Land reforms in India

Land – a part of earth which is not covered by water. “Land” is said to be the most important feature of nature. Human population uses land for productivity, source of food and a place to live and to do their work. ” Land reforms ” refers to the efforts to reform the ownership of land and regulation of land in India.


Land reforms can also be said to be redistribution of lands by the government from landlords to landless people for agriculture or for any other special purpose. It’s mainly for distributing lands from rich to poor people. The term land reform comprises regulations for ownership, operations, leasing, sales and inheritance of land. India as an agricultural economy, with a great scarcity and an unequal distribution of land with a large mass of rural population below the poverty line it could be the greater struggle for growth culture. And it is very important to redistribute agricultural lands in favour of less privileged class in general and cultivating class in more particular. In the form of economic point of view, the main aim of land reform is equity. The key aim is to ensure access to some minimum amount of land to the people who are in the line of poverty. Land reform is said to be the change in the system of land ownership especially when it involves giving the land to the people who actually farm it. [1]

Pre – Independence Era

In any country, the basis of all economic activity is land and it’s resources. If we look at the history of India, there are many instances of considering the land as a private property by the individuals who had complete control over it. There was a practice of holding lands in an highly unequal manner from historic times and it is always used as a source of social power in the society. The land ownership and patterns were in a different form in each rule. i.e starting from Mughals ,and British rule, to till India got independence. Tax was the major source of revenue for the kings and emperors from the ancient times to till the British rule came into existence. During the period of kingship, the land was divided into jagirs, and they were allotted jagirdars. These jagirdars split the land which they got and allocated them to sub – ordinate zamindars. The zamindars made the peasants cultivate the land, in return they collected their part of revenue as tax. In India before a British period, private ownership of land is an unfamiliar idea. The lands were generally owned by the village community. The proper land revenue system was initiated by ‘ Todar Mal ‘ during the reign of Akbar. The lands were measured, classified and rented with a fixed amount. The heredity status of zamindars were altered by the Mughals and the British had uplifted their status and made themselves sub – ordinate to the crowns. When the leash power went to the hands of British there was a sea – change in the land ownership pattern in India. Once the British got the power to rule, ‘ Lord Cornwallis ‘ introduced the Permanent Settlement Act, 1793. Under this Act,  “zamindari system”  was introduced in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar, Varanasi and Orissa. This Act is also known as a permanent settlement system. According to this system, zamindars were recognised as the owner of the lands. They were given the absolute rights to collect the rent from the peasants. The collected amount would be divided into 11 parts. 1/11 of the share belongs to the zamindars and 10/11 shares will be for the east India company. Because of this the landless farmers and labourers suffered with poverty. This led to the creation of a group of rich Indians whose loyalty lay largely with the British. 

Another system is the Ryotwari system, it was introduced by Thomas Munro in 1820 at the end of the 18th century. The principle of this system is the direct collection of the land revenue from each individual cultivator by the government. This system is introduced majorly in the areas like Madras, Bombay, parts of Assam,and Coorg provinces of British India. The revenue rates of the Ryotwari system were 50% where the lands were dry and 60% where the lands were irrigated land. And another system that came into existence is the “Mahalwari system”. It was introduced in 1833 during the period of “William Bentick”. It was introduced in the central province of North – Western frontier, Agra, Punjab and Gangetic valley, etc.. 

The Mahalwari system had many important provisions that the past two systems had. In this system, the land was divided into mahals, each mahal comprising one or more villages. Here the revenue was to be paid by a village known as mahal. In this ownership rights are vested with the peasants. The village committee held responsible for the tax collection.        

So due to these land patterns followed in the pre independence era, it received the top priority on the policy agenda at the time of independence. To provide the secure and equal access to the lands for the poor section of the society and benefit them for the people in the line of poverty the independent India passed many land reform legislations. After India got independence, it adopted a socialist principles like equality in all spheres of social, economic, political was envisional. These land reforms are the essential steps towards social economic equality because the land is the fundamental rights and asset needed for the healthy development of an individual. As per the Indian constitution, the land reforms come under the ‘state subjects’ and hence, the responsibility of bringing up the regulations for effecting the land reforms lies with each state. [2]

Objectives of Land Reforms

These factors are said to be the main reason behind the land reforms in india. The main objectives of the land reform in India are:

-Redistribution of lands across the society so that the lands would not be owned only by few people.

