1. Second stage: 1972 onwards
  2. 34th Amendment
  3. Land Ceiling: problems/ limitations/obstacles
    1. #Epicfail in UttarPradesh
    2. Land reform Delayed is land reform denied
    3. Hardly any ‘redistribution’
    4. Lack of Auxiliary Support
    5. Lack of Political Mobilization
    6. Lack of Administrative will
    7. FYP did not give direction
    8. Land fragmentation=Low GDP
    9. Post-LPG: Changed priorities

Second stage: 1972 onwards

1970: Indira Gandhi says following

The land reform measures implemented have failed to match the legitimate expectations which were first fostered among millions of cultivators during the national movement . . . In short, we have yet to create institutional conditions which would enable small farmers, tenants, and landless labourers to share in the agricultural New Deal.

Soon, a conference of Chief Ministers @Delhi. They conclude:

  1. Landlessness among rural poor=main cause of Naxal problem and agrarian tensions.
  2. At present, Land ceiling varied anything between 10-54 acres. This has to be reduced because thanks to High Yield Variety Seeds +intensive cropping = even small sized farms of 1-2 hectares became economically viable. So there is no need for big ceilings.

1972: Union government gave following guidelines

  1. New ceiling
type ceiling in acres
double-cropped perennially irrigated land 10-18
single-cropped land 27
inferior dry lands 54
  1. land ceiling will be applied to family (husband+wife+three children) and not on individuals
  2. While distributing surplus land, first priority to landless agricultural workers, particularly SC/ST.
  3. Land owner will be compensated for his surplus land- but this compensation will be fixed below market price (so that new owner i.e. landless laborer can afford to buy it)
  4. mechanised farms, land belonging to private trusts etc. should not be given exemption from land ceiling.


After this 1972 guideline, most states revised their land ceiling acts- except some northeastern states and Goa which had no ceiling laws. (table just for information, may be outdated right now.)

States Ceiling fixed(in hectares) States Ceiling fixed(in hectares)
Andhra Pradesh 4.05 to 21.85 Madhya Pradesh 7.28 to 21.85
Bihar 6.07 to 18.21 Maharashtra 7.28 to 21.85
Gujarat 4.05 to 21.85 Orissa 4.05 to 18.21
Haryana 7.25 to 21.85 Punjab 7.00 to 20.50
Himachal 4.05 to 28.33 Rajasthan 7.28 to 70.82
J&K 3.60 to 9.20 Tamil Nadu 4.86 to 24.28
Kamataka 4.05 to 21.85 Uttar Pradesh 7.28 to 28.33
Kerala 4.86 to 6.07 West Bengal 5.00 to 7.00

But rich farmers still continued to evade the ceiling by filling court cases on flimsy ground. In Andhra Pradesh alone ~500,000 pending cases pertaining to land ceiling were filed!

34th Amendment

  • Since rich farmers continued to evade land ceiling by flimsy courtcases, the Union government came up with 34th Constitutional amendment in 1974.
  • This amendment put most of the revised ceiling laws (of state governments) in the Ninth Schedule of the constitution so that they could not be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds. (according to Art.31B)

Result? Some progress in surplus land being redistributed, but overall results were still far from satisfactory.

early 80s ~2 million acres land redistributed (but rich farmers wilfully dispersed more than 30 million acre land to avoid ceilings)
1885 ~4 million acres land redistributed.

So far we’ve seen

  1. what is land ceiling and why do we need land ceiling
  2. land ceiling in two phases: freedom to 72 and from 72 onwards.

Now let’s check the overall positive/negative points:

Land Ceiling: problems/ limitations/obstacles

#Epicfail in UttarPradesh

  1. U.P. Imposition of Land Ceiling Act was passed in 1960. The Act put the ceiling limit at 40 acres. It defined family in a liberal manner and allowed a large number of exemptions.
  2. When ceiling came in effect, Zamindars connived with local officials. As a result, they kept the best fertile land and mostly unlevel, wasteland, waterlogged or sandy/salty land was declared as surplus and given to landless.
  3. Poor Beneficiary had to face irregular power supply, absence of government tubewell, high charge of water, etc.
  4. The Village Pradhan and Lekhpal will not give Patta (possession document) to the poor, unless they paid bribes.
  5. Many poor who got land, resold it back to the original owner under Benami transections- under greed, threats and coercion.

Thus, Land Ceiling Act hardly made an impact on the land distribution in UP. Former zamindars retained large tracts of land and converted themselves into large landowners which did give them political power.

Land reform Delayed is land reform denied

  • The states took four to nine years to formulate the proposals, discuss them in the assembly and finally pass them.
  • This lengthy time period was enough for the intermediaries to prepare for the eventual implementation of the Land ceiling Act.
  • They registered surplus/excess land under relatives’ names and or even fictitious persons, manipulating land records and reclassifying land under different heads. In short most of them managed to evade land ceiling acts.

