Land Reforms in India- Part III

The Next Generation of Land Reforms [From 1970- Present]

Land Reforms in India
Land Reforms in India

In the Part II of Land Reforms in India, we had discussed how land was unequally distributed in India before and after India got her independence. Various measures were launched as efforts to reduce this disparity in Landholdings. However, these efforts did not yield much in eliminating the inequitable power structure in the Indian villages. And as the first round of land reforms failed, it caused a huge discontent among the poor. Moreover, the lacuna in income distribution between the rich and the poor further widened in the 1960s during the green revolution. Indeed, the rising discontent resulted in land based conflicts, which included Naxalite movement in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and in a few other states. In early 1970s, the respective state governments were forced to revise the land ceiling laws and amend tenancy laws in a few states due to these developments. Consequently, it became necessary to properly maintain & update the land records.


This the last and final part of the series “Land Reforms in India”. In the first part we had discussed the significance of Land Reforms from the administrative and economic perspective. Then in the second Part we had seen the high level in disparity in ownership of landholdings. This part focuses on the various measures undertaken and subsequent amendments brought in by the governments to bring about more transparency in the system.

Below are various heads through which land reform measures were undertaken since 1970:

  1. Amending the tenancy laws
  2. Restructuring the agrarian structure
  3. Modifying the status of consolidation of holdings
  4. Reducing the limits of ceiling and thrusts on effective redistribution of ceiling surplus land
  5. Change in the perspective of land reforms in the wake of economic liberalisation
  6. Updation and Computerisation of land records

Effective Redistribution of Ceiling Surplus Land

After consultation with each other, the Union government and the state governments together formulated national guidelines for uniform ceiling laws. In accordance with these guidelines, inter-state discripancies in ceiling levels, ceiling limits and exemptions granted to different categories were reduced by the state governments. Moreover, a uniform pattern of ceiling laws were adopted and the family being treated as the unit of application across the country.

Four hectares was set as the ceilings limit. This restriction was implemented deducing that atleast two crops per year could be cultivated  in each cultivable land or its equivalent of other categories of land. The 1970s ceiling laws were upgraded versions of those ceiling lwas adopted during the 1950s and 60s.

However, there still remained certain types of properties or rather better to be called land which enjoyed exemptions from ceiling laws. These kept the window opened for evaders to escape the laws by transferring their lands to categories which were given exemptions. Below mentioned are such categories of land:

  • Land specially used for cultivation of tea.
  • Land held by educational, charitable or religious institutions.
  • Land belonging to co-operative farming society used for feeding a sugar factory (Assam).
  • Land held by primary co-operative societies (HM)
  • Land under private forest & plantations (kerala)
  • Land held by commercial undertakings (Tamil Nadu)

Furthermore, even though household was treated as the unit of application in order to determine the ceiling, the term was broadly defined in several states and majors were granted distinct units in several states. To put it differently, though the new ceiling legislations addressed sveral sources of law evasion, there still remained multiple question of bona fide ceiling laws and its implementations. 

Planning Commission estimated that the new laws for ceiling would help in redistributing the surplus land. Rajkrishna had opined that this new law would provide 90% of the required area which could be given as a minimum basic holding to a landless family. Regrettably, till the end of September 1998, ceiling surplus land declared by various state government was only about 7.4 million acres and among that only 5.3 million acres were redistributed among approximately 5.5 million beneficiaries.

The ceiling legislations enacted by various states lacked clear definition and hence there was either delay in implementation of the law or a window for law evasion. For instance, the existing laws:

  • did not make certain that record of landowners about ceiling are correct;
  • precisely it did not provide for suo-motto action on benami transfer of land;
  • it did not make certain that law evaders would be punished;
  • have no control over the redistribution of wasteland.

In several cases, there has been poor implementation of ceiling laws as it came into conflict with the law of inheritance. For instance, before implementation of ceiling laws, law of inheritance permitted distribution of land among minor daughters and sons and also among granddaughters and grandsons. Also, due to delay in judicial decision, a huge number of cases in respect of ceiling surplus land are still pending. Moreover, due to lack of organisation of potential beneficiaries, influence of landlords, manipulative changes in the classification of land, and lack of updated land records, there has been very slow implementation of ceiling laws.

