented effectively
      • The repeated emphasis in the plan documents, did not ensure all states passing a legislation to confer rights of ownership to tenants
  1. Ceiling on Landholdings
    • Land Ceiling Acts were passed, to legally stipulate the maximum size beyond which no individual farmer or farm household could hold any land
      • The imposition of the ceiling was to reduce the concentration of land in hands of a few
    • Implementing this reform, the state was supposed to identify and take possession of surplus land (above the ceiling limit) held by each household, and redistribute it to landless families and households in other specified categories, such as SCs and STs
    • These legislations had many loopholes, because of which their effectiveness could not be realised in reality
      • The land owners kept control of their land, by breaking up large estates into small portions, dividing them among their relatives and transferring them to benami holders
  1. Consolidation of Land Holdings
    • The increasing pressure on land, combined with division based on inheritance laws leads to distribution of single plot into fragments
    • Consolidation is basically the reorganisation of fragmented lands into single plot
    • Under the scheme, all land in the village was first pooled into one compact block and divided into smaller blocks to eventually be allotted to individual farmers
    • This move resulted in increased productivity to farmers, as they could focus on their resources at one place
      • It brought down cost of cultivation, reduced litigation, saved time and labour in cultivating land earlier, in fragmented land holdings
    • Due to lack of adequate political and administrative support the progress made in terms of consolidation of holding was not very satisfactory except in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh


Economic arguments in favor of Land reforms

  • Most obvious argument in favor of Land reform is equity
    • As the most of Indian rural population is below poverty line, the case for ensuring land access to everyone seems compelling from equity perspective
  • Other arguments based on efficiency considerations include
    • Small farms tend to be more productive than large farms
    • owner-cultivated plots of land tend to be more productive than those under sharecropping tenancy

Present situation in India

  • The above mentioned Land reform measures, enacted after Independence produced only partial success
    • The ownership of only 4% of operated land could be transferred to cultivators
  • Notwithstanding this uninspiring outcome, land reform laws foisted excessive restrictions on the tenancy of agricultural land
    • This has adversely affected the growth of agriculture in the country. Landowners are reluctant to lease out their land under formal tenancy due to their fear of losing it permanently
    • According to National Sample Survey Reports, about 15 million tenants cultivate 10 million hectares of land on an informal basis; 92% of these tenants are landless labourers or marginal farmers. They have no security of tenure or access to institutional credit, crop insurance and other benefits offered to farmers under government schemes
  • Due to legal restrictions on tenancy, many landowners who cannot cultivate themselves prefer to leave their land fallow
    • In 2015-16, 26.72 million hectares of land were left fallow across India
  • These restrictions on access to cultivable land not only deprive poor people in rural areas of opportunities to enhance their incomes, but also have a detrimental effect on the growth of the entire agriculture sector
  • Despite consolidation measures, the average holding size in 1970-71 was 2.28 hectares (Ha), which has come down to 1.08 Ha in 2015-16.
    • The holdings are much smaller in densely populated states like Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala.

What reforms are needed in this perspective?

