In the wake of Independence when planning for economic development was undertaken, land reforms were given an important place in the overall framework of planning. It continues to occupy this place even now. Ideological considerations apart, certain practical economic considerations motivated policy planners to give land reforms this place of importance. The existing agrarian structure was accepted on all hands as antiquated and a hindrance in modernization of agricultural and of rural society as a whole. The land-man relationship was integral to this structure.
Objectives of Land Reforms in India
India’s first Five-Year Plan, therefore, declared as the objective of land reforms the removal of such impediments as existed in the way of modernization of agriculture as well as the growth of an egalitarian society. Abolition of the intermediary system was seen as the first step towards the removal of these impediments. Since partition, by stages, all the intermediary systems in land have been abolished. Only a few minor “inams” and jagirs exist. Steps are being taken for their removal also. The erstwhile intermediaries were awarded compensation of the order of Rs. 670 million. More than two-thirds of this money has already been paid to them either in cash or in bonds.
The Second stage in the process of land reforms has had two main distinguishable aspects—reform of the tenancy system and the placing of a ceiling on agricultural land-holdings with a view to removing inordinate inequalities in the ownership of land among various sections of the rural society.
The specific policy on the tenancy questions was spelt out broadly by the Government of India.
All tenants and share-croppers should immediately be given security of tenure in the land they cultivate. This should be accompanied by the grant of an opportunity to land-owners to resume land within specified limits for the purpose of personal cultivation. The rest of the land should be declared non-resumable and the rights of tenants and sharecroppers in actual cultivating possession of these lands should be secure. The provision of security of tenure should be followed by conferment of ownership rights. The opportunity for resumption of lands by landlords/landowners for personal cultivation should be limited to a period of not more than 5 years.
While the imposition of land ceiling was urged by the planners, the specific level of ceiling was, for all practical purposes, left to be decided by the States themselves.
The ultimate objective of tenancy reform was the conferment of ownership rights on the tenants and share-croppers in cultivating possession.
A majority of the Indian States have already brought their legislation in line with the national policy on tenancy. Efforts have been made to bring legislation in the remaining States also in accord with the national policy. Nevertheless, one cannot say with any degree of certainty that the implementation of the laws is satisfactory.
The western States of Maharashtra and Gujarat were the pioneers in legislating immediate conferment of ownership rights on tenants. There is no doubt that a great deal of work has been done for the implementation of the laws in these areas. The problems attending to the tenancy question are the most acute in the eastern States and certain parts of the southern States.
By the early 1960s, almost all the States in India had taken legislative measures imposing ceilings on agricultural holdings. Almost everywhere the ceiling was placed too high to affect the majority of large land-holders. Besides, there were too many exemptions from the ceiling and too many loopholes to make the laws effective. While some efforts were made in about half a dozen States to implement these laws, in the rest little was done.
In the wake of renewed emphasis on land reforms late in the 1960s and in the early 1970s, a fresh look was taken at the whole question. The Chief Ministers of the States met in July 1972 and made a series of recommendations with a view to lowering the ceiling, removing most of the exemptions so far provided and plugging the loopholes in the laws that had been discovered in the course of their implementation. The Government of India issued a set of guidelines in August-September 1972, urging the States and the Union Territories to amend or enact afresh, as the case might be, the land ceiling laws. The guidelines suggested a broad framework of uniformity within which room was left for the specific need of each region. The ceiling for a family of five (consisting of the husband, wife and three minor children) was placed at 10-18 acres of double-cropped irrigated land, 27 acres of single-cropped irrigated land and 54 acres of dry land and orchards. The categories of land enjoying exemption from the ceiling were considerably reduced; so were the categories of persons and institutions whose land holdings were placed above the ceiling. The guidelines further suggested that the ceiling laws be given retrospective effect from a date not later than the 24th January, 1971, so that transfer of land done with a view to avoiding the effect of the impending ceiling could be ignored.
One of the national guidelines was that the surplus land should be distributed primarily among landless agricultural workers and especially to those who belonged to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. To make the surplus land and its allotment to such people a self-financing proposition without imposing any burden on the State exchequer, it was suggested that the amount of compensation payable to the former land-owners would be determined at rates much lower than the market rates. The allottees should pay back this sum to the State in easy installments spread over several years.
The task of land reforms is enormous.
It is not possible for the existing administrative machinery to fully cope with it unless it is sufficiently strengthened. A number of States have complained that they are unable to accelerate the pace of implementation unless necessary finances are forthcoming to help them strengthen the administrative machinery. Land reforms, and particularly land ceiling measures, do not connote merely reform of man-land relationship. They cover a whole range of institutional reforms in the rural society, touching its superstructure and its system of values. It is doubtful if such a fundamental social change can be brought about by the administrative machinery alone which has to play a pivotal role under any circumstances. The national guidelines suggested that, in the process of implementation, association of popular representatives and social organisations should be ensured.
Judging from past experience, it is felt that a considerable portion of the surplus land will be poor in quality and, therefore, will require some development before it can be brought under the plough. The allottees are all poor people, too poor to find the necessary means for undertaking on their own the cultivation of the allotted land.
Maintenance of proper records of the rights of land holder, particularly those of tenants, share-croppers and other insecure holders is integral to any scheme of land reforms. In a country where tenancy and share-cropping arrangements are largely by word of mouth and the tenants and share-croppers work under conditions often hostile to their interests, the preparation of record of rights is difficult. Right from the beginning of the planning process, emphasis has been laid on updating the record of rights, reflecting particularly the interest of the share-croppers, tenants and other insecure holder. The opposition of vested interests has hindered this step. A number of States have taken measures in recent years for updating the record of rights. More States are being induced to take similar measures.
A number of States have taken legislative measures for specifically recording the rights of tenants, share-croppers and other insecure holders without waiting for the elaborate procedure for fresh survey and settlement operations.
In a country where the average size of the land holding is small and far too many fragments make up a holding, consolidation of holdings is an important precondition for the modernization of agriculture. By now, about a quarter of the total agricultural land in the country has been consolidated. In Punjab and Haryana, the work is all but complete. Western U.P., Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have made impressive progress.