Land Reforms in India

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  • History of India and Indian National Movement
  • Economic and Social Development: Poverty, Inclusion, Social Sector initiatives, etc.

Mains: GS III

What are land reforms?
  • The term ‘land reforms’ specifically refers to land tenure reforms. The word tenure, derived from the Latin word “teneo”, means ‘to hold’. Therefore, land tenure is used to refer to the conditions under which land is held.
  • Land reforms are visualised as an instrument of social justice as they seek to do away with exploitative relationships characterised by sharp inequalities between rich landowners and impoverished peasants with no security of tenure.
  • It is a step against the concentration of landholdings in the hands of a few absentee/non-cultivating owners, through the imposition of ceilings on the size of holdings, which can be owned by a family.
  • Although land reforms are popularly understood to mean redistribution of land, their scope is much wider. They encompass mainly five components:
    1. Abolition of intermediary tenures;
    2. Tenancy reforms;
    3. Ceiling of land holdings and distribution of surplus land;
    4. Consolidation of holdings; and
    5. Compilation and updating of land records.

Need for Land Reforms
  • By the time the British rule came to an end, intermediary tenures in zamindari and jagirdari areas and sub-leasing in the ryotwari areas had given rise to an agrarian structure in which unproductive interest groups held the reins.
  • Simultaneously, the concentration of land in the hands of a few continued to grow and landlessness, hunger, unemployment and indebtedness reached unprecedented heights.
  • Eviction and insecurity of tenancy aggravated the problems, which needed to be addressed immediately in independent India.

Why was Right to Property removed from the Fundamental Rights?

  • The right to property was initially present in Indian constitution under part III: Fundamental rights, Article 31 but it was abolished by the 44th Amendment Act,1978.
  • Initially, it was made a fundamental right so as to provide protection of property and give legality of land to the people living in newly independent India.
  • But afterwards, it was abolished because the Indian government wanted to bring land reforms and encourage social justice (by taking land from landowners who have surplus land and then distributing it to landless farmers).
  • It also aimed to establish an equal distribution of resources.
  • Furthermore, it was important to abolish it from the perspective of economic development of India too. For example- if Indian government wanted to build a dam or construct a road it had to acquire the people's property and in return, people used to revolt and approach judiciary even though the government compensated them by giving money or land somewhere else after the acquisition of their property. Hence this impeded developmental works and projects that the government wanted to undertake.
  • Now it exists as a constitutional right under Article 300A which states that no person can be deprived of his / her property except by authority of law.


Land Reform Measures
  1. After Independence, the government appointed the Agrarian Reforms Committee under the Chairmanship of J.C. Kumarapppa, for making an in-depth study of the agrarian relations prevailing in the country. The committee recommended that all intermediaries between the state and the tiller should be eliminated and the land must belong to the tiller subject to certain conditions.
  2. Various measures through which the land reforms were achieved are:
    1. Abolition of Zamindari:
      • This reform in the 1950s abolished the zamindari system and acknowledged the 'occupancy rights'(person to whom the land actually belongs) of the peasants. However, it failed to recognize the tiller's rights. 
      • It was successful in states like West Bengal and Kerala due to political will and strong rural mass social base; but failed in other states due to lack of political will, bureaucratic apathy, corruption and zamindar's influence the implementation process.
    2. Tenancy rights:
      • The subsequent land reforms recognised the rights of tenants. According to the Second Five Year Plan, abolition of intermediary tenures and bringing the tenants into direct relations with the state would give the tiller of the soil his rightful place in the agrarian system and provide him with full incentives for increasing agricultural production.
    3. Land ceiling: 
      • The term ‘ceiling on land holdings’ refers to the legally stipulated maximum size beyond which no individual farmer or farm household can hold any land. Like all other land reforms measures, the objective of such a ceiling is to promote economic growth with social justice.
      • In 1959, Indian National Congress (Nagpur Resolution) resolved that agrarian legislation to cover restrictions on the size of land holdings must be implemented in all states by the end of 1959. Accordingly, all the State Governments excepting north-eastern region imposed ceilings on land holdings in the 1960s.
    4. Land Consolidation: 
      • The term ‘Consolidation of holdings’ refers to amalgamation and redistribution of the fragmented land with a view to bringing together all plots of land of a cultivator in one compact block.
      • However, due to lack of adequate political and administrative support, the progress made in terms of consolidation of holding was not very satisfactory, excepting in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Bhoodan and Gramdaan Movements

  • The Bhoodan movement was launched in 1951, immediately after the peasant uprising in Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh, and after some years, another movement known as Gramdan came into being in 1957.
  • The objective was to persuade landowners and leaseholders in each concerned village to renounce their land rights, after which all the lands would become the property of a village association for the egalitarian redistribution and for purpose of joint cultivation.
  • Vinoba Bhave hoped to eliminate private ownership of land through Bhoodan and Gramdan and maintained that the movement would go a long way to ensure the just redistribution of land, the consolidation of holding and their joint cultivation.
  • However, the movement failed to achieve its targetted objectives and the degree of success in respect of both land acquisition and land distribution was very limited.
  • In most cases, the village landlords donated only those pieces of land which were either unfit for cultivation or were in dispute with tenants or government