Moreover, a huge portion of the ceiling surplus land acquired by the authorities was of poor quality. As a result, substantial investment on land reclamation was necessary by the families to whom such land would had been allotted for making it suitable for cultivation. While there a centrally sponsored scheme was there for reclamation of these inferior lands, the scheme was operationalised in most states because equal matching grant was needed to be provided by the state governments. 

Amendments in Tenancy Laws

Tenancy laws were amended by several state governments during the 1970s. The tenancy laws amendment of 1974 granted unceasing right of resumption on landowners in Andhra region of Andhra Pradesh. This resumption right was ceased in all cases relating to leases subsisting at the commencement of 1974 amendment act but continued as for future leases. In Jammu & Kashmir, it was declared that all titles, rights and interests in land of any individual not cultivated after 1971 will be vested in the state free from all encumbrances with result from 1973 through 1976 J&K Agrarian Act. In Gujarat, after tenancy act was amended, tenants were entitled to restoration who were evicted between 1957-1992. According to the amended act a conferment of right of tenant was provided after permitting the resident landlord to recommence cultivation on the land given his yearly income remained below Rs. 6000 and the tenant having less the two acres of land.

The Karnataka government in 1973 amended the 1961 Land Reform Act and provided for tenure fixity resisting on landowners right to resume half the leased area. The tenancy laws were again amended in 1979 which put a ban over leasing-out except by seaman and soldiers and granted right of ownership to numerous tenants. In UP, the tenancy laws were amended in 1977 which declared Sirdars (except those settled on empty land) as Bhumidars and granted transferable rights. In WB, through 1972 amendment, the law on acquisition and settlement of homestead land granted full right to the tenants of homestead land provided an application was made up to August 1974. Additionally, Operation Barga in 1978 was launched by the WB government to record the names of sharecroppers. According to estimations, over permanent heritable right was conferred to around 14 lakh share croppers.

If we view this from institutional perspective, this campaign for recording and recognizing land rights of share croppers was successful in yielding positive impact on production in agriculture thereby reducing poverty in the state.

Changes in The Agrarian Structure

After Land Reforms were introduced, it was anticipated that it would bring in incredible changes in the agrarian framework with regards to enhancement in economic conditions of marginalised tenants and reduction i concentration of land holdings. However, things did not went as expected and it was clear as there was not much decline observed in the inequality in the ownership of landholdings. The Gini ratio of inequality almost remained stable at 0.71 between 1971-1992. Moreover, an increase was noticed in the landholdings concentration ratio in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. This points out the ineffectiveness of land reform measures in minimising the inequality level in rural areas.

As per NSSO report, there was increase in the percentage of landless households from 9.6% to 11.3% and a reduction in leased-in area from 11.6% to 8.3% between 1971-1992. However, even though tenancy was legally banned in several states, concealed tenancy still existed in different regions. For example, the incidence of tenancy was above 40% in Bihar. Hence, it was clear that the agrarian structure remained the same unproductive and unequal as it was before.


In the 70’s the implementation of the land ceilings that were be done on a large scale, which tried to rein in the maximum land an individual/family could hold and the surplus land was transferred to the landless people/tenants.

To achieve this the government had brought in the 34th Amendment Act. This amendment put most of the revised ceiling laws in the 9th Schedule of the constitution so that they could not be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. (according to Art.31B)

Updating of Land Records

Updating land records was crucial for effective implementation of land records as well as for harmonizing the entire procedure of rural transformation. During the 7th 5-Year Plan, the centre launched a scheme for computerization of land records. To make this scheme more effective, the centre allocated ₹48cr during the 8th 5-Year Plan. Consequently, almost 470 tashsils hot covered by the end of 1997-98. However, due to lack of training and infrastructural facilities at local level, the progress was very poor. Moreover, there was a strong need to bring in more transparency in the land records’ administration.

Consolidation of Holdings

This implies converting multiple fragmented and small holdings into a single big farm. It is a process through which farmers are persuaded to get compact farms in exchange for their fragmented farms. Here fragmented land holdings of the farmers are pooled and re-allotted such that each gets at least one farm equal to fertility and the total size of his erstwhile fragmented landholdings.

