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Land Reforms Post Independence

Purpose & Need.

Purpose of land reforms was to eradication of rural poverty and huger. The proposition of land reform was based on the socialistic idea of redistributive justice.

The need of land reforms arose due to colonial policies. In attempt to secure maximum revenue, British employed several policies and it resulted in accumulation of land with few individual.
Peasants and labourers participated in national freedom movement and land reforms was one of the promises of Congress.

According to Daniel Thorner, India is the most interesting study of land reforms, considering the largest body of land reform legislations and extremely large number of poor and hungry people.

What Land Reforms indicate in India?

In case of India, land reforms meant institutional reform (state led), aimed at addressing concentration of wealth and giving land to landless.

Constitutional provisions.

1] Directive Principles Art 39(b) and 39© makes it a constitutional obligation on Indian state to address the concentration of wealth and economic resources.
2] From 44th Amendment Act 1978, Right to Property is no more a fundamental right.
3] 9th Schedule introduced by 1st Amendment Act contains large number of land reform legislation.

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Types of Land Reforms.

1] Intermediary (zamindars, zagirdars etc.) Abolition.

This is the only successful aspect of land reforms. The main aim was to bring the cultivator into direct relationship with the government. 
Zamindars were few in number and had remained isolated during national movement. They were seen as a part of imperialist camp, and therefore, after independence, it was easier to abolish zamindari. In addition, most of the zamindars also received heavy compensation.
However, it could not achieve the objectives of rural poverty, inequalities and agrarian relations. V soon, zamindars established rural industries, rice mills and brought land under self-cultivation.

2] Tenancy reforms.

Ideas was to give security to tenants. Tenancy reforms are also comparatively successful. The most successful models are Kerala and West Bengal (Operation Banga). Tenancy reforms benefitted intermediary castes.

3] Land Ceiling.

Land ceiling was very crucial for land distribution. But it remained one of the most weakest aspect. Laws with loopholes came into existence, people protected their land by dividing joint family, benami transfers and even gave formal divorce to the wife to protect land.

4] Distribution of surplus land.

It was the most important aspect of land reforms to address poverty. One of the vision of land reforms was land to the tillers. However, there is very limited distribution that has taken place. Even government up till now, has not been able to distribute whatever it has acquired.

5] Consolidation of land holding and establishment of cooperatives.

It was the next logical step. However, even cooperative movement has been a failure. Whatever cooperative movements has come into existence, e.g. in Maharashtra, it is not cooperative but joint stock company or rich farmers.

Since 1990s, the type of developmental model India has followed, has adversaly impacted even the interest of rich farmers. Agriculture has been worst affected by liberalization. Agricultural growth has stagnated. Rural areas are suffering from the problem of hunger and malnutrition even when procured grain is rotting in warehouses.

Causes of Land Reform failure.

1] Lack of political will.
2] The presence of dominant caste in Congress.
3] Lack of organized peasant movement in the country.
4] Lack of land records.
5] Corruption.

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Views of Scholars.

Gunnar Myrdal calls India a soft state and that is a reason that even person like Pt. Nehru failed to achieve success in land reforms.

Atul Kohli suggests that state in India lacks political and organizational capacity to confront the power of propertied class. He gives example of Kerala and West Bengal where land reforms could be successful because of the ideology of the party and because the base of communist party was among poor. On the other hand, despite rhetoric, Congress continued to be the party of the dominant class.

According to Francine Frankel, the accommodative politics pursued by Indian state has jeopardized the radical agenda.

Sudipto Kaviraj and Pranab Bardhan both believe that state in India expresses the interest of bourgeoise class. There has been unenthusiastic implementation because of disproportionate influence of propertied class.

We can also apply the concept of ‘overdeveloped state’ given by Hamza Alvi in Indian context.


1] The importance of land reforms and any redistributive strategy have lost the imagination. In contemporary times, it appears to be an outdated approach. Hence it is responsibility of the intellectual class to bring the agenda of land reforms in public sphere and matter of public reasoning.
2] It is the responsibility of civil society to organize peasants and landless laborers to create pressure on government.
3] GOI should start taking the issue seriously, because failure of land reforms, failure to address rural poverty and hunger, malnutrition issues has resulted into left-wing extremism in some parts of the nation.
4] There is a need to strengthen legal machinery, address loopholes, maintain land records, utilize NGOs for identification of beneficiaries etc.
5] Govt. can constitute Lok Adalat to dispose off, the old legal disputes.
6] Prevent agricultural land transferred, for non-agricultural uses.
7] Union govt. has proposed Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act 2016. This act should be enacted by states to ease agriculture land leasing…

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Mr Blue

Correction suggested: It is Operation Barga, not Operation Banga

Himanshu Kaul

Just a small correction: It’s Sudipta Kaviraj not Sudipto Kaviraj

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