Land reform is a broad term. It refers to an institutional measure directed towards altering the existing pattern of ownership, tenancy and management of land.
It entails “a redistribution of the rights of ownership and/or use of land away from large landowners and in favour of cultivators with very limited or no landholdings.”
Land reform is a part of heritage of the country’s freedom movement since the agrarian structure that we inherited from the British at the time of independence was of the feudalistic exploitative character. Zamindars- intermediaries-moneylenders played a big role in exploiting the masses.
1st generation (1947-1970) of land reform in india
The peculiarities of Indian agriculture, combined with the declared desire to bring about economic development as well as social justice led the govt., in the post-Independence period, to under-take a comprehensive programme of land reforms. These reforms, be it noted, had a popular base in as much as they were preceded by peasant, disturbances and violent clashes in several parts of the country.
These reforms comprised:
- Abolition of intermediaries
- Ceiling on land holdings
- Tenancy legislation
- cooperative farming
- Abolition of forced labour and
- consolidation of holdings.
Abolition of Intermediaries
One of the first aims of the agrarian reforms was to eliminate the middlemen such as the Zamindars and Jagirdars so as to bring the cultivator into direct relationship with the govt. The work of Zamindari abolition was comparatively easy in the temporarily settled areas such as U.P. and M.P. where adequate records and administrative machinery existed.
In the permanently settled areas of Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal ans in areas under Jagirdari settlements such as Rajasthan and Saurashtra “land records and revenue administration had to be built from the beginning.” Nevertheless, laws abolishing intermediary tenures were given effect to in most of the states.
The general pattern was made up of the following features:
- All land including common lands, forests, mines, mineral, rivers, channels, and fisheries were vested in the govt. for purposes of management and development.
- Home-farm lands and lands under the ‘personal’ cultivation, of intermediaries were left with them.
- In most states, the tenants in-chief holding land, directly from intermediaries, were brought in direct contact with the State with some exceptions such as in Bombay, Hyderabad and Mysore. In these states, intermediaries were, in some cases, allotted lands held by tenants.
- In some States, tenants possessed permanent and transferable rights and it was not necessary to confer further rights upon them. These included Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Bhopal and Vindhya Pradesh.
There were other states such as Bombay, U.P, M.P, Hyderabad, Mysore and Delhi where tenants were required to make payments in order to acquire rights of ownership. In a few states such as Andhra, Madras, Rajasthan, either larger rights were conferred upon tenants or their rents were reduced without any direct payment being required of them.
A distinct feature of the Zamindari Abolition Acts was the payment of compensation to the landlords although the rate and the mode differed from state to state. Barring Kashmir where no compensation was paid, in others it was fixed either as a multiple of land revenue assessment or of rent or net income.
In all, compensation, including rehabilitation grants, payable to the intermediaries amounted to Rs. 670 crores. Only a part of this compensation or rehabilitation grant and that too to small land owners was paid in cash, the remaining being paid in long term bonds.
The removal of intermediaries had far reaching effects. As Daniel Thorner points out, the new laws took away from intermediaries their rights to collect rents on lands which they themselves did not cultivate. They also relieved them of the responsibility for paying land revenue on such lands.
On the other side, 173 million acres were acquired and 20 million tenants brought into direct relationship with the state. In some cases, tenants acquired full ownership rights, including the right of transfer without any payment. In others, they were required to make some payment for acquisition of full occupancy rights.
It also brought about improvement in the administrative machinery and social services. But more important was the downward revision in the rates of land revenue which were brought in line with rates prevailing in the ryotwari areas. An effect of great significance was to give the richer peasants an opportunity to become landed proprietors.
The absentee-landlord, having considerably large resources at his disposal, began to invest large amounts in the lands under his control and with the use of modern techniques, managed to show a higher level of productivity. The way was thus paved for the emergence of rural capitalism.
The abolition of intermediaries, though elaborately conceived, left many glaring loopholes. In the first instance, the Acts did not apply to landlord holdings in ryotwari areas which embraced 57% of the total area under cultivation in the country. Even where they applied, the Acts did not divest the feudal landlords of their large holdings of land.
Rather, they were permitted to retain large areas provided it was under their personal cultivation and not let out to tenants. It is true that in some states a ceiling was fixed as to the amount of land a former intermediary could own but the ceiling was so high that very few of the intermediaries were affected.
In any case, it was possible for them to side step the law by passing over part of their land to other members of the family. Thus is how estates of even 100 acres persisted in Post Reform Bihar. Besides, personal cultivation was not clearly defined.
In Kashmir, the law suppressing big landowners transferred the land to real cultivators defined as those who “till and work the land with their own hands.” This was in contrast to other states which considered cultivator as one who merely financed production.
