AGRARIAN TRANSFORMATION AND LAND REFORMS


 

 AGRARIAN TRANSFORMATION AND LAND REFORMS

10.1 INTRODUCTION
India has witnessed enormous agrarian transformation in the post-independence period. This
has occurred due to the policies introduced by the state, which included land reforms, community
development programmes, Green Revolution and several welfare schemes. As a result of the
agrarian transformation a set of new classes and have emerged in rural society, while old
groups or classes have either disappeared or have got transformed. The agrarian transformation
has affected politics in India to a significant extent. This unit discusses the agrarian transformation
in India and reasons for this transformation including the impart of land reforms.

10.2 LAND REFORMS

10.2.1 Zamindari Abolition
The first attempt to bring about the agrarian transformation was by the implementation of land
reforms by states in India. Immediately after independence zamindari abolition bills or land
tenure legislations were introduced in a number of states as UP, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Madras
and Assam. Land reforms in India may be divided in to two phases. The first phase of land
reforms started almost immediately after independence. It focused on institutional reforms and
lasted till the early sixties, aimed at abolition of the intermediaries like zamindars and jagirdars.
It provided ownership of land to the tenants or the security of tenure to tenants, reduction in
rents and conferment of ownership rights on tenants. Another feature of this phase of land
reforms was ceilings on landholdings. Apart from achieving these goals, the land reforms of this
phase also aimed at community development programmes and cooperatives. The origin of the
second phase can be traced to the middle of late sixties. This phase marked the beginning of the
Green Revolution in India. Green Revolution attempted to introduce technological changes in
certain states of the country, where favourable conditions for such change existed. Some of
these states were Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. It introduce dHYV (High
Yielding Varieties of Seeds), new technology like tractors and irrigation facilities, etc. The main
focus of the second phase has been technological reforms. The land reforms i.e., zamindari
abolition and Green Revolution have brought tremendous changes in the agrarian sector. It has
affected not only the ownership pattern but also impacted discernible changes in social structure,
pattern of dominance and the complexion of politics. The first phase of the land reforms especially
the abolition of land reforms, were result of the impact of the peasant movements in the pre-independence period. Leaders like NG Ranga and Charan Singh played very decisive role in it.
The second phase of land reform were implemented by the Indian government to make India
self-sufficient in food production.

A major problem faced at the time of implementation of zamindari abolition act was the absence
of adequate land records. By the year 1956 the intermediaries (zamindars and jagirdars) were
abolished through a peaceful democratic method without use of coercive method. Because
mostly the zamindars had sided with the British during the freedom struggle so they were an
isolated class. The abolition of the zamindari changed the status of nearly twenty million tenants
who now became landowners. The compensation paid to the zamindars in exchange of the
acquisition of estates was generally small and it varied from area to area.

The zamindari abolition Acts in different parts of the country suffered from many weaknesses.
In UP the zamindars were permitted to retain land under their personal cultivation. Personal
cultivation was so loosely defined that it included even those who only supervised land personally
or even through a relative or provided only capital or credit. This was not in conformity with the
Kumarappa Committee report on agrarian reforms. The committee appointed by the Congress
Party in its report in 1949 had held that only those could be said to be doing personal cultivation
that put in a minimum amount of physical labour and engaged in actual agricultural operation. To
undermine the full impact of the zamindari abolition the zamindars resorted to other obstructionist
technique. Various techniques were used to delay the passage of such bills by the state legislatures.
Then the landlords took recourse to litigation to delay implementation of the zamindari abolition
laws. The collusion between the zamindars and the bureaucracy made the implementation of
zamindari abolition even more difficult. The zamindars could put resistance through all the three
arms of the government executive, legislature and judiciary. In spite of all these obstructionist
measures resorted to by the landlords the objective of zamindari abolition was achieved except
for some pockets of Bihar within ten years of independence.

