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Agriculture policies since Independence : Land Reforms

Agriculture policies since Independence : Land Reforms

Land Reforms

  • Institutional factors like the size of land-holdings, the pattern of ownership, the method of inheritance and security of tenure have a definite impact on both investment in agriculture and welfare of population dependent on agriculture.
  • At the time of independence, India inherited a semi-feudal agrarian structure where ownership and control of land was highly concentrated among relatively few landlords and intermediaries.

Three types of land-tenure systems existed in pre-independent India:

  1. The Zamindari system under which a class of revenue collectors called zamindars was created who acted as intermediaries between the cultivator and the British government. Zamindars were supposed to pay fixed revenue to the government and as long as they did so they were free to fix and extort any revenue from the tenant. This system was introduced in by Lord Cornwallis in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha and North Madras and led to exploitation of tenants and stagnancy in agricultural yield in these areas.
  2. The Mahalwari system under which the village community was jointly responsible for the payment of rent to the government. It was introduced by William Bentinck in Agra, Oudh and Punjab.
  • The Ryotwari system where individual cultivator was supposed to pay the rent directly to the government without any intermediary. It was prevalent in parts of Madras, Bombay province and Assam.
  • In practice, however, all three types of system had taken the features of each other. The picture that emerged at independence was that of exploitation of agricultural labourers at the hands of landlords, exorbitant rents, lack of incentive for technological progress and rigid system of land transfer across the country.

It was in the light of above problems that three major types of land-reforms were undertaken after independence:

  • Abolition of Intermediaries like Zamindars so that ownership of land could be clearly identified with management and control. Many states promulgated laws to put an end to absentee landlordism and as a result about 30 lakh tenants acquired land ownership over an area of 62 lakh acres throughout the country.
  • Tenancy reforms to confirm the rights of occupancy of tenants and to regulate rent of leased land. These reforms could not be implemented due to two main reasons.
  • Many small tenants were forced to surrender their land under the so called “voluntary surrender” rule in the legislation. Secondly, the unavailability of accurate and up-to-date land record also constrained its implementation.  Agriculture policies since Independence : Land Reforms
  • Reorganization of land holdings to offset extremely uneven distribution of agricultural land. Under this ceiling laws were imposed which laid down the maximum land that can be owned by a land holder (which was subsequently amended to holding by a family with effect from 1972).
  • The excess land was to be surrendered to the government. But its performance remained dismal as it leads to redistribution of less than 2% of operated area by 1992.

Thus, with the exception of abolition of intermediaries, other reforms could not be implemented mainly due to lack of political will.

  • Consolidation of holding was introduced as a measure of improving farming efficiency. It made considerable progress in Punjab. Haryana and western U.P. but did not take off in southern and eastern states.
  • Cooperative joint farming, recommended by the Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee under Mr. J. C. Kumarappa was also encouraged in the five year plans initially.
  • Under this, farmers pool their land and reap the economies of scale, although the ownership continues to remain with the individual farmer.
  • But this could not be implemented mainly because of farmers’ reluctance to alienate their land. Many landlords also tried to misuse this concept to circumvent land ceiling.
  • One of the recent steps in land reforms has been The National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP) which started in 2008 and aims at updating and digitizing land records by the end of the Twelfth Plan.
  • Eventually the intent is to move from presumptive title—where registration of a title does not imply the owner’s title is legally valid—to conclusive title, where it does.
  • Digitization will help enormously in lowering the costs of land transactions, while conclusive title will eliminate legal uncertainty and the need to use the government as an intermediary for acquiring land so as to ‘cleanse’ title.
  • Given the importance of this programme, its rollout in various states needs to be accelerated. Easier and quicker land transactions will especially help small and medium enterprises that do not have the legal support or the management capacity that large enterprises have. Agriculture policies since Independence : Land Reforms


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