In the words of Daniel Thorner, the cultivator was not required “to participate in the actual work of cultivation; he did not have to go to the fields and work. In-fact, he did not have to leave his house or to get off his divan. Worse still, he was not even required to be in the village at all. This made it possible for land owners even remotely connected with agriculture to pass as tillers of the soil.
The Act was supposed to eliminate absentee-landlords but it allowed plenty of room for them to stay. No wonder that the National Sample Survey (8th round) found about 31 million acres of land representing 50% of all land leased still under absentee—owners. In other words, Feudalism was curbed but not eliminated.
The procedure of allowing the Zamindars to retain lands under personal cultivation had far reaching consequences. To be able to declare a large proportion of their lands as ‘Khud Kasht’ or under personal cultivation, it became necessary for the owners to show these lands as free from any tenancy.
All means, legal and illegal, were used to expel tenants or force them to renounce their tenures voluntarily under threats of physical violence or economic sanctions.
This resulted, as Dantwala has observed, in more tenants being evicted during the decade following Independence than during the last 100 years of the British rule. At the other end, the Zamindars of U.P. alone ended up with some six million acres of ‘Sir’ and ‘Khud Kasht’ Land.
Dantwala, after hailing the Zamindari abolition measure as revolutionary, admits that the actual results were far from satisfactory. This is well brought out by the fact that while official documents claimed total abolition of Zamindaris, in U.P. alone. 10% of the families were still holding something like 50% of the land in 1955.
This is in marked contrast to the experience in Japan where an ambitious programme of tenancy reform—transferring land to tenants—was so successfully implemented as to reduce land under tenancy from 47% to 9% in the post-war period.
To conclude, the Zamindari Abolition was an attempt at a half-hearted readjustment of agrarian relations. The policy perused was not one of radical change but of compromise, not one of creating conditions for the capitalist development of peasant farms in general but of converting feudal landlords and rich peasants into capitalist agriculturists.
Therefore, even though their position was slightly weakened, the zamindars still managed to retain their position as the largest land owners in the states. However, along side them, the richer section of the tenants also began to play a greater role in the economic and political life of the village. The condition of the bulk of the peasantry—the actual tillers of the soil —however remained practically unchanged.
According to the Report of the Panel on Land Reforms, the aim of land ceilings was to:
- Meet widespread desire to possess land;
- Reduce glaring inequalities in ownership and use of land;
- Reduce inequalities in agricultural income and enlarge the sphere of self employment; and
- Give a new status to the land-less.
With a view to achieving these objectives, legislation was passed in all states imposing ceiling on existing land holdings as well as on future acquisition of land.
However, provisions relating to level, transfers, and exemptions differed considerably from state to state. In Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Manipur, there was one uniform ceiling limit irrespective of the class of land, ceiling being fixed at 50 acres, 22 ¾ acres and 25 acres respectively.
In all other states, the level of ceiling was fixed to take account of different classes of land. For example, the ceiling ranged all the way from 27-134 acres in Andhra, 20-80 acres in Orissa, 19-132 acres in Gujarat, 18-126 acres in Maharashtra. In others, it was fixed in terms of standard acres, a standard acre being equal to a certain number of ordinary acres a laid down in the Act passed in each state.
Thus ceiling was fixed at 30 standard acres in the Punjab (Pepsu area only) Rajasthan, Delhi and Madras; 25 standard acres in Madhya Pradesh and 27 standard acres in Mysore. In U.P., ceiling was imposed at 40 acres of ‘fair-quality’ land.
These different levels of ceilings, as M.L. Dantwala points out, did not bear any relation either to climate or soil conditions prevailing in different regions or to the density of population. It appears these ceilings were fixed primarily on the basis of the average size of large holdings in a particular state or by the influence exerted by different political forces in the legislature.
In some states, transfers made after the publication of the bill or its introduction in the legislature were disregarded as in Assam, Kerala, Madras, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura. Some states enforced and measure with retrospective effect from a certain date e.g., Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, Delhi and Manipur.
In others, there was no provision for disregarding transfers made before the commencement of the ceiling law. In Mysore, transfers of land could take place even after the enactment of the law while Madhya Pradesh and Orissa Acts permitted owners to transfer their surplus lands to specified categories of persons within specified periods.
As regards exemptions, the ceiling laws passed by the Bihar, Andhra and Madras legislatures provided exemptions to lands under sugarcane belonging to sugar factories; in Maharashtra, the ceiling was extended to cover sugar plantations as well.
