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Zamindari Abolition Act

From the year 1949 to 1951, the states in India – independently brought into effect the zamindari abolition act. Uttar Pradesh was the first state in India brought into effect the law related to abolition of zamindari system. Subsequently states like Madras (later called Tamil Nadu), Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, etc implemented the Zamindari abolition act almost on the lines of UP Zamindari abolition Act.

Important Provisions of the Zamindari Abolition Act

Zamindars are allowed to possess some part of their lands for personal cultivation. Those retained lands were called `Khudh Khast` lands. Surplus lands shall be confiscated from zamindars. Compensation shall be paid for the lands taken away. With regard to this, the government`s decision would be final and non- justiciable. Surplus lands shall be given to the tenants with a minimal price. Tenants who got the lands were called as `Bhoomidhars`, tenants who were not in a position to pay the entire amount, can pay the amount in installments and were called as `Sirdars`. Barren lands, ponds, forests were taken away from Zamindars and were transferred to village panchayats.

The above provisions were challenged in the court, claiming they were against the Article. 31 of the Constitution of India. Subsequently, the government made changes to the Constitution. Golaknath, a zamindar from Punjab challenged the amendment of the Constitution and confiscation of his lands in the Court of law. Supreme Court gave the judgment in favour of Golaknath, it ruled that parliament cannot amend the Constitution. However, subsequently to accommodate the Zamindar Abolition Act and to bring land reforms more freely and effectively the Article 31 of the constitution was repealed.

Analysis of Zamindari Abolition Act

The provision in Zamindari Abolition Act accommodates that the Zamindars can retain some lands for their personal use. However, how much personal cultivable land can be retained was never defined. Ceiling of holdings was not yet introduced by that time. When the act was passed, there were no records that have the information about the tenancy. Zamindars showed the tenants as their servants and retained the lands. Forests were massively depleted as there was a provision in the act that forests under the control of Zamindars shall be transferred to the village panchayats.

The government has to pay compensation for the confiscated lands. This provision in the act increased heavy pressure and burden on the State treasury. States in the India were empowered to make laws related to Zamindari abolition act since the land comes under state list of the seventh schedule of the constitution of India. There was no uniformity in the act in each State.

Tenancy Reforms

Tenancy cultivation is quite common in rural India whereby the land is cultivated by small farmers and share crop with owners as payment of rent for using land. Ensuring fair rent, security to the tenure, converting the tenants into the owner cultivators were the major objectives of the Tenancy reforms. Surplus lands confiscated from Zamindars were given to tenants on a minimal amount which was eight to ten times of annual rent. The lands were given to only those tenants who were paying the rent in the form of cash. Bargadars or Sharecroppers were those tenants who pay the rent in the form of kind and there was no accommodation to them in the act and hence there was no advantage to them with regard to availing the land.

However, Sharecroppers were accommodated in the Tenancy acts subsequently. The terms and conditions between the landlords and the peasants were always oral. It has become difficult to identify the tenure of the tenants worked in respective lands. The fair rent objective of the tenancy reforms was never implemented.

Tenancy reforms included the following measures:

  1. Rent Ceiling: The maximum rent payable by the tenant has been fixed. It cannot exceed one fourth to one fifth in most states.
  2. Tenure Security: The security of tilling of land is provided whereby the tenants now cannot be ejected at will except for self-cultivation provided the rent is paid.
  3. Conferring Ownership Rights to Peasants: The legislative changes have been made to provide for conferment of ownership rights on all the cultivating farmers on the payment of specified amount to the landlords.