Only half of the land at the time of Independence was under zamindari system but the practice
of tenancy existed even in the other half of the area, which were under the ryotwari system.
Another important component of land reform–tenancy reform was also implemented not without
hurdles. The legislations aiming at tenancy reforms passed by legislatures of different states and
the methods of their implementation differed immensely because of different political and economic
situation prevalent in different parts of the country. Apart from these differences tenancy reform
legislations all over the country shared some common objectives. The manner of their
implementation also led to the emergence of some broad features. These reforms aimed at three
main objectives. The first objective was to provide security of tenure to those tenants who had
cultivated a piece of land without break for a fixed number of years. The exact number of years
differed from region to region. Another objective of the tenancy reforms was reduction of rents
paid by tenants to a just level. This ranged between one fourth to one sixth of the value of the
produce of the leased land. Yet another objective of the tenancy reforms was to give to the
tenants the ownership right over the land they cultivated. That is why the second plan envisaged
that very small landowners could resume self-cultivation over their entire land. This provision
was made to safeguard the interests of very small landowners but with the connivance of the
bureaucracy it was misused by big landowners for their benefit. The big landowners transferred
their lands in the name of their relatives and others to get the tag of small landowners and evict
the tenants exercising the right of resumption given to small landowners. The big landowners
had indulged in dilatory tactics in both the enactment and implementation of the legislations to
get enough time to evict the tenants from their lands who could have benefited from the law. The
thing that compounded the problems of the tenants was that most of the tenancies were oral
without any records. Such tenants could not benefit from any legislation in their favour. In spite
of all these limitations of tenancy legislations succeeded in providing security and even permanent
occupancy rights to a substantial proportion of the tenants. The Operation Barga launched by
the Left Front government of West Bengal in 1978 aimed at the objective of a time bound
registration of share-croppers to give them occupancy rights and a crop division of 1:3 between
the landowner and the sharecropper. A remarkable aspect of the Operation Barga experiment
was that it involved the targeted beneficiaries to neutralise the negative role played by revenue
officials and thus making tenancy reforms a great success.

Another important component of the land reforms in the first phase was imposition of ceilings on
the size of landholdings. The objective of fixing land ceiling was linked with more equitable
distribution of landholding. The idea of fixing a ceiling on landholdings and distributing the surplus
land among the landless was faced with stiff opposition everywhere. It was seen as a threat to
the right to property. Even the tenants who had benefited from the zamindari abolition and had
become landowners opposed this next step of the land reforms. N.G. Ranga, Secretary of the
Congress Parliamentary Party had sent a letter signed by hundred members of parliament
criticising the idea of ceilings on landholdings to Nehru. Leaders who were not very enthusiastic
about this idea dominated state legislatures. That is why they caused the delay in passing legislation
for this purpose. Both the inordinate delay in the passage of such legislation and the nature of the
legislation undermined its impact. It succeeded in releasing little surplus land for distribution
among the landless. Ceiling laws could not deliver much because of its major shortcomings.
One such shortcoming was that in India more than seventy per cent of the landholdings were
less than five acres while the ceilings fixed by the states were very high. Another problem was
that initially the ceilings were imposed on individuals not holdings among family members and
relations and save themselves from ceiling laws. Another provision in this law was that if the size
of the family was more than five members then the ceiling limit could go up at times even by
hundred per cent as was the case in Bihar. The second plan recommended that certain categories
of land could be exempted from ceilings. This recommendation led to most of the states giving
exemptions of different kinds. These exemptions included tea, coffee and rubber plantations,
farms used for cattle breeding, dairy and efficiently managed farms on which heavy investments
had been made. The intention was not to hinder capitalist farming. But the idea of efficiently
managed farm was so vague that it was used by very large number of landlords to get themselves
declared efficient farmers and flout the provisions of the ceiling laws. Even the long delay caused
in first getting the legislation passed through state legislature and then in implementation to a very
large extent defeated its purpose. The landowners used this delay to either sell their lands or
transfer them in the names of family members or relatives. At times they even resorted to benami
transfers. The landowners used this delay to evict the tenants from their lands. The ineffectiveness
of the ceiling legislations is borne out by the fact that while the ceiling legislations were passed
by most of the states by the end of 1961 till the end of 1970 not a single acre was declared
surplus in large states like Bihar, Mysore, Kerala, Orissa and Rajasthan.

10.2.2 Cooperative Societies
Another important component of the first phase of land reforms was to encourage setting up of
the cooperative societies in agriculture. It could be termed as cooperativisation of agriculture.
Many of the top leaders of the Congress Party including Nehru and Gandhi along with the
leaders of the Socialist and the Communist Parties were convinced about the benefit of
cooperativisation. They shared this view that it would lead to major improvement in agriculture
and which would also be beneficial to the poor. Cooperativisation constituted an important
component of the fist phase of land reforms. But the goal of cooprativisation was also faced
with the problem. Like in the case of land reforms there existed no consensus in favour of it
among the peasantry. The Kumarappa committee on Agrarian Reforms set up by Congress
Party in 1949 recommended that the states should be empowered to enforce the application of
varying degree of cooperation for different types of farmings. The family farmers could use
cooperative societies for marketing, credit and other matters.