  • Simply formalizing tenancy and cultivating fallow land can be a game-changer for agriculture in India.
    • Once tenants get security of tenure and access to institutional credit, they will have requisite incentives and funds to make long-term investments on their land
    • This can be achieved only with effective policy interventions by state governments
  • The NITI Aayog , has set the ball rolling by publishing the Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016, to help the states enact new laws or make required changes to their existing laws on the tenancy.
    • The Model Act seeks to formalize tenancy agreements, circumventing the restrictions imposed by the land-reform laws of the state
    • It aims to integrate the security of tenure along with the protection of ownership
    • However, until now, only Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh have amended their existing laws to allow the renting of agricultural land on liberal terms
    • The other states also need to implement this vital reform to transform agriculture in their states.
  • Until the time when requisite laws are enacted effectively, group loans can provide relief to informal tenants.
    • In Kerala, where tenancy is illegal, about 250,000 informal tenants have organized themselves into joint liability groups. These groups receive crop loans from banks without requiring formal tenancy agreements. The guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development allow such agreements without requiring formal tenancy.
    • Odisha has recently launched the Balaram scheme to provide agricultural credit to groups of landless labourers
  • Also, the focus areas must be
    • creation of a land record repository
    • digitisation and integration of all records relating to titles and encumbrances
    • formalising cadastral maps of all plots of land
    • Defining a structured timeline for timely resolution of property disputes and making public land disputes data etc.
  • In this perspective, the Centre under the Ministry of Rural Development and State Governments/Union Territories administration are in the process of implementing the Digital India Land records implementation programme 2.0, wherein the endeavour is to digitalise the land records and land registration is to be maintained in a computerised database.
    • Along with the same, a scheme for mapping of land parcels in rural inhabited areas using Drone technology is also underway and the objective is to ensure that phase-wise manner of mapping of land parcels across the country should be completed by 2024.
  • NITI Aayog has also prepared a draft model Land Title Act, 2019. The draft model recommends conclusive land titles and for providing of State guaranteed ownership.
    • Conclusive land titling will help farmers gain easy access to credit, considerably reduce land associated litigations, enable transparent land transactions and make the process of land acquisition for infrastructure development smooth and efficient

Thus, Land Reforms have enormous potential to revamp and develop Indian agriculture, especially during the ongoing economic turmoil. At the national level, the central government has been showing the way forward, but is now time for states to act decisively

  • Thus, with an aspirational goal of India becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2025, the imperative needed today is to unleash the power of land and reap fruits by bringing about the much needed Land Reforms


The layout or arrangement of the use of the land are known as ”Land Use Pattern”

  • Land use may be determined by many factors like relief features, climate, soil, density of population, technical and socio-economic factors
  • There are spatial and temporal differences in land utilization, due to the continued interplay of physical and human factors
  • India has a total geographical area of about 328.73 million hectares, but statistic pertaining to land utilization are available for about 305.90 million hectares


The important types of land use in the country are as follows:

  1. Net Sown Area(NSA)
    • The cropped area in the year under consideration is called net sown area
    • This type of land use is significant, as agricultural production largely depends upon this type of land
    • This accounts for about 06% of the total reporting area of India, i.e. 141.58 million hectares; as against the world average of 32%
    • The per capita cultivated land has gone down drastically from 0.53 ha in 1951, to 0.11 ha in 2011-12, and hence the need for population control
    • Rajasthan has the largest NSA of 18.35 million ha, which is about 12.96 % of total reporting NSA of India; followed by Maharashtra
    • In terms of proportions of NSA to total area, Punjab & Haryana have some of the highest proportions at 82.6 and 80.5 respectively
    • Large parts of the Satluj, Ganga plains, Gujrat plains, Kathiawar plateau, Maharashtra plateau and West Bengal basin have high proportion of cultivated area due to
      • Gentle slope of land
      • Fertile alluvial and black soils
      • Favorable climate
      • Excellent irrigation facilities
    • In contrast, the mountainous region and drier tracts have lesser NSA, because of rugged topography, unfavorable climate and infertile soils
  1. Area sown more than once
    • As the name indicates, this area is used to grow more than once crop in a year
    • The total cropped area has increased from 185.34 million ha in 2000-01 to 198.97 ha in 2010-11
      • This means that the area sown more than once has increased from 44 million ha in 2000-01, to 57.39 million ha in 2010-11
      • Thus, there is a net increase of over 13 million ha in ‘area sown more than once’ in a short span of ten years
    • The area under this category comprises of land with rich fertile soils and regular water supply
    • This type of land is significant, as since almost all the arable land had been brought under cultivation, the only way to increase agricultural production is to increase cropping intensity, which can be done by increasing the area sown more than once
    • Cropping Intensity = Gross Cropped Area/Net Sown Area x 100.
    • The regions of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the coastal regions have large percentage of area under this category

