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Land Reforms in India after Independence: Purposes and Features

20-NOV-2015 17:42

    At the time of independence ownership of land was concentrated in the hands of a few. This led to the exploitation of the farmers and was a major hindrance towards the socio-economic development of the rural population. Equal distribution of land was therefore an area of focus of Independent India's government. Laws for land ceiling were enacted in various states during 50s & 60s which were modified on the directives of central government in 1972.

    Under the 1949 Indian constitution, states were granted the powers to enact (and implement) land reforms. This autonomy ensures that there has been significant variation across states and time in terms of the number and types of land reforms that have been enacted. We classify land reform acts into four main categories according to their main purpose.

    1. The first category is acts related to tenancy reform. These include attempts to regulate tenancy contracts both via registration and stipulation of contractual terms, such as shares in share tenancy contracts, as well as attempts to abolish tenancy and transfer ownership to tenants.
    2. The second category of land reform acts is attempts to abolish intermediaries. These intermediaries who worked under feudal lords (Zamandari) to collect rent for the British were reputed to allow a larger share of the surplus from the land to be extracted from tenants. Most states had passed legislation to abolish intermediaries prior to 1958.
    3. The third category of land reform acts concerned efforts to implement ceilings on land holdings, with a view to redistributing surplus land to the landless.
    4. Finally, we have acts which attempted to allow consolidation of disparate land-holdings.' Though these reforms and in particular the latter were justified partly in terms of achieving efficiency gains in agriculture it is clear from the acts themselves and from the political manifestos supporting the acts that the main impetus driving the first three reforms was poverty reduction.

    Existing assessments of the effectiveness of these different reforms are highly mixed. Though promoted by the centre in various Five Year Plans, the fact that land reforms were a state subject under the 1949 Constitution meant that enactment and implementation was dependent on the political will of state governments. The perceived oppressive character of the Zamandari and their close alliance with the British galvanized broad political support for the abolition intermediaries and led to widespread implementation of these reforms most of which were complete by the early 1960s. Centre-state alignment on the issue of tenancy reforms was much less pronounced. With many state legislatures controlled by the landlord class, reforms which harmed this class tended to be blocked, though where tenants had substantial political representation notable successes in implementation were recorded.

    Despite the considerable publicity attached to their enactment, political failure to implement was most complete in the case of land ceiling legislation. Here ambivalence in the formulation of policy and numerous loopholes allowed the bulk of landowners to avoid expropriation by distributing surplus land to relations, friends and dependents. As a result of these problems, implementation of both tenancy reform and land ceiling legislation tended to lag well behind the targets set in the Five Year Plans. Land consolidation legislation was enacted less than the other reforms and, owing partly to the sparseness of land records, implementation has been considered to be both sporadic and patchy only affecting a few states in any significant way. Village level studies also offer a very mixed assessment of the poverty impact of different land reforms. Similar reforms seemed to have produced different effects in different areas leaving overall impact indeterminate. There is some consensus that the abolition of intermediaries achieved a limited and variable success both in redistributing land towards the poor and increasing the security of smallholders.

    For tenancy reform, however, whereas successes have been recorded, in particular, where tenants are well organized there has also been a range of documented cases of imminent legislation prompting landlords to engage in mass evictions of tenants and of the de jure banning of landlord-tenant relationships pushing tenancy under- ground and therefore, paradoxically, reducing tenurial security. Land ceiling legislation, in a variety of village studies, is also perceived to have had neutral or negative effects on poverty by inducing landowners from joint families to evict their tenants and to separate their holdings into smaller proprietary units among family members as a means of avoiding expropriation. Land consolidation is also on the whole judged not to have been progressive in its redistributive impact given that richer farmers tend to use their power to obtain improved holdings. There is a considerable variation in overall land reform activity across states with states such as Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu having a lot of activity while Punjab and Rajasthan have very little.

    New Agency for Land reforms: Government is planning to establish a separate agency for land reforms & upgradation of wasteland. New agency named; “Jai Prakash Narayan Mission for Land Reforms & Wasteland Management” will work under the ministry of rural development. This body will be authorized for making policies and implementing them for land reforms & wasteland upgradation.

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