Agri Land IMoT Forum
Agriculture in History Op-ed

The Story of Land–owning Farmers and Landless Farmers

In the previous session, you were the eternal farmer toiling for a piece of land all throughout the Mughal days, British days and even the New – born India days. Somehow, reforms were made and you took hold of your agricultural land as you got rid of villainy Zamindars by the end of nineteen sixties. Thus, the Story of Landless Tillers had a happy ending, right? Now if I tell you, “No that wasn’t a happy ending” would you believe? You have to! As seen in the last session (read it here), the Zamindar Abolition Acts, Land Ceiling Acts and Tenancy Acts passed on by different states across the country eliminated Zamindars and gave back lands to landless farmers, but not all farmers. As the first round of land reforms failed, a second round was initiated by early nineteen seventies. In this session, let us see how these reforms helped the farming community.

What is the background for reforms?

Though the first round of land reforms before nineteen seventy, enabled distribution of land among landless farmers, still a huge lot of farmers were left landless. The reforms carried out on socialistic lines, failed utterly in reducing the disparities between the rich and poor. Moreover, the impact of green revolution in nineteen sixties made the situation worse – off. It widened the gap between the haves and have – nots, as the farming practises introduced by green revolution demanded more expenses (for fertilizers and pesticides) and the already poor farmers couldn’t cope up with it. The deteriorating economic status of poor farmers even drove them into the infamous Naxalite Movement in the Bihar – Bengal – Andhra Pradesh belt. The regulations on land ceilings were not effective as the land limit per farmer was higher and adding to it, many farmers circumvented by registering their surplus land in the name of their family members, relatives and also via benamis. Also, the superior tenants became new age landlords with higher societal status and propagated discriminations in the society. Thus there was an even obvious unequal distribution of income and land among the farmers and the issue of rural poverty exacerbated invariably.

This situation of non – egalitarianism across the country forms the background for reforms to be discussed further.

How do the reforms take place?

The Government of India made interventions and framed new guidelines on land ceilings in consultation with states. Consequently, the state governments amended their ceiling laws with more or less comparable ceiling limits between different states. The revised land limits were made considerably lesser than the previous ones. “Family” (instead of individuals) was made the basis on which land limits were fixed. However, there were a few exceptions under the land ceilings amendments. The lands held by religious, charitable and educational institutions, lands meant for special cultivation of tea, lands maintained by a co – operative farming society for feeding sugar factories in Assam, lands under plantations and private forest in Kerala, lands belonging to primary co – operative societies in Himachal Pradesh and the lands possessed by commercial undertakings in Tamil Nadu were all off – the – hook in the new amendments. Similarly, the state governments brought about reforms in tenancies with an attempt to promote equal distribution of surplus land. Various states made various amendments based on their provisions and to cite such examples Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal would do justice. The Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act of 1976 declared that all rights, titles and interests in land of any person not cultivated personally after 1971 shall be vested in the state, free from all encumbrances, with effect from 1973. And in West Bengal, the law on acquisition and settlement of homestead land (Amendment Act, 1972) provided that the tenants of homestead lands would be given full right provided an application was made, up to August 1974. The West Bengal Government also promoted a programme to record the share cropping tenants in 1978. Computerisation of land records was also mandated by the government in nineteen eighties (precisely in the seventh five year plan – 1985 to 1990), so that the proposed land reforms would be implemented effectively.

Land reforms after independence in india lawpoint

What is the aftermath of reforms?

Though the land ceiling reforms were carried out in an even stricter manner the second time, affluent farmers always tried to win favour through the loopholes. The exceptions of few kinds of lands from the amendments, made it comfortable for the greedy evaders to bypass law. There were many wealthy farmers who took it to courts to escape from the ceiling caps and once again the Indian Government made an amendment to prevent this breach. The 34th Constitutional Amendment passed in 1974 kept most of the revised ceiling laws in the 9th schedule of the Constitution such that they could not be challenged in any court. The main reason for this second round of reforms was to eliminate the inequalities in the rural society by preventing unequal distribution of agricultural lands. But the results were saddening in most of the regions except for states like West Bengal and Bihar. In states likes Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha (the then Orissa) and Rajasthan, the reforms only worsened off the situation by increasing agrarian inequality. The reforms totally omitted the plight of women farmers, as in a few states women were legally forbidden from owning lands and more specifically Uttar Pradesh prohibited the land inheritance of girl child. Despite the fact that both the state and central governments took measures to remove poverty from the agrarian society by way of equal distribution of surplus agricultural lands, the reforms were able to do a very little. The wealthy farmers in most of the places were very shrewd that they wisely gave away their barren wastelands in the name of surplus, while keeping the fertile ones with themselves. When the government redistributed such infertile lands to landless farmers, the farmers had to face the heat again as there was no fund awarded to them for reclamation. When finally the economic reforms were introduced in nineteen nineties, the land reforms weren’t considered a priority and the five year plans also couldn’t do much.

Therefore the second round of reforms also failed miserably. Yes, it’s a sad ending once again.

…Session adjourned until next month…

This article was originally published in ‘The Agraria’ e-Magazine. Please subscribe it to continue reading the series