  1. Forest Area
    • This includes all land classified either as forest under legal enactment, or administered as forest whether state owned/private and whether wooded or maintained as potential forest land
    • The area of crops grown in the forest and grazing lands or areas open for grazing within the forests remain included under the forest area
    • Forests cover about 23% of the reported area, which is a definite improvement against 14% in 1950-51
    • According to National Forest Policy 1952, the reporting area of the forest must be 3% of the total land.
    • Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Andaman Nicobar islands are reporting more area under forest. It is due to heavy rainfall and relief features
    • In contrast Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Haryana, Punjab and Goa states have less area under forests
  1. Land not available for cultivation
    • This class consists of two types of land
      • Land put to non-agricultural uses
      • Barren and uncultivable waste
    • The area put to non-agricultural uses includes land occupied by villages, towns, roads, railways or under water i.e. rivers, lakes, canals, tanks, ponds, etc.
    • The barren land covers all barren and uncultivated lands in mountainous and hill slopes, deserts and rocky areas
      • And these areas cannot be brought under plough, except at high input cost with possible low returns
    • Land not available for cultivation increased from 41.48 million ha in 2000-01, to 43.56 million ha in 2010-11 and accounted for 14% of total reported area in 2010-11
    • The largest amount of land in this category is in Andhra Pradesh, followed by Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
    • In contrast, Dadra and Haveli, Chandigarh, Andaman and Nicobar and Sikkim are having less area under this category.
  1. Permanent pastures and other grazing lands
    • A total area of 10.3 million ha is devoted to permanent pastures and other grazing lands
    • This amounts to about 4% of the total reporting area of the country
    • The area presently under pastures and other grazing lands is not sufficient keeping in view the large population of livestock in the country
    • About one-third of reporting area in Himachal Pradesh is under Pastures
    • The proportion varies from 4-10% in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Odisha
    • It is less than 3% in remaining parts of the country
  1. Land under miscellaneous tree crops and groves
    • This includes all cultivable land which is not included under NSA, but is put to some agricultural use
    • Land under casuarina trees, thatching grass, bamboo, bushes, other groves for fuel, that are not included under orchard are classed under this category
    • The land under this category has fallen from 6.97% in 1950-51, to a mere 1.41% in 1970-71, to 1% in 2010-11
    • Odisha has largest area under this category followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam and Tamilnadu
  1. Cultivable waste
    • This is the land available for cultivation, but not used for cultivation for one reason or the other
    • It cannot be used due to constraints such as lack of water, salinity or alkalinity of soil, soil erosion, water logging etc.
    • Reh, Usar, Bhur and Khola tracts of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana as well as other parts of the country were used for agriculture in the past, but had to be abandoned due to some deficiencies in the soil resulting from faulty agricultural practices
    • In 2010-11, the cultivable waste land was estimated to be about 5% of the total area
    • There has been decline is wasteland since independence, due to some land reclamation schemes launched in India
    • The states with considerable cultivable waste land are Gujarat(13.6%), Madhya Pradesh(10.2%), Uttar Pradesh(6.93%) and Maharashtra(6.83%)
    • This land can be brought under cultivation with efforts; but in the interest of long term conservation and maintenance of ecobalance, this land should be out under afforestation and not under crop farming
  2. Fallow lands
    • This category includes all that land, which was used for cultivation but is temporarily out of cultivation
    • It is of two types
      • Current fallow
      • Fallow other than current fallow
    • Fallow of one year is called current fallow, while that of 2-5 years is classified as ‘fallow other than current fallow’
    • Current Fallow land amounted to 5% of the reported area in 2010-11
      • And fallow other than current fallow, amounted to 3% of the reported areas
    • The largest area of ‘fallow other than current fallow’ is in Rajasthan followed having an area of 1.7 ha; followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra
    • Under current fallow, Andhra Pradesh has the largest area