In all states, except Jammu and Kashmir, provision was made for the payment of compensation for the acquisition of surplus land. However, the amount of compensation specified in ceiling legislation was not the same in different states, nor was the principle underlying it the same.
Five different patterns were followed:
- Compensation was fixed as multiple of land revenue assessment in Assam, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
- In Andhra, Mysore, Madras, West Bengal, Delhi, Manipur and Tripura, it was fixed as a multiple of income.
- In the Pepsu area of the Punjab, it was fixed as a multiple of rent.
- In Kerala and Orissa, it was related to the market value of land.
- In Bihar, specified amounts were provided for different classes of land.
Despite these differences, there was one thing common in all states: every where the compensation paid was higher than what was paid to the zamindars and it came close to the market price of land. The Orissa Bill specifically provided that the surplus land “was to be sold by the owners at market price”.
Thus, the recommendations of the First Panel on land Reforms that “the amount of compensation should in no case be more than 25% of the market values of land” was not carried out.
The practical effect of the ceiling laws was negligible. Taking the country as a whole, total of 9.6 lakh hectares was declared surplus out of which about 6.4 lakh hectares were taken possession of by the State Governments and only 4.6 lakh hectares were finally distributed.
The reasons for this meagre result are not far to seek. In most of the Acts, ceiling was fixed on individual and not family holdings which gave the landlords the opportunity of fictitiously dividing up their property, “among the new —born still to-be-born, and still-born” by making Benami transactions, B. Chattopadhya rightly stated in this connection that “unless these things were strictly defined in terms of the aggregate holding of the entire family and persons otherwise related and not in terms of individual’s holdings, one does not see how evasion can at all be legally reprehensible.”
Besides, in some states such as Andhra, Bihar, J and K, and Mysore, the laws did not prohibit alienation and transfer before the law came into force while in others such as Maharashtra, Manipur, and Uttar Pradesh, too remote a date was fixed for the measure to come into force. H.D. Malaviya attributes the failure to the people in charge of implementing the measure who never mentally accepted it.
The enforcement was left to the administrative and revenue authorities who colluded with the land owners and interpreted the law in such a manner as to defeat its purpose. Pitted against the powerful bureaucracy was the ignorance of the illiterate peasants about the laws.
The whole argument may be summed up in the apt words of Dr. Joshi. “The wide latitude given to state govts. (in defining a family holding, in determining the level of ceilings, in deciding whether ceilings should apply to individual or family holdings, and in fixing exemptions or methods of distribution of surplus lands) opened the door to endless manipulations and manouverings, pulls and pressures in a manner that the very object of ceilings was put in jeopardy and even defeated.”
To make a change in the existing pattern of land ownership, these loopholes had to be plugged. But this involved an attack on entrenched interests in the country-side on a much larger scale than was actually attempted. The result was that 90% of the usefulness of land ceilings was lost.
The results speak for themselves. In Gujarat, 2.15 lakh acres were likely to be declared surplus but only 39 thousand acres were actually declared. In Maharashtra, 2 lakh acres were declared surplus but only 67.5 thousand acres were taken possession of by the govt.
In Mysore, Kerala and Orissa, the ceiling laws did not release a single acre of surplus land for redistribution. In the whole of Andhra, only 1400 acres were taken over and none distributed. And the performance in Tamil Nadu was only marginally better.
Their ineffective implementation notwithstanding, the ceiling laws had a certain significance. It lay in the fact that a new but irrevocable step had been taken. A new process had begun, set off by the needs of a rural population living in steadily deteriorating social and economic conditions. The old style landed-gentry was replaced by the middle level land-owners.
In this respect, in contrast of Pakistan, there was a certain forward, though un-even, movement in our society. The laws discouraged the richest classes from buying up land. Although a major portion of their capital went into “the purchase of urban property, in politics money lending and in Conspicous Consumption”, a part at least was used for land improvement and agricultural equipment.
Holdings well-equipped with machinery and employing hired labour increased, again indicating the beginnings of a new agricultural capitalist class. This is, it appears, what the govt. had in mind.
This is confirmed by the fact that the ceiling laws did not apply to plantations, Sugar-cane farms owned by sugar factories, orchards, cattle—breeding and Dairy farms, farms in compact block ; efficient farms ; mechanised farms and farms with heavy investment. While this had a favourable effect on agricultural production, land ceilings did not solve the problem of land-less peasants or those with too little land.
A satisfactory system of land tenure had long been recognised as the essential basis of a strong and efficient organisation.
The congress Agrarian Reforms Committee very strongly felt that the welfare of the Indian peasantry and the progress of agriculture in India depend to a large extent on whether the peasantry feels secure about the source of livelihood and whether the tenure system provides incentives and opportunity for local development.
