Land Reforms in India


Land Reforms in India is one of those topics which is constantly recurring in the static GK section of exams like NABARD Grade A, FCI AGM, IBPS AFO, UPSC, and more. To answer the questions related to this topic, you should have conceptual clarity. In this article, we are discussing the land reforms in India, its history, post-independence changes, and the current scenario.

Policymakers and academicians in India continue to be equally concerned about land issues. The perceived impact of liberalisation and opening up the economy has reignited interest in land issues. Tenancy, land ceilings, and land administration are all being looked at from a different angle. Legalizing tenancy, updating ceiling limits, land quality, confronting the challenge of small holdings as a result of marginalisation, and land administration are among the topics that have resurfaced in the debate. 

In India, land reform mainly refers to the redistribution of land from the rich to the poor. Land reforms are frequently linked to the redistribution of agricultural land, and hence to agrarian reforms. Land reforms cover issues such as land ownership, operation, leasing, sales, and inheritance (indeed, the redistribution of the land itself requires legal changes). There are compelling economic and political arguments for land reform in an agrarian economy like India, where land is scarce and unequally distributed, and a huge portion of the rural population lives in poverty. It was, therefore, given top importance on the policy agenda at the time of independence.

History of Land Reforms in India

Land is the foundation of all economic activity in any country. Though there are occasions in India’s history where land was considered private property by individuals who had control over it, the practice of tribal tribes with collective land ownership stands out. Land like several other gifts of nature was considered free for everyone by many communities who didn’t bother to resolve boundaries for private ownership. However, under British colonial rule, India’s land ownership structure shifted dramatically. British cultivators and Zamindars took the land of numerous tribal/forest populations, and land tax was frequently collected through systems such as Zamindari and Ryotwari or Mahalwari.

Since India’s independence from British rule, land reforms have been a key issue of government policy debate. Because of the country’s agrarian realities, peasants actively supported the independence struggle and the Congress Party’s “Land to the Tiller” policy. During the British administration, the agrarian system formed with a deep historical background. Todar Mal’s land-revenue system implemented during Akbar’s reign can be traced back to the beginning of systematic land management initiatives.

Post Independence

Immediately after Independence, a committee headed by the late Shri J. C. Kumarappa (a senior Congress leader) was formed to investigate the land issue. The Kumarappa Committee advocated broad agrarian reforms in their report. Legislative initiatives to solve the concerns outlined by the Kumarappa Committee dominated India’s land policy in the decades after independence. A substantial percentage of legislation was adopted, much of it flawed, and only a small percentage of it was executed.

The Land Reforms of independent India had four components:

  • The Abolition of the Intermediaries
  • Tenancy Reforms
  • Fixing Ceilings on Landholdings
  • Consolidation of Landholdings

Since independence, India’s land reform has gone through four distinct phases.

  • The first and longest phase, from 1950 to 1972, was characterized by land reforms that encompassed three important initiatives: the elimination of intermediaries, tenancy reform, and land redistribution utilizing land ceilings. The removal of intermediaries was largely successful but tenancy reform and land ceilings were not.
  • The second phase, which lasted from 1972 to 1985, focused on bringing the uncultivated area under cultivation
  • The third phase (1985 – 95) largely focused on soil and water conservation through the Watershed Development, Drought-Prone Area Development (DPAP), and Desert-Area Development Programmes (DADP). To focus on wasteland and deteriorated land, the federal government formed the Waste Land Development Agency. Some of the land policies from this phase were carried over into the next year.
  • The fourth and current policy phase (1995 onwards) focuses on disputes concerning the need to keep land legislation in place as well as initiatives to improve land revenue administration and, in particular, land record clarity

Zamindari Abolition Acts

When these acts were first passed in several states, they were challenged in court as violating the Indian Constitution’s right to property. As a result, modifications to the Constitution were voted in Parliament to make the removal of landlordism legitimate. Many states had passed Zamindari abolition laws by 1956. As a result, around 30 lakh tenants and share-croppers across the country now have ownership rights to a total of 62 lakh acres of land.

Tenancy reforms

After the Zamindari Abolition Acts were passed, the next significant issue was tenancy regulation. During the pre-independence period, renters paid extravagant rents, ranging from 35 percent to 75 percent of gross product across India. Tenancy laws were enacted to limit rent, offer tenants with security of tenure, and provide them ownership rights. Fair rent was set at 20% to 25% of gross yield in all states except Punjab, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and some areas of Andhra Pradesh with the adoption of legislation (early 1950s) to regulate the rent due by cultivators.

