Land Reforms in India

What is Land Reform?


The official approach and emphasis on land reforms in India has shifted throughout time in response to new concerns, as can be seen in the next two phases.

This phase begins shortly after the country’s independence.

  • All economies were agrarian before they were industrialized; the only difference is the time period. The first thing industrialized countries did after developing democratic institutions was to accomplish agrarian reforms in a time-bound manner.
  • Because land remained the primary source of income for the majority of people in an agricultural economy, agrarian reforms that were successfully implemented benefited the greatest number of people, consequently improving their economic circumstances.
  • India was a typical agrarian economy at the time of independence, with an inequitable agrarian structure. Land reforms will be a major component of independent India, and the Indian National Congress pledged to implement them as part of the agrarian reforms in 1935.
  • Land reform in India has three goals, similar to those pursued by other economies in the past:
    (I) Removing institutional inconsistencies in the agrarian structure that obstructed increasing agricultural production in the past, such as the size of agricultural holdings, land ownership, land inheritance, tenancy reforms, abolition of intermediaries, and the introduction of modern institutional factors to agriculture, among others.
    (ii) Another goal of India’s land reforms was to address the country’s socioeconomic disparities. The great inequality in land ownership not only had a detrimental economic impact, but it was also inextricably linked to India’s caste system and the distribution of social prestige and status by society as a whole. More than 80% of the population inherited the agrarian system, which had inequitable ownership of the asset, i.e., land to generate revenue. On logical principles and with a public welfare approach, the government aimed to restructure land ownership in the economy. As it attempted to undermine the country’s age-old agrarian structure, the goal of land reforms drew a lot of socio-political attention. It became such a contentious subject in India that land reforms were dubbed “bad reforms,” with the government seizing land and allotting it to the landless masses.
    (iii) The third goal of India’s land reforms was to increase agricultural productivity in order to address the interconnected problems of poverty, hunger, and food insecurity, which did not receive enough socio-political attention.

To achieve the goals of land reform, the government took three major steps are:-

  1. Intermediaries must be abolished. The Zamindari, Mahalwari, and Ryotwari exploitative land tenure regimes were completely abolished as a result of this step.

Landlord Reforms Three interconnected reforms safeguarding land-tenants were enacted as part of this bigger step:
(I) Rent regulation, so that share-croppers can pay a fixed and rational rate of rent to land owners;

(ii) Tenure security, so that a share-cropper can feel secure about his future income and economic security; and

(iii) Tenant ownership rights, so that the landless masses (i.e., tenants, share-croppers) can get the final rights to the land they plough—”land to the tillers.”

  1. Agriculture Reorganization This stage, too, comprises a slew of interconnected and logical requirements aimed at sensible agrarian reforms:
    (I)Land redistribution among the landless poor masses following the passage of timely ceiling laws—with a few exceptions, such as West Bengal, Kerala, and a portion of Andhra Pradesh, the drive failed miserably.
    (ii) Land consolidation was only successful in the Green Revolution-era regions (Haryana, Punjab, and western Uttar Pradesh), and it was hampered by several loopholes and corruption.
    (iii) Cooperative farming, which has a strong socioeconomic moral foundation, was mostly adopted by large farmers to protect their lands from draconian ceiling rules.

The majority of experts believe India’s entire endeavor at land reform to be a huge failure. The topic of land reforms in India is widely regarded as the most complicated socioeconomic problem in human history. The data on the numerical successes of land reforms has been disheartening.
(I) Tenancy changes granted renters rights to only 4% of the country’s total operated land (14.4 million hectares of operated land by 11 million tenants by 1992).
(ii) Land ownership rights were redistributed, although only up to 2% of the country’s total operating area (less than 2 million hectares among the 4.76 million inhabitants by 1992).
(iii) When taken as a whole, the land reform process may benefit only 6% of the country’s operated area, with insignificant socio-economic benefits.

