Land reforms are visualized as an instrument of social justice as they seek to do away with exploitative relationships characterized by the sharp class division between rich landowning classes and impoverished peasants with no security of tenure. It is a step against the concentration of landholdings in the hands of a few absentee/non-cultivating owners, through the imposition of ceilings on the size of holdings, which can be owned by a family. Although land reforms are popularly understood to mean redistribution of land, their scope is much wider. NEED FOR LAND REFORMS The need for land reform is felt due to the following reasons

  • It is an instrument of both direct and indirect poverty reduction.
  • It results in greater agricultural asset ownership and improved income for small farmers.
  • It increases employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.
  • It ensures security and increased access to credit for small rural producers.
  • It enhances agricultural incomes leading to increased demand for tradable commodities and manufactured goods, stemming from both expanded agricultural potential and a general increase in consumer demand.
  • It sponsors greater household and national food security.
  • It protects and strengthens the rights of indigenous small farmer groups.
  • It strengthens the rights and well-being of women agricultural labor, leading to greater gender equity.
  • It provides direct support to vulnerable groups, including the old, the youth and those affected by physical and mental disabilities.
  • It encourages the conservation and management of ecological balance thus preventing encroachment on common property resources such as forests and pastures.
  • It reduces migration of rural unemployed segment of the population to urban areas.
  • Restructuring agrarian relations to achieve an egalitarian social structure
  • Eliminating exploitation in land relations
  • Realizing the age-old goal of land to the tiller
  • Increasing agricultural production, infusing equality in society.
Land reforms alter the power structure, both economic and political since the land has always been a source of wealth, income, status and a reflection of the interlocking class and caste structure of Indian society. It empowers the actual tillers of the soil and enables them to seek development benefits from the state. Thus, they are also a means of increasing agricultural production through land development, as the interest of peasants in investing in the land they own grows significantly. Apart from this, land reforms would also enable a more equitable distribution of land, which in turn will generate incomes on a more equitable basis. The generation of such incomes will lead to greater demand for industrial goods through increased purchasing power among the lowest sections of society who do not possess any land whatsoever. Thus, land reforms are seen as a way of not only increasing income and employment in the agricultural sector but also in the industrial sector. Land Reforms encompass mainly five components Proposals on land reform The first major landmark in land policy came with the report of the Congress Agrarian ReformCommittee, 1949, under the chairmanship of J.C. Kumarappa.
Elimination of all intermediaries between the state and the actual tillers of the soil.
Fixation of a reasonable rent.
Detailed proposals on land reforms were set out in the Second Plan, they are:
  • The abolition of intermediaries
  • Tenancy reforms (regulation of rent, the security of tenure for tenants, and conferment of ownership on them) ceiling on land holdings
  • Agrarian reorganization
  • Including consolidation of holdings and prevention of subdivision and fragmentation.
The Eighth Plan (1992-97) stressed that landlessness is a root cause of rural poverty. The Plan set seven objectives of land reforms as follows:
  • Restructuring of agrarian relations to achieve egalitarian social structure
  • Elimination of exploitation in land relations
  • The actualization of the goal of “land to the tiller
  • Improvement of the socio-economic conditions of the rural poor by widening their land base
  • Increasing agricultural productivity and production
  • Facilitating land-based development of the rural poor
  • Infusion of a greater measure of equality in local institutions.
Keeping all these proposals in view, the National Agricultural Policy (2000) gave emphasis to the following issues to be accorded utmost attention for rural development and land reforms:
  • Consolidation of holdings all over the country on the pattern of North-Western States.
  • Redistribution of ceiling surplus lands and wastelands among the landless farmers, unemployed youth together with some initial startup capital.
  • Tenancy reforms to recognize the rights of the tenants and sharecroppers;
  • Updating, improvement in and computerization of land records and issuing land pass-books to farmers
  • Recognition of women’s rights on land
  • It abolished all rights of zamindars and jagirdars and put a ban on further acquisition of land.
  • Abolition of intermediary tenures was effected on payment of compensation to the land-owners.
  • The vast mass of the peasantry was freed from all illegal extractions in cash, kind, and services.
  • Land records were created and survey and settlement were carried out in these areas.
  • Holdings were demarcated on the basis of the individual as a unit
TENANCY REFORMS Leasing of land on a large scale in areas where the settlement was made directly with the ryots and sub-leasing where intermediaries existed, were common practices in the past. Rents were high and there was very little security of tenure. Three important guidelines were laid down by the Plans, which became the major components of tenancy reform. They are:
  • Rent should not exceed one-fifth to one-fourth of the gross produce
  • All tenancies should be declared non-resumable and permanent (i.e. security of tenure was ensured) except in certain specified circumstances
  • In respect of non-resumable land, the landlord-tenant relationship should be terminated by conferring ownership rights on tenants.
