Land Reforms in India: History, Objectives and Measures

Land Reforms in India: The pattern of agriculture is always irregular in India. In the pre-independence era, tenants, peasants, and small farmers suffered a lot due to the revenue systems of Mahalwari, Zamindari, ryotwari. One of the major reasons was the unequal distribution of land. Landholdings were concentrated in few hands. The majority of farmers were being exploited. The struggle of class between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was not a new thing. After independence, it was pivotal and need of an hour to focus upon land distribution checks. Especially, it was the rural population that was facing the maximum hindrance in socio-economic development.

Land reforms policy:

The idea of land reforms was taken from communist countries to balance the structure of landholdings. The term stands for the management of land distribution through various institutional measures and policies. Large cultivators are entitled to very large acres of land and this increases the gap between the rich and the poor. The steps were taken to improve the agro-economic situation prevailing for a long time ago.

Objectives of land reforms:

Land reforms have a very important position in Indian history. Several movements were broken out for the same. Various key players like zamindars, the role of oppressing intermediaries, money lenders, etc. tried to take out every advantage and left their workers without any incentive.

Majorly, there were two main objectives of these land reforms. One of them is to increase the productivity of agriculture produce and other is to socially uplift the vulnerable section of the society. Apart from these two basic aims, there are many others like:

  1. To achieve egalitarian outcomes from agricultural activities
  2. To eradicate the exploitation of the downtrodden section
  3. Improvement in the socio-economic status of the rural section
  4. More focus on productivity
  5. Special concentration on rural areas
  6. To gain a balanced socio-economic growth

Measures of Land Reforms:

  • Abolition of intermediaries:

Following the recommendations of Kumarappa committee, all states enacted the system to abolish Zamindars, Jagirdars, etc. During 1950 – 55, the scenario for the abolition of various revenue systems was going on. The abolition of Zamindari and other intermediary systems was proposed under this reform. There was always a person or a group of persons between the actual cultivator and the State to regulate the revenue generation. This practice was leading to the exploitation of the peasants and workers. After this measure, nearly 2.5 crore farmers got benefitted. They came in direct interaction with the state. Moreover, 61 hectares of land were distributed to the landless farmers of that time. Various forests and wasteland also came under state control. Though a small portion of people availed advantages and still a large section of society was facing exploitation. The poor tenants were still out of the game and facing problems. The right of ownership was not given to the actual cultivators but the statutory tenant and occupancy tenants. This was again a chain related to the practice of the intermediary system. There was no limitation that how much land they can own which is again a problem causing discrimination. No proper definition was given to the term ‘personal landholdings’. Fortunately, the abolition of the Zamindari system was a blessing that provided a balance of power.

  • Tenancy reforms:

This reform took place in three forms. These are:

  1. The regulation of rent
  2. Giving security of tenure
  3. Granting rights to tenants for the ownership

The reform began with the fixation of rent that would be given to landowners. It was fixed somewhere between one – fifth to one – a fourth of the land produce. But land rents were not similar in every state. This was one of the failures of the tenancy reforms. There was continuous ejectment of laborers, sharecroppers, and workers from the land due to varied rent provisions. The legislation made under tenancy reforms favored the working class but still, exploitation was prevailing. Expect in a situation when landlords wanted to continue with their cultivation, no worker could be evicted. Even in this exception also it was compulsory to leave an area for the tenant. By 2000, only 1.25 crore got benefits and received ownership rights. We can conclude that this reform was very limited. There was a problem in the identification of sub-tenants. The tenancy laws were violated continuously and there was no security provided to the tenants. Kerala and West Bengal performed very well comparatively due to the communist government at that time.

  • The ceiling on Landholdings:

Due to a lot of disparities between land ownership, the reform was enacted. The main motive was to provide land to the landless laborers and workers. Under the second five year plan, this provision of providing ceilings to landholdings was given. The certain limit was set and people should not own lands more than that limit. This extra land would be acquired by the state and then redistributed among landless peasants and small farmers. After 1972 some changes were also made. Now the term ‘family’ was entitled to land rather than a landholder. This led to the formation of more nuclear families as a result. In September 2001, a total of nearly 74 lakh acres declared as surplus. Out of it, approximately 54 lakh acres of land was distributed by the state. This ceiling reform received many criticisms. People started manipulating land records and land distribution among family, friends, trusts, etc. was started. Another loophole was that much less than the expected area was declared as surplus. Moreover, the land that people voluntarily giving up was mostly unproductive and barren. Poor people were not able to use it. Big landlords got no effect and they continued with their whole landholdings which were a major drawback of this ceiling law.

