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Land reforms refer to changes in the agrarian structure through direct intervention by the state. Land reforms were introduced to overcome the problems associated with the land revenue systems introduced by the British, namely, Zamindari, Mahalwari, and Ryotwari system. Some of the problems associated with these land revenue systems are explained as follows:


  • The Zamindari system was introduced over Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The system was also called Permanent Settlement System because it involved direct settlement with Zamindars. Under this system, Zamindars were required to pa/ a fixed annual sum (10/11 parts of the collected rent) to the East India Company and in return they were given the right to collect revenue from peasants.
  • Since a large part of the collected rent was appropriated by the British, Zamindars often collected very high rent from peasants and the methods of collection were also extremely harsh.
  • Zamindars became rich on account of high rates of collection, but they were not interested in the development of agriculture. At the same time, peasants turned poor and consequently the investment in agriculture fell, leading to decline in agriculture.


  • The Ryotwari system was introduced in South India and Western India. Under the system, direct settlement was reached with “Ryot” or peasant. Though the British used to collect revenue from peasants directly, the rate of collection was extremely high and the method of collection was equally harsh. The revenue rates under the system were as high as 50% where the lands were un-irrigated and 60% where the lands were irrigated. As a result, peasants were often required to borrow from moneylenders who used to charge very high rates of interest.
  • Thus, again under the Ryotwari system, most of the peasants remained poor. Agriculture became non-remunerative, and there was a continuous decline in agricultural investment.


  • The Mahalwari system was introduced in Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh. In this system, land was divided into Mahals and each Mahal comprised one or more villages. Collective assessment of a Mahal was made.
  • The ownership rights of peasants were recognized, and a leading family of village, known as Mahaldar, was given rights by the company to fix individual share and collect the revenue. Sometimes, Mahaldars used to exploit peasants and fix share of land revenue arbitrarily.


  • To overcome the evils of these land revenue systems, land reforms were introduced under three categories:

Abolition of Intermediaries

  • At the time of independence, 57% of cropped area in India was under the Zamindari system. There was a strong opinion to abolish these Zamindars (intermediaries between the administration and peasants) from the agrarian system. As a result, laws were passed by all the states to abolish intermediaries from agriculture.

Assessment of zamindari abolition

  • The Zamindari system was effectively abolished in West Bengal and Kerala on account of the efforts by the state governments. In other states, even though the intermediaries have been abolished to a large extent, still their abolition is hampered on account of the following reasons:
    • Lack of written land records affect the recognition of rights of tenants over land.
    • Lack of administrative machinery to implement abolition of intermediaries.
    • The laws to implement land reforms recognized “personal cultivation” by Zamindars as ground for retaining ownership of land.
  • Moreover, “personal cultivation” was broadly defined as personal supervision by the Zamindar or any member of his family. Therefore, most Zamindars resorted to personal cultivation at least in papers. As a result, though the official documents claimed that Zamindari had been completely abolished, the fact was that it had only changed its form. Zamindars were now designated as big landowners in the agrarian society.

Tenancy Reforms

Tenants can be classified into three categories:

  • Occupancy tenants: Occupancy tenants enjoy permanent rights over land and do not face fear of eviction as long as they pay rent on time. Moreover, they are entitled to compensation for improvements in land.
  • Tenants at will: Tenants at will do not enjoy security of tenure and could be evicted from land whenever landlord desires so.
  • Sub-tenants: Sub-tenants are tenants employed by occupancy tenants. Their rights over land are also not recognized.

To improve the conditions of tenants, the following reforms were introduced:

Regulation of rent

  • The landowner used to charge a very high rent from tenants. The tenants were forced to pay the high rent because they faced risk of eviction on non-payment of land revenue. The tenants also lacked bargaining power because the difference in social status of tenants and landowners was large.
  • As a result, various states passed laws to regulate the land rent. Most states regulated land rent in the range of one-fifth to one-fourth of the total agricultural produce and in some states such as Punjab and Haryana, rent was fixed at one-third of the agricultural produce.
  • However, these laws are often violated on account of the following reasons:
  • Agreements between owner and tenant are often oral and informal. It has been estimated that nearly 40% of tenancy agreements are oral.
  • On refusal to pay high rents, tenants faced the risk of eviction from the land.
  • Landowners enjoy strong socioeconomic and political hold. Consequently, tenants cannot effectively bargain with the landowners.


