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Revisiting the laws on land and labour

The fundamental obstacle to rural progress is not technical. It is the institutional framework of Indian agriculture. There are number of defects of land policy pursued in India.

The peasants of the country strongly backed the independence movement on the aspiration of the “Land to the Tiller”. In order to develop agriculture of our country land reforms is much important than technological reforms. Land reforms pave the way for creating economic holding through redistribution of land to small and marginal farmers. Removal of intermediaries and tenancy system followed by the system of giving ownership of land to actual cultivators through land reforms can ensure the benefit of cultivation to the tiller of the soil. This will create incentive in the minds of the farmers to devote much more effort and to raise the volume of investment for adopting new farming technology.

Redistribution of land could provide a permanent asset base for a large number of rural landless poor for taking up land based and other supplementary activities. The consolidation of holdings, tenancy regulation and up-dating of land records would widen the access of small and marginal land holders to improved technology and inputs. It would directly lend to increase agricultural production.

The objectives of land reforms in India are:

  1. to make provision for more rational use of scarce land resources by changing the conditions of holdings, imposing ceilings on land holdings, so as run the cultivation process in a most economical manner without any waste of land, labour and capital.
  2. to raise the production level of the agricultural sector by motivating the farmers to raise their output and also by giving incentives.
  3. to remove exploitation of poor farmers by landlords.
  4. to promote social welfare for rural masses and also to end social injustice through equitable distribution of income.
  5. to pave the way for adopting modern methods of cultivation and farming through consolidation of holdings and also by establishing direct link between government agencies and farmers for the development of agriculture in a planned manner. In this connection, the Planning Commission has rightly observed, “Land reforms have been treated as an integral part of eradicating poverty, modernisation of agriculture and increasing the agricultural production programme.”
  6. to raise the standard of living of the rural poor through re-distributive packages and programmes.

To meet this objective various rural “development programmes like IRDP, JRY, EAS etc. are also designed to support land reforms as an effective measure to raise the standard of living of rural poor by widening their land base. The legislation enacted for land reforms in India is having certain built-in faults.

These includes—unsatisfactory definition of personal cultivation; unlimited retention of land for personal cultivation; large-scale transfer of land by the Zamindars to their family members leading to a large scale evasion of land ceiling law; inadequate definition of tenant from the point of view of tenancy reform; forcible voluntary surrender of land by tenants to landlords due to omission of share croppers and informal tenants from the provision of the laws related to tenancy reform in some states and inadequate ceiling laws at the initial stage, leading to realisation of small areas as surplus followed by illegal transfer of land. So a rentire class and absentee landlords still exist in our country. Only a small proportion of the tenants of the country have acquired permanent rights and a great majority of those tenants have insecure tenure. In India, ceiling on land holding was never implemented in proper way. The land reform policy in India is being implemented at a slow pace and also in a very uncoordinated manner leading to a total delay in implementing the reforms. The successful implementation of land ceiling legislation needs strong and efficient administrative machinery. Strong political will determination and courage are very much important for the implementation of land reform measures related to restructuring property relations. Otherwise no tangible progress can be expected in the field of land reform in the absence of the requisite political will. In a society in which the entire weight of Civil and Criminal laws, Judicial pronouncements and precedents, administrative tradition and practice is thrown on the side of the existing social order based on the inviolability of private property, an isolated law aiming at the restructuring of property relation in the rural areas has little chance of success. This is very much absent in Indian context which leads the land reform measures into a almost mere slogan.

Bureaucratic obstacles are also another impediment in the path of implementation of land reform measures in India. Sometimes, enthusiastic administrators are demoralised by the political bosses. The bureaucracy always tried to play safe by following a ‘lukewarm’ attitude. In some cases, even administrators have joined hands with the politician to grab the surplus land. Land problems in India continue. The renewed interest in land issues stems from the perceived impact of liberalization. Tenancy, land ceiling and land administration are to be revisited with a new perspective. The renewed focus should be legalizing tenancy, revising the ceiling limits, quality of land, meeting the challenge of miniscule holdings.

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