Competitive Exams: General Studies Economics Land Reform

Land Reform and Agriculture Development

  1. Productivity in Agriculture is mainly dependent on two sets of factors-technology and institutional changes. The institutional reforms include the redistributional reforms include the redistribution of land ownership in favour of the cultivating classes. Land reform usually refers to redistribution of land from the rich to the poor.

  2. Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consists of government-initiated of government-backed property redistribution generally of agriculture land. Land reform can, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful. Such transfers of ownership may be with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land.

  3. India at independence inherited a semi feudal agrarian system. The ownership and control of land was highly concentrated in the hands of a small group of landlords and intermediaries, whose main intention was to extract maximum rent, either in cash or in kind, from tenants.

  4. In the years immediately following India's independence, a conscious process of nation building considered the problems of land with a pressing urgency. In fact, the national objective of poverty abolition envisaged simultaneous progress on two fronts: High productivity and equitable distribution. Accordingly, land reforms were visualized as an important pillar of a strong and prosperous country. India's first several five-year plans allocated substantial budgetary amounts for the implementation of land reforms. A degree of success was even registered in certain regions and states, especially with regard to issues such as the abolition of intermediaries, protection to tenants, rationalization of different tenure systems, and the imposition of ceiling on landholdings.

  5. In an agrarian economy like India with great scarcity, and an unequal distribution of land, coupled with a large mass of the rural population below the poverty line, there are compelling economic and political arguments for land reform. Not surprisingly, it received top priority on the policy agenda at the time of Independence. In the decades following independence, India passed a significant number of land reform legislations. The 1949 Constitution left the adoption and implementation of land and tenancy reforms to state governments. This led to a lot of variation in the implementation of these reforms across states and over time.

  6. The most obvious argument in favour of land reform is equity. An argument in favour of land reform is also based on efficiency considerations.

  7. Land reform legislations in India consisted of four main categories: Abolition of intermediaries who were rent collectors under the pre-Independence land revenue system; tenancy regulation that attempts to improve the contractual terms faced by tenants, including crop shares and security of tenure; a ceiling on landholdings with a view to redistributing surplus land to the landless; and finally, attempts to consolidate disparate landholdings. Abolition of intermediaries is generally agreed to be one component of land reforms that has been relatively successful. The record in terms of the other components is mixed and varies across states and over time. Landowners naturally resisted the implementation of these reforms by directly using their political clout and also by using various methods of evasion and coercion, which included registering their own land under names of different relatives to bypass the ceiling, and shuffling tenants around different plots of land, so that they would not acquire incumbency rights as stipulated in the tenancy law.

  8. Most studies indicate that inequalities have increased, rather than decreased. The number of landless labourers has risen, while the wealthiest 10 percent of the population monopolizes more land now than in 1951. Moreover, the discussion of land reforms since World War II and up through the most recent decade either faded from the public mind or was deliberately glossed over by the national government of India. Vested interests of the landed elite and their powerful connection with the political-bureaucratic system have blocked meaningful land reforms and/or their earnest implementation. The oppressed have either been co-opted with some benefits, or further subjugated as the new focus on liberalization, privatization, and globalization (LPG) has altered government priorities and public perceptions. As a result, we are today at a juncture where landmostly for the urban, educated elite, who are also the powerful decision makershas become more a matter of housing, investment, and infrastructure building and land as a basis of livelihoodfor subsistence, survival, social justice, and human dignityhas largely been lost.

  9. The Land Reforms (LR) Division has been, since the First Plan Period, playing a crucial role of evolving national consensus at various stages for taking up major steps towards effective land reforms which include abolition of zamindari and all intermediaries since the beginning of fifties, introduction of family ceiling limit in 1972 and monitoring the progress of distribution of ceiling surplus land as a part of the 20-Point Programme of the Government.

  10. But, despite this vision of the leaders of the nation, there was inertia, lack of sincerity by governments and pressure tactics of powerful land owing class discouraged land reforms in most of the states. Moreover, land demand for industrial development and other complicated economic development issues have resulted in many thousands of marginal farmers and those who were living in agriculture oriented cottage industries were thrown out of their livelihood drove off their habitats, who have settled in the outskirts of big cities making slum clusters.

  11. The National Government since independence has been continuing to play its advisory and coordinating role in the advisory and coordinating role in the field of land reforms as the subject is under exclusive legislative and administrative jurisdiction of the States as per Entry No. 18 of the List two (State List) of the VIIth Schedule of our Constitution. Even then, agrarian reforms remained as a central issue of our National Agenda for rural reconstruction ensuring social justice to actual tillers as well as landless rural poor and thus for creating sustainable base for the overall growth of industrial and tertiary sector of our economy. Generating greater access to land by the landless rural poor is also considered as an important programme for poverty alleviation in the rural sector.

  12. The UPA government's latest land acquisition bill is expected to fill gaps in the archaic 1894 act and streamline the process of land acquisition and ensure fair compensation to farmers and landowners. But even before the bill was introduce in Parliament, murmurs of dissents were heard. The Land Acquisition Bill, piloted by Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, has drawn fire from critics for legitimizing purchase of vast tracts of land, which could be used to exploit tribals and marginal farmers with state and muscle power. Critics say the legislation has failed to strike a balance between development and displacement and its provisions are likely to be re-examined in the standing committee of Parliament. Pro-farmer critics too feel some key aspects need to be fixed. For instance, some say a district level regulator should be out in place to resolve any dispute when small and marginal farmers are either forced or induced to sell and by powerful contractors.

  13. On the whole, this bill recognizes land not only as property but as a means of livelihood. For the first time, rehabilitation and resettlement are part of the land acquisition process. It is clear on the rehabilitation and resettlement issue. No doubt the government can't dictate how compensation funds are to be used as it would mean encroaching on privacy (stated by Ex RBI Governor Bimal Jalan), but, there is a need to raise the level of literacy, particularly female literacy. Studies have shown that areas where female literacy is high, there is less wastage in welfare programmes. Also village-level institutions should be used to raise awareness so that farmers are better informed. Hope this Bill will help the poor, deserving and needy farmers and pave way for a transparent system facilitating development through empowerment of the poor.

Courtesy: Yojana