Land Reforms In India: An Unfinished Business
The Traditional Land Reforms
The Britishers in India were not at all keen in adopting progressive land reforms measures for the rural farmers. So, after independence, we adopted several measures to usher in long stalled land reforms.
1. Abolition of Intermediaries
Intermediaries like Zamindars, Talukdars, Jagirs and Inams had dominated the agricultural sector in India by the time the country attained independence. Soon after independence, measures for the abolition of the Zamindari system were adopted in different states.
Reason: This kind of system was exploitative for tenants and Zamindars never invested in agriculture because their rights were not permanent, which ultimately led to low production.
Outcome: Tenants came in direct contact with government, though he continued to pay rent which was very nominal. This was the most successful land reform in the country, but it benefited only one class of tenants, who were owners of land prior to British land revenue system
1. Tenancy Reforms
This reform sought to provide security of tenure to tenants, so that land owners cannot evict them arbitrarily along with regulation of rent. This reform sought to prevent exploitation and giving security of tenure so that they could invest in land. This reform required tenants to legally register with the govt. in order to get protection.
Outcome: This reform was not very successful, except in states of West Bengal and Kerala, because of lack of political will at the state level. Moreover, since landowners were politically active, they didn’t allow the tenants to register with govt.
3. Ceiling on Land holdings and Redistribution of Surplus land
The third important step of land reforms relates to the imposition of ceiling on land holdings. Ceiling on land holdings implies the fixing of the maximum amount of land that an individual or family can possess.
This reform sought to bring parity in terms of distribution of land through two aspects: one, the fixation of ceiling limit and two, the acquisition of surplus land and its distribution among the small farmers and landless workers. This reform was accompanied by Bhoodan movement, (launched by Acharya Vinoba Bhave)
Outcome: Actually, the limit on ceiling was kept very high and the redistributed land was mostly infertile land
4. Consolidation of Land Holdings
Consolidation of Holdings means bringing together the various small plots of land of a farmer scattered all over the village as one compact block, either through purchase or exchange of land with others.
Reason: The average size of land holdings in India is very small. The size of the holdings is decreasing but number of holdings is increasing over time. This is due to the inheritance laws. If farms are small and scattered, we cannot go for mechanization, etc.
Oucome: Not very successful, because the owners did not had conclusive rights so there was fear among farmers that they may lose land ownership. Moreover, there is mix of fertile and non-fertile land, so it was difficult to get same quality of land.
5. Cooperative Farming
It has been advocated to solve the problems of sub-division and fragmentation of holdings. In this system, farmers pool their small holdings for the purpose of cultivation and reap benefits of large scale farming.
Reason: Economies of scale can reduce input cost
Outcome: This was the least successful land reform in the country due to inconclusive ownership rights.
Now, the land ceiling cannot be implemented because landholdings are small, but, land consolidation and tenancy reforms are more relevant now.
Market-led Land Reforms
These reforms come into picture after the 1991 economic reforms, which gave private sector larger role to play. Post-1991 reforms, land became important for industrial and infrastructure as well, along with agriculture.
1. Modernization of Land Records
This reform seeks to solve the issue of inconclusive land ownership rights. This includes survey of land holdings in the country and digitization of land records and revenue records, so there is less subjectivity in terms of ownership rights. It is significant reform because it will facilitate land consolidation.
National Land Records Modernization Program – It was launched in 2008, to modernize management of land records, minimize scope of land/property disputes, enhance transparency in the land records maintenance system, and facilitate moving eventually towards guaranteed conclusive titles to immovable properties in the count.
This will facilitate easy purchase and selling of land.
2. Facilitating Land Leasing
There should be compulsory registration for all the land owners and lease holds. Registration of landowners will ensure security of land ownership. They can lease their land to landless/tenants and settle in urban areas. The idea is that, since there is massive rural-urban migration and those who are well-settled in urban areas can lease their land to their village counterparts.
At present, NITI Aayog is preparing a model agricultural land leasing law, to formalise leasing of agricultural land.
3. Land Acquisition for Public Purpose
In 2013, govt. enacted “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013″, to provide just and fair compensation to farmers while ensuring that no land could be acquired forcibly.
There was a big debate on this issue over the last year, when NDA govt. brought an amendment bill, which sought to remove all necessary checks (such as consent clause, social impact assessment, minimum consent requirement, etc) in land acquisition for 5 sectors namely – defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure where central govt. owns land.
Published with inputs from Pushpendra