Land reforms aim at redistributing ownership holding from the viewpoint of social justice, and reorganising operational holdings from the view point of optimum utilisation of land. These aims at providing security of tenure, fixation of rents, conferment of ownership, etc.
The entire concept of land reforms aims at the abolition of intermediaries and bringing the actual cultivator in direct contact with the state. The provisions of security of tenancy and rent regulation provide a congenial atmosphere in which the agriculturist feels sure of reaping the fruits of his labour (Datt and Sundharam, 1995, p. 445); The scope of land reforms, therefore, includes : (a) abolition of intermediaries, (b) tenancy reforms, i.e., regulation of rent, security of tenure for tenants and conferment of ownership on them; (c) ceiling on land holdings and distribution of surplus land to landless agricultural labourers and small farmers; (d) agrarian reorganisation including consolidation of holdings and prevention of sub-division and fragmentation; (e) organisation of co-operative farms; and (f) improvement in the system of record keeping.
(a) Abolition of Intermediaries-During the British regime three categories of land tenure systems (Zamindari, Mahalwari and Ryotwari) was prevalent. Under the Zamindari system, which was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793 in Bengal, land was held by one person or at the most by a few joint owners who were responsible for the payment of land revenue. Under the Zamindari tenure these revenue collectors were raised to the status of landowners.
The Zamindari settlements were of two types-Permanent with fixed land revenue in perpetuity. Under temporary settlement land revenue was assessed for a period ranging between 20 and 40 years and was subject to revision. Thus, between the state and the actual tiller there grew an intermediary who was interested in land only to the extent of extraction of exorbitant rent. So Zamindars symbolised oppression and tyranny and the agriculture was degraded to subsistence farming.
Under the Mahal wari tenure, the village lands were held jointly by the village communities, the members of which were jointly and severally responsible for the payment of land revenue. The system was first introduced in Agra and Oudh and latter on in Punjab. Here the village lumberyard collected revenue for which he received panchortra, i.e., 5 per cent as commission.
Under the Ryotwari tenure the individual holder was directly responsible to the state for the payment of land revenue. This form of tenure, first started in Madras in 1972, was prevalent in Bombay, Berar and Central India. The riot was at liberty to enjoy permanent right over land and to sub-let it so long as he paid the assessment of land revenue.
In order to stop the tyranny and exploitation by Zamindars and to restore tiller’s right over the land measures were taken for the abolition of intermediaries after independence. First such legislation was enacted in Madras in 1948, followed by Bombay in 1949-50, Hyderabad in 1951, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Central India and Assam in 1951, Orissa, Punjab, Saurashtra and Rajasthan in 1952; and Karnataka, Delhi, West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh in 1954-55.
Due to Zamindari abolition about 30 lakh tenants and share croppers acquired ownership rights over a total cultivated area of 25 lakh hectares throughout the country. Further it led to abolition of about 260,000 zamindars and intermediaries and acquisition of large amount of forested, barren and waste land by the Government. It also led to the emergence of a middle class of peasantry which is playing a pivotal role in agricultural development.
Due to several loopholes in the Zamindari Abolition Act the land could not be transferred to actual tillers and landless agricultural labourers. In certain areas the system of intermediaries is yet to be abolished, i.e. water rights in Bhagalpur (Bihar),
Communided in Goa, Jotdari in Meghalaya, trust estate (zamindari of religious institutions) in Orissa, and Devasthan Enam in Maharashtra. The government had to pay huge sum amounting to Rs. 670 crores as compensation. Some of these suits are still pending in the courts.
(b) Tenancy Reforms-Under the Zamindari and Ryotwari systems, tenancy cultivation had been quite common in the country. Such cultivation may be done by small proprietors who find that they have an insufficient quantity of land or it may be carried on by landless laborers. Tenants are of three types: (i) occupancy or permanent tenants with permanent and heritable rights, (ii) tenants-at will or temporary tenants, and (iii) sub-tenants.
