Land Reforms & Duty Of State:
“Verify, The Land Belongs To Him Who Labours On It”
Changes brought about in the agrarian structure through direct intervention are characterised as land reforms. It incorporates the changing of laws, regulations regarding land ownership. Land reforms are an attempt by the Government to achieve social equality and optimum utilization of land by redistributing the land holdings. These reforms are intended to eliminate exploitation and social injustice within the agrarian system, to provide security for the tiller of the soil and to remove obstacles arising from the agrarian structure that has been inherited from the past.
It is the scheme of the government wherein it redistributes the property, generally, of an agricultural land. Land reform, therefore, refer to transfer of ownership from the more powerful to the less powerful, such as from a relatively small number of wealthy (or noble) owners with extensive land holdings (e.g. plantations, large ranches, or agribusiness plots) to individual ownership by those who work the land. Such transfers of ownership may be done with or without compensation; compensation may vary from token amounts to the full value of the land. It implies that it is a transfer of ownership from the strong to weak such as from the owners with huge chunk of land who is relatively smaller in number to the individuals who actually work on the land. And also while transferring compensation may not be necessarily given to the landlords and if it was given it varied from state to state.
At the time of independence, India inherited a semi-feudal agrarian system, wherein the ownership and control of land was vested in the hands of a small group of landlords and intermediaries whose main intention was to extract maximum rent, either in cash or kind, from tenants. Henceforth, a cultivator with no security of tenure and was required to pay a huge amount of revenue was least interested in investing in land. At the same time, neither was the landlord particularly concerned about improving the economic condition of the cultivators. As a result, agricultural productivity suffered and oppression of tenants resulted in a progressive deterioration of their plight. And therefore, the concept of land reforms came into practice.
System Of Land Tenure
At the time of Independence, land tenure system was quite unfavourable to the farmers. There were three types of land tenure systems prevailing in the country - Zamindari System, Mahalwari System and the Ryotwari System. The main distinction in these systems was regarding the payment of land revenue, that it deals with the entire revenue jurisdiction that how it is to be paid, to whom it is to be paid.
This system was introduced by East India Company in 1793, when Lord Cornwallis entered into ‘permanent settlement’ with landlords with a view to increasing the revenue of the Company. East India Company has entered into permanent settlement with landlords who had big chunk of lands, for the commercial gain that is to expand their business. Under the settlement, the landlords were declared full proprietors of large areas of land, thereby creating a permanent interest in the land and the task of collecting rent from the farmers was also entrusted to them for which they received a commission. With the passage of time these landlords became the intermediaries between the cultivators and the State.
The Zamindari System suffered from a number of defects. It conferred unlimited rights on the Zamindars to expropriate as much rent as they wished. It also entitled them to share the produce without participating personally in the productive process. The actual cultivator was left with no surplus to invest in better instruments and neither was there any extra incentive for him to increase agricultural production and productivity.
This system was introduced by William Bentick in Agra and Oudh. And later on it extended to Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. Under this system, the whole village was treated as one unit as far as payment of land revenue is concerned and it was the responsibility of the village headman for collecting the land revenue. It implies that in certain areas where the landlords did not have chunk of land, whole village was treated as one unit and for each village revenue was required to be paid.
This system was not much into practice and was prevailing in very few parts of the country. Initially it was introduced in Tamil Nadu and later it was extended to Maharashtra, Barar, East Punjab, Assam, and Coorg. Here the responsibility of paying the land revenue was of the cultivator himself who was having the land and was required to pay to the Britishers. There were no intermediaries here between him and the state. The ryot was free to sub let his land and had full rights regarding sale, transfer and leasing of land and enjoyed permanent settlement that is he could not be evicted from the land as long as he paid the land revenue. Such kinds of rights were not given to the cultivators under the Zamindari system.
Objectives Of Land Reforms
Land reforms in the post independence period was basically introduced to restrict the exploiting measures taken by the intermediaries and to transfer the ownership of land to the cultivators. It also aims at providing security of Tenure, fixation of rents etc. Land Reform measures are aimed at alleviating rural poverty in the following manner:
· By taking possession of surplus land from the large land holders and distributing among the landless.
· By protecting the interests of tribals and preventing non- tribals to encroach upon the land of tribals.
· By facilitating them with the security of tenure and ownership rights to tenants and sharecroppers.