-Abolition of intermediaries

-Tenancy reforms 

-Land ceiling to disburse surplus land amongst small and marginal farmers

-Removal of rural poverty

-Consolidation of fragmented holdings

-Developing cooperative farming

-To ensure social equality through economic parity etc.

Post Independence Land Reforms

Abolition of Zamindari System 

Zamindari Abolition Act, 1950 was one of the major agrarian reforms by the government of India after independence in 1947. The process of abolition of zamindars was started in several states including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madras and so on before the enactment of the constitution. After the enactment of the Indian Constitution, it took a serious place in providing social and economic justice. The Zamindari Abolition Act was formed because it involves intermediaries between tillers of the soil and for acquisition of their rights, title, and interest from the person who actually cultivates the land. These Acts were passed in various states and they were challenged in the courts as being against the right to property enshrined in the Indian constitution. This is why the amendments were passed in the parliament to legalise the abolition of landlordism. By 1956, the Zamindari Abolition Act was passed in several states . As a result of this Act thirty lakh tenants and share – croppers acquired ownership rights and over a total of sixty two lakhs acres of the land over the country. 

Tenancy Regulation

Tenancy reforms aim to the regulation of rent, provide security of tenure and confer ownership to tenants. The tenancy reforms laws provide the provision for registration of tenants or giving ownership rights to the former tenants to bring them directly under the state. The rent paid by the tenants during pre – independence period was exorbitant. It was actually between 35 percent to 75 percent of gross produce throughout India. With the enactments of legislations made for regulating the rent payable by the cultivators in the early 1950’s , fair rent was fixed at 20 percent to 25 percent of the gross produce levels in several states. And in some states like Punjab, Haryana, and Tamilnadu the rent payable varies between 25 percent to 40 percent based on the irrigation facility.

Abolition of Intermediaries

Intermediaries were abolished as a measure to redistribute the land in an equitable manner. This step is essentially and importantly involved in removal of intermediary levels or layers of various amorphous and parasite groups in land between the state and the actual cultivators. However the abolition of intermediaries involved in providing compensation to the persons who resembled as the owner of the land. As a result of this measure, about 2.5 crore farmers were brought into the direct relationship with the state. This facilitated distribution of 61 lakh hectares of land to the landless farmers. Large areas of privately owned forests and waste lands now vested in the state. 

Ceilings on Land Holdings 

Land ceilings refers to fixing the quantum amount of the land that can be held by a family. In simple words, land ceilings can be defined as the process of fixing the maximum amount of the land holdings that an individual can own. The land ceiling act defines the size of a land that an individual or a family can own. In India by 1961 – 1962, all state governments had passed the Land Ceiling Act. But the ceiling limit is varied from state to state. To bring uniformity in the states, a new land ceiling policy was evolved in 1971. In 1972, national guidelines were issued with ceiling limits as 10 – 18 acres for best land, 18 – 27 acres for the second class lands and for the rest with 27 – 54 acres with slightly higher limits in hill and desert areas. The land ceiling also deals with the acquisition of surplus lands and it’s redistribution among the small farmers and landless workers. 

Consolidation of Land Holdings 

This measure entailed land consolidation, involving a planned readjustment and rearrangement of fragmented land parcels and their ownership. It is actually applied to the larger to more rational land holdings. The fragmentation of land implies a single farm consists of numerous discrete parcels aften scattered over a large area. It results in efficient use of soil, capital, and labour in the form of boundary lands, boundary disputes and litigation cases. Efficiency of cultivation is considerably reduced and also prevents land improvement. The consolidation measures by the government has received much appreciation. The consolidation is said to be the reorganization of fragmented holdings into one plot. [3]


Land reforms are mainly introduced to provide social and economic equality in society which did not exist in the pre – independence era. Land ownership pattern existed in the agrarian culture is cruel and the most of the real cultivators are there, lived in poverty. This land reforms that took place in and after India’s independence is much needed to provide the basic human rights equity. Apart from discussing the success and failure of the land reforms, it was actually a much needed change in the agrarian culture and it made a change than being in a worst condition of poverty and being a landless cultivator. 


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