Land Reforms in India- Part II

High Disparity in Ownership of Landholdings

Land Reforms in India
Land Reforms in India

In Part -I of ‘Land Reforms in India’ we had explained what is meant by Land Reforms, it advantages, Land Tenure Systems introduced by the British, Role of the Peasants and Agrarian measures undertaken in post-Independence period. We had ended the first part of ‘Land Reforms in India’ while discussing on the recommendations made by the Kumarappa Committee on abolition of intermediaries. In this part, we will be mainly focusing on Tenancy Reforms, Ceilings on Land Holding, Bhoodan and Gramdan Movements and on the Patterns of Land holdings. 


This is the continuation from ‘Land Reforms in India – Part I. In the last part we had explained the meaning of Land Reforms and its various administrative and socio-economic perspective apart from its advantages, Land Tenure Systems introduced by the British and Agrarian measures undertaken in post-Independence period. In this part, our focus will be on Tenancy Reforms, Ceilings on Land Holding, Bhoodan and Gramdan Movements and on the Patterns of Land holdings.

Tenancy Reforms

The Agrarian Reforms Committee advocated against any method of farming by tenants and claimed that land leasing must be prohibited in case of disabled persons, minors and widows. This outlook obtained further strength in subsequent 5-Year Plans. The Second 5-Year Plan States that abolishing intermediary tenures and creating a directing relation between the state and the tenants would provide the tiller of the land his rightful place at the agrarian system and provide him with full incentives for raising agricultural production. Post Independence, emphasis was given on two areas – firstly, on abolishing the intermediaries and secondly amending the existing tenancy laws in order to provide security to the tenants of ex-intermediaries. However, these legal steps triggered the landlords to procure mass eviction of sharecroppers, sub-tenants and tenants through different legal and extra-legal apparatus. The prevalence of oral leases, highly defective land records, non-recognition in law of share- croppers as tenants, absence of rent receipts and multiple punitive tenancy law provisions were used by the landlords for securing eviction of all sorts of tenants. Therefore, in order to counteract such tendency, it became necessary for the States to amend or enact laws and provide adequate safeguards against illegal eviction and provide security of tenure for the tenants at will.

Basically, the states had followed four distinct patterns of tenancy reforms.

Firstly, tenancy laws of several states like Bihar, Andhra Pradesh (Telengana region),  Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh banned leasing agricultural land except by certain disabled categories of landowners in order to vest land ownership to actual tillers. Although, concealed tenancy continued to exist in all these states.

Secondly, tenancy on agriculture was totally banned without having any exception in the state of Kerala.

Thirdly, there were a few states like Haryana, Gujrat, and Punjab where tenancy was not at all banned. However, after continuous possession of land by tenants for some years, they acquired the right to purchase the land which they cultivated.

Fourth, in states like Orissa, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu and Andhra area of Andhra Pradesh no ban on leasing of agricultural land were implemented. But share-croppers were not recognised as tenants. The State of West Bengal recognised share-croppers as tenants only with effect from 1979, with the launching of ‘Operation Barga”.

Ceilings on Land Holding

‘Ceilings on land holdings’ is a legally stipulated upper limit or size of a land beyond which no farm household or individual farmer can hold any land. According to the opinion of planners and policy makers of India, any large scale farming beyond a certain point in Indian scenario becomes uneconomic as well as unjust.  Small farms tend to raise economic efficiency of resource usage and enhance social equity by generating employment opportunities and through equitable income distribution. Thus, even though big farms yield relatively greater output per unit of area, they cannot be deemed more efficient in a country like India where there is a widespread prevalence of unemployment and under-employment.

In 1959 Nagpur Resolution of Indian National Congress it was clarified that by the end of 1959 all Indian states must implement agrarian legislation to put restrictions over the size of land holdings. Consequently, ceilings on land holdings was imposed by all State Governments of India in the 1960s except by the north-eastern states. Ceilings on land holdings were already imposed in the then states of Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal in early 1950s along with laws for abolition of intermediaries. However, the 1959 Nagpur Resolution had significant impact as a number of States at once took to ratification of ceiling legislation. The Uttar Pradesh Imposition of Ceilings on Land Holdings Act,1960; The Madhya Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act, 1960; The Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, 1960; The Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1960; The Karnataka Land Reforms Act1961; The Tamil Nadu Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Land) Act, 1961;The Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Area and Acquisition of Surplus Land Act, 1961; Kerala Land Reforms Act, 1963 and The Orissa Land Reforms Act, 1969,  were a few outcomes of the Nagpur Resolution on Land Reform. But, as except for the cases of Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal, ceiling legislations were simultaneously not ratified with abolition of Zamindari, this led to numerous nami (with name) and benami (without name) transfers of land. This decreased the potential ceiling surplus land which could be accessible for redistribution. Furthermore, states like Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Orissa, J&K and Himachal Pradesh followed individuals as the unit of application for ceiling whereas states like Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, and Gujarat adopted family as the unit of application family as the unit of application.

