History of Land reforms in India

The Land Reforms Policy adopted since Independence aims at restructuring agrarian relations to achieve an egalitarian social structure; elimination of exploitation in land relations; realizing the age-old goal of land to the tiller; increasing agricultural productivity and production and infusing equality in local institutions.

After independence, focus was given on land reforms to fulfill promises made during the freedom struggle (i.e. land to the tiller and growth with equity). Land reforms were accorded highest significance as tool of poverty alleviation to set up an egalitarian society in village in tune with the socialist ideology enshrined in the constitution’s Directives principles of state Policy.272 legislations have been enacted so far with regard to land reform. The legislations have been included in the Ninth schedule of the Indian constitution also. The Zamidari system was abolished, and land reform was included in the policy guidelines of almost every Five Year Plan. All the state Governments were asked to enact the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act and limit the maximum landholdings, to acquire surplus land and distribute it among the landless and marginal farmers. By 1961, almost all states passed the Agricultural Land Ceiling Act.

Lofty promises of national leaders convinced the landless and marginalized farmers that once the British left the country, there would be equal distribution of land, and by tilling their land, they would be able to provide two square meals to their meals to their children. However, in reality, the slogans-‘ Land to the tiller of the soil and Growth with equity and justice remained only slogans to millions of landless and marginal farmers.

As a result of the utter failure of the abolition of the Zamidari system, the Planning Commission, in 1955, advised all the state Government to a ceiling on agricultural land holding , to acquire land and distribute surplus land among the landless and other marginalized . However legislation were full of loopholes and favored big landholders. It was widely perceived that most of the states deliberately delayed the land ceiling legislation to enable big landholders to manipulate land records and transfer excess land. As a result, by 1970, ceiling laws had resulted in vesting only one million hectares of agricultural land of which 50% was distributed to the rural poor but not necessarily to the landless.

‘With the onset of Globalization and the establishment of industries and agrao-industries (promoted by governments) is increasing the problems of landlessness and the exodus of rural populations. Poor peoples deprived of their livelihood resources, have no other choice than join ranks of landless workers in the city slums areas. Some statistics are:

  • 43% of the people o India are still absolutely and near landless (<0.2 ha.)
  • 13.345 Dalits and 11.50% Tribal households are absolute landless
  • A mere 1.33% landholders in the country (having more than 10 hectares) continue to control 15.20% of the land holdings
  • 63% of marginal landholders control only 15.60% of the landholdings (NSS 48th round 1992)
  • Landlessness among Dalits increased from 56.8% in 1977-78 to 61.9% in 1983
  • Landlessness among tribals increased from 48.5% in 1977-78 to 49.4% in 1983

The process of land reform is moving like a tortoise. On the other hand, there has been continual alienation land of the marginalized, especially Tribals. No legislation has been able to put a halt to land alienation. Big landholders have been grabbing the land Dalits and Tribals, either by flexing or by manipulation of land records in connivance with land officials, or by lending money to adivasis at exorbitant rates of interest. As a result, alienation of 9,15,442.57 acres of Adivasis land has been reported as on November 30, 1996(Land Reform Section, GOI).

The land of tribals is taken away for setting up development projects, industrial concerns, and national pars and for other purposes. Since independence, the establishment of various development projects has displaced around 30 million people have been displaced by the establishment of various projects. Of them, around 40% are Adivasis and 25% are Dalits.

The increasing of land alienation and continuous marginalisation of Dalits and Adivasis has led a spurt of protest among the marginalized, which is crystallizing in to a mass movement. Land Rights Movements are the manifestations of the people’s wrath.

“The deprived people are often silent spectators to their own misery. They often need someone to help them voice their concerns and fight for their rights” P.V Rajgopal, Founder of Ekta Parishad

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