The condition of temporary and sub-tenants is bad and they are subject to ruthless exploitation. Frequent enhancement of rent, eviction on petty grounds and beggary (free service) are some of the prevalent ways of exploitation. In India about 20 per cent of the agricultural land is devoted to share-cropping (bate) where 50 cent of the produce is the normal rent. On several occasions, the peasants have to forego even two-thirds of the produce as rent.
Despite national policy of giving full ownership right to the actual cultivator the legislations pertaining to tenancy reforms are either weak or lack firm determination in their implementation. That is why under the tenancy reforms about 112.92 lakh cultivators have been able to acquire ownership right over 62.13 lakh hectares of land. These tenancy reforms pertain to (i) regulation of rent, (ii) security of tenure, and (iii) conferment of ownership on tenants. States have made following provisions to achieve the third objective:
(i) All tenants have been given full security of tenure, without giving the owners the right of personal cultivation.
(ii) Owners have been given the right to resume a limited area (not more than a family holding in any case) subject, however, to the condition that a minimum area is left with the tenant.
(iii) A limit has been placed on the extent of land which a land-owner may resume, but the tenant is not entitled to retain minimum area for cultivation in all cases.
(c) Rent Control-At the time of independence the rate of rent on agricultural land was 50 per
cent or more of the agricultural produce. Hence legislations were enacted to bring down the rate of rent to 33 per cent in Punjab and Haryana, 33 1/3 to 40 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 20 to 30 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, and 20 to 25 per cent in rest of the country. Since Fourth Five Year Plan the system of the payment of rent in agricultural produce was fully abolished and same was replaced by the system of cash payment.
(d) Ceiling on Landholdings-Land reforms in India had envisaged that beyond a certain specified limit, all lands belonging to the landlords would be taken over by the State and allotted to small proprietors to make their holdings economic or to landless laborers to meet their demand for land (Datt and Sundharam, 1995, p. 450). Ceiling on landholdings is, therefore, an effective measure for redistribution of land and achieving the goal of social justice.
Legislation for ceiling on existing holdings and unit of application has been enacted in two phases. During the first phase of 1905 to 1972 ceiling legislation largely treated land holder as the unit of application. After 1972, it was decided to have family as the basis of holding. Table 8.VI presents the ceiling limit on different categories of land in different states of India or more of the agricultural produce. Hence legislations were enacted to bring down the rate of rent to 33 per cent in Punjab and Haryana, 33 1/3 to 40 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 20 to 30 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, and 20 to 25 per cent in rest of the country. Since Fourth Five Year Plan the system of the payment of rent in agricultural produce was fully abolished and same was replaced by the system of cash payment.
(d) Ceiling on Landholdings-Land reforms in India had envisaged that beyond a certain specified limit, all lands belonging to the landlords would be taken over by the State and allotted to small proprietors to make their holdings economic or to landless labourers to meet their demand for land (Datt and Sundharam, 1995, p. 450). Ceiling on landholdings is, therefore, an effective measure for redistribution of land and achieving the goal of social justice.
Legislation for ceiling on existing holdings and unit of application has been enacted in two phases. During the first phase of 1905 to 1972 ceiling legislation largely treated land holder as the unit of application. After 1972, it was decided to have family as the basis of holding. Table 8.VI presents the ceiling limit on different categories of land in different states of India.
Under the old ceiling laws (till 1972) only about 9.30 lakh hectares were declared surplus land out of which only about 5.26 lakhs ha. Were redistributed. In Bihar, Karnataka. Orissa and Rajasthan no land was declared surplus. The Conference of the Chief Ministers held in July 1972 approved following guidelines for the implementation of land ccling: (i) the ceiling limit for irrigation land yielding at least two crops a year should range from 4.05 to 7.28 hectares.
(ii) In case of inferior land, ceiling may be higher but should not exceed 21.85 hectares.
(iii) The unit of application shall be a family of five members. Additional land may be allowed for each member in excess of five subject to the maximum of twice the limit of the ceiling.
(iv) The ceiling should not operate on than land under plantation crops (tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom, cocoa etc.) and under industrial and commercial establishments.
