Productivity in agriculture is dependent on two factors- technological and institutional. Technological factors such as use of improved ploughs, tractors, improved seeds, fertilisers, irrigation and other modern agricultural inputs and methods help in raising productivity even if no land reforms are introduced. Institutional factors like existence of feudal relations, small size of farms,fragmentation, high rents, insecurity of tenancy rights etc. discourage farmers to raise production. Hence the need arose for institutional changes in the form of land reforms to increase agricultural productivity in India.
Land Tenure System In Pre-independent India
Land tenure refers to system of land ownership and management. During pre-independence period the land tenure system in India was divided into three:
Zamindari System Or Landlord-Tenant
This system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793. In this system the landlord (known as Zamindar) is just the provider of land and the tenant provides all management of labour. The landlord is responsible for collecting the rent from farmers and paying it to State. Thus the Zamindar acts as intermediary between the cultivator and the State. The amount of land revenue payable to the government is fixed either permanently, known as permanent settlement, or temporarily known as temporary settlement for a period of 20 to 40 years after which the amount of land revenue payable could be revised. Permanent settlement prevailed in Bengal. Bihar, Orissa and in some parts of Assam and Madras. Temporary settlement prevailed in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
This system prevailed over about 40 percent of the land during British rule. Since independence it has ceased to exist in its old form.
Mahalwari System or Communal System
This system was introduced by William Bentick in Agra and Oudh and later on in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. Under this system land is under the joint ownership of the entire village community. The villagers jointly and individually are responsible for the payment of land revenue to the government.
Ryotwari System or Owner-Cultivator System
This system was initially introduced in Tamilnadu and later on in Maharashtra. Gujarat, Assam, Coorg and East Punjab. Under this system the cultivator (or individual ryot) takes the land from the government and pays the land revenue directly to it. Therefore, no intermediary exists between the cultivator and the State as under the right to sell, transfer or lease the land and cannot be evicted from the land as long as he pays the land revenue. Those rights are not given to cultivators under the zamindari system.
Objectives Of Land Reforms
All the Three types of tenure system described above encouraged the practice of cultivation by tenants which led to their exploitation in a number of ways. It was mainly to stop this exploitation of actual tillers and pass on ownership of land to them that land reforms were introduced in post-independence period in India.
The land reforms policy adopted aimed at redistributing ownership holding from the view point of social justice, and reorganising the operational holdings from the view point of optimum utilisation of land. Besides this, there is the problem of conditions of tenancy, i.e. the rights and conditions of holding land. The entire concept of land reforms aims at abolition of intermediaries and bringing the actual tiller in direct contact with the State.
Reform Measures Initiated
Measures adopted, since independence, to achieve land reforms are:
(i) Abolition of intermediaries.
(ii) Tenancy reforms like regulation of rent, security of tenure for tenants and confirming ownership rights on them.
(iii) Ceiling on land holdings and distribution of surplus land.
(iv) Consolidation of holdings.
(v) Cooperative farming.
(vi) Updating and maintenance of land records.
Abolition of Intermediaries
Intermediaries were completely abolished by the end of First Plan excepting a few isolated pockets where intermediary tenures still exist. By the abolition of intermediaries around 173 million acres of land has been acquired from them and about 2 crore tenants have been brought into direct contact with the State.
As regards tenancy reform measure, legislative provisions have been made in many States providing for conferment of ownership rights to acquire ownership rights on payment of a reasonable compensation to the landlords. Even in states, which still do not provide for conferment of ownership rights on tenants, sub-tenants and share-croppers, provision for security of tenure have been made.
For the reform of tenancy, guidelines followed in the five year plans are:
(i) rent should not exceed 1/5 to 1/4 of the gross produce:
(ii) tenants should be accorded permanent rights in the land they cultivate subject to a limited right of resumption to be granted to the land owner. and
(iii) in respect of non-resumable land, landlord-tenant relationship should be ended by conferring ownership rights on tenants.
The effectiveness of provision of security of tenure in the law depends on:
(i) definition of term 'tenancy':
(ii) circumstances in which land owners are allowed to resume tenanted land for personal cultivation:
(iii) definition of term 'personal cultivation':
(iv) provision for regulating voluntary surrender of tenancy: and
(v) status of land records.
However, legislations fixing maximum limit of rent have been often violated. Laws aiming at protecting tenants do not help share croppers. The right of resumption combined with flaws in the definition of personal cultivation rendered all tenancies insecure. Therefore., the Fourth Plan recommended that all tenancies should be declared non-resumable and permanent (except in cases of landholders who are serving in defence forces or suffering from specified disability) and penalty should be imposed for wrongful evictions.
As a result of laws relating to conferring ownership rights on tenants, approximately 11.213 million tenants have acquired ownership right over 15.3 million acres.
Cellings on Agricultural Holdings
In order to bring about a more equitable distribution of land the imposition of ceiling on land, a device which permits a landlord to retain certain amount of land (ceiling), was adopted with remainder or excess being earmarked for redistribution among the landless. In line with the prescription of Five Year Plans, laws on imposition of ceiling on agricultural holdings were enacted by several States during the 50s and 60s. But the ceiling fixed by these laws was very high in many cases and the exemptions from the ceilings too many. Besides, there were many defects in the laws that rendered their implementation difficult. To bring uniformity in ceiling policies operating in various States, the national guidelines on land ceiling were evolved in 1972, after a conference of chief ministers of the states.
Special features of these new guidelines were
(i) lowering ceilings to 10 to 18 acres of wet land and 54 acres of dry unirrigated land:
(ii) change over family rather than individual as the unit for determining land holding- lowered ceiling for a family of five;
(iii) fewer exemptions from ceiling;
(iv) retrospective application of law for declaring benami transactions null and void;
(v) laws barred from jurisdiction of civil courts, most of these laws included in the Ninth Schedule, thus, placing them beyond any challenge in courts of law on grounds of infringement of fundamental rights.