The consolidation of holdings did not made much progress since 1971. There was an increase of only 141 lakh hectares of consolidated holdings. In many states, lack of compulsory provisions in the law was a hindrance in progress of the consolidate programme. The Consolidation act was repealed by the Karnataka government in 1991 while the Bihar government discontinued the programme in 1992 and Maharashtra government in 1993.

However, priority should have been given to the consolidation programme by the state governments considering its overall beneficial impacts. Additionally, the state governments must had ensured the protection of interest of marginal and small farmers and tenants during the consolidation process through proper valuation and updated land records. It is interesting to note that the central government has constituted a high level committee to suggest measures for implementation of consolidation of holdings in future.

Almost all states expect Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and a few parts of Andhra Pradesh have passed legislations for consolidation of land holdings. However, there was great variance in nature of legislation & degree of success achieved. In Punjab (then including Haryana) consolidation was made compulsory, in other states consolidation was to occur on a voluntary basis, if majority of the land owners agreed

After 1980s, it became necessary to make the land records up-to-date for purpose of industrialization and acquiring land for industries, highways and railways. It was during the 1980’s that the government launched two different schemes for this purpose:

  1. Computerization of Land Records (CLR)
  2. Strengthening of Revenue Administration & Updating of Land Records (SRA&ULR)

These two schemes were later merged to become The National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP) in 2008.

The National Land Records Modernization Programme 

The National Land Records Modernization Programme had the following objectives.

  1. Preparing maps and conducting surveys using modern technologies like high resolution satellite imagery (HRSI), aerial photography, global positioning system (GPS) etc.
  2. Computerize registration process which will help in real-time data synchronization.
  3. Computerise the property records and encourage the state governments in legalizing digital signatures.

Benefits of NLRMP

There are several benefits of NLRMP. Firstly, It secures property rights with conclusive titles and title guarantee beside minimising disputes in land. Secondly,The land based economic operations functions efficiently and increases overall efficiency of the economy. Thirdly, it provides integrated land information management system with up-to-date and real time land records that helps the government in identifying the poor farmers and providing them relief in times of distress & droughts. Fourthly, it even helps providing land-based certificates like income certificates, caste certificates, domicile certificates beside collecting information about citizens’ eligibility for a particular government scheme. Fifthly, it eliminates the requirement for stamp papers and enables payments of stamp duty and registration fees through banks. Sixthly, Computerized entries imply that there is a lesser chance of middlemen approaching

Additionally, NLRMP being a demand driven scheme allows states and union territories to frame projects according to the requirements of the locals. Consequently, policymakers and planners easily gets the access of location specific information. Lastly, it also facilitates e-linkages to banks or credit facilities.

New Economic Policy and Land Reforms

As economic reforms started paving its path in India, it appeared that as if land reforms took a back seat. Sometimes even questions were asked over the doctrine of redistribution of land through land reforms. Often its also argued that the growth of contract/capitalistic farming which is necessary for market-led growth is restricted by the existing laws of land reforms.  Relaxation of tenancy and ceilings laws were even proposed by some state governments to revitalize the land market. In this context, the Maharashtra government proposed to revise the laws of land ceilings for horticulture purposes. Similarly, an agricultural policy was prepared by the Karnataka state government that addresses the need for liberalisation of tenancy and also upward revision of ceiling. Although, such proposals are yet to be agreed by the Indian government.

In fact, the debate on market-led growth is hindered by the land reforms is illogical. This is proven from the experience of countries like Korea and Japan where land reform substantially contributed towards sustainable development of capitalistic agriculture without bringing in much disruption among the rural population. However, there are possibilities that in the long run market-led economic reforms (un-accompanied by land reforms) become painful for the poor people of rural areas and hence may not be sustainable. Therefore, land reform must precede and pave the way for market reforms as a means of balanced and rapid economic development.

The Land Acquisition Act and its subsequent modifications

The land acquisition act of 1894 was created with the purpose of facilitating acquisition by the government of privately held land for public purposes. Over the years, though this Act has been amended for several times, it still lacked a cohesive national law necessary for addressing fair compensation and fair rehabilitation of landlords and affected people from loss of livelihood when government acquires private land for public use.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 is an Act of Indian Parliament which regulates land acquisition and provides laid down rules for granting compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation to the affected persons in India. The Act has provisions to provide fair compensation to those whose land is taken away, brings transparency to the acquisition process of land for establishing infrastructural projects, buildings or factories and ensure rehabilitation of affected people. The Act sets up regulations for land acquisition as a part of massive industrialisation drive of India driven by PPP. The Act replaced the 120-year-old Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which was enacted during British rule.

