Land Reforms in India


  1. Introduction
  2. Abolition of Intermediaries (rent collectors under the pre-Independence land revenue system) 
  3. Tenancy Regulation (to improve the contractual terms including security of tenure)
  4. Ceiling on Landholdings (to redistribute surplus land to the landless) 
  5. Attempts to Consolidate Disparate Landholdings
  6. Causes of Failure of Land Reforms
  7. Summary


Since his early days of involvement in the Indian Nationalist Movement, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, has acknowledged the two social classes under the existing structure of agrarian relations in rural India under British rule. The landlord class and the peasant class were those who governed agrarian relations in rural India. Nehru had strong opinions about how these two classes interacted with one another. His goal was to use modern technology and alter agrarian relations in order to change the social and economic structure of the hamlet. In his view, landlords and landlordism will not exist in an independent India. On the other hand, the peasants, or kisans, were the true "masses of India." The colonial authorities were not the Kisans' only adversaries. The local landlords posed an equal threat. Their problems revolved around rent, eviction, and land ownership. He highlighted that if "Swaraj" did not address the issues facing the kisans, it would be of little use. Land reforms were consequently implemented in India under his direction as the country's first independent prime minister.

The Preamble of the Constitution, which is founded on the four pillars of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, as well as some specific provisions, most notably the directive principles of state policy, give priority to land reforms. These principles state that the state shall, in particular, direct its policies so that:
  • The citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood; 
  • The ownership and control of the resources of the community are so distributed as to sub serve the common good; 
  • The operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and other means of production to the common detriment.
The state made some of its most important efforts to accomplish these aims through land reforms. The Indian government issued directives to its states that they should do away with intermediary tenures, regulate rent and tenancy rights, grant tenants ownership rights, enforce holdings caps, allocate excess land to the rural poor, and make consolidation of landholdings easier. In a short amount of time, the state governments passed a considerable number of laws. But it's a whole different story when it comes to how these laws are really put into practice and how they affect the agrarian system. The majority of these laws contained loopholes that permitted landlords to manipulate land records, evict their tenants, and use other methods to circumvent the laws.

Abolition of Intermediaries (rent collectors under the pre-Independence land revenue system)

By the time India acquired freedom, intermediaries like Zamindars, Talukdars, Jagirdars, and Inams had taken over the agricultural industry. Naturally, the elimination of intermediary tenures received top attention. The removal of middlemen between the peasant and the state has long been supported by Congress. Immediately upon independence, some states adopted measures to abolish the Zamindari system. Madras, India, passed the first Act banning intermediaries in 1948. Since then, legislation eliminating Zamindari rights has been approved by other states. By 1955, practically all of the states had made progress in outlawing intermediaries. There are benefits and drawbacks to eliminating intermediaries.


  • As a result of the abolition of intermediaries, about 2 crore tenants are estimated to have come into direct contact with the State making them owners of land. 
  • The abolition of intermediaries has led to the end of a parasite class. More lands have been brought to government possession for distribution to landless farmers. 
  • A considerable area of cultivable waste land and private forests belonging to the intermediaries has been vested in the State.


  • Abolition of intermediaries resulted in a heavy burden on the state exchequer .The ex-intermediaries were given a compensation amounting to Rs. 670 crores in cash and in bonds. 
  •  It has led to large-scale eviction. Large-scale eviction, in turn, has given rise to several problems – social, economic, administrative and legal. 
  • Instead of the abolition of the official land-lords, absentee land-lords as a class emerged. Hence the claim of the official documents pertaining to the abolition of intermediaries has no logical foundation. The truth is that it has changed only its garb.

Tenancy Regulation (to improve the contractual terms including security of tenure)

Rural India witnesses three types of tenants: 
  • (a) permanent or occupancy tenants, 
  • (b) temporary or non-occupancy tenants, and 
  • (c) sub-tenants
Permanent ownership of the land belongs to the tenants in perpetuity. For tenants who stay put, the rent is set. As long as they pay rent, a person's right to cultivate land is passed down from generation to generation. Land is therefore inheritable. Occupancy renters enhance their land as a result of this security of holding. Due to their ability to sell or mortgage their land, they are practically the owners.

