Land reform in India
Land Reform refers to efforts to reform the ownership and regulation of land in India.
Land distribution has been part of India’s state policy from the very beginning. Independent India’s most revolutionary land policy was perhaps the abolition of the Zamindari system (feudal land holding practices). Land-reform policy in India had two specific objectives: "The first is to remove such impediments to increase in agricultural production as arise from the agrarian structure inherited from the past. The second objective, which is closely related to the first, is to eliminate all elements of exploitation and social injustice within the agrarian system, to provide security for the tiller of soil and assure equality of status and opportunity to all sections of the rural population.” (Government of India 1961 as quoted by Appu 1996)
There are four main categories of reforms:
- Abolition of intermediaries (rent collectors under the pre-Independence land revenue system);
- Tenancy regulation (to improve the contractual terms including security of tenure);
- A ceiling on landholdings (to redistributing surplus land to the landless);
- Attempts to consolidate disparate landholdings;
- encouragement of cooperative joint farming;
- settlement and regulation of tenancy.
Since its independence in 1947, there has been voluntary and state initiated/mediated land reforms in several states with dual objective of efficient use of land  and ensuring social justice. The most notable and successful example of land reforms are in the states of West Bengal and Kerala. Other than these state sponsored attempts of reforming land ownership and control, there was another attempt to bring changes in the regime which achieved limited success; famously known as Bhoodan movement (Government of India, Ministry of Rural Development 2003, Annex XXXIX). Some other research has shown that during the movement, in Vidarbha region, 14 percent of the land records are incomplete, thus prohibiting transfer to the poor. 24 percent of the land promised had never actually become part of the movement. The Gramdan which arguably took place in 160,000 pockets did not legalise the process under the state laws (Committee on Land Reform 2009, 77, Ministry of Rural Development).
After promising land reforms and elected to power in West Bengal in 1977, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) kept their word and initiated gradual land reforms, such as Operation Barga. The result was a more equitable distribution of land among the landless farmers, and enumeration of landless farmers. This has ensured an almost lifelong loyalty from the farmers and the communists were in power till 2011 assembly election.
In land reform in Kerala, the only other large state where the CPI(M) came to power, state administrations have actually carried out the most extensive land, tenancy and agrarian labour wage reforms in the non-socialist late-industrialising world. Another successful land reform program was launched in Jammu and Kashmir after 1947.
All in all, land reforms have been successful only in pockets of the country, as people have often found loopholes in the laws that set limits on the maximum area of land that is allowed to be held by any one person.
The following table shows land ceilings for each state in India.
|No.||State||Ceiling (family)||Ceiling (individual)||Companies||Exempted from ceiling|
|1||Kerala||10 standard acres (up to 5 members); 15 standard acres (more than 10 members)||5 standard acres||Plantations|
|2||Tamil Nadu||30 standard acres (up to 5 members); 35 standard acres (6 members); 40 standard acres (more than 6 members)||30 standard acres||15 standard acres||Plantations|
|3||West Bengal||24.7 acres||mills, factories, workshop, tea gardens, livestock breeding farm, poultry farm, dairy, industrial park or industrial hub or industrial estate, fishery, transportation or terminal, logistic hub, township, financial hub, logistic hub, educational and medical institutions, oil and gas products piped transportation, and mining and allied activities|
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