Context: Rural debt waivers, farmers’ agitations, farmers’ suicides, migration and reverse migration in the wake of COVID-19 are some of its manifestations of the issues of fragmented and uneven distribution of landholdings.
Background: Because India has a densely populated agrarian economy, almost all other developmental initiatives also involved land as a central and a complex issue, as it clearly represented social status and not just the means of production. So land reforms were carried out by the government immediately after independence.
- The elements of land reforms in India are—
- the abolition of intermediaries,
- regulation and stability of the tenurial system,
- ceiling on land holding,
- consolidation of land holdings.
- Land reforms in India have undergone broadly four phases since Independence.
- The first and longest phase (1950 - 72) consisted of land reforms that included three major efforts:
- abolition of the intermediaries,
- tenancy reform, and
- the redistribution of land using land ceilings.
- The abolition of intermediaries was relatively successful, but tenancy reform and land ceilings met with less success.
- The second phase (1972 - 85) shifted attention to bringing uncultivated land under cultivation.
- The third phase (1985 - 95) increased attention towards water and soil conservation through the Watershed Development, Drought-Prone Area Development (DPAP) and Desert-Area Development Programmes (DADP).
- A central government Waste land Development Agency was established to focus on wasteland and degraded land.
- The fourth and current phase of policy (1995 onwards) centres on debates about the necessity to continue with land legislation and efforts to improve land revenue administration and, in particular, clarity in land records.
- As the structure and composition of the economy changed, the importance of agriculture and consequently of land-related matters went down.
- Land is a state subject according to the seventh schedule of the Constitution. So, only state (provincial) legislatures have the power to enact and implement land-reform laws.
- However, the central government played a significant advisory and financial role in land policy based on its constitutional role in social and economic planning (a role held concurrently with the states).
Land Consolidation as Land Reform: In India and several other countries, consolidation indeed constituted a reform because
- It helped farmers to make investments, enabled roads and irrigation channels to be laid, reduced litigation.
- It allowed farmers to formalise informal partitions, reduced inequity in landholdings to some extent, enhanced their autonomy and by all measures, increased production and productivity.
Progress made in land consolidation in India:
- As much as 120 lakh Ha had been consolidated by the end of the Fourth Plan, while 440 lakh Ha of land was consolidated by the end of the Fifth Plan.
- Punjab and Haryana have almost completed the work of consolidation of landholdings.
- While Nagaland has the largest average farm size, Punjab and Haryana rank second and third respectively.
- The Sixth Five Year Plan had targeted the completion of consolidation in 10 years. During its period, only 64.75 lakh hectare of land was consolidated. Progress was not uniform across the states.
- Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and other southern states have not even begun the task.
- The pressure on land continues to rise. The average holding size in 1970-71 was 2.28 hectares (Ha), which has come down to 1.08 Ha in 2015-16.
- Regional skews in land distribution: The holdings are much smaller in densely populated states like Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala. Curiously, the number of holdings is rising at almost the same pace as the population, as reported by a 2011 EPW paper on “Farm Size and Productivity.
- Multiple subdivisions across generations have reduced the sub parcels to a very small size. Let's take the example of a family in Bihar, which held just over 2.5 Ha land consisting of 32 land parcels, many of them being of about 0.05 Ha size.
- Difficulty in farming: They are unable to raise plantations because the size is not substantial for them to invest in ancillary works like drip or appoint a caretaker.
- Difficulty in selling: They are also not able to dispose it to a buyer who wants to set up institutions as the task of land aggregation is left to the institution, which finds it difficult to deal with so many landholders and to arrange necessary infrastructure like road, water supply and electricity.
It is for these reasons also that investment is stagnating in the rural areas in states where it is most needed, like Bihar. In the last 15 years, there has not been much serious discussion about land, other than land acquisition and computerisation of land records.
Need for land consolidation
- Non-farm sector employment contributes about 60 per cent to the household income in rural areas.
- Consolidated holdings would make it easy for the government or private enterprises to acquire land, and for public agencies to lay the road, pipeline or electric supply.
- Hence it will promote sectors such as small industries, education, health and other service enterprises generating non-farm income in rural areas.
- Compulsory land consolidation: After Independence, compulsory consolidation was replaced by voluntary consolidation in almost all states.
- However the National Commission of Agriculture has recommended that consolidation schemes should be made compulsory across the country.
- Another round of land consolidation must be carried out in those states where consolidation was done two-three generations ago. This should be liberally supported by the Centre.
- Using information technology, drone technology, and land record digitisation, land consolidation can be done at a faster pace.
- Land leasing: NITI Aayog said that land leasing should be adopted on a large scale to enable landholders with unviable holdings to lease out land for investment, thereby enabling greater income and employment generation in rural areas.
Given its benefit in terms of enabling more investment, reducing litigation, facilitating the setting up of new institutions and enterprises, the country must make this an important part of development and factor reforms agenda.
Image Source: TOI