The government was easily attracted to the new policy of the Green Revolution in the coming times due to the failure of land reforms—land reforms had failed to increase agricultural production, so the government chose the route of increasing productivity to achieve the same goal, i.e., initiation of new agricultural techniques.

Land Reform Failures

The following three factors, among the numerous advanced by experts responsible for the failure of India’s land reforms, could be considered the most important:
(I) Land in India is regarded as a sign of social prestige, status, and identity, in contrast to other economies that have successfully implemented land reform programs, where it is regarded as merely an economic asset for generating money.
(ii) The lack of political will needed to implement land reforms and make the initiative a success.
(iii) In the Indian democratic system, rampant corruption in public life, political hypocrisy, and leadership failure.

Green Revolution & Land Reform

The issue of land reforms was practically forgotten once the government began the Green Revolution for the following reasons:
(I) The Green Revolution and land reforms have an intrinsic diabolic relationship, as the former caters to larger and more profitable land holdings, while the latter aims to fragment land among a vast number of people.
(ii) The land-owning caste lobbies were socially hostile to land reforms, but there was no similar hostility to the Green Revolution.
(iii) The amount of legislative efforts made by governments addressing land reforms have had essentially no positive socio-economic impact on the country to date, whereas the Green Revolution had the ability to produce better foodgrain yields.
(iv) Subsidized foodgrain supplies under PL480 hampered India’s ability to develop an independent diplomacy, and there has always been skepticism regarding regular wheat deliveries.
(v) International pressure, as well as World Bank recommendations, as well as success stories from nations where the Green Revolution enhanced wheat yields.

  • Phase-II
    The progress of economic reforms can be traced back to the second phase of land reforms. Economic changes exposed the economy to new and emerging realities such as land acquisition and leasing, food-related concerns, and World Trade Organization agricultural regulations (WTO).
  • We perceive a shift in the Government of India’s thinking on land reforms (Economic Survey 2012–13), with a clear three-step policy emerging:
    (I) Carefully mapping land and assigning conclusive title, (ii) establishing a fair yet quick land acquisition process, and (iii) establishing a clear and effective land leasing policy.
  • Today, land is most likely the most valuable asset in the country. Greater land liquidity could not only allow more resources to be redeployed efficiently in agriculture, but it could also make it easier for land-using enterprises to start up. Perhaps, more importantly, it could allow land to be used as a form of credit collateral.
  • In the country, the issue of ‘inconclusive’ land ownership has been a key development concern and a source of high litigation. Currently, the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) is being implemented as a central sector scheme with the goal of transitioning from presumptive title (where a title’s registration does not imply that the owner’s title is legally legitimate) to conclusive title (where it does).
  • The successful completion of the program is expected to speed up the country’s development process while also saving time in land-related disputes. However, the program has been delayed and unequal among states; lessons could be learned from state initiatives such as Karnataka’s Bhoomi Project, Rajasthan’s Urban Ceiling Act 2016, and Andhra Pradesh’s use of blockchain technology to combat property fraud.
  • The Land Acquisition Bill, 2013, was passed by the Indian government. Aside from proposing to alter the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2011, the bill also intended to establish transparent, effective, and timely rules regarding the need for land reforms in leasing and acquisition. By 2015, the new administration at the Centre had presented a new land bill (Right to Fair Compensation and
  • Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Bill, 2015) to address the shortcomings of the 2013 Land Act. The Government rescinded the Bill (which had already been imposed through Presidential Ordinance) in the face of strong criticism from political parties, specialists, and the media. Later, the NITI Aayog was tasked with advising the government on an effective, fair, and transparent land acquisition strategy (in 2016, the NITI Aayog proposed a Model Land Leasing Law).

