1. Ceiling Phase 1: Freedom to 1972
  2. Salient Features
    1. Limitations/Failures of Land Ceiling (‘47-‘72)
    2. Negative#1: No redistribution
    3. Negative#2: Family vs Individual
    4. Negative#3: Land ceilings too high
    5. Negative#4: Exempted land categories
    6. Negative#5: Delay in Law Making
    7. Negative#6: History repeats

Ceiling Phase 1: Freedom to 1972

1946 (just before freedom) All India Kisan Sabha demanded a maximum limit of landownership of 25 acres per landholder
1947 Economic Program committee headed by Nehru, Recommended, ‘The maximum size of holdings should be fixed. The surplus land over such a maximum should be acquired and placed at the disposal of the village’
  • Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee, chaired by J.C. Kumarappa.
  • Recommended a ceiling on landholding which was to be three times the size of an economic holding.
  • An economic holding was defined as that which would give a reasonable standard of living to the cultivator and provide full employment to a family of normal size and at least to a pair of bullocks.
First FYP
  • There should be an upper limit to the amount of land that an individual may hold.
  • Exact upper limit was to be fixed by each State, having regard to its own agrarian history and present problems.
  • AICC Agra session: State Governments should take immediate for the fixation of ceilings on land holdings, with a view to redistribute the land,
  • National Development Council (NDC) adopted a decision to complete the imposition of ceilings by the end of 1960.
  • Nagpur session of Congress. Passed resolution that
  • All states should complete land ceiling by 1959
  • Surplus land should be given to Panchayats and Cooperatives of Landless laborers.

Salient Features

During this phase, Land ceiling reform ran on following principles/features:

  1. States were given freedom to fix land ceiling based on soil conditions, irrigation facilities, agrarian history of the region etc.
  2. States had to conduct census of landholdings and classify agriculture land into two parts:
Classification of land What to do here?
  1. Land held by Tenants (i.e. after Zamindari abolition, these Tenants who had become virtual owners of the land.)
  1. States had to make law, that’ll enable Tenant to take over this land with “patta” (i.e. document showing possession).
  2. Subject to maximum land ceiling in acres. i.e. surplus land from tenant will be taken away.
  1. Land held by Landowner himself
  1. Owner could keep part of this land for his personal cultivation (subject to maximum land ceiling in acres)
  2. State will give remaining ‘surplus’ land to those agricultural labourers, with or without paying compensation to the original land owner.

Sounds good on paper? Yes. But Land Ceiling during this phase=EPICFAIL. Why?

Limitations/Failures of Land Ceiling (‘47-‘72)

Negative#1: No redistribution

by the end of 1961 most states passed land ceiling Acts
by the end of 1970
  • Not a single acre was declared surplus in large states like Bihar, Mysore, Kerala, Orissa and Rajasthan!
  • In Andhra Pradesh, a mere 1,400 acres was declared surplus but no land was distributed.
by the end of 1970
  • Overall India: only 2.4 million acre declared surplus. Barely 50% of that surplus land was redistributed among landless.
  • This amounted to ~0.3% of total cultivated land of India in that era.

So why did this happen? Why didn’t land ceiling acts achieve desired result? Because of following reasons:

Negative#2: Family vs Individual

Land Ceiling in India how to avoid

  • Initially States imposed the land ceiling on individual and not on family.
  • So big farmers transferred their land to sons, daughters, wives, relatives (sometimes even non-existent/dead family member) to avoid crossing the ceiling.
  • Many states provided extra-ceiling if family exceeded five members. Example Andhra Pradesh had allowing 6 to 72 acres (depending on the nature of land) per ‘extra’ member of the family.
  • In these day, there was no family planning= large sized family=very few families ‘crossed’ the land ceiling.

Thus, land ceiling definition itself defeated the noble purpose of land distribution.

Negative#3: Land ceilings too high

During this era, more than 70% of the landholdings were below 5 acres. Yet the ceilings were fixed too high, example:

State land ceiling
Andhra Pradesh 27-312 (depending on land quality)
Assam 50 acres
Kerala 15 to 37.5 acres
Punjab 30 to 60 acres
West Bengal 25 acres
Maharashtra 18 to 126 acres

Result? Very few people crossed the land ceiling. Hardly any surplus land taken away.

Negative#4: Exempted land categories

2nd Five year plan recommended following categories of land be exempted from “ceiling” laws:

  1. tea, coffee and rubber plantations, orchards,
  2. specialized farms engaged in cattle breeding, dairying, wool raising, etc.,
  3. sugarcane farms operated by sugar factories
  4. Efficiently managed farms on which heavy investments had been made.
  5. Land belonging to charitable trusts.

2nd Five year plan’s intention was good- it wanted to promote capitalist/progressive farming and make foundation for the future green revolution.

But State government implemented this policy in letter and not in spirit. Result?

  1. ‘Efficiently managed farm’ was vaguely defined. So many farmers evaded the ceilings by simply getting themselves declared ‘efficient’.
  2. Tamilnadu exempted land held by cooperatives from land ceiling act. So, Landlords transferring their lands to bogus cooperatives.
  3. Many rich farmers setup bogus charitable trusts in connivance with state officials, then transferred land to charitable trust and avoided ceiling.

Negative#5: Delay in Law Making

  • State governments took lot of time to pass the land ceiling legislation.
  • This gave big farmers enough time to sell their excess lands, or to transfer it to their relatives and even make benami transfers.
  • Landowners evicted tenants and resume cultivation by themselves (on paper) claiming they had shifted to “Efficient” farming (so the land ceiling cannot apply). But in reality they just hired sharecroppers/landless labourers to do all the work.
  • Thus, by the time the ceiling legislations were in place, there were barely any holdings left above the ceiling and consequently little surplus land became available for redistribution.
  • Third Five year plan also admitted this limitation.

Negative#6: History repeats

  • Recall that during Zamindari abolition, the Zamindars tried all tricks to resist government’s attempt. At that time, superior tenants/rich farmers supported government (with hope of getting land)
  • Now as governments tried to put land ceiling on these superior tenants/rich farmers=they tried all tricks to resist land ceiling
    • using their vote bank clout over political parties at state level=bills passed with lot of delay.
    • conniving with petty revenue official at village and tehsil level to transfer land to family members and benami persons to avoid ceiling
    • filling flimsy court cases to delay the implementation

Thus history repeated itself – those who sought land reform earlier, now became opponents of land reforms themselves. Anyways, so far first phase: 1947-1972, land ceiling is epicfail. Now let’s check the second phase:

Mock Questions

  1. Evaluate the Impact of land Ceiling and distribution of surplus land on rural power structure post-independence.
  2. Examine the reasons behind dismal performance of land ceiling reforms in India.
  3. Write a note on the land ceiling reforms before 1972. Why were they unsuccessful?

[Land Reform] is a long topic, I’ve split it into several parts. Therefore, to get comprehensive list of all articles, visit Mrunal.org/Polity.