The owners of land, whether they be peasant-proprietors or occupation renters, hardly differ from one another. The sole distinction is that the occupation tenant pays the landlord, whilst the owners pay the government. Temporary or non-occupancy tenants are not permitted to permanently cultivate the land. They may be dispossessed from property under thin pretenses. Rent is too expensive for them. It can be arbitrarily raised. Because they are afraid of being evicted, they don't do any land improvements. The tenants who work the land for the large landowners are known as sub-tenants. They only cultivate land under lease. The leases are mostly verbal. These are flexible and changeable. They can pay their rent in cash or in product shares. Anyhow, the rent is outrageous. There is no tenure security. Their situation is not only pitiful but also weak and unsteady. According to the eighth wave of the National Sample Survey, 20% of the land is leased at will or under a subtenancy.

The tenancy system cannot be abolished in any way. However, it may be fixed so that it is both socially and economically acceptable. Though the laws vary depending on the jurisdiction, there are three key elements to all tenancy reforms. These include 
  • (i) the tenants' security of tenure, 
  • (ii) the determination of fair rent, and
  • (iii) the granting of ownership rights to specific categories of renters.

Security of tenur

The interest among the cultivators to improve their land is sparked by security of tenure. Additionally, it aids in achieving the two main goals of land reforms, namely the advancement of social fairness and an increase in productivity. In the majority of the states, legislation have been passed to prevent tenants from being ejected and to provide them permanent rights on properties. They contain three crucial characteristics:
  1. Tenants cannot be evicted without any reason. They can be evicted only in accordance with the laws. 
  2. Land can be resumed by the landlord only on the ground of personal cultivation. But the land-lord can resume the land only up to a maximum limit. 
  3. The landlord should leave some area to the tenant for his own cultivation. The tenant in no case should be made landless.
However, there are differences in the tenancy laws across India. Every state has its own set of laws.

Regulation of Rent

Rents were expensive in India before independence for obvious reasons. Rents have been rising steadily because of a variety of issues, including flawed land tenure laws, population pressure on the land, a lack of nonfarm work options, and the government's apathetic and ambivalent attitude toward the interests of tenants. Rent was paid as a percentage of total produce, or 50%. The percentage of rent in certain locations reached 70%. In addition to paying such a hefty rent, the tenant also had to give the landlords some free services. As a result, the Central Government insisted that State Governments regulate high rent from the start of the First Plan. The amount of rent that must be paid to the landlord cannot exceed 20% to 25%, according to the rules.

As a result, some state governments implemented tenancy laws to control rent. The major goal of such Acts was to make the rent reasonable and equitable. The maximum rent varies from state to state, nevertheless. For instance, whilst rent is set at one-fourth of gross production in Orissa and Bihar, it is set at one-third of gross production in Punjab and one-sixth of gross production in Rajasthan. Because of differences in the fertility of the land, the rates also differ within the state.

Right of ownership

Tenants have been recognized as the proprietors of the land they cultivate in terms of ownership rights. The owners must receive recompense from them. The compensation should not be greater than the going rate for rent. In some states, rules have been enacted that let the tenant to buy the rented property after paying the landlord a fee. A land tribunal may be consulted if there is a disagreement between the tenant and the landlord regarding the payment of rent. The amount that the renter must pay the landlord will be determined by the tribunal.

Approximately 40 lakh renters have now gained ownership rights over 37 lakh hectares of land as a result of these actions. They now have improved social and economic conditions. Legislation in several states, however, falls short of the established practice when it comes to tenancy reform. Even worse, the laws have been implemented in a sluggish, half-hearted, and unsatisfactory manner. Tenant protection under the law has therefore frequently proved ineffectual.

Ceiling on Landholdings (to redistribute surplus land to the landless) 

Imposing a cap on land holdings is the third crucial stage in the land reform process. A ceiling on land holdings refers to the determination of the maximum quantity of land that a person or family may own. The two components of the land ceiling are the fixing of the ceiling limit and the acquisition of surplus land and its distribution to small farmers and workers who lack access to land.