In addition, there were exemption on ceiling laws from following categories of land:

  1. Land under Tea, Coffee, Rubber, Coco and Cardamum Plantations
  2. Land used for cultivation of Palm, Kesra, Bela, Chameli or rose when such land holders have no land for any other cultivation (U.P.)
  3. Sugarcane Farms
  4. Co-operative Gardens, Colonies
  5. Tank Fisheries
  6. Area under orchard up to four hectares (Haryana and Punjab)
  7. Land held by co-operative farming and other co-operative societies, including land mortgage bank
  8. Land held by educational, charitable and religious institutions
  9. Land awarded for gallantry
  10. Land held by sugarcane factories
  11. Land held by state or Central Government
  12. Land held by a commercial or industrial or public sector undertaking
  13. Land vested in Gram Sabha, Bhoodan or Gramdan Committee
  14. Land situated in any area which is specified as being reserved for non-agricultural or industrial development under the relevant tenancy law (Gujarat)
  15. Specified farms which are engaged in wool raising, cattle breeding or dairying
  16. Several categories of other land including which are held by commercial or public sector undertakings, research farms, or private forests.

The above exemptions as given in the ceiling laws gave rise to the issue of law evasion by manipulating the classification of land. Moreover, the size of the ceiling surplus land accessible for redistribution was consequently reduced.

Bhoodan and Gramdan

In 1951, the Bhoodan movement was launched promptly after the peasant uprising in the Andhra Pradesh’s Telengana region and within a few years henceforth, in 1957 Gramdan movement was started. the aim of these two movement was primarily to convince leaseholders and landholders in villages to renounce their respective land rights. By doing so, land would become a property of village association which would then be equally redistributed and used for joint cultivation. Vinoba Bhave anticipated that movements like Gramdan and Bhoodan would help in eliminating private ownership of land. However, both the movement failed to reach its targeted goals in respect of both land distribution and land acquisition.

Out of the total received through Bhoodan, it was found that nearly half the land was not fit for cultivation and hence had to be rejected. Out of the remaining cultivable land, around 45% was distributed and rest remained undistributed. In majority of the cases, pieces of the lands which were donated by the landlords were either in dispute with governments or tenants or were not fit for cultivation. Actually, landlords played a cleaver game. They used this as an opportunity to get away from their disputed lands as compromise formula as under the existing law a very little hope were left that those land would remain with them.

In either case, landlords were given various facilities and input subsidies for donating such lands, which was no less than an inducement. Moreover, while it was given under the Gramdan movement that private ownership in property is to stop, merely the landholders right to sell land was restricted (though not prohibited ), leaving intact the right of inheritance to such lands by the successors.

Pattern of Landholdings

The National Sample Survey (8th round) had presented the earliest picture of land distribution. It had taken into account how total owned area was distributed considering size and classes of ownership holdings pertaining to the year 1953-54.

Ownership holding can be defined as the land owned by a single household while operational/cultivation holding means the lands operated or cultivated by a single household.

Thus, Operational Holding = Ownership Holding + Land Leased in – Land Leased out.

Operational holdings as well as Ownership holdings may be held either as several plots scattered at different places or as a single plot of land. When a holding takes place in multiple scattered plots, it is termed as a ‘fragmented holding’ while the entire process of creating such holdings is called as ‘frahmentation’. Here let us understand the extent of fragmentation in the agricultural holdings in India.

Pattern of Ownership Holdings

On looking deeply on the pattern of ownership holding, one will perceive that in 1953-54, rural households owned approximately 310 million acres of land. In terms of percentage, it was almost 61% of the topographically usable land and 38.4% of the total geographical area. Out of this, undoubtedly a certain percentage of the land in the rural region was owned by urban households. As per the reports, the 310 million acres of land, as mentioned above, was owned by around 66 million households. Thus, it can be said that only 4.72 acres was the average size of ownership holdings in the rural regions. However, the actual scenario was far worse if we critically analyse the size-distribution of holdings.

Almost 22% of the households in the rural regions were landless. Majority among these landless households were either agricultural labours or small tenants who rented land from landlords for cultivation. The next 25% (approx) of the household held only 1.4% of the land and none among them held more than one acre of land. Thus, to sum up, almost 47% of the households either held less than one acre of land or no land. On the other hand, 16% of the total owned area was held by only 1% of the households. The land owned by these 1% households was equal to or above 50 acres. Now, if we include the immediate lower groups, then it will show that almost 34% of the total land area were held bt 3% to 4% of the households. Now, if we compare land holdings between the groups holding lowest share of land and highest share of land, we will see that the on an average only 0.26 acre lands were held by the households holding lands less than one acre while around 87.4 acres land were hold the households holding over 50 acres of land. This clearly indicates there was a high disparity in ownership of land holdings.

South India had the highest disparity in the distribution of ownership holdings where the concentration ratio was 0.74 while North & West India had the lowest disparity with a concentration ratio of 0.64. Central India had highest average size of land holdings (about 8.29 acres) while South India had the lowest (about 3.42 acres).

Pattern of Operational Holdings

The concept of ‘cultivation’ or ‘operational’ holding is more suitable to efficiency of agricultural operation. As in India there is a very adverse distribution of ownership, through a procedure of leasing out and leasing in, it is likely to have a pattern of operational holdings which is less inconsistent with the principles of efficient technology or or with the requirements of the laws of returns, or of returns to scale. In fact, if there was a very little leasing in of land by the small owners and also a very little leasing out by large owners, there wouldn’t been much difference in the pattern of operational holding and that of ownership; and if that were the pattern of cultivation holdings, then would had been numerous small farms (cultivation holdings) and a few farms too large for efficient cultivation.

-To be Continued-

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