(v) State governments may exempt religious, charitable and educational trusts of public nature from the purview of ceiling.
(vi) In the distribution of surplus land, priority should be given to landless agricultural workers, particularly to those belonging to the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes.
(vii) Compensation payable for the surplus land on imposition of ceiling laws should be fixed well below the market value of the property so that it is within the capacity of the new allotters.
(viii) The compensation may be fixed in graded slabs and preferably in multiple of land revenue payable for the land.
Following the guidelines lay down by the Chief Ministers Conference, 17 state governments have revised the lower limit of the ceiling but the progress of the land ceiling laws has not been very satisfactory. Table 8.VII gives an idea about the acquisition and redistribution of surplus land under ceiling laws from 1980 to 1991. It is really distressing that only 6 lakh hectares of land could be acquired and distributed during the span of 12 years (1980 to 1992).
The area declared surplus so far is less than 2 percent of the cultivated area. According to the National Sample Survey (26th Round, 1971-72) the total surplus land should be 121.4 lakh hectares (Agricultural Census 1980-81 only 59.5 lakh ha.)Of which only 25% has so far been declared surplus under the ceiling laws. Amongst the beneficiaries only 50% belong to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribe’s categories.
This all denotes the utter failure of the ceiling laws whose main reasons, as outlined by the Government in the Ministry of Rural Development Annual Report (1992-93) are as under : (i) provision for holding land up to twice the ceiling limit by families with more than members, (ii) provision to give separate ceiling limit for major sons in the family, (iii) provision for treating every share-holder of a joint family as a separate unit for ceiling limit, (iv) exemption of plantation gardens, religious and charitable institutions from the provisions of ceiling, (v) became and frazil (fictitious) transfers to defeat the ceiling limits; (vi) misuse of exemptions and miss-classification of land, and (vii) non-application of appropriate ceiling to lands newly irrigated by public investment.
The need is to plug these loopholes and make ceiling laws more effective. Government should also take necessary steps to ensure the possession of surplus land to the beneficiaries. According to the new provisions 40 per cent of the beneficiaries should be selected from the women folk.
(e) Land Records-for proper implementation of land reforms there is a need to modernise the system of keeping revenue records. In the Seventh Five Year Plan emphasis has been given on scientific survey of unsurveyed land, register the name of tenant and share cropper in land records, strengthen the revenue system at the lowest level, and provide training facility to revenue officials to improve their efficiency.
During the Eight Five Year Plan it was decided to utilise computer and new techniques for keeping and maintaining revenue records. At first instance this programme is being implemented in 102 districts belonging to 25 states and union territories of the country for which a provision of Rs. 21.28 crores has been made in the plan.
Infect record number of legislations has been enacted in the country for land reforms after independence. But due to socio-economic complexities, loopholes in the land reforms laws, laxity in implementation, and political and legal interferences these land reforms have not been able to meet desired success.
The development of education has infused consciousness and unity amongst the down trodden to fight for their rights and oppose exploitation and oppression. But in some areas this has also generated social tension. Under the 34th amendment of the Indian Constitution the land reforms have been kept beyond the purview of judicial review and, hence, their implementation has been made easier.
Under the 20-point Programme about 60 lakh hectares of land has been distributed to landless farmers especially to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Late Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement of voluntary donation of land by big farmers was a noble attempt towards peaceful socio-economic transformation.
Similarly the government is providing incentive for co-operative farming. At present there are about 10,500 co-operative societies in the country with a total membership of 3.50 lakh people and ownership over 6.25 lakh hectares of land. But about 60 per cent of these societies are not working satisfactorily.
The Sixth Plan Mid-term Appraisal draws attention to the fact that mere transfer of ownership or provision of security of tenancy is not enough in itself either to raise productivity or bring the marginal farmers/landless labourers above the poverty line.” Unless the beneficiaries of land reform, most of whom belong to the poorest segments of the community, are supported by other ongoing rural development schemes like IRDP, DPAP, NREP etc. it would be difficult for them to make productive use of the land or to reap the benefit of security of tenancy” (Sixth Five Year Plan, p. 54).