The first five year plan recommended that small and medium farmers should be encouraged to
group themselves in to cooperative farming societies. Another recommendation of the same
plan was also that if majority of the occupancy tenants and landowners owing at least half of the
land in a village wanted to enter into cooperative arrangement of the village land, their decision
should be binding on other residents of the village also. The second five year plan declared that
its objective was to provide sound foundations for the development of cooperative farming so
that substantial portion of land could be cultivated on the lines of cooperative within a period of
ten years.

In the field of cooperativisation China was the model because it had achieved dramatic results
in agricultural production and extension of infrastructure through cooperativisation. In the middle
of 1956 two Indian delegations consisting of the leaders of the cooperative movement, members
of parliament bureaucrats with experience in the field of cooperatives and technical experts
were sent to China to gain from their experience. The Nagpur Resolution of the Congress Party
in 1959 underlined the twin needs of village panchayats and village cooperatives. This resolution
also emphasised that these institutions should have enough powers and functions to discharge
the functions allotted to them satisfactorily. This resolution aimed at achieving the goals of joint
cooperative farming within and period of three years. The programme of cooperativisation was
subjected to severe criticism both in the press and on the floor of the parliament. Apprehensions
were expressed that this programme was a step towards ending private property and would
lead to expropriation of the landed classes. Even senior Congress leaders like N G Ranga, C.
Rajgopalachari and Charan Singh accused this programme of being totalitarian. They were of
the view that Communist programmes were being imposed on India. To allay such apprehensions
Nehru assured in the parliament no coervice method was going to be used to implement the
programme of cooperativisation. The strong criticism of the 1959 Nagpur resolution of the
Congress Party weakened the resolve of the Congress to go ahead with the intent of the original
resolution. A climb down was reflected in the Congress proposal put forward to set up service
cooperatives all over the country within a period of three years and leaving the idea of setting up
farm cooperatives in the cold storage. Even the objective of setting up service cooperatives did
not succeed. State Congress leaders did not evince much of interest. The plan was finally
abandoned in 1959. The third five year plan further watered down the objective of
cooperativisation. So far as cooperative farming was concerned, it aimed at setting up ten pilot
projects in every district. It also made it clear that cooperative farming had to develop through
the community development movement. It could come about with cooperation in credit, marketing,
distribution and processing. It is obvious that the third five year plan did not have any concrete
plan of action on how to achieve the goals of cooperativisation.

The cooperative movement in India cannot be called a success. As far as joint farming was
concerned two types of cooperatives had come up. The first type of cooperatives had come up
to avoid the provisions of ceiling and tenancy laws. The influential members of big land holding
families gave bogus membership to agricultural labours and ex-tenants to keep the management
of the cooperatives in their hand flout the provisions of land ceiling and tenancy legislation and at
the same time benefiting from financial assistance, improved seeds, fertilizers made available by
the state. Another type of cooperative farms was where poor quality of land was made available
to poor landless labour and dalits. These lands had non-existent irrigation facility. These were
government sponsored cooperative farms. They lacked initiative and motivation. They proved
to be an expensive affair without any commensurate returns.

Service cooperatives did not do that badly. Yet, they faced some major shortcomings. They re-enforced the hierarchical structure of the rural economy. The office bearers of these cooperatives
invariably came from families that not only controlled land but also trade and money lending. By
capturing the key positions in these cooperatives these influential families could corner the benefits
like agricultural inputs and credits. The rural notables used the funds of the credit societies for
their business and some times even for money lending. These institutions were virtually taken
over by the dominant sections of villages. The benefit of these organisations was not reaching
the poor in the countryside. The cooperatives insisted on giving loans against land as security.
This virtually ruled out the benefit of credit to landless but enterprising farmers. The report of the
All India Credit Review Committee, 1969 and the Interim Report on Credit Services for Small
and Marginal farmers by the National Commission on Agriculture in 1971 confirmed the virtual
exclusion of the landless and only nominal benefits reaching to small and marginal farmers. One
of the major weaknesses of the Cooperative movement was bureaucratic nature of its approach
to the problem. The cooperative societies resembled any other government department at state,
district or block level. Even the officials of this department were amenable to pressure and
influence from local notables. Another defect that plagued the cooperative credit societies was
the recovery of loans. Surprisingly the defaulters were not only the poor and small farmers but
also the well to do farmers.

