Land Reforms in India

At the time of independence ownership of land was concentrated in the hands of a few.

This led to the exploitation of the farmers and was a major hindrance towards the socio-economic development of the rural population.

Department of Land Resources under the Ministry of Rural Development is the nodal agency for matters related to land reforms including distribution of ceiling surplus land, computerisation of land records and updating of land records.

The system of land records management varies from state to state, often even within a state, depending upon their historical evolution and local traditions.


The important objectives of land reform measures in India were—

[1] to enhance the productivity of land by improving the economic conditions of farmers and tenants so that they may have the interest to invest in and improve agriculture,

[2] to ensure distributive justice and to create an egalitarian society by eliminating all forms of exploitation,

[3] to create a system of peasant proprietorship with the motto of land to the tiller and

[4] to transfer the incomes of the few to many so that the demand for consumer goods would be created.

The Second Five-Year Plan emphasised the objectives of the land reforms thus:

[1] To remove the impediments in the way of agricultural production as may arise from the character of agrarian structure and to evolve an agrarian economy conducive of high levels of efficiency and productivity;

[2] To establish an egalitarian society and to eliminate social inequality;


[1] Abolition of intermediaries.

[2] Tenancy reforms to regulate fair rent and provide security to tenure.

[3] Ceilings on holdings and distribution of surplus land among the landlords.

[4] Consolidation of holdings and prevention of their further fragmentation and

[5] Development of cooperative farming.


[1] Abolition of intermediaries

The Zamindars acted as the intermediaries.

Until Independence, a large part of agricultural land was held by the intermediaries under the zamindari, mahalwari and ryotwari systems.

Consequently, the tenants were burdened with high rents, unproductive cultivation and other forms of exploitation.

By 1972, laws had been passed in all the States to abolish intermediaries.

All of them had two principles in common— [1] abolition of intermediaries between the state and the cultivator and [2] the payment of compensation to the owners.

But there was no clear mention about just and equitable compensation.

By conferring the ownership of land to the tiller, the Government provided an incentive to improve cultivation.

This was an important step towards the establishment of socialism and the Government revenue increased. It also ushered in cooperative farming.

The efficacy of the legislation was, however, considerably reduced for the following reasons;

[a] The act did not benefit sub-tenants and share croppers, as they did not have occupancy rights on the land they cultivated.

[b] Intermediaries were abolished, but the rent receiving class continued to exist.

[c] Many landlords managed to retain considerable land areas under the various provisions of the laws.

[d] The problems of transferring ownership rights from the actual cultivators of the land, the tenants, the sub-tenants, share croppers, therefore, remained far from resolved.


[2] Tenancy Reforms

The tenancy reform measures were of three kinds and they were—

[a] regulation of rent

[b] security of tenure and

[c] conferring ownership to tenants.


[a] regulation of rent—

After independence, the payment of rent by the tenants of all classes and the rate of rent were regulated by legislation.

The first Five-Year Plan laid down that rent should not exceed one-fifth to one-fourth of the total produce.

The law along these lines has been enacted in all the States.

The maximum rate of rent should not exceed that suggested by the Planning Commission in all parts of the States.

[b] security of tenure—

With a view to ensuring security of tenure, various State Governments have passed laws which have three essential aims—

[1] Ejectment does not take place except with the provisions of law,

[2] the land may be taken over by the owners for personal cultivation only, and

[3] in the event of resumption the tenant is assured of the prescribed minimum areas.

The measures adopted in different States fall in four categories;

First, all the tenants cultivating a portion of land have been given full security of tenure without the land owners having any right to resume land for personal cultivation. This is in operation in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

Secondly, land owners are permitted to resume a limited area for personal cultivation, but they should provide a minimum area to the tenants. This is in vogue in Assam, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan.

Thirdly, the landowner can resume only a limited extent of land and the tenant is not be entitled to any part of it. This is operating in West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir.

Fourthly, legislative measures have also indicated the circumstances under which only ejectments are permitted. These grounds are (a) non-payment of rent (b) performance of an act which is destructive or permanently injurious to land (c) subletting the land (d) using the land for purpose other than agriculture and (d) reclamation of land for personal cultivation by the landlords.

[c] Conferring ownership to tenants—

The ultimate aim of land reforms in India is to confer the rights of ownership to tenants to the larger possible extent.

Towards this end, the Government has taken three measures:

[1] declaring tenants as owners and requiring them to pay compensation to owners in suitable installments

[2] acquisition of the right of ownership by the State on payment of compensation and transfer of ownership to tenants and

[3] the states’ acquisition of the landlords’ rights bring the tenants into direct relationship with the States.


[3] Ceiling on land holdings

By 1961-62, ceiling legislation had been passed in all the States.

The levels vary from State to State, and are different for food and cash crops.

In order to bring about uniformity, a new policy was evolved in 1971.

The main features were—

[a] Lowering of ceiling to 28 acres of wet land and 54 acres of un-irrigated land

[b] A change over to family rather than the individual as the unit for determining land holdings lowered ceiling for a family of five.

[c] Retrospective application of the law for declaring benami transactions null and void; and

[d] No scope to move the court on ground of infringement of fundamental rights.

Besides, national guidelines were issued in 1972, which specified the land ceiling limit as;

[a] The best land 10 acres

[b] For second class land 18-27 acres; and

[c] For the rest, 27-54 acres with a slightly higher limit in the hill and desert areas


[4] Consolidation of Holdings

Several States have passed the Consolidation of Holdings Act.

Statistics reveal that 518 lakhs of hectares had been consolidated in the country at the beginning of the Seventh Five Year Plan, which constitute about 33% of the cultivatable land.

It prevents the endless subdivision and fragmentation of land holdings.

It promotes large-scale cultivation.

It brings down the cost of cultivation and reduces litigation among farmers.


[5] Co-operative farming

The Planning Commission in the first three Five Year Plans, chalked out detailed plans for the development of cooperative farming.

Only two per cent of the agriculturists have formed cooperative societies farming only 0.2 per cent of the total cultivable area.

Cooperative farming has certain difficulties to surmount.

The big and marginal farmers are skeptical and the small peasants are not easily convinced that the movement would help them.

Co-operative farming in India has largely been a failure.



Indian agriculture is in a stage of transition, from a predominantly semi-feudal oriented agriculture characterised by large-scale leasing and subsistence farming to commercialised agriculture or marker oriented farming.

Another noteworthy feature is the emergence of modern farmers who are substantial landholders and cultivate their land through hired labourers using new techniques.

One of the major negative features of agrarian transition in India is the continued concentration of land in the hands of the upper strata of the rural society. This has not undergone any change in the past five decades, despite the reforms.