Role of Land reforms in Agricultural Development

One of the key objectives of land reforms has been to increase agricultural productivity. Experts bring out following relations between land reforms and agricultural productivity:

  1. Small farms tend to be more productive than large farms. This inverse farm-size productivity relationship is widely documented by economists.
    • The inverse relationship between farm size and productivity suggests that land reform could raise productivity by breaking (less productive) large farms into several (more productive) small farms.
  2. Owner-cultivated plots of land tend to be more productive than those under sharecropping tenancy.
    •  lower productivity under sharecropping suggests that land reform could raise productivity by converting sharecroppers into owner-cultivators.
  3. On the other hand, some experts advocate Land Consolidation: 
    • Due to the growing pressure of population on land and the limited opportunities for work in the non-agricultural sector, there is an increasing trend towards sub-division and fragmentation of landholdings.
    • Consolidating plots makes the task of irrigation management, land improvement and personal supervision of different plots efficient and easier, thereby improving productivity.
  4. Agricultural Credit: Access to credit becomes easier due to land ownership under tenancy law. Access to credit & increase in land holdings incentivize farmers to invest in new farming practices.
  5. Wastelands were reclaimed and production increased resulting in food sufficiency.
  6. Modernising agriculture:
    • Technology has touched the agricultural practice in India and has brought manifold advantages which are evident since the Green revolution. Land being its basis has to stay in tandem with technological changes for maximum benefits.
    • Technological advancement in the field of information dissemination, micro-irrigation, marketing, storage and transportation etc. have provided a unique opportunity to make, otherwise averse, farming an attractive employment esp. for rural youth.
    • Land reformation is required for:
      1. Mechanization of farming by utilizing latest technological tools like tractors, thrashers etc. 
      2. Deploying high cost & water efficient micro-irrigation technology is not feasible for small farms.
      3. Technology has made price discovery platforms like e-NAM & forward marketing (Negotiating Warehouse Receipts) and storage of produce easier. But land required for these will need easier land acquisition process. 
      4. Boom in FinTech companies – land reforms have expected to make lending to farmers easier by providing land records and land-use history. Payment banks in future will also be eligible to lend.
  7. In the context of globalization, it is clear that the small and marginal farmers are handicapped when it comes to participation in domestic and foreign markets. Their competitiveness is hampered due to the small size of landholdings and low output of production.
  8. Tenancy reform can redress the issue by regulating aspects of the tenancy relationship, such as the crop share and the duration of the contract (security of tenure). Tenancy reform increases the bargaining power of tenants vis-a-vis landowners.
The relationship between land reforms, agriculture productivity and elimination of poverty
  • Oppressive land relations were certainly barriers to growth and land reforms have created preconditions favourable for growth.
  • Because the majority of India's population depends upon land for their livelihood, poverty issues are also closely associated with the land policy. 
  • According to Prof.V.M. Rao,
    • Land reforms have to serve as a link helping integration of growth policies with poverty alleviation programmes. Such integration is necessary to focus on the development strategy as a whole – and not merely the individual schemes and programmes – on the rural labourers and poor. 
    • At the ground level, land reforms and improved access to common lands need to be part of a package of measures specifically designed to the requirement of different subgroups of rural labourers and poor.
    • The ultimate goal of land reforms and other structural reforms is to promote the emergence of a viable and modernized peasantry consisting of small farmers and providing as much room as possible for the landless to enter the peasant sector.
  •  Land equity: Marginalized farmers got ownership over more land area and thus increase in social status
  • Protection of the Tribals: Land reforms are significant here since land is the main source of livelihood for the tribal people and they do not have much upward mobility.
  • Abolition of the zamindari system curtailed exploitative practices such as bonded labour. 
  • The Watershed Development Programme has been one of the important land policy interventions in the recent past and has impacted poverty alleviation, conflict management and environmental management significantly


Bhu Adhikar Abhiyan – A Case Study of Ekta Parishad in Madhya Pradesh


  • Ekta Parishad conducted field surveys across the six regions of the then Madhya Pradesh over a couple of years regarding the land problems.
  • They found that there were two major problems, which mostly confronted the Adivasis and Dalits. 
    1. Settlement problems of non-occupant Patta-holders as well as illegal occupancy; and
    2. Illegal selling of land belonging to the Adivasis.
  • It was in response to the above-noted scenario that Ekta Parishad organized a 'BhuAdhikar' rally on 10″ December 1996, which was the Human Rights Day.
  • According to the Ekta Parisha, the land problem is the crux of all the problem because control over land and forest was so important for the livelihood of those people. Ekta Parishad is still today fighting with the government 2nd other power groups for providing land rights for the survival and livelihood of the Adivasis and the Dalits of Madhya Pradesh.