Legislations have been enacted by all except Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Goa, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep and North-East region. However, success has been limited due to poor enforcement. Total area of land declared surplus so far has been around 7.49 million hectares only, which is less than 2 percent of the cultivated area, of which around 5.2 million acres have been distributed. The distribution of remaining surplus area has been held up due to litigation.
According to agricultural census the average size of holdings in India is very small- was merely 1.57 hectares in 1990-91. The number of holdings below two hectares went up from 66.6 million in 1980-81 to 82.1 million in 1990-91. They constituted 78 percent of the total holdings in 1990-91 but operated only 53.33 million hectares or 32.2 percent of total operated area. Against this, holdings above 10 hectares came down from 2.15 million in 1980-81 to 1.67 million in 1990-91. They constituted 1.6 percent of the total holdings in 1990-91 but operated as much as 28.89 million hectares or 17.4 percent of the total operated area. This shows that implementation of ceiling of agricultural holdings has not made any appreciable impact on the land distribution. Also the total land declared surplus is far short of land which was estimated to be surplus on the basis of various agricultural surveys due to following reasons:
(i) provision of holding land up to twice the ceiling limit by families with over five members
(ii) provision to give separate ceiling limit for major sons in the family;
(iii) provision for treating every share-holder of a joint family under applicable personal law as a separate unit for ceiling limit;
(iv) exemption of tea, coffee, cardamom, rubber and cocoa plantations and land held by religious and charitable institutions beyond normal ceiling limit;
(v) benami and farzi transfers; (vi) misuse of exemptions and misclassification of land;
(vii) non-application and appropriate ceilings to lands irrigated by public investment.
Consolidation of Holding
Consolidation of holding aims at preventing the fragmentation of holding. Under this method consolidated holding is granted to the farmer equal to the total of the land in different scattered plots under his possession. This measure is necessary for efficiency and economy in agriculture and better development planning at the village level. However, progress under this programme has been very slow. So far, only 60.2 million hectares of land, which is merely 1/3 of the total cropped area, has been covered under consolidation. Most of the land consolidated is in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. Only 15 states have laws for consolidation whereas states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Pondicherry and North-Eastern States do not have laws.
Cooperative farming is designed to solve the problems created by small and uneconomic holdings. Under this method farmers having small and non-viable farms pool their lands and resources, implements, etc., and cultivate jointly to reap profits of large scale farming. Around 78 percent of holdings in India are below 2 hectares and 32.2 percent of total operated area is under small farms.
The main features of cooperative farming are; (i) farmers join the system voluntarily; (ii) they retain their land, that is they never surrender their right to land; (iii) they pool their land, their livestock etc.; (iv) farm is managed as one unit; (v) management is elected by all the members; and (vi) share in produce is given to everyone in proportion to the land contributed as well as labour performed.
To encourage cooperative farming in India, a number of recommendations, incentives and facilities were made in the first three plans. However, the progress was very poor as the motivation behind the formation of cooperative farming were not genuine. Most of the societies were formed not by poor and small farmers but by large farmers with a view mainly to receive certain benefits from the government. Also the management of cooperative farming societies lacked necessary professional skill and willingness to work efficiently. This led to break-up of societies and reversal to individual farming.
Alienation of Tribal Land
Most States with substantial tribal population have made laws preventing alienation of tribal land and for ensuing restoration of alienated land to the tribals. Indebtedess is both a cause and effect to land alienation. The lack of a sound national policy to extend consumption credit to poor tribals has made them completely dependent on rapacious money lenders.
Analysis of Land Reforms
It is unfortunate that land reforms have not made much headway due to various factors as already mentioned in the chapter. Besides those factors, the Task Force on Agrarian Relations in its report submitted to the Planning Commission in 1973 revealed following reasons for the tardy progress of land reforms: (i) lack of political will, a crucial factor, in implementing land reforms; (ii) absence of pressure from small farmers and landless agricultural workers, who form majority of the cultivating population and are unorganised lot, for effective implementation; (iii) bureaucratic apathy and legal difficulties: (iv) absence of corrected and updated land records prevent redistribution of income and wealth to genuine beneficiaries: (v) defects in the programme such as complexity and variety in land reform laws of various states, lack of integrated approach in implementation of laws and lack of financial support.
Land Reforms In Ninth Plan (1997-2002)
The Ninth Plan rightly points out that since rural poverty is largely among the landless and marginal farmers, access to land remains a key element of the anti-poverty strategy in rural areas. The programme of action for land reforms in the Ninth Plan includes the following; (i) detection and redistribution of ceiling surplus land; (ii) updation of land records regularly; (iii) tenancy reforms for recording rights of tenants and share croppers: (iv) consolidation of holdings: (v) preventing alienation of tribal lands; (vi) providing access to poor groups on wasteland and common properties: (vii) permitting leasing in and leasing out within ceilings: and (viii) preference to women in distribution of ceiling surplus land and protecting their rights on land.
Suggestions For Land Reforms
Land reforms can be made effective by following measures:
(i) effective and whole hearted implementation of land reforms:
(ii) minimising evils of tenancy legislation:
(iii) plugging of malafide transfers as they are against the spirit of land reform:
(iv) beneficiaries of land reform. Most of whom are poor, should be supported by other ongoing rural development schemes like IRDP, DPAP, NREP, etc to enable them to make effective use of land;
(v) policy of 'land to tiller"' should be strictly followed:
(vi) land records should be regularly updated so that laws are strictly and correctly followed;
(vii) strong organisations of tenants is needed; (viii) ensure that small farmers get credit from cooperatives and banks so that economically their position may be improved.