Since the First Five Year Plan in 1951, considerable emphasis had been laid on the need of land reforms as it was recognized that three-fourth of the population was dependent on agriculture for their income and the sector provided 49% of the National Income.
To accomplish the above ideals, strategies were drawn for abolishing all intermediary interests between the state and the tiller of the soil, regulating rent, conferring rights on tenants, security of tenure, and, eventually, ownership rights, imposing ceiling on agricultural holdings, distributing surplus land among the landless agricultural labourers and small peasants and bringing about the consolidation of landholdings.
During the first twenty-seven years of Five Year Plan, the Congress ruled at the Center without any interruption, and only in Kerala and West Bengal, there were non-Congress governments. Reviewing this first phase where land reform enjoyed a place of pride in the agenda of the government, most of the claims made by the government about accomplishment of the basic items under the land reforms stood contradiction to its own findings.
To begin with, in 1960-61, 52 % of the rural population was below the poverty line, whereas in 1967-68, 70% of the population was found to be below the poverty line.This was also substantiated by the estimate of Reserve Bank of India which showed 70% of India’s rural population with an income of less than Rs 20 per month.
In the First Five Year plan, the state pronounced the policy of abolishing the intermediaries and regularizing the tenancies. At this point, Right to Property was guaranteed as a Constitutional right, and therefore all the landlords affected by ceiling legislation challenged the ceiling laws in High court and Supreme Court under article (14), (19) and (31). Thus, a substantial impediment to land redistribution was found to be in contradiction within the legislature and the judiciary and at that point, a substantial amount of land in this course entered into litigation. Though, after this an amendment scraped this fundamental right and technically removed this impediment.
In the Second Five Year Plan, though the abolition of the intermediaries and regularizing of tenancies was provided for, there was little advance in its position on ceilings. The state government was instructed to fix the ceiling, three times the size of a family holding, but to fix it on the basis of the family or the individual was left to the discretion of the state government.
The Third Plan made no new proposals but maintained the position stated in the Second Five Year Plan. It was not before the Fourth Five Year Plan, that the government took a clear stand on the issue of Land Reform. This happened after an intense agrarian unrest gripped almost all the states between the periods of 1967-1971, with economic hardship aggravating due to price rise, unemployment further added to socio-economic disparity and mounting asset poverty.
The Fourth Plan admitted to the fact that there had been a huge gap between objectives, legislation and laws, and their implementation. But at the same time, it again resorted to claims that with this plan, land redistribution would turn into a reality in all the villages and cities of India. In between this loud talk of land reform, the Chief Ministers meeting in Delhi, then the meeting of the Congress state presidents in Delhi, 1970, did not devise any economic strategy to bring about a mechanism to affect the measures but devised measures in order to bypass them.
The Congress Working Committee which had appointed a nine-member committee to look into the matter against its recommendation of calculating ceiling limit from 26th September, 1970, placed the cut off at 24 January, 1972. This gave enough time to landlords to dispose of their surplus land in different ways. Further, as state governments were to enact this legislature by 31 December, 1972, many state governments did not follow as it was a party directive only.