  • Tenants lacked bargaining power against landowners on account of continued threat of eviction from land. Moreover, due to the fear of eviction, tenants were apprehensive of bringing improvement in agricultural land.
  • The legislation for security of tenure had the following essential aims:
    • Eviction should not take place except in accordance with the provisions of law.
    • Land cultivation may be resumed by the owner, if at all, only on grounds of personal cultivation.
    • On the resumption of cultivation by the owner, the tenant is assured of a prescribed minimum area.
  • The degree of protection to tenants under these laws depends on the following factors:
    • Definition of tenant: In all the tenancy laws of the country, persons cultivating the lands of others on payment of rent either in cash or kind or both are treated as tenants. However, in some states, sharecroppers who pay rent in kind are not covered under definition of tenants.
    • Right to resume cultivation: The landowners could evict tenants on grounds of resumption of cultivation. Moreover, the definition of personal cultivation included supervision by any member of the family.
    • Provision of voluntary surrenders: Many landlords compelled their tenants to give up tenancies to avoid tenancy laws because tenancy laws were not applicable on voluntary surrenders of land.
    • Consequently, the Fourth Five-year Plan recommended that voluntary surrenders should be regulated by the state in such a way that landowners were prohibited from taking possession of the surrendered land. The surrendered land could be given to either an eligible tenant selected by the government or to the government only. However, only a few states have incorporated this provision into their laws.
    • State of land records: Land records are often incomplete and unwritten. In such as case, a person cannot claim to be a tenant.

Ownership right to tenants

  • Some states have passed laws to confer ownership rights to the tenants. In implementing such laws, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Kerala have achieved more success than other states. In West Bengal, over 14 lakh sharecroppers (locally called Bargardars) are given ownership rights under “Operation Barga”.
  • The following factors hampered the transfer of ownership to peasants:
    • The purchase price for land was required to be paid in instalments. However, still many tenants could not afford to pay it.
    • Unwillingness of tenants to purchase land on account of threats by landowners.
    • Resumption of personal cultivation by landowner.
    • Oral tenancy agreements.

Reorganization of Ownership of Land | INDIAN AGRICULTURE II: LAND REFORMS

Ceiling on agricultural holdings

  • Land ceiling laws specified land to which ceilings shall apply, land exempted from ceilings, steps to be taken to prevent mala fide transfers, and compensation to be paid for land acquired.
  • Before 1972, there was lack of consistency in the land ceiling acts passed by various states. In 1972, a conference of Chief Ministers was held to bring uniformity in the land ceiling laws.
  • The main features on which consensus was built are as follows:
    • Ceiling of 18 acres over irrigated and 54 acres over non-irrigated land.
    • Family rather than an individual shall be considered a unit for determining land holding.
    • Fewer exceptions from ceilings such as:
      • Tea, coffee, and rubber plantations
      • Fruit orchards
      • Specialized farms engaged in cattle breeding, dairying, wool raising, etc. a Sugarcane farms by sugar factories
      • Effectively managed farms on which heavy investments or permanent structural improvements have been made and whose break up is likely to cause fall in production.
    • Retrospective application of law for declaring “Benami” transactions void.
  • Evaluation of land ceiling acts: Only around 3 million hectares has been declared surplus so far, which is hardly 2% of the net shown area. About 30% of this land has not yet been distributed as it is caught up in litigations.
    • Benami transactions have facilitated illegal possession of a significant amount of land above ceiling limits. There are allegations that inferior and unproductive land has been allocated to the poor, who often refuse to take these lands because they lack resources to make these lands productive.
  • Size of agricultural holding (as in 2010-11)
    • The average size of land holding in India is very small. Around 67% of operational holdings are marginal (<1 hectare) holdings. Marginal and small (<2 hectare) holdings constitute 84.9% of total agricultural holdings and 44.3% of cultivable area.
    • On the other hand, large (>10 hectare) holdings constitute 0.7% of the total agricultural holdings and 10.9% of cultivable area.
  • The reasons for the subdivision and fragmentation of agricultural holdings in India are as follows:
    • Inheritance of land among children
    • Pressure of population on land
    • Decline of joint family system
    • Financial distress causes farmers to sell part of their land
    • Psychological attachment to land leads to a number of small holdings in place of a few large holdings.
  • The disadvantages of subdivision and fragmentation are as follows:
    • Wastage of land in making boundaries
    • Difficulties in mechanization
    • Low productivity of land
    • Disguised unemployment as many people are employed on small piece of land
    • Increase in disputes over boundaries