10.2.3 Bhoodan Movement
Bhoodan {land-gift} Movement launched in April 1951 by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. The purpose
of this movement was to appeal to the landowning classes to donate their surplus land to the
poor. But the method adopted for this purpose by the movement was completely different from
the one used in the abolition of Zamindari. Inspired by Gandhian technique the Sarvodya Samaj
of Vinoba Bhave used the ideal of non-violent method of social transformation in to Bhoodan
movement. The Vinoba Bhave and his band of followers traveled through villages on foot
requesting the large landowners to donate one sixth of their land as bhoodan for distribution
among the landless. Although the movement claimed to be independent, yet it enjoyed the
support of the Congress Party. The All India Congress Committee had urged the Congressmen
to support the movement.

Vinoba Bhave’s experiment of Bhoodan started in 1951 Pochampali village in the
Telangana region of Andhra. The choice of Telangna was significant because that area still felt
reverberation of the armed peasant revolt led by the Communist Party of India. After its
considerable success in Andhra the movement shifted to the northern part of the country. In
north Bhoodan was experimented in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In its initial years this movement
achieved considerable amount of success in receiving land gift and distributing them. But after
the initial years of success the movement lost its vitality. A problem faced by the Bhoodan
movement was that a good part of the land donated was simply not fit for cultivation. There
were no takers for such land.

In 1955 Vinoba Bhave’s experiment took another form, the form of gram-dan (village-gift). The
idea had its origin in Gandhian belief that all the land belonged to God. This movement was
launched from a village in Orissa. In gram dan villages the movement declared that all the land
was owned collectively or equally. The movement was very successful in Orissa. Later on it
was launched in Maharashtra, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. The movement was particularly
successful in tribal areas of the country where class differentiation had not yet appeared and
there was very little disparity in ownership pattern. By the sixties both bhoodan and gram-dan
had come to an end.

Many critiques dismiss the movement bhoodan and gram-dan as utopian. There is
another charge against the movement that it stifled class-consciousness of the poor and
the landless and served as a brake on the revolutionary potential of the peasants. It seems
that a proper assessment of the Bhoodan and Gramdan movement is still to be made.
The remarkable thing about this movement was that it aimed at the goal of equitable
distribution of land not through government legislation but through a movement
involving concerned people. And it did so without use of any violent or coercive method but
by appealing to the good sense of big landowners. Apart from the considerable success this
movement achieved, it also succeeded in creating sufficient propaganda and agitation for
redistribution of land.

10.2.4 Green Revolution
The Green Revolution has been the main plank of the second phase of the land reforms. After
independence in the rural sector the main focus was on institutional reforms in agriculture. By
the late fifties and early sixties benefits from land reforms was reaching its limit. Around this time
Nehru realised the need of technological solutions. The New Agricultural Strategy of picking up
select areas with certain natural advantages for intensive development with package programme.
The Intensive Agricultural District Programme was launched in the third five year plan. This
programme picked up one district from each of the fifteen states on an experimental basis. In
spite of these traces of the New Agricultural strategy the big push to it came only in the middle
of the sixties. India was faced with chronic food shortage. The country had to resort to import
of food grain from America under an agreement called PL480. In Bihar and UP there existed a
famine like situation. In this kind of background some critical breakthrough in agricultural science
showing promises of higher growth and possible solution of the food shortage launched India on
the path of Green Revolution. The New Agricultural Strategy received wholehearted support
from Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Food Minister C. Subramaniam and Indira Gandhi
who succeeded Shastri after his sudden death as Prime Minister.

The areas with assured irrigation and other natural and institutional advantages were
provided with critical inputs like High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds, chemical fertilizers and
pesticides. Farmers in these areas were also given agricultural machinery like tractors, pumps–
sets and tube–wells at convenient terms. They could avail the facility of soil testing agricultural
credits and guidance from agricultural universities. Apart from providing these facilities to the
farmers the government also set up an Agricultural Prices Commission in 1965. The purpose of
this commission was to promise sustained remunerative price to the farmers. In this way the
package of public investment, institutional credit, remunerative prices and easy availability of
technological help made agriculture a profitable proposition. This New Agricultural Strategy or
the Green Revolution led to phenomenal growth in agricultural production. Between 1968 to
1971 food grain production rose by 35 per cent. Very soon India buried its begging bowl image
and by the 1980s emerged as a country not only with buffer food stock but also as a food
supplier.