This reform focused on three areas:

  • Rent regulation
  • Tenure security
  • Conferring ownership to tenants 

These laws were never effectively implemented in the majority of states. Despite repeated emphasis in the plan materials, some governments have been unable to adopt legislation granting tenants ownership rights.

In India, only a few states have totally eliminated tenancy, while others have clearly defined rights for recognised tenants and sharecroppers.

Despite the fact that the reforms reduced the amount of land under tenancy, only a small fraction of tenants gained ownership rights.

Land Ceilings Act

The term “land ceiling” refers to a limit on the amount of land that a family or individual can own. Land that is surplus is distributed to landless individuals such as tenants, farmers, and agricultural labourers. The Kumarappan Committee advised in 1942 that a landlord’s holdings be limited to a certain amount of land. It was three times the economic holding, or enough to support a family.

By 1961-62, all state legislatures had passed land ceiling legislation. However, the ceiling restrictions differed per state. In 1971, a new land ceiling regulation was developed to bring uniformity among states. National guidelines were issued in 1972, with ceiling limitations that varied by region, depending on the type of land, its productivity, and other considerations. The best property was 10-18 acres, second-class land was 18-27 acres, and the rest of the property was 27-54 acres with a little higher limit on the hill and desert areas.

Consolidation of Landholdings

The reorganization/redistribution of fragmented lands into one plot was referred to as consolidation. With a growing population and fewer job opportunities in non-agricultural sectors, land pressure has intensified, leading to a growing trend of land fragmentation.

Because of the land fragmentation, irrigation management and human control of land parcels became extremely challenging. As a result, landholdings consolidation was implemented.

If a farmer held a few plots of land in the village, under this act, those plots were merged into one larger piece of land, either by purchasing or exchanging the land.

Except for Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, and parts of Andhra Pradesh, almost every state has passed legislation allowing holding companies to merge. In Punjab and Haryana, land consolidation was required, although in other states, consolidation was permitted on a voluntary basis if the majority of landowners agreed.

Outcomes of Land Reforms in India

  • Abolition of middlemen like landlords
  • Land Ceiling: With a limit on the amount of a landholding, an individual or family could have a more fair allocation of land. The land reforms would not have been at least partially successful if only landlords were abolished and there was no land ceiling. The land ceiling prevented rich farmers or higher-ranking tenants from becoming the new avatar Zamindars.
  • Land possession: Land is a source of both economic and social status. Land reforms made it essential to keep records of holdings which was previously not the case. It is also necessary to document all tenancy agreements.
  • Increased productivity: More land came under cultivation and since tillers themselves became the landowners, productivity increased.

Drawbacks of land reforms in India

Many small and marginal farmers in India still fall into the clutches of moneylenders and remain in debt.

  • Poverty still prevails in rural areas
  • The maximum amount of land you can own varies by state
  • The act exempted several plantations from the land ceiling
  • Many people possess vast swaths of land under the label ‘benami’
  • Agrarian reforms, which deal with efforts to improve the productivity of land particularly agricultural land are also included in land reforms. The Green Revolution is an example of this.

The proposals of the Central Land Reforms Committee were impounded in the late 1960s and early 1970s to close different loopholes in the land reforms.

Current Scenario of Land Reforms in India

The government was in charge of land acquisition conducted by the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 replaced this statute, which was obsolete and inadequate to satisfy farmers’ concerns. The government suggested a few changes to the law in 2015, introducing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill of 2015, which became an ordinance in 2016.

Way Forward

The NITI Aayog and other industry groups are now arguing that land leasing should be introduced on a massive scale to allow landowners with unviable holdings to lease out land for investment. It will result in increased revenue and employment in rural regions. The consolidation of landholdings would help with this cause.

Land record digitization is a modern land reform policy that must be implemented as soon as possible.

Closing Remarks

Land reform policies have been implemented at a slow pace. The purpose of social justice, on the other hand, has been achieved to a large extent.

The rural agrarian economy, which is dominated by land and agriculture, benefits greatly from land reform. To reduce rural poverty, fresh and innovative land reform initiatives should be implemented with renewed vigour.

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1 year ago

Thanks for this information