Setting a cap on agricultural holdings is primarily a redistributive policy. Prof. Gadgo correctly notes that of all resources, the quantity of land is the most scarce and the number of people vying for its possession is very high. Therefore, unless there are additional compelling reasons that make it highly desirable, it is manifestly unfair to permit a single person to exploit any sizable area of property. The absolute and permanent lack of land in relation to the population that depends on it, the slim chance that people will switch to non-agricultural jobs, and the requirement to grow production and employment all contribute to the virtually indisputable justification for a land cap.

Economic Rationality of Land Ceiling 

Some economists contend that small farms are more productive than huge farms. According to Prof. C. H. Hanumatha, there are greater employment chances on small farms. They don't need as much money as big farms do. He continued by saying that by working together, small farms might be expanded into larger ones in order to benefit from scale economies.

Social Rationality of Land Ceiling

Land is scarce and there are many claimants in a developing nation like India. Therefore, allowing a small group of individuals to own a significant portion of the land is socially unfair. Such a situation runs counter to the majority of people's rights to justice, equality, and prosperity. Setting limits on land and giving it to those who will actually use it—the tenants—makes sense from a social perspective. In this approach, caps on land ownership can significantly increase revenue and provide prosperity to the nation's laboring masses. In India, ceiling laws have been passed and implemented in all states over the course of two phases. T

The first phase continued up to 1972. The second phase started from 1972. The important provisions of ceiling legislations constitute
(a) unit of application; 
(b) upper limit for land holdings; 
(c) exemption and 
(d) availability of surplus land and its distribution
  • Unit of application: Prior to 1972, or the first phase, the basis for ceiling fixation was an individual as a unit rather than a family. A family has been recognised as the application unit for ceilings since 1972. The family is referred to as a grouping of a husband, wife, and kids.
  • Upper limit for land holdings;There were significant differences in the ceilings on land ownership throughout the initial phase. Different states established varying maximum land holdings. For instance, the maximum allowed size in Andhra Pradesh ranged from 27 to 216 acres. It ranged from 22 to 366 acres in Rajasthan. The ceiling's upper limit has been decreased as a result of the new, amended policy. For example, the highest limit has been set at 10 to 18 acres depending on the productivity of the land for properties with a guaranteed water supply and where at least two crops are grown. The cap has been set at 27 acres in regions where irrigation is only available for one crop. The upper limit is set at 54 acres for the remaining types of land.
  • Exemptions: The ceiling laws did not apply to certain types of land. Orchards, pasture lands, sugar-cane fields for sugar factories, cooperative farms, etc. were among the land types spared.
  • Availability of surplus land and its distribution:  The progress made with regard to distribution of surplus land has been very underwhelming. By 1982–1983, all extra land was to be allocated and taken control of, according to the sixth plan goal. But this still has a long way to go. The failure of the land ceiling can be attributed to a number of issues, including illegitimate property transfers, judicial interventions, legal loopholes, a lack of land records, ineffective administration, political pressure, etc. 

Attempts to Consolidate Disparate Landholdings

Consolidation of Holdings is the process of purchasing or trading land with others in order to combine a farmer's several small plots of land that are dispersed around the community into a single compact block. In India, holdings are typically relatively tiny. Over time, the number of holdings is growing while the quantity of the holdings is dropping. The inheritance laws are to blame for this. Farms are inevitably being divided up and dispersed with each new generation as a result of inheritance rules. The combined family system that predominated before is also on the decrease. The current nuclear family structure is causing holdings to be divided and fragmented. The division and fragmentation of holdings have a number of negative effects, including the waste of land, challenges with land management, challenges implementing new technologies, disputes over boundaries, covert unemployment, low productivity, etc. The benefits of consolidating landholdings are as follows:
  • It prevents the endless subdivision and fragmentation of land holdings. 
  • It saves the time and labour of a farmer. 
  • It effect improvement on land in the form of bunding, fencing, etc. 
  •  It promotes large-scale cultivation. 
  • It brings down the cost of cultivation and reduces litigation among farmers.
In some locations, consolidation of properties was attempted in India long before independence. Since the Planning was first established in 1951, it has been a crucial component of our land reform strategy. However, only 15 of the country's 25 states have established legislation governing the consolidation of property. The rapid implementation of the consolidation program is hampered by a number of factors. These include inadequate responses from farmers, a broad range in the condition of the land, a challenging land consolidation procedure, a lack of enforcement equipment, a lack of political will, etc.