Voluntary donations: A very renowned Bhoodan – Gramdan movement was started. Bhoodan (Yajna) movement is also known as the Land Gift Movement and initiated by Vinoba Bhave. He adopted the principles of celibacy and selfless services. He was inspired by Gandhiji and more interested in land reforms. It was an outstanding movement where people started considering their landless neighbors and donating them lands. It became internationally famous. The main aims and objectives were to bring balanced socio-economic changes in the society. There should be a redistribution of the property according to needs. The spark for this movement came into the mind of Bhave from the Telangana district of Hyderabad. It helped in the cultivation of many uncultivated lands and reduced exploitation of landless workers. However, there are several loopholes in this movement. People were receiving infertile patches of land and many rich landlords were getting benefits. People were so exhausted from their living standards therefore they got no interest in such donations now.

More about VINOBA BHAVE:

He was born on September 11, 1895, in Gagode, Bombay. He was a great social reformer and a freedom fighter and walked on the principles of non-violence. At a very young age, he decided to give up his studies and joined Gandhi Ashram in Sabarmati. He had a deep attachment to rural people. For the Bhoodan movement, he walked village to village to the prosperous landlords and convinced them to donate their land. He was the first recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award from India. His life ended on November 15, 1982, in Maharashtra.

  • Consolidation of landholdings:

There was the problem of scattered and fragmented landholdings. People have several acres of land but at a fixed place which was making productivity very low. Several expenses like irrigation, machinery, etc. were very huge due to subdivided lands and small farmers were again facing problems. This led to the urgent need for the consolidation of landholdings. The consolidation of such lands was a necessary step to enhance efficiency. Social and economic conditions were uplifted after it. Till December 2001, only one-third of the area was consolidated. This reform was also inclined towards large farmers which were a great threat. Small farmers were afraid of eviction from their lands in the name of consolidation. Punjab and Haryana made this provision compulsory and it was best implemented in these states only. People were emotionally attached to these scattered lands so they were not agreeing to give up them. The land they were getting might be less fertile as compared to the surrendered land.

  • Cooperative farming:

This idea came after the economic reforms of 1991. The same concept of consolidation of land holdings was used in this reform also but in a slightly different manner. In consolidation reform, people were afraid of losing their ownership. But here people having scattered land could themselves consolidate their land areas with nearby farmers. They come together to form a big piece of land. But the problem was again fertility. The share of their profit was divided according to the share of their land. But sometimes, infertile land farmers will get the same benefit that they do not deserve.

Assessment of land reforms:

Land reform measures were able to increase productivity manifolds as compared to previous situations. The agrarian sector started flourishing. Many new costless methods were discovered to improve agricultural productivity. But ownership was not successfully transferred to the tillers. So the latest reforms were very incomplete. The objective of social justice has also been achieved considerably. The abolition of intermediaries and provisions like conferred ownership rights, regulation of rents were very basic steps towards achieving social justice. The process was very slow and undesirable.

Every reform gave a different type of effectiveness. It was given that such reforms are the subject of a state. The political will of the state government was a great influencer. After independence, we could see various achievements made under land reforms. We could assess a number of benefits and impediments in these reforms. Intermediaries were removed but sub-tenants, sharecroppers, small farmers, poor peasants, etc. were not taken into account. In tenant reform also we could feel ejectment of tenants on a large scale. There was a distribution of land but it was very biased and improper. The vulnerable section always suffered every time. The real ground issues were left untouched.

With time our country is moving towards various recent land reforms. These include the digitization of land records, the creation of land banks, land pooling, etc.


Since independence, the regulation of landholdings remained a key phenomenon. Several reforms like abolition of intermediaries were successfully implemented. But the progress is very slow and ineffective. Every idea behind these reforms was so advantageous but due to ignorance of real ground issues, the implementation didn’t work well. There should be a more focused approach to the untouched section of society. The ideas of behavioral economics could be taken into account with more essence of social justice.


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