- Land Reform Tool #3: Tenancy Reforms
in the previous articles, we’ve seen:
|How the British had difficulty learning the land Revenue system of Desi Nawabs. So, they came up with Permanent settlement (Zamindari), Ryotwari and Mahalwari systems.|
|But the British tenure systems caused much pain and anguish among Indian peasants and led to numerous revolts.|
|After the Provincial elections of 1937, Congress ministries took measures to protect tenant farmers. But by and large they shied away from zamindari abolition.|
|After freedom, State Governments enacted Zamindari Abolition Acts. As a result erstwhile (superior) tenants became virtual owners of their land. =>This is First tool of Land reform.|
Now comes the third tool of land reforms:
- Various State governments have passed the laws to protect the land owners and (superior+inferior) tenants. Collectively these are called tenancy reform acts.
- Such tenancy reform acts, usually have five elements: two for land owners + three for tenants
- but first, let’s once again check the players in a tenancy system, to get a better grip over this tenure/tenancy reform acts:
Earns revenue for doing 1+2
Tenancy reform acts by and large protect only superior and inferior tenant. Sharecroppers/Laborers get nothing. Anyways, let’s check the salient features of such Acts in various states:
- You own land, but you don’t have the time/money/mood/intention to cultivate by yourself. So you lease it to another farmer and extract ‘rent’ from him (=25-30-40-60-75% of the produce).
- This Land leasing, again leads to system of Intermediaries (middlemen who don’t cultivate) and exploitation of tenants (farmers who actually cultivate).
- Therefore, in an egalitarian/socialist/communist society: Agri.land leasing=undesirable.
- But what is the land owner is a defense personnel, widow, minor, student or physically disabled person – they cannot cultivate land by themselves.
- Hence, leasing is permitted in such exceptional categories of land owners.
Let’s check some examples
|Tenancy Reform Act in||Provisions (may be outdated)|
|Andhra||Two types of leasing are practiced.|
|Assam||Land can be leased in futureBut sub-leasing forbidden. (meaning tenant cannot lease the land further to third party)|
|Gujarat||Leasing is prohibited except for Defense personnel.|
|Himachal||Agri land cannot be leased. Except when landowner is a minor or unmarried or a widow or divorcee or disabled or defense personnel.|
|Karnataka||Agri.Land cannot be leased except when landowner is seaman or soldier.|
|Madhya Pradesh||No ban on future lease, but all the past leases have been abolished- to remove the nuisance of Zamindar/Jagirdar in Malwa, Gwalior, Indore and Vindhya Pradesh|
|Orissa||Doesn’t allow leasing or sub leasing of land|
|Rajasthan||yes, owner can lease the land to Tenant (5 years)Tenant can further lease the land to sub-tenant (1 year)|
|Uttar Pradesh||Agri. cannot be leased. Except when landowners are widows, unmarried women, military persons, students and disabled persons.|
|West Bengal||Leasing is prohibited, but share-cropping is allowed with some restrictions.|
- As we saw in Element#1: Many states permit agri.land leasing (at least when landowner is a soldiers, widows, minor, physically disabled).
- But what if landowner himself wants resume cultivation later on? e.g. soldier comes back to village after retirement, or the minor student becomes an adult, or the widow gets remarried.
- Therefore laws permit the landowner to takeback the land from the tenant, IF he (landowner) wants to resume personal cultivation. let’s check:
|State Law||Can Landowner take back land from Tenant, for personal cultivation?|
|Andhra||Yes but not more than 75% of the leased land.|
|Bihar||50% of landholding or 5 acre, whichever is less|
|Bengal||50% of landholding or 2.5 acre, whichever is less|
|Kerala, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Manipur, Tripura||Yes but not more than 50% of the leased land.|
|Uttar Pradesh||No, landowners cannot take back land for personal cultivation|
So far we saw two elements that protect the rights of landowner viz (1) right to lease and (2) right to personal cultivation. Now let’s check the rights of tenants.
- If landowner can evict the tenant according to his whims-fancies=>this system leads to exploitation.
- Hence there should be fixed term and fixed rent.
- Meaning as long as the teant is within that xyz years lease limit and keeps paying that xyz amount of rent, you (landowner) cannot evict him.
- Insecurity of tenure is a big hurdle in the improvement of agriculture. Tenant pays little attention to the soil improvement, digging of well or tube-well and construction of embankment etc. This negatively affects agro productivity.
- Security of tenure is must for social justice as well.
- Hence, Most state made laws to provide at least 5 years tenure security.
- (meaning once you lease your agri-land, you cannot take it back within 5 years- except for personal cultivation as we saw in element #2. but even there, you can only take back ~50% of land for personal cultivation.) Anyways, let’s check with examples:
|Assam||Landowner cannot evacuate tenant, IF that tenant has been tilling the land for 3 years or more.|
|Manipur||A tenant could not be removed from a minimum area of 1.2 acres of the land, until he is given an alternative land.|
|Orissa||tenants who is lawfully cultivating any land cannot be removed.Fixed tenure for half of the area held by Tenant|
|Tamilnadu||Landowner cannot evict the tenant except|
|West Bengal||tenant and Sharecroppers (bargadars) cannot be evicted, except|
- During British Raj, there was no law to protect farmers against high rents. The Zamindar/ landowner used to determine rent according to their discretion. Often, rent would be ~50-70% of the total produce.