Consolidation of land holdings

  • Consolidation of land holdings refers to the exchange of numerous small plots of land for a single (or a few) large plot of land. Only 15 states have passed laws to facilitate land consolidation. These laws also have provisions to prevent subdivision and fragmentation beyond a certain minimum limit. This minimum limit is known as standard area.

Evaluation of consolidation: Only in Punjab and Haryana, the task of consolidation has been undertaken on a considerable extent. In some states, consolidation has not at all been undertaken. Overall, consolidation could not be carried out on account of the following reasons:

  • It is difficult to allot a single land of the same area and of the same quality as was previously held by the owner.
  • People are emotionally attached to their land and, thus, do not part away with their land holdings.
  • Unwritten and incomplete land records hamper consolidation of land holdings and lead to excessive litigation.
  • There is lack of administrative staff to carry out consolidation of land holdings.
  • It is said that the rich and influential often manage to get fertile and well-situated land, whereas the poor and non-influential get inferior lands.
  • This is because consolidation of land holdings is governed by “Major Area Rule”. The rule mandates that consolidation should be carried out around a plot or contiguous plots that form the largest proportion of the total land to be consolidated.
  • Consolidation of land holding often leads to eviction of tenants.


  • Cooperative farming refers to a system in which each member-farmer remains the owner of his land individually, but farming is done jointly. Profit is distributed among the member-farmers in the ratio of land owned by them. Wages are distributed among the member-farmers according to the number of days they worked.
  • In other words, cooperative farming refers to pooling of land and practising joint agriculture. Cooperative farming is not a new concept in India. Since ancient times, Indian farmers have been giving mutual aid to each other in sowing, harvesting, etc. However, the state push towards cooperative farming has been mainly since independence.
  • The advantages of cooperative farming are as follows:
    • It resolves the problem of subdivision of land.
    • Allocation of tasks among farmers makes tasks easier.
    • Agricultural input can be purchased in bulk at cheaper rates.
    • Similarly, agricultural output can be transported to markets in bulk at cheaper rates.
    • Agricultural machinery such as tractors can be shared leading to lower cost of cultivation.

Critical Evaluation of Cooperative Farming in India

  • To promote cooperative farming, the government has offered a number of incentives such as financial assistance, technical assistance, preference in supply of input, etc. However, the progress of cooperative farming has been extremely slow. Only 0.38% of cultivated land is operated under cooperative farming
  • Cooperative farming has been unsuccessful in India on account of numerous reasons such as lack professional management of farms, lack of trust among members, etc.
  • The motivation behind the formation of cooperative societies in the farming sector has not been genuine. Most cooperatives are formed not on the basis of spirit of cooperation but to avoid government laws and to gain benefits from the government.
  • To conclude, land reforms in India have largely been a failure. Apart from the factors mentioned earlier, other factors that have proved to be a hindrance in land reforms are as follows:
    • Lack of political will
    • Apathy of bureaucracy
    • Corruption
    • Land owning by bureaucracy and political class
    • Linkage between bureaucracy, politicians, and land-owning class



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