The following are some of the points (as per the relevant government papers) relating are:-
(I) In light of farmer opposition to land acquisition attempts in recent years in several states, leasing appears to be a preferable option. Land leasing appears to be a better choice than land purchase if the country seeks to attract investment from the organized private sector (domestic or foreign).
(ii) Large-scale corporate farming has not occurred in India, particularly in the sectors of foodgrain production, which India requires to ensure food security and compete in the global grain market, in particular, and the agri-industry in general. This is even more vital now that a huge portion of the population has been granted the Right to Food.
(iii) Giving ‘leasing’ priority will solve a number of issues:
(a) It will keep land ownership in the hands of existing farmers; (b) It will prevent mass landlessness and unemployment among farmers; (c) Farmers will have a stable source of income (in the meantime, they may be given skills and better employment opportunities in industries); and (d) It will make land readily available for public and private purposes.

Meanwhile, the Niti Aayog’s Model Land Leasing Law was well-received by the states in 2016, and some of them tested land pooling effectively by early 2020. In this regard, the example of Andhra Pradesh has been fairly effective, as it offers a developed piece of land in the future metropolis rather than monetary compensation for the land seized today (25 per cent of every fertile acre pooled to be returned as developed area in future city). The proactive intermediation of state governments in the land purchase process appears to be emerging from difficult times. However, a new source of concern is the escalating cost of land acquisition, which has climbed by over 300 percent since the financial year 2013–14, from Rs. 0.8 crore per hectare to Rs. 2.75 crore per hectare (according to the platform Bhoomi Rashi, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways).
(iv) In the aftermath of globalisation, if the country wants to gain from the agriculture sector, it must increase farm production to surplus levels—and to do so, India must tap into the private sector’s investment potential. This will not be possible until the country has appropriate land leasing and acquisition rules.
(v) The recent emphasis on promoting the “manufacturing sector” and “smart cities” is heavily reliant on a smoother and faster land acquisition process. Without fully growing the industrial sector, the agriculture sector can develop as a lucrative profession—the country must seamlessly move the increased labor force from farm to industry.
(vi) The issue of land acquisition is to construct a logical equation with the term “environmental issue” in order to make the development process more sustainable (NITI Aayog makes a good case for it).

It should be noted that, while the Indian government has changed its stance on land reforms, Indian states are still attempting to accelerate and continue the PHASE I land reform process (though the process does not appear to be moving forward politically due to strong opposition from the country’s landowners).

Holdings in Agriculture

The government released the 10th Agriculture Census 2015–16 in October 2018. (the Census is conducted after every 5 years). According to the report, the average size of a land holding is shrinking as a result of fast fragmentation brought on by rapid population expansion.

The following are the significant highlights of the Census (all comparisons are made with the previous and 9th Censuses 2010–11):
The total area under cultivation decreased from 159.6 million hectares (Mha) to 157.14 million hectares (Mha).
Small and marginal farmers (those with less than two hectares of land) make up 86.2 percent of all farmers in India, but only 47.3 percent of cropland. Semi-medium and medium-sized landholders (those who own between 2 and 10 hectares) make up 13.2% of all farmers yet own 43.6 percent of cropland.
The percentage of small and marginal farmers increased from 84.9 to 86.2 percent, while the number of operating holdings increased from 138 to 146 million.
During this time, the number of small and marginal farms increased by roughly 9 million.
Small and marginal farmers (approximately 126 million) own about 74.4 million hectares of land, or an average of just 0.6 hectares per, which is insufficient to produce surpluses that can financially support their family, explaining the mounting distress in Indian agriculture.
The average land holding decreased from 1.15 hectares to 1.08 hectares for all farmers combined.
Farmers with ten hectares or more account for only 0.57 percent of the total and 9.04 percent of the operating area.
According to state-by-state data from the study, Uttar Pradesh had the most operating holdings or farmers (23.8 million), followed by Bihar (16.4 million) and Maharashtra (14.7 million).
Rajasthan topped the list of operated or farmed lands with 20.9 Mha, followed by Maharashtra (19.9 Mha) and Uttar Pradesh (17.45 Mha).
The percentage of farms run by women increased from 12.8 percent to 13.9 percent, indicating that more women are managing agricultural operations (the feminisation of the farm sector is underway).

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