Measures Taken To Achieve The Objectives
Once the objectives were set, there was a need of some measures or policies with the help of which such objectives could be achieved. Some of the measures which were adopted to achieve the objectives were:
Abolition of intermediaries
As the main instrument of exploiting the cultivators or the landless were the landlords (or Zamindars) it was first required that they may be removed from the system. Approximately 57% of the country was under the Zamindari system on the eve of independence. Now since more than half of the country was covered under the Zamindari system, it became very much necessary to remove such intermediaries who were in between the State and the cultivators and were gaining undue advantage by charging huge amount of revenue from the cultivator. As the cultivator who was actually paying was not even aware of, to whom it will be given, how much is to be given, the intermediaries extracted as much as they wished and paid only a part of it the Britishers and leaving nothing with the cultivators.
Keeping in view, all these legislations were passed in some of the states for their abolition before 1951. But it had to face many difficulties in its implementation like Zamindars were not ready to surrender their rights over the property and so moved to the courts. When the Zamindars lost there they refused to hand over the land records. Despite these observations, one cannot deny the fact that after the independence, exploitation and oppression of tenants and actual tillers of the soil has declined steeply and the feudal rural structure has crumbled down.
Tenancy cultivation may be done by small proprietors or by the landless labourers. Tenants may be divided into three categories: (i)Occupancy Tenants (ii) Tenants-at-will (iii) Sub-Tenants.
Occupancy Tenants- occupancy tenants have permanent right like the owner. They also have the right to receive some compensation in case they make some improvements on land. They also enjoy security of tenure and do not fear of eviction as long as they pay rent on time. The only difference between the occupancy tenant and the proprietor is that the former is required to pay rent to the landlord and the latter to pay the land revenue to the state.
Tenants-at-will or Temporary tenants and Sub Tenants – the position of both of them is extremely weak. Their existence depends on the wish of landlords and so they are subject to ruthless exploitation.
Therefore, it is to protect these people that special laws have had to be enacted and implemented. So under these Tenancy reforms, the following measures were adopted: (i) Regulation of Rent (ii) Security of Tenure and (iii) Conferment of ownership rights on tenants.
Regulation of Rent-
The British government in the pre-Independence era was merely interested in its share and infinite powers were given to the Zamindars and as a result the rent charged by the Zamindars from the tenants was not in proportion to the actual agricultural production. So in order to subdue the evil practice performed by the Zamindars and regulate the limits of rents, legislation was enacted after 1947 in the form of First five year plan. As per the first five year plan the rent should be fixed at one- fourth or one-fifth of the total produce.
Security of Tenure
Sir Arthur Young rightly observed: “Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock and he will turn it into a garden; give him a nine year’s lease of a garden and he converts it into a desert.” That is to say if a person is feared of losing the property he’ll lose the interest in making any improvements on land and if he’s given security of tenure he’ll do his best to increase the productivity. In order to protect the tenants from ejectment and grant them permanent rights in land, certain legislations have been passed in most of the states. However, while framing the legislation three essential aims have to be kept in mind- Firstly large scale ejectment of tenants do not take place; Secondly, that the resumption of land may be taken by the owner for personal cultivation only: and thirdly, that in the event of resumption, a prescribed minimum area is left with the tenant.
Ownership right for tenants
Right of ownership to the tenants is a very important feature of land reform. As given by Mahatma Gandhi, “Verify, the land belongs to him who labours on it.” Ownership rights should be given to the tenants, that is, they should be made owners of the land they cultivate. Earlier the right to purchase was optional to the tenants but because this did not prove to be effective, the Third Plan suggested for removal of the optional clause and the peasants be required to purchase land. Legislation for this purpose was enacted in various states.
Redistribution of land- This was a common practice between 1947 and 1953. Under this scheme, the land was taken from the owners who had huge hectares of land and were given to the landless labourers. It was a grant given by the government to the landless cultivators. As according to the principle of Mahatma Gandhi, “Verify, the land belongs to him who labours on it”. That is to say it was the cultivators who actually worked on the land and the owners solely took the huge profit. So this kind of scheme was developed by the government keeping in view the welfare of cultivators.
Consolidation of Holdings
This method was adopted to solve the problem of fragmentation of holdings. Under this process, one consolidated holding is granted to the farmer which is equal to the total of land in different scattered plots which are under his possession. The programme was initially started on a voluntary basis but was later made compulsory. Majorly land consolidated has been practised in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa and only 15 states have passed this law of consolidation.
In the absence of such laws land can be subdivided and fragmented again on the basis of laws of inheritance, pressure of population etc. Certain minimum limit or the standard area has been fixed at different levels by different state governments keeping the above considerations in view. To ensure this certain provisions have been made in consolidation acts in Gujarat, Rajasthan etc. and in the land reforms act in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
This reform was introduced to solve the problems which were created by sub division of holdings. It is where farmers having very petty lands join hands and pool their lands for the purpose of cultivation. 82% of the holdings in India are below 2 hectares and 39% of total operated area is under them and cultivation on such small farms is not profitable. If such small and marginal farmers cultivate their land jointly they can earn huge profits of large scale farming.
