1. Prologue
  2. Land Reform Tool #3: Tenancy Reforms
    1. Element1: Landowner’s right to lease
    2. Element2: Landowner’s right to Personal Cultivation
    3. Element3: Tenant’s right against eviction & high rent
    4. Element4: Tenant’s right to surrender
    5. Element5: Tenant’s Right to ownership
    6. Misc. rights to Tenants


in the previous articles, 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 (Zamindari), 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 they 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.
  1. Ceiling on Land holdings: Reasons, Impact, Obstacles, Limitations, Achievements
  • 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 peasants owned hardly any land.
  • So, State governments enacted land ceiling acts and distributed surplus land to poors and landless. This is second tool of Land reforms.

Now comes the third tool of land reforms:

Land Reform Tool #3: Tenancy 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:

The State

  1. enforces tenancy contracts
  2. Maintains law and order.

Earns revenue for doing 1+2


  • The owner: the guy who owns land
  • They pay Revenue to the State.
  • Rich farmers, Zamindars etc. own hundreds of acres of land. Can’t cultivate it on their own.
  • Similarly minors, disabled, widows, soldiers, fishermen may also own land but they can’t cultivate for one reason or another.
  • So these people ‘lease’ their land to other farmers (tenants).

Superior tenants

  • They cultivate on land leased from the ^owner.
  • These are hereditary tenants. Meaning they cultivate same land generation after generation.
  • They pay rent to the owner.
  • They have almost the same rights as the owners.
  • They can sell, mortgage or rent out the land.
  • They cannot be evicted against their will.

Inferior Tenants

  • Other names: tenants at will, subordinate tenants, temporary tenants, subtenants.
  • They till the land leased from other tenants/owners.
  • They pay rent to the owners/superior tenants.
  • They have limited rights over the land.
  • They cannot sell or mortgage the land.
  • They can be evicted easily.

Share croppers

  • Sharecroppers= cultivate other person’s land (Owner, Superior/inferior tenant)
  • They get share from the produce, and remaining goes to the tenant/owner.
  • The equipment and inputs items may be provided owner/tenant
  • They have no rights whatsoever on the land.
  • They cannot sell, rent or mortgage the land.
  • Can be evicted easily.

Landless laborers

  1. They get paid in cash or kind by the owners (or tenants)
  2. Sometimes work under begari/bonded labour.

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:

Tenant farmers


Element1: Landowner’s right to lease

  • 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.

  • In the Andhra region: leasing is permitted
  • In Telengana region: large landholdings cannot be leased, but small holdings can be leased
Assam Land can be leased in futureBut sub-leasing forbidden. (meaning tenant cannot lease the land further to third party)
  • In Future, agri.land cannot be leased except when owner is a person with disabilities.
  • Sub-leasing forbidden in any case
  • sub-lessee does not acquire the right of occupancy of the land.
Gujarat Leasing is prohibited except for Defense personnel.
Haryana Leasing permitted.
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.

Element2: Landowner’s right to Personal Cultivation

  • 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.

Element3: Tenant’s right against eviction & high rent

  • 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.

Tenure security

  • 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
  • yes, to both tenants and sub-tenants are given term security: (5 years and 1 year respectively)
  • But tenant can be removed from the land if he fails to pay rent for two years or more OR if he transfers holdings to third party without permission OR damages the land.
Tamilnadu Landowner cannot evict the tenant except

  1. If he wants to resume personal cultivation.
  2. tenant is not paying rent
West Bengal tenant and Sharecroppers (bargadars) cannot be evicted, except

  • They stop cultivating land.
  • They lease the same land to third party.
  • They refuse to give share/rent to the owner

Rent Security

  • 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
remaining states 20-25%

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.

Operation Barga

  • 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

Element4: Tenant’s right to surrender

  • 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,
    1. he bought his own land at a different place, or
    2. his son gets a decent job in the city and asks him to relocate or
    3. 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

  1. Owner’s right to lease
  2. Owner’s right to personal cultivation
  3. tenant’s right against eviction
  4. tenant’s right to surrender

Now to the fifth and final element under Land Tenancy reform acts:

Element5: Tenant’s Right to ownership

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.
  • If Tenant cultivated the land continuously for 12 years, can acquire right of occupancy from the landowners
  • without paying money to original landlord.
  • Limitation: Many small farmers had been tilling land on ‘oral agreements’, did not have paper records to prove 12 years.
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.
  • Tenant has right to purchase land within one year of the commencement of tenancy.
  • in 1975, ~1.1 out of  ~2.6 million tenants acquired ownership rights. (=less than 50%)
  • Challenge: Many tenants could not afford the large sum of money to purchase the land.
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:

  1. State laws already gave rent reduction + permanent occupancy rights= these superior tenants were for all practical purposes virtual owners.
  2. Hence there was hardly any motivation to try and acquire full ownership.
  3. Besides to get full ownership=> need capital (money) and legal complications.

Misc. rights to Tenants

Some states also made laws for:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.