There has been a criticism of the Green Revolution that it further accentuated regional inequalities
by focussing on areas that already had some advantages. Scholars like G.S. Bhalla are of the
view that over a period of time the benefits of Green Revolution have gone to all agrarian
classes in varying degrees. Its benefits are also no more limited to any particular region of the
country only. Another charge against the Green Revolution was that it was making the rich
richer and the poor even poorer. Daniel Thorner and Wolf Ladejinsky both confirm this charge.
According to them while inequality increased the poor including small farmers and landless
labour benefited from the Green Revolution.

10.3 IMPACT OF LAND REFORMS: AGRARIAN

TRANSFORMATION

10.3.1 The Kulaks
Land reforms, especially the Zamindari abolition and Green Revolution had enormous impact
on the agrarian transformation. On the one hand these accelerated the agriculture growth; on
the other, entire pattern of the relations in agriculture underwent transformation. The latter was
reflected in the rise of a class of economically and politically powerful groups in several parts of
India. They came to be popularly known as Kulaks or rich farmers. L.H. Rudolph and Sussan
Rudolph categoried them as “bullock capitalists”. These groups emerged to control the political
affairs in several states, and from the 1990s they have become influential in the national politic as
well. In terms of the caste composition, they belonged to the intermediary castes like Jats,
Yadavs, Lodhs, Gujars, Kurmie, etc., in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan;
Marathas in Maharastra; Lingayats and Vokaliggas in Karnataka; and Reddies and Kammas in
Andhra Pradesh. They have been identified as the OBCs in the states inhabited by them. Having
become the owners of land following the Zamindari abolition, they benefited from the modern
technologies and inputs through Green Revolution. The land reforms made them the most powerful
groups in the agrarian society in many regions of the country. The emergence also resulted in the
decline of the erstwhile dominant groups. The developments, however, did not benefit the socially
and economically vulnerable groups – dalits and the lower backward classes. The welfare
measures like the poverty alleviation programmes, etc. have been mainly the populist measures.
Besides, these have been hampered by large scale corruption. Nevertheless, due to the spread
of education, awareness and impart of the ideas of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and mass media, there
has been the assertion of dalits in certain including the rural areas states like Uttar Pradesh. The
emergence of the Bahujan Samaj Party is an indication of this.

Kulaks or rich farmers have made their presence felt through their political parties and non-political organisations. The first example of such attempt was foundation of the Bharatiya
Kranti Dal (BKD) by Charan Singh. In the late 1970s and 1980s – the organisation like
the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in North India, Shetkari Sangathan in Maharastra
and Karnataka Ryat Sangha in Karnataka played important role in articulating the interests of
Kulaks.

10.3.2 The Small Farmers and Landless Labourers
In the 1960s and 1970s large part of the country witnessed the emergence of the movement of
the small farmers and landless labour. This movement started from Naxalbari in West Bengal
and very soon spread to different parts of country like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa till the
end of the 60s. In 1970 a land grab movement of the landless led by the Socialist Party and the
Communist Party of India was witnessed in Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra
Pradesh and Bihar. Although these movements could not achieve much yet they succeeded in
attracting the attention of the countrymen towards agrarian question. The Left front government
introduced land reforms in West Bengal during its tenure. This ensured the security to the tenants
and land to the tiller. In 1970 while addressing Chief Ministers conference on land reforms the
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held that the cause of discontent in the countryside was the failure
of the land reforms to meet the expectation of the people in the countryside. Reduction in ceiling
limits was the main proposal discussed in this conference. Most of the Chief Ministers rejected
this proposal. Then this matter was referred to the Central Land Reforms Committee. This
committee made quite a few recommendations in 1971. The 1972 Chief Ministers’ conference
approved some national guidelines for reforms in India. The national guidelines made a departure
from the history of ceiling legislation in India. It reduced the ceiling limits on all categories of
lands. Family, not individual was taken as unit for the purpose of ceiling. Preference was to be
given to landless labourers, particularly belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in
distribution of surplus lands. The compensation this time was much below the market price. The
landowners again went to court and indulged in other deceitful methods to undermine the ceiling
laws. Nevertheless, in the 1970s the ceiling legislation moderately succeeded in its objective of
collecting and distributing surplus land. Another good thing was that the major-beneficiaries of
the ceiling laws this time were the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

 

 

About k.vero

Philosopher King
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