An Overview From The Constitutional Perspective
Although we have studied the measures been adopted by the state in lieu of the land reforms but we also need to understand some of the constitutional provisions relating to land reforms. Articles such as Article 39, 31A, 31B, 31C needs to be discussed on such view.
Article 39 talks about certain principles of policy to be followed by state. That the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good, that is for the welfare of all and also that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment. That is to say, wealth or the land should not be vested with only few elite people.
Also after 42nd Amendment, clause of saving of certain laws was inserted. Article 31A has been brought only to abolish Zamindari System as it gives immense right to the state to acquire any estate for public purpose and so no intermediary is required and hence direct relation between the state and the intermediary was established.
Article 31B provides double protection with regard to any infringement of fundamental right. It saves conflict with any Fundamental right, that is to say if any provision in the ninth schedule shall be void if it infringes any of the Fundamental Rights and Article 31C gives state to frame policies with regard to Directive Principles of State Policy. It says notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, any law giving made as per the policy of Directive principles of state shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it abridges away rights conferred by Article 14 or Article 19.
The objectives of land reforms were to bring about economic efficiency and social justice. Just like every issue has its pros and cons, land reforms too have its positive and negative aspects. Land reform efforts have had some positive results, such as nearly 10 million hectares of land had been transferred under tenancy reform legislation as per 2002 records. Land reforms have had favourable effects on family income, asset growth, consumption and childhood education, especially in the states where the reforms were more vigorously implemented.
Although the contribution of tenancy reforms could not be totally neglected but the programs including these reforms did not lead into any significant redistribution of land, or the removal of all the obstacles to increasing agricultural production. Also land reforms did not fully achieve their objectives. The implementation efforts have slowed and the negative impact are outweighing the positive impact. By and large land reforms in India enacted so far and those contemplated in the near future... are in the right direction; and yet due to lack of implementation the actual results are far from satisfactory.
Land reform policies suffered from many defects such as - lack of political will, Apathy of Bureaucracy, Voluntary Surrender, retention of land for personal cultivation etc.
Lack of political will- which can be clearly seen as of the large gaps between law and its implementation. Apathy of Bureaucracy- with the lack of political will goes the apathy of bureaucracy in implementing the land reforms, that is, the administrators has joined hands with the politicians to grab surplus land. The problem of Voluntary surrender- where law did not help tenants if they surrendered their land on own accord. Also intermediaries when allowed to resume large areas of land for cultivation, it was highly prone to misuse.
After studying all the positive and negative aspects of the land reforms, one question which is of utmost importance and need to be answered is that-Can the land reforms said to be success? Are the land reform policies actually meant for the deprived class? Or are these policies making poorer more miserable?
After sixty years of the introduction of the reforms if we say whatever we have achieved is a success, then on what basis are we calling it a success? The only area where any sort of development took place was in the case of abolition of intermediaries and the Zamindari system and if that is the only criteria of judging, then we really need to change our outlook. As this was definitely not what people wanted or for which the reforms were introduced.
If we want to accomplish the objectives of the land reforms then we must not stop here, there is still a long way to go. And we being the lawyers particularly, owe a greater sense of responsibility towards the society and must therefore strive for its success and justify the cause for which, in real sense such reforms were introduced.
# Manpreet Sethi, ‘Land reform in India: Issues and Challenges’
# Land reforms in India and their Implications
# Borras, Saturnino M. Jr. “The Philippine Land Reforms in Comparative Perspective: Some conceptual and Methodological Implications." Journal of Agrarian Change. 6,1 (January 2006): 69-101.
# Adams, Martin and J. Howell. “Redistributive Land Reform in Southern Africa." Overseas Development Institute. DFID. Natural Resources Perspectives No. 64. January 2001.
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# Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture, Agricultural Statistics at a glance, 2008, Table 16.1, pg-303
# Article 31A. Saving of laws providing for acquisition of estates, etc.- Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law providing for-
(a) The acquisition by the state of any estate or of any rights therein or the extinguishment or modification of any such rights, or
(b) The taking over of the management of any property by the state for a limited period either in the public interest or in order to secure the proper management of the property, or
(c) The amalgamation of two or more corporations either in the public interest or in order to secure the proper management of any of the corporations.
# Article 31B. Validation of certain Acts and Regulations- Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in Article 31A, none of the Acts and Regulations specified in the ninth schedule nor any of the provisions thereof shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void, on the ground that such Act, Regulation or provision is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by, any provisions of this part.
# Article 31C. Saving of laws giving effect to certain directive principles.- Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law giving effect to the policy of the state towards securing [all or any of the principles laid down in Part IV] shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by [Article 14 or Article 19].
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