The First Five Year Plan, while according the highest priority to increase in agricultural production, recommended and agrarian policy aimed at reducing disparities in wealth and income, eliminating exploitation providing security for the tenant and worker and opportunity to different sections of the rural population.
With these guidelines provided by the planning Commission, the State Govts. adopted certain measures, viz., regulation of rents, security of tenure and conferment of ownership on tenants.
As regards fixation of rents, most of the slates following the directive laid down in the First Plan and fixed rents at ¼ of the gross produce or less. However, in some states like the Punjab, J & K, Madras, West Bengal and Andhra, fair rent, as fixed by law, continued to be 1/3 to 1/2 of the gross produce.
Security of tenure was increased by temporarily excluding eviction or by giving new rights to tenants or else by fixing a maximum limit to the area a landowner could resume for ‘personal cultivation’ in the widest sense or by fixing a minimum amount of land that could be held by the tenant and could not be resumed by the proprietor for personal cultivation. In Bombay and the Punjab, the tenant could retain half of his holding and in Himachal Pradesh 3/4 of his holding.
The maximum area that a landowner could retain for personal cultivation also varied considerably. In some of the largest states, no maximum was fixed. In others such as Bombay, Assam, Hyderabad, the maximum was generally between 12-50 acres; In a few states, the maximum was lower than this ; in J & K, it was about 2—6 acres and in Orissa 7—19 acres.
The beneficiary tenant differed but was almost never the one who works the land with his own hand. In west Bengal, the largest rights were given to the jotedars who seldom worked on land. The true cultivators were given no new right in the land except that of retaining a third.
Even this was theoretical for if the proprietor owned less than 7.5 acres, he could reclaim all of Bardagar’s holding. And this he could easily achieve by dividing his land among his family members. In other states such as the U.P., Bihar, and the Punjab, the crop-sharers found themselves treated in much the same way.
As for conferring the right of ownership, different states followed different procedure. In states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the law declared tenants as owners but required them to pay compensation to owners in suitable instalments.
In Delhi and West Bengal, the State first acquired the ownership rights and then transferred the same to tenants, recovering the compensation from them in suitable instalments.
In Kerala and U.P., ownership rights were acquired by the govt. thereby establishing a direct relationship with the tenants. As a result of these measures, it is claimed that about 3 million tenants and share-croppers acquired ownership of more than 7 million acres in the country.
But this was more a result of the Zamindari abolition than a consequence of tenancy legislation. Under the Tenancy laws, tenants lost more land than they actually acquired. In Gujarat, for instance, Desai found that between 1948-55 excluding 1950 and 1951, tenants purchased 0.8% of the leased land but lost, as a result of resumption by the landlords, 1.5% of the leased land.
Similarly, Dandekar and Khudanpur found that of the total area with tenants in 1948-49,27% was resumed by the owners and only 3% was acquired by tenants. In the villages of Baroda covered by the inquiry of Kolhatkar and Mahabal “there were very few or no cases of landlords selling their lands to tenants.”
Although tenancy laws theoretically improved the position of the tenants, the actual position was not much better than before. Dandekar and Khudanpur, in the course of their study of the working of the Bombay Tenancy Act 1948, found that “the statutory rents were almost entirely ignored; most crop sharers still gave ½ of the their produce to the landlords despite the new laws, nor was there any secret about it.”
They concluded that “in practice the law does not exist.” And Khusro found that the ‘machinery to regulate rents was seldom invoked.’ As regards security of tenures, the Third Plan confesses that “in a number of states, ejectment of tenants have taken place on a considerable scale under the plea of Voluntary surrenders.”
What were the reasons for such poor results of more than 20 years of implementation of tenancy legislation in Independent India? The first was the ignorance of the tenants. Desai found that 60% of the tenants he interviewed had no knowledge of the important provisions of the Tenancy Act of which they could take advantage.
Even where they knew the provisions of the law, they did not find it simple and easy to avail themselves of them. To go to the court was expensive and, as Desai noted, “frequent amendments to the Act added to the bewilderment of the peasant and made its effectiveness slow and difficult.”
Another important cause was that economic and political power being in the hands of the landlords, a tenant was “likely to prefer to forgo his rights to courting the bitterness in relations with and the hostility of, the landlord with all its consequence.”
Under these circumstances, it was very difficult for a tenant, even if his name was entered in the village records, to prove a long and continuous occupation of the leased plot so as obtain full rights of protected tenants as established by law.
Yet another cause was the inherent weakness of the provisions in the Acts. In the first instance, the Acts did not cover share-cropping or sub-letting. A second flaw was the permission given to the landlords to retain the lands ‘voluntarily’ surrendered by the tenants.
