1. Tenancy Reforms: Obstacles/Limitations
    1. #1: Women did not benefit
    2. #2: SC/ST did not benefit
    3. #3: Green Revolution=land grabbing
    4. #4: Personal Cultivation
  2. Tenancy Reforms: Benefits
    1. #1: Rise of New Politics
    2. #2: Social Justice
    3. #3: More investment

Tenancy Reforms: Obstacles/Limitations

In the previous article, we saw the salient features of Tenancy reforms in various states of India, now let’s check their achievements and limitations.

  1. Land reform delayed, is land reform denied: The inordinate delays in law making=>Landowners evicted potential beneficiaries (tenants) before the law came into force.
  2. Underground: These laws pushed tenancy to underground = in concealed form, through oral agreements without anything on paper. The tenants were now called ‘farm servants’ though they continued to work in exactly the same status.
  3. Oral: Most tenancy agreements were oral and informal, hence tenants could not prove anything in court to assert their rights.
  4. Creamy Layer: Didn’t provide security to tenure to all tenants. Only the upper stratum of the farmers – who had the knowledge and means to fight court cases, benefited from these laws.
  5. Sharecroppers did not benefit: In many state laws, Sharecroppers don’t enjoy same rights as a tenant. Therefore, landowners converted tenants into sharecroppers.

#1: Women did not benefit

  • Women in India have traditionally been deprived of property rights and their property rights still meet with strong social opposition.
  • During the heydays of land redistribution (60-80s) – males were given the “patta” (document showing ownership right over land). But their wives got nothing.

Result? Women have been working in farmland without any title/paper documents. It leads to following negative consequences

  1. Women cannot get loan/credit, subsidy on irrigation-fertilizer-seeds etc.
  2. Women become destitute in case of desertion, divorce, or widowhood. In North India, widows often found working as agricultural laborers on the farms of their well-off brothers or brothers-in-law.
  3. Women have no bargaining power
    • @household decision making
    • @labour market for wages.

This is new form of Zamindari exploitation because farm operation (by female) is divorced from farm ownership (by female). Thus, tenancy reforms/land reforms have failed to bring gender equity in rural areas.

#2: SC/ST did not benefit

  • Recall the hierarchy of players in a tenancy system: landowner=>superior tenant =>inferior tenant=>sharecropper=>landless laborers.
  • Major beneficiaries of land reform laws = superior tenant, who mostly fall in OBC category.
  • But impact of land reform measures on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were not significant.
  • Landowners- large, medium, small or marginal- all vehemently resisters tenancy reforms. No political party could dare to lose their vote bank. Hence Tenancy reforms didn’t trickle down.
  • The rural strata at the bottom of land-ownership and caste hierarchy, continued to be exploited by the old and new elite.

In other words, tenancy reforms merely replaced the old elite (upper caste) with new elite (Backward castes). But have not trickled down below that.

#3: Green Revolution=land grabbing

  • The Green Revolution made agriculture profitable, thus led to role reversal among tenancy players.
  • Before=: big farmers would lease land to small farmers.
  • After=: big farmers would take land from small/marginal farmers on lease, and they’ll cultivate with hybrid seeds, machines, fertilizers etc. (doubt: but why would small farmer lease his land? Because he lacks the ‘capital’ to buy all those hybrid seeds n fertilizer- hence for a small farmer, it is less risky and more profitable to lease land to big farmer).
  • But, eventually many of these big (tenant) farmers grabbed the land using loopholes in tenancy laws.
  • In other words, rich farmers using big capital and modern technology, have converted agriculture into a capitalist mode of production. In such cases tenancy laws have harmed the small and marginal farmers => Green revolution has been detrimental to land reforms.

#4: Personal Cultivation

  • Most State Acts allow landowners to takeback land from tenant for ‘personal cultivation’.
  • On paper the term ‘personal cultivation’ looked reasonable, but when applied in the field, was confusing and subject to multiple interpretations.
  • Does personal cultivation mean he himself has to plough the field? or can he hire a landless labourer for ploughing and irrigation? ….. Concept was vaguely defined, there were no definite answers in the various state laws.
  • Thus, ex-zamindars/landowners evicted the tenants from the land claiming that they (owner) intended to cultivate the land personally.  In Punjab alone, more than 500,000 tenants were evicted in pretext of Personal cultivation.

Some more negative points stem from bureaucratic apathy (explained in later part of this article). Anyways, enough of negativity, let’s check some positive points:

Tenancy Reforms: Benefits

#1: Rise of New Politics

After freedom but before land reforms (50-60s) After land reforms (60-70-80s)
  • The political process dominated by the “client patron model.”
  • In this model, the rural elite (upper caste) would persuade or force the lower caste villagers to vote for their (upper caste) leader.
  • Hence political parties mainly focused on pleasing those rural elite. And did not care much for SC/ST/OBC
  • Paved the way for the rise of new political forces in the country.
  • Particularly Superior Tenants / Bullock Capitalists / middle Shudra castes (=Yadav, Jat and Ahir)
  • Tenancy reforms+Green revolution= gave them money power and freedom to assert themselves politically.
  • First they became a pressure group, later a political group
  • No government could afford to ignore their demands for subsidized electricity, fertilizer, irrigation etc.

Thus we can say,

  1. Land reforms helped new classes/castes to gain political power directly/indirectly.
  2. The participation of the backward classes deepened Indian democracy.
  3. Indian democracy became more inclusive.
  4. Political system became more competitive and complex.

#2: Social Justice

Before land reforms after
  • Upper castes owned most of the land In Village.
  • While the lower castes lived as tenants and agriculture labourers.
  • This Landlessness and insecure tenancies forced the majority of the rural population to be dependent on the upper caste=>often lead to exploitation.
  • These laws gave the lower castes the security of tenure over farmland
  • +land ceiling+zamindari abolition+ Panchayati Raj reforms.
  • Result: Influence/domination of upper caste declined in village power structure
  • Thus, Constitution’s promise of giving justice — social, political and economic, became a reality.

#3: More investment

  • In the ryotwari areas of Bombay state (MH+Guj), ~50% of the tenants became landowners- including inferior tenants.
  • Even in former zamindari areas such as West Bengal, nearly half the sharecroppers got occupancy rights under Operation Barga.
  • Now the tenants and sharecroppers who got occupancy rights=> they had the motivation of becoming progressive farmers, use high yielding variety, invest more capital etc.

So far, we learned three ‘major’ land reforms measures in post independent India

  1. Zamindari abolition
  2. land ceiling
  3. tenure reforms

In the next article, we’ll see the overall positive and negative impact of Land reforms in India.