Tenancy reforms progressed in a large number of states though with varied degree of success with quite a number of peasants and landless laborers were given ownership rights. However, the reform process suffered from ineffective implementations of enormous legislations due to the following reasons:

  1. Misuse of Exemptions and Escape Clauses: In the legislation escape clauses were provided that were misused by big land-owners. For example land-owners resorted to ejection of tenants on the pretext of self-cultivation. In fact, tenancy-at-will with no formal contract was increased. The term self-cultivation was defined very loosely. In this manner the owners were able to resume a substantial part of the land. These owners don’t cultivate land but informally lease it out on the basis of sharing of crop. The cultivators under these informal leases are under constant threat of ejection.
  2. Fictitious surrender of land by tenants to landowners’: Land-owners on paper showed that the tenants have been voluntarily given up right on the land in favor of landowners.
  3. Lack of Information and Economic Support among Poor Tenants: The policy required the payment of specified amount to the owners to obtain ownership rights but the cultivators lack resources to acquire land from owners.
  4. Non-Availability of Updated records of Land-Ownership: also created problems in proper implementation of land reforms.
  5. Lack of Political will to rigorously implement Tenancy Reforms: As large politicians were big land owners so the slow progress of reforms was in their self-interest.
  6. Higher Rent: The efforts were made to fix rent rather than to reduce rents. In many places rents were fixed at a level already prevailing or fixed traditionally.

Thus the implementation of tenancy reforms left much to be desired. The land favored well-off land lords and created greater insecurity of tenure in the form of informal leasing of land. The resource constraint of the tenants also prevented the large transfers of land in their favour.

Reorganization of land holdings

Reorganization of land-holding involves changing the land-size of cultivators so as to make it a viable economic unit. This will help to adopt modern technology and improved agricultural practices. The reorganization of land is undertaken through the following measures

  1. Land Ceiling Act To retain the lands effectively from the Zamindars, finally government introduced the land ceilings Act. The Kumarappan Committee, the All Indian Kisan Sabha recommends the ceiling of land from zamindars. In 1942, the Kumarappan Committee recommended the maximum size of land a landlord can retain, it was three times of the size of the economic holding i.e. Sufficient livelihood for a family. The All India Kisan Sabha recommended that the land that can be retained by a family shall be 25 acres. In 1959, the following decisions were taken in the congress session of Nagpur; All the provinces should immediately implement land ceiling Acts, and surplus lands shall be brought under co-operatives.
  2. Analysis of Land Ceiling Act

    From 1960 to 1961, several States brought into force the Land Ceiling Acts. However, there was no proper result till 1972 due to the following; the zamindars transferred the lands on to the names of their farm servants, the act exempted the plantation industries and co-operative farming has got exemption which was tactfully utilized by the landlords.

    In 1972, Basing on the recommendations of the Central land reforms committee, government of India issued the following new guidelines to the states with regard to land ceiling act; Ceiling for the double crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 10 to 18 acres. Ceiling for the single crop irrigated lands; limit shall be 27 acres. Ceiling for the dry land it shall be 54 acres. The above ceiling measurements were applicable to a family of five members. The family with more than five can have additional area of land for each additional member but the same cannot be extended beyond twenty acres.

  3. Consolidation of Land-Holdings: Small and scattered land-holding were consolidated into compact economic holdings. The small-sized fragmented and scattered with a person/family land at different places were identified and equivalent of consolidated land were given at one place. The programmed was initially started on voluntary basis but later on made compulsory.

The important factors that cause sub-division and fragmentation of land-holdings are:

  • Pressure of population: The acute growth in the population in the rural causes increasing pressure on the land. Every individual desires a share in the land thus the land gets sub-divided.
  • Law of inheritance: The Indian inheritance law especially Hindu and Muslim law of succession give equal right of share to all children in the inheritance which led to sub-division and fragmentation of land.
  • Rural indebt ness: Farmers in rural India are largely dependent upon local money lenders who charges huge interest and very often the land is mortgaged to raise loan. In the event of non-payment of loans, the part of land has to be sold off. This led to sub-division of land-holdings.

Consequences of Sub-Division

  • Wastage of Capacity: The small and fragmented holdings sometimes make it impossible to use for cultivation and so the land capacity is wasted due to uneconomic size.
  • Higher Cost: The cost of production per unit of land on small-size farm increases. Further, the old techniques are used on such farms that further aggravate the cost of production.
  • Lack of Modernization or land Improvement Techniques
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