[Land Ceiling] Meaning, Reasons, Pro and Anti Arguments

In polity by Mrunal

  1. Prologue
  2. What is Land Ceiling?
  3. Why Ceiling on Land holdings?
  4. Land Ceiling in India
  5. Land Ceilings: Benefits/Advantages/Positive Points
    1. With political Will
    2. Production increased
    3. Employment increased
    4. Naxal reduced
    5. Social Justice
    6. Growth of New political parties
  6. Land Ceiling: Pro and Anti arguments
  7. Mock Questions

Prologue

So far we’ve seen

  1. Three land tenure system of the British: Their features, implications.
How the British had difficulty learning the land Revenue system of Desi Nawabs. So, they came up with Permanent settlement, Ryotwari and Mahalwari systems.
  1. Peasant struggles for land reforms in British Raj: causes and consequences.
But the British tenure systems caused much pain and anguish among Indian peasants and led to numerous revolts.
  1. Land reforms, Before independence: by Congress governments in Provinces, their benefits and limitations.
After the Provincial elections of 1937, Congress ministries took measures to protect tenant farmers. But by and large shied away from zamindari abolition.
  1. Land reforms, After independence: Abolition of Zamindari, Reasons, Impact, Obstacles, Limitations.
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 new problem:

  1. After abolition of Zamindari, the (superior) tenant farmers became virtual owners of the land. They owned tens and hundreds of acres of land. While other (inferior tenants/sharecroppers/landless laborers) owned nothing.
  2. Many Zamindars themselves kept lot of land in pretext of ‘personal cultivation’.

Therefore, State governments enacted land ceiling acts. E.g.an individual farmer cannot own land beyond say 10 acres. Thus, if a farmer owned 12 acres, government would take away 12-10=2 acres of surplus land from him, and “distribute” it to some landless laborers. This is Second tool of Land reform.

before going further let’s again recap the players in a tenancy system

What is Ceiling on Land Holdings?

  • It means fixing maximum size of land holding that an individual/family can own.
  • Land over and above the ceiling limit, called surplus land.
  • if the individual/family owns more land than the ceiling limit, the surplus land is taken away (with or without paying compensation to original owner)
  • This surplus land is
    1. distributed among small farmers, tenants, landless labourers or
    2. handed over to village panchayat or
    3. Given to cooperative farming societies.

Why Ceiling on Land holdings?

  1. Because DPSP Art.38 seeks to minimize the inequalities of income, status, facilities and opportunities. Land ceiling minimize inequality in the land ownership and thus reduces inequality of income.
  2. Because DPSP Art.39 wants to ensure that the operation of economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth. In a village, land=wealth, hence land ceiling is necessary to prevent concentration of wealth in the hands of few.
  3. Because DPSP Art.39 wants to give right to adequate means of livelihood for all citizens. Land ceiling (and subsequent land redistribution) provides self-employment opportunities to landless agricultural laborers.
  4. If there is no land ceiling, rich farmers will buy all the land of entire village and tehsil. But since they cannot cultivate all the land by themselves- they’ll ‘lease’ it to small farmers (tenants). Small farmer (tenant) doesn’t have any ‘motivation’ to work harder because he doesn’t own the land and he has to give 30-50-70% of the produce to that rich farmer, as “rent”= exploitation.
  5. So, After abolishing Zamindari, IF State Governments had not implemented Land ceiling, then rich farmers/superior tenants would have become the new de-facto/virtual Zamindars of Modern India.

Although, economists who believe in free market / capitalism, donot like land ceiling. We’ll see their anti-land ceiling arguments at the end of this article. But for the moment, let’s continue with the assumption that land ceiling is beneficial.