With the economic and social power that a majority of landlords possessed over their tenants, it was not very difficult for them to obtain voluntary surrenders at will.
A third flaw was in regard to the limitations placed on the right of tenants to purchase land. The conclusion follows that the Tenancy legislation did not benefit agricultural workers and crop sharers. The only one to gain was the rural upper class whose members had previously been dependent on the big landlords.
Cooperative farming did not receive any attention before the planning period although the congress Agrarain Reforms Committee had recommended cooperative farming for holdings below the ‘basic’ holding.
It was the Second Plan which envisaged that “the main task is to lake such essential steps as will provide sound foundations for the development of cooperative farming, so that over a period of 10 years or so, a substantial proportion of agricultural land is cultivated on the cooperative lines.”
The Progress was rather meagre. Up to 1965-66, a total of 7294 cooperative farming societies having a membership of 1.88 lakhs had been formed and these covered an area of 3.93 lakh hectares. However, many of these societies were defunct and some existed only on paper for the sake of obtaining state grants though their land was cultivated in the old way. Quite a few permitted individual cultivation.
In these, there was neither the pooling of resources nor joint operation of land. A number of these were formed with a desire to evade land reforms measures in various states.
Gunnar Myrdal opines that cooperative farming was found by urban landowners as a convenient device for converting share croppers into wage labourers and hence a means whereby absentee-owners could reap gains from agricultural modernisation. This explains why ‘absentee landowners were among the supporters of the cooperative farming idea.’
One of the basic requirements of the pilot Programme launched during the Third Plan was that “the bulk of the members should be small cultivators or landless persons or both.” This was to ensure that absentee landowners were kept out.
The Gadgil Committee on cooperative farming, however, found that only 1/3 of the societies satisfied this requirement while 2/3 had no qualification to be included in the Pilot Programme. This was bound to happen where cooperatives were introduced without first altering the rural class structure.
Abolition of Forced Labour
Another significant development since 1947 was the virtual disappearance of forced labour. At the turn of the century, the vast majority of agricultural labourers were un-free men who were either in debt-bondage or some other form of servitude.
However, since independence the force of hired labourers in Indian agriculture, by and large, was made up of free men. This was a change of great significance which was likely to have far-reaching reprecussions in the future.
Consolidation of Holdings
The consolidation of fragmented holdings was regarded as “an integral part of the agricultural production programme.”Legislation for compulsory consolidation of holdings was enacted in Bombay in 1947, in the Punjab in 1948, in Pepsu and Saurashtra in 1951 and in U.P. in 1953. Similar provisions were made in other provinces except Kerala and Madras. By 1964-65, a total area of 55 million acres was consolidated.
The progress was especially marked in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Mysore, Punjab, Rajasthan, and U.P. while in West Bengal, Assam, Orissa and J & K, the scheme had not been taken up for implementation. Those who gained the most were the upper strata of the peasantry for whom the elimination of strip—farming facilitated the shift to capitalist farming.
The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015
Highlights of the Bill
- This Bill amends the principal Act passed in 2013.
- The Bill enables the government to exempt five categories of projects from the requirements of: (i) social impact assessment, (ii) restrictions on acquisition of multi-cropped land, and (iii) consent for private projects and public private partnerships (PPPs) projects.
- The five categories of projects are: (i) defence, (ii) rural infrastructure, (iii) affordable housing, (iv) industrial corridors, and (v) infrastructure including PPPs where government owns the land.
- The Act would apply retrospectively, if an award had been made five years earlier and compensation had not been paid or possession not taken. The Bill exempts any period when a court has given a stay on the acquisition while computing the five year period.
- The Act deemed the head of a government department guilty for an offence by the department. The Bill removes this, and adds the requirement of prior sanction to prosecute a government employee.
Key Issues and Analysis
- The five types of projects being exempt from the provisions of social impact assessment, restrictions in case of multi-cropped land and consent are broad and may cover many public purpose projects.
- The Act requires consent of 70% of landholders for PPP projects, and 80% for private projects. Acquisition, being different from purchase, implies that land owners were unwilling to part with the land. Requiring consent from them may be impractical. Also, it is not clear why the consent requirement depends on who owns the project.
- The amendments in the Bill propose to expedite the process of acquisition. However, the changes in the Bill will reduce the time for acquisition from 50 months to 42 months.
- The removal of the provision that deemed the head of department guilty, and addition of a new requirement of prior sanction to prosecute government employees may raise the bar to hold them accountable.
- The change in the retrospective provision may be ineffective in cases instituted until 2014 in light of a recent Supreme Court judgment.
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