The objectives of the Act are as follows:

  1. Ensuring transparent and informed land acquisition process in consultation with Gram Sabhas and local self-government established under Indian Constitution for
    1. industrialization,
    2. Development of infrastructural facilities
    3. Urbanisation without affecting landowners and other affected families.
  2. Compensating all those families fairly who the victims of such land acquisitions are, whether proposed or already acquired.
  3. If any person or family is already affected, then making adequate provisions for their resettlement and rehabilitation
  4. Make certain that in case of compulsory acquisition, the affected family become partners in development process which would improve their post-acquisition economic and social status and for matters incidental thereto or connected therewith.

Need and scope

The Act intends to establish the law on land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation for those people who got affected due to land acquisition. The ambit of the Act includes all land acquisition whether done by State government or Central Government, except Jammu & Kashmir.

The Act is applicable when:

  • Land (including land for PSU) is acquired and controlled by government for its own use.
  • Land acquired by the government for transferring it to private organisations for stated public purpose.
  • Land immediately acquired by government and later declared use for public purposes by private companies.

In this context, it must be noted that there are 16 existing legislation including the Atomic Energy Act of 1962, the Special Economic Zones Act of 2005, the Railways Act of 1989, etc. where in case of acquisition the provisions of the Act does not apply.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015

On 24th February, 2015, Mr. Birendra Singh, the former Rural Development Minister, introduced The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha. The new Bill amended the former LARR Act of 2013 and also replaced the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014. 

The process needed to be followed while acquiring a land for a public purpose was outlined in the LARR Act of 2013. The key changes brought in by this new amended Bill includes:

  • Provisions of other laws in consonance with the LARR 2013: Thirteen laws such as the Railways Act of 1989, the National Highways Act of 1956 etc. were exempted in the LARR Act of 2013. The new Bill brought the compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation provisions of these thirteen laws in consonance with LARR ACT of 2013.
  • Exempted five categories of land use: The new Bill introduced Five special categories of land use: (a) industrial corridors, (b) rural infrastructure (c) infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the central government owns the land. (d) defence (e) affordable housing.
  • As per the 2013 Act, 70% landowners consent was required for Private Public Partnership projects and 80% consent of land owners for private projects. The 2015 Bill exempted the above mentioned five special categories from this provision of the Act.
  • The Bill exempted projects failing under the above mentioned five categories from requiring Social Impact Assessment done for identifying individuals affected and from the curtailments of irrigated multi-cropped land acquisition which was imposed by the 2013 LARR Act.
  • As per the LARR Act 2013, if a land remained unutilised for five years from its acquired time, it had be to be returned to the land bank or the original owners. The new Bill added a provision to this existing time period of five years. It stated that the unutilised land must be returned after five years or any period specified during the time of acquisition, whichever is later.
  • The acquisition of Land for private educational institutions and companies were excluded in the LARR Act of 2013. The new Bill removed all such restrictions.
  • The Bill changes the term acquisition of land for “private companies” to acquisition for “private entities” which could include an entity other than a government entity. For eg: a proprietorship, companies, non-profit organizations corporations etc.
  • The new Bill does not a allow the head of the department to be prosecuted without prior sanction of the government in case of an offence been committed from the part of the government unlike the LARR Act of 2013. Prosecution of the head of the department was allowed in the 2013 Act.

Socio-Economic Implications         

The co-existence of zamindari, ryotwari and mahalwari system led to intermixing of characteristics, but ryotwari and mahalwari developed tendencies characteristic of zamindari system, namely absentee landlordism, sub-letting and rack-renting. Thus on the eve of independence, we had big landlords owning huge estates on one extreme and on the other poor landless labourers and tenants at will.

The subsequent changes in the following years have seen the element of the socialist perspective of the government emerge, and the distribution of the land and the Abolition of zamindari led to a working class that was much more secure in terms of rehabilitation and land ownership with the LRR Act of 2014, the government has sought to bring about more transparency in the system.



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