CEILING ON LAND HOLDINGS In January 1959, at the Nagpur Conference of the Indian National Congress, it was resolved that agrarian legislation to cover restrictions on the size of land holdings must be implemented in all states by the end of 1959. The idea was to reduce the extent of inequality in the ownership of land. It was realized that social inequalities and exploitation cannot be eliminated unless ceilings are imposed and the surplus lands are distributed among the landless and marginal workers. The policy on the ceiling, however, remained unclear. Finally, it was introduced in two phases. CONSOLIDATION OF HOLDINGS Sub-division and fragmentation of holdings chiefly arise from the customary practice of partitioning of the land among the heirs. As a result, in successive generations, holdings not only become smaller but also get dispersed in fragments. The growing population only increases the pace of this process. On the other hand, consolidation of fragmented holdings helps in improving agricultural production as well as in providing common services to smallholders. Consolidation of holdings was attempted in isolated experiments in different parts of the country, mainly under the aegis of the cooperative movement. COMPILATION AND UPDATING OF LAND RECORDS The report of the Committee on ‘Revitalisation of Land Revenue Administration’ brought out by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) in 1995 could be termed as the first systematic attempt at bringing about uniformity into the chaotic affairs of land records existing in different states. The Committee made some revolutionary recommendations such as:
  • Transferring Land Administration to Panchayati Raj Institutions
  • Renaming the revenue department as Land Administration Department
  • Merging the offices of the Sub-Registrar and Tahsildar for better maintenance of land records.
The Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) brought out a Vision Document for Computerisation of Land Records in 1999 to bring uniformity in land administration. This document, for the first time, spoke about the standardisation of a Land Information System for and the identification of ‘core data fields’ across the country, which would be useful for planning purposes, implementation of uniform modern procedures to conduct surveys and generate land records, conversion of Land Records Administration into a financially self-sustaining activity, etc. Formulating and implementing the national policy on land records in the new millennium is now due. NEW DEVELOPMENTS: CO-OPERATIVE TO CONTRACT FARMING Co-operative farming movement in India, however, failed to achieve its much-repeated objective of raising farm productivity. The Fourth Plan (1969-74) reviewed the progress and stated that although co-operative farming had been officially accepted, no substantial progress was made in actual practice. In the subsequent Plans, therefore, no special effort was made to organize any co-operative farms. Now, contract farming arrangements are coming up as an alternative device for achieving the same twin objectives
  • Raising farm productivity
  • Increasing the earnings of small farmers.
  • It should be helpful in providing the necessary forward and backward linkages to agriculture as well as to agro-processing industries.
  • It provides for a contractual arrangement between the industry and the raw material producing farmers.
  • The industry provides a forward linkage to the farmers in terms of purchasing their produce and backward linkage in the form of assured supply of all critical inputs.
  • Contract farming helps in raising the yields and income of the farmers irrespective of farm sizes. Contract Farming is a halfway house between independent farm production and corporate/captive
  • For small farmers, it is advisable to operate as a group in order to successfully manage a contract with any user industry.
  • It requires reduced capital investment, and at the same time, the farmers/growers are protected from risks of price fluctuations. They are also provided with technical assistance from agro-processing industries.
BHOODAN MOVEMENT Based on the Gandhian ideals of non-violent social revolution, i.e., on love and innate goodness of man, it aimed at the welfare of the common man, especially the downtrodden and the proletariat.
  • The leadership of the Bhoodan Movement fell on Vinoba Bhave who was taken by people as a 'Saint'. He moved from village to village and propagated the gospels of
  • The movement started in 195 1 when Telangana peasant movement on the land question reached the peak.
  • It was a violent struggle launched by poor peasants against the local landlords.
  • Vinoba looked into the problem and came out with a novel solution, viz., the landlord’s voluntary gift of land would help in solving the problems of landlessness in India.
  • This would pave the way for a non-violent radical solution born out of love and not out of hatred.
  • In village Pochampali, in Telangana District one Ram Chandra Reddy created history by donating 100 acres of land to Vinoba in response to his appeal.
Concept of Gramdan
  • The initial objective of the movement was to secure voluntary donations of land and distribute it to the landless.
  • However, the movement soon came out with a demand for 1/6th share of land from all landowners.
  • In 1952, the movement had widened the concept of Gramdan (village-in-gift) and had started advocating commercial ownership of land.
A village should take three steps before it earns the title of a Gramdan village. These are:
  • The villagers who opt for Gramdan should agree to transfer the title deeds of all their land in favor of a legally constituted village assembly (Gram Sabha)
  • That the village assembly should be constituted beforehand and
  • Village fund meant for social welfare measures and economic development should be created.
  • Once these conditions are fulfilled, the reconstruction of the Gramdan village will start. Though the notion of Gramdan emerged in 1952, the first systematic attempt to define it was made in 1957.
  • If 80% of the landowners are prepared to give up their ownership of land, the village had to be considered as a Gramdan. Even if the landowners are ready to give up 5 1% of their total land, it is accepted as satisfying the laid down condition.
  • In 1965, the definition of Gramdan was further diluted to include the landowners who would give up the only 1/20th of their land for distribution to the landless.
  • The new arrangement was called Sulnbh Gramdan. It was accepted at a time when the movement was in decline.                                       
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