1. Land Reforms: Overall Negative
    1. Jurisdiction
    2. Outdated Land records
    3. Problem in North East
    4. Lack of budgetary $upport
    5. Bureaucratic apathy
    6. Lack of Votebank
    7. Powerless Panchyat
    8. Lack of Civil Society/NGO action
    9. The Naxal Angle:
    10. Appu
  2. Land reforms: Overall Positive

Land Reforms: Overall Negative

In the previous articles, we discussed individual land reform initiatives, their achievements and limitations. Now time for overall positive and negative points of the Land reform initiatives in India, by various Governments.


  • ‘Land’ is a State subject under the Constitution=> different States have evolved differently in the field of land management.
  • The Union can play only a limited role to play in this regard. At most they can frame policy, release funds –but implementation rests in the hands of State Government.
  • Some states have moved quickly by passing necessary legislations, while other states have adopted a slower and piecemeal approach in this regard.
  • Consequently there are considerable variations in the results achieved by different states.
  • Even in the same state- different regions show different rate of progress.

UN report says: “In India there seems to be great inequality in different states regarding the land reforms.…these land reforms are not implemented in the true spirit.”

Outdated Land records

In Ryotwari areas (Bombay State, Madras State and Assam)

  • Before independence, the government directly collected land revenue from farmer. So, district officials kept up to date land records for purpose of assessment and collection of land Revenue.
  • Village Accountant (VA) had to update the entries every year.
  • The superiors in the hierarchy closely supervised the work of the VA.
  • The records showed who owned the different plots of land in the village, the area and boundaries of each plot, who cultivated it, what crops were grown and how much was payable to the government as land revenue.
  • But after independence, this system fell into disarray.

Permanent settlement areas & Princely states: There was no practice of the annual updating of records.

But after independence, state government did not pay attention to land records.

  • Gradually In most States, villages and field maps, records of rights and land measurement records have become obsolete.
  • Tenancy reforms can only be implemented if there is proper written records of tenancies and land ownership. This was not always available because most of the time land leased on oral agreement- nothing on paper.

Outdated land records = land disputes, land grabbing, court cases, landowners evade ceilings=> Land reform remains #EPICFAIL

Problem in North East

  • The system of land records and land administration are entirely different in the hilly and tribal tracts of north-eastern States.
  • In some of these areas, there was no legislation regarding land and land related matters.
  • Therefore, accurate land records do not exist.
  • Jhuming or shifting cultivation is practiced. There is no record of the area or the boundaries of plots allotted to individuals. (+ the nuisance of illegal Bangladeshi Migrant farmers)

Lack of budgetary $upport

  • Cost of collecting land revenue (paperwork, staff-salary, electricity etc.)= higher than the actual cash received under land revenue.  Therefore, many states don’t even bother collecting land Revenue.
  • Land revenue administration falls under “non-plan” expenditure = doesn’t get much budgetary allocation.
  • As a result, administration suffers because department won’t hire many officers/employees, won’t bother building new offices, buying new photocopiers, GPS survey devices, jeeps etc.
  • In many places, Village accountants don’t have a separate office. Lack of photocopiers, computers= land records not maintained properly.
  • Many Tahsildars didn’t have telephones* and jeeps. So they were out of touch from day-to-day bribery and mismanagement by patwari @village level. (*we are talking about 50-90s era, when India had more toilets than mobile phones)
  • Result? Land records are outdated => land disputes, land grabbing and frequent litigations in courts. Poor people suffer.

Bureaucratic apathy

officers live in cities
  • Today, many patwaris, village officers, Mandal officers, revenue inspectors etc. have settled in small towns/cities with their families. They sign files from home, run office through phone and rarely visit the villages.
  • They write inquire reports without doing spot inspections in village.
  • Villagers have to visit town to get their problem resolved=costly affair.
  • Land mafia and rich farmers get things done by paying bribes.
  • WB: In West Bengal there are no Village Accountants. The Circle Inspector is the functionary of the Land Administration Department at the lowest level. People have to go to his office for various purposes.
bogus training
  • Revenue officers are trained better in court procedures than in dispute-resolution in a humane manner.
  • Hence they give more emphasis on form rather than content, on letter rather than spirit.
  • They rely on documents, stamp papers, affidavits but don’t bother to make field visit, talk with people to find the ground reality.
Changed focus Today, District officers (namely DM & SDM) mainly focused on

  • Conversion of Agri-land into industrial land
  • SEZ/industrialization related matter
  • law and order maintenance
  • How to chow down money from MNREGA, IAY etc. (or prevent it)

Hence, land reform programs=low priority for senior officers @District level. They tend to ignore the Tehsildar/Patwari’s inefficiency/corruption.

Tarikh pe Tarik Because of above reasons: a villager cannot get problem solved through village/tehsil level officer. He has to approach the court. But

  1. Majority of revenue courts continue to function in English language, but villagers don’t know English.
  2. Revenue Courts already choked with thousands of cases related to land. Poor litigant cannot afford making trips and hiring lawyers

Result? In most cases poor litigant will compromise with the land mafia/rich farmer/ex-zamindar or just stop pursuing the matter.

no coordination Many state departments keep their own land-database e.g. Agriculture, drinking water, irrigation, animal husbandry, forest etc.  But there is no linkage amongst these different data base.

In short, land reform= low priority for state government. All the new initiatives (Computerization of records, Forest rights Act have come from Union.)

