Land Reforms in India

Many land reforms were initiated after independence in India. The political leaders especially Nehru always dreamt for a socialist pattern of society. Ending the feudal forces is one of the major challenges before the newly formed Indian Government in the Post-Independent era.

Before independence, India was under the despotic rule of the British who encouraged the intermediaries to collect more revenues. However, this was not the beginning as India was under the feudal clutches since ages. The Emperors who ruled India divided the lands into Jagirs and handed over them to Jagirdhars. These jagirdhars further created intermediaries called zamindars to look after their jagirs and collect revenues from the peasants who cultivate in those lands. After British established their paramountcy continued the intermediaries under Permanent Settlement Act and assigned the lands to Zamindars permanently to collect the revenues. The zamindars, who were the intermediaries, acquired the ownership rights over huge land holdings. After independence institutional reforms were needed to change the pattern of feudal society to socialist.

A committee for the first time was appointed in 1949 to initiate the land reforms. The committee was named as Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee also known as Kumarappan committee headed by Kumarappan. It was the beginning of land reforms in India. The committee recommended radical institutional reforms; it recommended the abolition of Zamindari System.

Objectives of the Land Reforms

Zamindari System was very prevalent at that in India. The feudal system was very ruthless, the peasants faced many atrocities resorted by the absentee land lords. Immediate need to reform the system was the challenge before the newly formed post-independent Indian government.

Abolition of Zamindari system was alone, insufficient. Tenancy reforms were needed to be taken up to provide protection to the tenants. Provisions like; Providing Security of the tenure to the tenants, fixing the fair rents and ultimately making the tenants the owner cultivators were supposed to be brought into effect.

Ceiling of the holdings must be taken up. The Zamindars use to have huge acres of lands under their control. To create equality, the surplus lands from zamindars shall be taken back and should be distributed among the poor.

The system of co-operative farming shall be encouraged. It was the goal since independence. Under this system the people with lands form together by joining their lands and cultivate together in the combined land. The outcome would be enjoyed together. However, this system was never successful in India.

Abolition of Zamindari System

From the year 1949 to 1951, the states in India – independently brought into effect the zamindari abolition act. Uttar Pradesh was the first state in India brought into effect the law related to abolition of zamindari system. Subsequently states like Madras (later called Tamil Nadu), Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, etc implemented the Zamindari abolition act almost on the lines of UP Zamindari abolition Act.

Important Provisions of the Zamindari Abolition Act:

  • Zamindars are allowed to possess some part of their lands for personal cultivation. Those retained lands were called `Khudh Khast` lands. Surplus lands shall be confiscated from zamindars.
  • Compensation shall be paid for the lands taken away. With regard to this, the government`s decision would be final and non- justiciable.
  • Surplus lands shall be given to the tenants with a minimal price. Tenants who got the lands were called as `Bhoomidhars`, tenants who were not in a position to pay the entire amount, can pay the amount in installments and were called as `Sirdars`.
  • Barren lands, ponds, forests were taken away from Zamindars and were transferred to village panchayats.

The above provisions were challenged in the court, claiming they were against the Article. 31 of the Constitution of India. Subsequently, the government made changes to the Constitution. Golaknath, a zamindar from Punjab challenged the amendment of the Constitution and confiscation of his lands in the Court of law. Supreme Court gave the judgment in favour of Golaknath, it ruled that parliament cannot amend the Constitution. However, subsequently to accommodate the Zamindar Abolition Act and to bring land reforms more freely and effectively the Article 31 of the constitution was repealed.

Analysis of Zamindari abolition Act:

The provision in Zamindari Abolition Act accommodates that the Zamindars can retain some lands for their personal use. However, how much personal cultivable land can be retained was never defined. Ceiling of holdings was not yet introduced by that time.

When the act was passed, there were no records that have the information about the tenancy. Zamindars showed the tenants as their servants and retained the lands.

Forests were massively depleted as there was a provision in the act that forests under the control of Zamindars shall be transferred to the village panchayats.

The government has to pay compensation for the confiscated lands. This provision in the act increased heavy pressure and burden on the State treasury.

States in the India were empowered to make laws related to Zamindari abolition act since the land comes under state list of the seventh schedule of the constitution of India. There was no uniformity in the act in each State.

Tenancy Reforms

Ensuring fair rent, security to the tenure, converting the tenants into the owner cultivators were the major objectives of the Tenancy reforms.

Surplus lands confiscated from Zamindars were given to tenants on a minimal amount which was eight to ten times of annual rent. The lands were given to only those tenants who were paying the rent in the form of cash. Bargadars or Sharecroppers were those tenants who pay the rent in the form of kind and there was no accommodation to them in the act and hence there was no advantage to them with regard to availing the land. However, Sharecroppers were accommodated in the Tenancy acts subsequently.

The terms and conditions between the landlords and the peasants were always oral. It has become difficult to identify the tenure of the tenants worked in respective lands. The fair rent objective of the tenancy reforms was never implemented.

Land Ceiling Act

To retain the lands effectively from the Zamindars, finally government introduced the land ceilings Act. The Kumarappan Committee, the All Indian Kisan Sabha recommends the ceiling of land from zamindars.

In 1942, the Kumarappan Committee recommended the maximum size of land a landlord can retain, it was three times of the size of the economic holding i.e. Sufficient livelihood for a family. The All India Kisan Sabha recommended that the land that can be retained by a family shall be 25 acres.

In 1959, the following decisions were taken in the congress session of Nagpur; All the provinces should immediately implement land ceiling Acts, and surplus lands shall be brought under co-operatives.

Analysis of Land Ceiling Act:

From 1960 to 1961, several States brought into force the Land Ceiling Acts. However, there was no proper result till 1972 due to the following; the zamindars transferred the lands on to the names of their farm servants, the act exempted the plantation industries and co-operative farming has got exemption which was tactfully utilized by the landlords.

In 1972, Basing on the recommendations of the Central land reforms committee, government of India issued the following new guidelines to the states with regard to land ceiling act;

  • Ceiling for the double crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 10 to 18 acres.
  • Ceiling for the single crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 27 acres.
  • Ceiling for the dry land it shall be 54 acres.

The above ceiling measurements were applicable to a family of five members. The family with more than five can have additional area of land for each additional member but the same cannot be extended beyond twenty acres.

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