Hardly any ‘redistribution’

  • Overall, the land which has been declared surplus and distributed among landless= less than 2 percent of the total cultivated land.
  • Hence, we cannot say land ceiling was a game changer.
  • But only positive thing= It prevented further concentration of land in the hands of few rich people.
  • In other words, land ceiling didn’t change the ‘existing’ land holding pattern but merely prevented concentration of land in few hand in the ‘future’.

Lack of Auxiliary Support

  • More than 6 million hectares of wastelands were distributed among the landless.
  • But it was #epicfail as states did not give any assistance to transform the wasteland to make it fit for cultivation.
  • Lack of Structural changes @village (education, transport, healthcare etc.)
  • Many a times, even after a landless get land, he doesn’t get credit (loans) easily to buy seeds, fertilizer. So he ‘leases’ his land to a bigger farmer and himself migrates to city in search of jobs or works as labourer in someone else’s farm.

Lack of Political Mobilization

  • After Abolition of Zamindari, the superior tenants (mostly rich to middle income farmers belonging to General/OBC group) acquired a higher social status.
  • They economic strength also increased because of green revolution.
  • Subsequently these landowners wielded great authority in rural India and bitterly opposed to a ceiling on agricultural holdings.
  • They are able to have their way because political parties made no serious efforts to mobilize small/marginal farmers or landless laborers to enlist their support in favour of ceiling and other land reforms.

Lack of Administrative will

  • Mere passing a law= insufficient. It must be implemented with full vigor and efficiency.
  • During this era (60-70s), the small/marginal farmers or Landless labourers are not organized politically. 73rd Amendment for Panchayati Raj is not even passed yet.
  • So, there was no pressure/compulsion on district-tehsil level officials to perform efficiently. They were corrupt and inefficient as ever.

FYP did not give direction

  • First Five Year Plan identified small and uneconomic holdings as the root cause of many difficulties in the way of agricultural development.  But still did not pay much attention to land ceiling.  Meaning, First Plan (secretly) did not want to disturb the big farmers or land owners who were crucial to increased agricultural growth.
  • Second five year=gave the concept of ‘exempted’ categories of land (tea plantation, efficiently managed farms etc.) and we saw how this exemption was misused.
  • Third and Fourth Plans=War, stoppage of aid, famine, food-insecurity, fiscal deficit etc. So they had very little to say (or do) on the issue of land reforms in general and land ceiling in particular.
  • by the time we reach fifth five year plan (74-79) there is emergency, Indira-Hatao, Morarji trying to hold a coalition government => land ceiling reform did not figure in priorities- be it planning, policies, legislation or grassroot mobilization of peasants.
  • 6th FYP onwards (80s), the focus shifts to poverty removal, self-employment, watershed etc. and land ceiling became as obsolete to five year planning, as Vivek Mushran, Rahul Roy and Kumar Gaurav are for today’s Bollywood.

Land fragmentation=Low GDP

  • Between 85-92, number of beneficiaries increased more than the increase in area distributed=> new beneficiaries received very tiny plots.
  • As generations passed- more and more land division among sons=>smaller and smaller farms=no economies of scale, disguised unemployment, low productivity etc.
  • These small farmers could have stopped uneconomic farming, and picked up some financially rewarding non-agro job e.g. factory worker, rickshaw driver etc. But that did not happen because other rich farmers couldn’t buy their land due to land ceiling laws.
  • Thus in the long run, Land ceiling killed the rural land market, and prevented land consolidation.
  • Economists agree that if country wants to progress from developing=>developed nation, then people must move from agriculture to manufacturing/service sector.
  • But that is not happening in India. Thus, land ceiling being one of the reason why majority of population continues to depend on agriculture.

Post-LPG: Changed priorities

  • Therefore, today government is more focused on industrial sector and the service sector growth, self-employment generation type schemes.  Land reform-Land redistribution doesn’t form priority.
  • Whatever land redistribution was to be done, has been done by 80s. Today there is no ‘new’ land to cultivate.  Infect, urbanization putting more pressure on existing agriculture land.
  • So, if you (government) want to redistribute land, there is only one way: amend land ceiling e.g. no one can own more than 1 acre, then take away surplus land from farmers who own more than 1 acre, and redistribute among landless.
  • But this policy is impractical for governments because
    • It’ll increase land fragmentation. Small sized farmers= lower economies of scale, mechanization not possible=lower productivity
    • It’ll annoy the existing vote bank of small-medium farmers because their surplus land will be taken away.

In short, land reform is no longer in the priority list of Government policies. Today Government gives priority to food security, direct cash transfer, as far as rural India goes.
Mock Question:Briefly comment on the progress of ceiling on land holdings in India.
[Land Reform] is a long topic, I’ve split it down into several parts. Therefore, to get comprehensive list of all articles, visit Mrunal.org/Polity.