Lack of Votebank

(From 50-90s)

  • Target audience for land reforms= tenants, landless agricultural labourers, SC/ST. But they were largely unorganized (Except WB and Kerala). They were unable to bring required pressure on the government for speedy implementation of the land reforms.
  • For political workers at grassroots are indifferent to land reforms because it was easy to sway the ignorant voters on desired political line according to religion and caste. The Ignorance, poverty, illiteracy and inegalitarian system has favoured such petty politics.
  • Therefore land reform was more of a rhetoric rather than real agenda of governments.

Powerless Panchyat

  • Panchayats don’t have sufficient revenue sources of their own.
  • Money flow: Centrally sponsored schemes (named after you know who)=>DRDA+Line deparments @State government=>Panchayat.
  • Result? Panchayats are too weak to do anything about land reforms.  + The proxy influence of rural elites stonewall any land reform initiatives.

Lack of Civil Society/NGO action

In the noteworthy movements by civil society/NGO for land reforms= Bhoodan/Gramdan, land satyagraha etc. But all these things happened before 90s. Today civil society/NGOs very vocal about transparency, anti-corruption, anti-rape laws, nuclear projects, mining rights etc. but land reforms hardly get any attention. Why?

  1. It is easy to get national-international awards/funding, media-recognition, political attention in these new topics.
  2. Just like “secularism”, the “land distribution” also has lost its original meaning. So, if an NGO talks too much about land redistribution- he might be labelled as naxal-sympethizer.
  3. In land reform sector: (1) computerization of land records=done by district administration and (2) for forest rights act=>done through gram Sabha. So Jholachhap NGOs don’t see opportunities for getting government projects/funds to mint ca$h, unlike in the schemes for under HIV/child-labour/education/SHG type activities.

The Naxal Angle:

The present Left wing extremism (LWE) has roots at two places:

West Bengal (1967) @Naxalbari
Andhra (1949) @Telengana and @Srikakulam.

At that time, main cause of these movement = exploitation by zamindar/landlords/forest contractors. But In the heydays of naxal movement, focus of the state governments shifted from agrarian/land reforms to law and order preservation. As a result:

  1. Many villagers remained landless.
  2. Rise of upper caste militia/private armies like Ranvir Sena, Kunwar Sena etc.
  3. Within village, Lack of growth in non-agricultural sector.
  4. Tribal land alienation by mining mafia.

All these factors further helped the Maoists to recruit more cadres from villages. District officials don’t goto Maoist affected areas, look @all villagers with suspicion etc.etc.etc. Ultimately, land reform cannot be carried out.

Thus, Left wing extremism (LWE) and Lack of Land Reform (LLR) have formed a vicious cycle.


Task Force on Agrarian Relations set up by the Planning Commission headed by P. S. Appu. (1972 )Made following observations

  1. Lack of political will=no tangible progress
  2. The decentralization of power to the rural sector was seen by the politicians as a threat to their national prominence.
  3. The erstwhile superior tenants belonging mostly to the upper and middle castes have benefittd.
  4. (but) A majority of the agricultural laborers =politically unorganized=could not benefit from the land reform measures.
  5. Land reform Acts were poorly drafting= many loopholes and litigations.
  6. Land records were outdated, most states didnot bother updating.
  7. Five year plans only gave lip service for land reforms but didn’t allot significant funds.
  8. Land reform has practically disappeared from the agenda of most political parties. but This is an inevitable consequence of the far reaching changes that have taken place in social and economic fields;

Land reforms: Overall Positive

  1. abolished exploitative the land tenure systems prevalent in agrarian society
  2. Distributed the surplus land among the landless and the weaker sections of the society.
  3. Provided security of tenure i.e. the tenants are assured that they can cultivate the land for long time period.
  4. In some cases tenants even given ownership rights.
  5. fixed rent in the range of 25-33%
  6. Without use of violence.
  7. The cumulative effect of abolition of zamindari, tenancy legislation and ceiling legislation= motivated the cultivators to invest and improve agricultural practices.
  8. Even though these land reforms were met with limited success, they made a significant positive impact on poverty removal.
  9. Land reforms+ Sanskritization + democratization + Panchayati Raj= lower castes have become more organized and assertive about their rights.
  10. In areas where land reform has not been implemented, the inequalities have persisted, caste oppression is most acute and have generally experienced low socio-economic development. (In other words where Land reforms were properly implemented- inequality is less, caste oppression is less and socio-economic Development is better).
  11. Historically unique effort at transformation of agrarian relations within a democratic framework.
  12. Brought fundamental changes in the agrarian economy, rural social structure, and rural power structure. Moved India society towards the egalitarian society.
  13. Increased democratization of Indian polity and reduction in influence of the dominant sections of the society. Counter-argument: Impact was not so significant like China/USSR.

To sum up, Land reforms are a major instruments of social transformation in a backward economy based on feudal and semi-feudal productive relationships. But in India, they met with limited success mainly because of the political and bureaucratic apathy.

Mock Questions

  1. Analyze the role of tenancy reform laws as a measure of land reforms.
  2. Write a note on the measures taken by states to provide security of tenure to farmers.
  3. Land reforms in early decades after independence, have failed to bring gender equity in rural power structure. Elaborate.
  4. Critically examine the Green revolution as a reason for non-inclusive growth in rural India.
  5. The blame for partial success of land reforms squarely falls on the local bureaucracy. Comment.
  6. Only the upper stratum of the peasants have benefited from the land reforms. For the Landless, land reform remains an ‘unfinished business’.
  7. Evaluate the impact of Land reforms measures by the state governments in the early decades after independence.
  8. Discuss, in brief, the contributions of land reforms in rural development.
  9. Critically examine the impact of land reforms on Indian economy and society.
  10. Critically examine the impact of social, economic and political power structure on land reforms in rural India.