People's Movement – A Case Study of Land Satyagraha in Chhattisgarh

  • The largest number of absentee landlordism was prevalent in the State of Chhattisgarh. About half of the population of the State are tribals and Harijans.
  • One of the government surveys reveals that the average landholding in Chhattisgarh is 137.47 acres per family, which is six times more than the permissible limit under the land ceiling laws.
  • The reasons for this situation are administrative indifference, nexus of a government official with the land mafia and the landlords, lack of political will of the ruling party, the capacity of the big landlords and the land mafia to resort to delays by short-circuiting the legal procedures etc.
  • These factors forced a large number of the landless (mostly tribals and Harijans) to work as bonded labour in the field of the rich landlords.
  • The Land Satyagraha was launched in 1988 in about 700 villages of Raipur district of Chhatisgarh. This Satyagraha was spearheaded by about 4000 freed bonded labours, who were unionized after their release in 1988.
  • The movement opened up new possibilities of livelihood for a large number of families. Having experienced the repression themselves, they identified the issues to be addressed and also the mode of action.
  • Their demands involved solving “legal delays” in land reforms. The prominent slogan was Zamin Ka Faisla, Zamin Par Hoga.” 
  • The land Satyagraha initiated a new dimension, a new movement, among the people to take control of their resources. These Satayagrahas gave them a fresh lease of life over land, which belonged to them. The message was “we are ready to sacrifice our lives for a better tomorrow”.


Analysis of land reforms in India


  • Succeeded in breaking down the stranglehold of the traditional zamindars and the absentee landlords.
  • Distributed the surplus land among the landless and the weaker sections of the society.
  • Provided security of tenure: the tenants are now assured that they can cultivate the land for a long period of time. in some instances, tenants even are given ownership rights.
  • Avoided exploitation of tenants by fixing rent in the range of 25-33%
  • The movements were inspired by Gandhian methods hence were non-violent.
  • The cumulative effect of the abolition of zamindari, tenancy legislation and ceiling legislation was seen as it motivated the cultivators to invest and improve agricultural practices.
  • Even though their success was limited, they made a significant impact on poverty removal.


  • The report of the Task Force on Agrarian Relations of the Planning Commission of India (1973) had the following overall assessment of land reforms in India: “The programmes of land reform adopted since Independence have failed to bring about the required changes in the agrarian structure.’”The report directly blames the political will of the state governments for this failure.
  • Failure of land reforms have triggered Naxalism in some states.
  • Legal definitions of the terms have left room for different kinds of interpretation affecting the process of realising the goals of the programmes.
  • Distribution of land continues to be skewed. Agricultural workers, particularly Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who constitute the bulk of the agricultural labour force, have not gained much from the abolition of zamindari.
  • There remains a wide gap between the land distributed and its actual occupation by the beneficiaries, which is obstructed by physical prevention and litigation (the beneficiaries like landless labourers and poor peasants can hardly afford it).
  • Since land reforms constitute a state subject, the Central Government’s role is restricted to formulating general directions on this issue and persuading the state governments to take them up for implementation. The political will on the part of the state governments to enforce the legislation is weak, and the bureaucracy rather indifferent.

Innovative Approach to address land inequities – a case study of Ralegaon Siddhi 

  • Local civil organisations have to come up with innovative ideas to rectify inequities of land ownership in the rural areas, like in case of the Pani Panchayat in Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra.
  • Under this, every member of the village, irrespective of the size of his landholding, has a proprietary right over the harvested water for irrigation.
  • As the water available to each member is limited, members with large landholdings have been persuaded to lease their land to small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers who have water rights but no land.
  • The arrangement has allowed the access of land to the landless. The large landholders have also benefited as they receive rent for land, which would otherwise have remained fallow for lack of irrigation.


Way Ahead
  • Solving the dilemma:
    • On one hand, consolidation of holdings brings agricultural efficiency through economies of scale and mechanized farming. On the other hand, social equity might be compromised as it brings separation between the landed and landless. Hence, what is required is an efficient combination of land ceiling and consolidation so that both agricultural efficiency and social equity can be realized.
    • This might be achieved through cooperative farming. A recent scheme called Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana which promotes organic farming in clusters of 50 acres is a progressive model.
  • Model contract farming law:
    • It brings forth significant aspects like tenancy security and formal contract agreements that even act as collateral for loans.
    • This reform in contract farming improves agricultural efficiency because of fixed terms of contract (security) and provides a sense of ownership of land for the tenant.
    • Also, loans can be easily availed at bank rates. Social equity is ensured because there will be no scope for exploitation of tenant by the landlord. Hence, all the states need to put forth these reforms to increase efficiency and also ensure social equity.
  • National policy on land records: The Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) brought out a Vision Document for Computerisation of Land Records in 1999 to bring uniformity in land administration. This document, for the first time, spoke about the standardisation of a Land Information System Formulating and implementing a national policy on land records is now due.


An egalitarian society cannot be created until land reforms are undertaken efficiently. With increasing farmer distress, falling productivity levels, and rising suicides, land reforms provide a means to alleviate rural distress. However, this agenda is still unfinished and needs to be effectively revisited and fairly implemented.

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