Land Ceiling: Pro and Anti arguments

Like I said in the middle of the article- the economists believing in free market / capitalism- they don’t like land ceiling. So let’s hear their arguments

Anti-Land Ceiling Pro Land Ceiling
  • Land ceiling should be abolished. even corporate sector should be allowed to buy agri. land.
  • This will enable the enterprising farmer to enlarge his holding by buying or leasing lands of small farmers.
  • Although landlessness will increase but these small farmers could find employment in agri. and allied sector as a result of capitalist mode of production.
  • Agricultural income= exempted from income tax.
  • So, if land ceilings are removed, the rich people will rush to buy farm land.
  • Thus land prices will soar. A new ‘intermediary’ group of Agri.land mafia will emerge.
  • But millions of small and marginal farmers will be pushed off their land.
  • Hence, the time is not yet ripe to bring forth such drastic reforms (of removing land ceilings).
  • Capitalist mode of agriculture=>more surplus income=> invested back into the agriculture=economic growth.
  • if corporate sector is allowed to enter in agriculture=> Agri. exports will increase=>more foreign exchange incoming=>Current Account deficit gone, rupee will strengthen.
  • Capitalist mode of agriculture uses more machines, less laborers=>unemployment increased.
  • Yes, Economic growth will be achieved but at the cost of unemployment and subsequent fall in human development.
  • small farms are not productive because they hinder mechanised farming
  • Small farmers have limited capital to invest in improving agro. Production.
  • large farms tend to prefer monoculture (single crop), because they can be easily managed with heavy machinery. = more susceptible to pest attacks, not good from soil fertility point of view.
  • Small farmers usually have mixed crops (intercropping), they combine and rotate crops and livestock, with manure => soil fertility improves.
  • Land ceiling and distribution => poverty and disguised unemployment continues.
  • Some people need to be shifted from agricultural sector to manufacturing/service sector. There is no need to give land to each and every landless person.
  • Villagers should be kept self-employed, even if on small and marginal farms.
  • This fits with Gandhian ideas of village republics.

Land Ceilings: Benefits/Advantages/Positive Points

With political Will

States with political will in favour of land ceiling=showed great progress. Example

  1. Jammu and Kashmir, Land ceiling laws fully implemented and by the middle of 1955 about 230,000 acres of surplus land had been handed over to tenants and landless labourers, that too without having to pay any compensation.
  2. West Bengal had less than 3% of total cultivate land in India. Yet more than 25% of the total surplus land that was distributed throughout India, belonged to WB.

Production increased

  1. Earlier large tracts of wasteland belonging to big zamindars/farmers remain uncultivated. Now this given to landless laborers= increases area under cultivation=food security.
  2. More Production: Equal distribution of land will encourage intensive cultivation resulting in increased agricultural production.
  3. Some Farm management studies conducted in India testified that small farms yielded more production per hectare. It is so because family members themselves cultivate small farms.
  4. Even one hectare of land is also an economic holding these days on account of improvement in agricultural technique. Hence, small size of holding due to ceiling will not have any adverse effect on agricultural production.
  5. Atleast some of the Land owners shifted to direct ‘efficient’ farming in order to get ‘exemption’ from land ceiling.

Employment increased

  1. Landless laborer= gets employment only during sowing and harvesting season but now he given land ownership = he is 24/7 self-employed farmer.
  2. Even if he did not get land, still other farmers got land=> more demand for agri.labourers= wage bargaining power increased.
  3. In other words, land ceiling increased employment opportunities.

Naxal reduced

  1. With reduction in inequality among the villagers, possibility of class struggle will be minimised.
  2. They will live with perfect peace and harmony and not join Maoists/Naxals movements any longer. (atleast in theory)

Social Justice

  1. In a rural economy, whoever controls land, controls the power.
  2. Land ceiling Reduced this power inequality among villagers.
  3. Promoted spirit of cooperation among villagers. Will help develop cooperative farming later on (atleast in theory).

Growth of New political parties

  • 1959: N.G. Ranga, C. Rajagopalachari and Minoon Masani setup the Swatantra party.
  • Because they were against land ceiling, compulsory cooperativization, nationalization of private industries etc. policies of Congress government.
1967 Charan Singh formed BKD
1974 BKD+ Swatantra Party + other parties merged=>BLD
1977 BLD was major component of Janta Government under the great Morarji Desai who defeated Indira Gandhi.

Thus, in a way land ceiling helped destroying Congress monopoly / One party rule in Indian politics.
In the next articles, we’ll the two phases of Land Ceiling laws in India.

Mock Questions

  1. Land ceiling is more of an impediment than a catalyst for economic growth. Comment
  2. Evaluate the significance of Land ceiling as a measure of land reforms.
  3. The positive impacts of Land ceiling did not trickle down below the middle rung of peasantry. Comment.
  4. Define Land ceiling. Why was it necessary to enact land ceiling acts in post-independent India?
[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.