Causes of Failure of Land Reforms

  • Undue advance publicity and delay in enacting land laws: The leaders of the ruling party have made a big deal out of the anticipated land reforms for after independence. Once more, it has taken an extraordinarily lengthy period for a law in several states to become an Act. This has made it possible for landowners to change as needed in order to get around various sections of land reform legislation.
  • A general definition of "personal cultivation" is as follows: Even when seated 200 miles away, one could resume land for personal cultivation under the definition. The Zamindars have been given permission to own huge tracts of land for farming. Once more, the rules have made provision for numerous exclusions, such as those related to property given for valor, orchards, tea estates, well-run farms, etc.
  • Optional nature of the laws:  Most legislation allowing tenants ownership rights are optional; this is due to their ambiguous language. They are more of an option. The government must be petitioned by the tenants in order to confer ownership rights. They won't be delivered to them automatically. Many times, tenants are afraid of the landlords and are hesitant to seek legal help for this reason.
  • Malicious land transfer: In order to get around the regulations governing land ceilings, zamindars have transferred a lot of land to their families or relatives. Such fraudulent transactions have little impact on how agriculture is operated.
  • Lack of social consciousness among tenants: Prof. Khusro stressed the significance of tenant social consciousness as a factor contributing to the successful implementation of land reforms in his study, "Economic and Social Effects of Jagirdari Abolition." Small farmers and landless people were not only disorganized but also frequently unaware of the functioning of the legal and constitutional systems.
  • State side with the big farmers:  State government on the side of the large farmers: The state governments, which oversee land operations, have shifted in favor of the large farmers. Small farmers' interests have been significantly impacted.
  • Absence of strong political will: The land reform program requires sufficient political desire, fervor, and backing. But regrettably, the political elite only appear to have a progressive, socialist viewpoint. The significant gaps between policy and legislation as well as between law and its implementation clearly show a lack of political will.
  • Administrative corruption: The Patwari and other Revenue Department employees have a fantastic opportunity to profit from land reforms. Again, in many instances, high-ranking officials are also landlords. Moreover, politicians and bureaucrats buy up the lands that are being purchased to be allocated to farmers who lack access to land. The owners of surplus land manage the land data in such a way that the excess land they possess is typically barren and uncultivable. Surplus land is therefore fallow and unusable land. The landless peasants receive no advantage from such extra land.
  • Lack of documents: It is impossible to correctly identify the recipients of land reforms if there are no records of who owns the land, who occupies it, and who actually cultivates it.
  • Lack of uniformity in land reform legislation: Land reform legislation varies widely across India. In many states, they are different. This explains why land reform initiatives have been moving slowly as well.
  • Emergence of new agriculture technology:  Emergence of new agricultural technology: The new seed-could-fertilizer technology requires sufficient resources and brisk entrepreneurship for its successful deployment. These requirements can only be met by large growers.


The adoption and implementation of land reforms in India had the dual goals of improving rural India's exploitative agrarian relations on the one hand, and raising agricultural productivity on the other. Four characteristics of land reforms were created in order to achieve these goals: the elimination of middlemen, tenancy regulation, land ceiling, and consolidation of diverse landholdings. For the rural masses of India (the kisans/peasantry) to become economically and socially empowered, land reforms were essential in addressing issues of land connected to rent, eviction, and occupancy. Therefore, it was anticipated that it would result in agricultural surplus that the peasantry might use. By increasing the rural population's internal demand for industrial goods, this would in turn lay the groundwork for India's industrialization. Land reforms, however, were unable to be properly implemented in India for a number of social, economic, and political reasons, which has prolonged the nation's economic and social disparity. Thus, we might conclude this discussion with the following observation of Prof. M.L. Dantwala, “By and large, land reforms in India enacted so far ……. are in the right direction, and yet due to lack of implementation the actual results are far from satisfactory”.


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