- Result? Tenant farmer has hardly any surplus income left=>can’t buy hybrid seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, in short he cannot invest in agri.improvement.
- Therefore, after freedom, most state government passed laws to fix maximum rent in the range of 25-33% of the produce.
|state||maximum rent that an owner can charge from tenant|
|Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (coastal areas)||33-40% of the gross agri.produce|
Additionally, if a tenant cannot pay rent on time, the landlord cannot approach court to get his cattle, farm-tools and standing crops. (In other words, tenant given protection against attachment even if he defaults on rent payment.)
Limitation: Although states had fixed Maximum rent in 20-50% range, but in most cases, the tenants had to pay rent in the range of 50-70%- especially in the areas with high productivity under green revolution. Corrupt District officials failed to enforce the rent limits.
6th Five year plan suggested the state governments to pass laws to bring down rents to ensure rents are not above 33% of the produce.
- by Leftist government in West Bengal
- In the late 70s. Provided following
- registration of Sharecroppers (known as Bargadar)
- Fixed rent: 25% of the produce. Meaning landowner (Jotedar) can only get 25% or 1/4th of the produce. While Sharecropper (Bargadar) gets 75% or 3/4th of the produce.
- gave security of tenure: permanent and heritable
- Ok so far, tenant is given term-security (you cannot evict him before xyz years) and rent security (you cannot charge beyond xyz% of the produce).
- But what if tenant himself wants to stop farming on that land. For example,
- he bought his own land at a different place, or
- his son gets a decent job in the city and asks him to relocate or
- He joins politics and becomes a telecom/coal minister to mint truckload of cash.
- Therefore, most state laws also allow the tenant to voluntarily surrender the land back to the original owner.
- Challenge: Sometimes landowner might use bullying/coercion/gun-power to make tenant sign stamppapers declaring his surrender.
- Solution: Some states also have ‘verification’ procedure. e.g. in Andhra, after Tenant surrenders the land to owner, the Tehsildar will verify whether surrender was genuine or not. But then again- thinking in Bollywood terms: evil Landowner might kidnap Tenant’s family and order him not to complaint to Tehsildar.
- 4th Five year plan recommended: the Land Voluntarily surrendered by a tenant =>should goto state government and then state government should allot it to eligible poors. But very few states implemented this recommendation
So far we’ve learned
- Owner’s right to lease
- Owner’s right to personal cultivation
- tenant’s right against eviction
- tenant’s right to surrender
Now to the fifth and final element under Land Tenancy reform acts:
Many state laws permit tenant to acquire the land IF he pays 10-20-50times the annual rent to the landowner. Let’s check:
|States that permitted tenants to acquire land after paying money to original landlord||Bombay (now Mahrashtra+Gujarat), Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad, Mysore and Delhi|
|States that permitted tenants to acquire land without paying money to original landlord||Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Bhopal and Vindhya Pradesh|
|States reduced rent of the tenants without giving them ownership rights||Andhra, Madras, Rajasthan, Saurashtra, Madhya Bharat, Hyderabad (jagir areas) and Ajmer|
Let’s check some specific provisions of Tenant’s right to acquire/purchase land
|Andhra||Tenant can buy after paying 8 times the annual rent.|
|Gujarat||Tenant has right to buy land, if he had been tilling continuously for 1 year. But he has to pay to owner. In 1975, Gujarat ~0.8 out of 1.3 million tenants got ownership rights after paying to their respective land owners. (=more than 50% of tenants benefit)|
|Madhya Pradesh||Yes, if tenant pays 15 times the annual rent to the owner.|
|Manipur||yes, if tenant pays 30 times the annual rent to owner|
|Orissa||Yes, if tenant pays 10 times the annual rent to the owner.|
|Tamilnadu||Government Abolished intermediaries but did not facilitate tenants to purchase land from the landlord.|
Limitation of Right to ownership:
In above examples, we saw how ~50% of tenants in Gujarat and Maharahstra, got ownership rights after paying to landowner. But why didn’t every tenant bought land from his land owner? Because:
- State laws already gave rent reduction + permanent occupancy rights= these superior tenants were for all practical purposes virtual owners.
- Hence there was hardly any motivation to try and acquire full ownership.
- Besides to get full ownership=> need capital (money) and legal complications.
Some states also made laws for:
- Compensation for tenant, if he made permanent improvements to the land such as, digging of well, planting of trees, construction of farm house, embankment, etc.
- During natural disaster/flood/drought etc. if government remits land-revenue to the landlord, the latter too will have to remit rent to the cultivator.
- Landlord cannot receive gift from the tenant and cannot ask tenant to provide him free services. (In other words, Begari removed, Art.23)
In the next article, we’ll see the achievements and limitations of Tenancy reforms undertaken in India.