Failed Indian Land Reforms- C J I Highlights The Issue


Chief Justice Supreme Court T S Thakur known for highlighting the socially relevant issues has explicitly brought into focus the gaps between the constitutional sprit and the reality prevailing at the realistic social world. In Shimla he stated that ‘Constitution of India provides equal rights to all, but in a society long oppressed by foreign rule and stark social and economic disparities, the constitutional objectives are not easy to achieve. The legislature and executive face the formidable challenge of banishing poverty from among us, by preventing concentration of wealth in the hands of only a few, while a sizeable section of our countrymen continue to suffer from all kinds of deprivations, and less fortunate people among us are increasing every year. Land reforms remain an unfulfilled project since the 1950s, and our growth carries a burden of fewer and fewer jobs. Justice that is unpolluted and speedy remains a distant dream.’

The major emphasis on the land reforms is relevant for the reason that in the villages the poverty and unemployment abound. The marginalized farmers are the most impacted. Green revolution brought several benefits to the Indian agriculture but it also helped to establish the inequality in between the rich and poor farmers.

In the third five year plan the policy of land reform was explained which stressed the eliminate obstacles which were hindering the agricultural production due to agricultural system of the past; it also stressed need to remove all types of exploitation including social injustice, and to provide security to the farmers and equality of opportunity to all sections of the rural population. The major emphasis was to unshackle the Zamindari system which was imposed in the country during British rule and was the major source of the continuous exploitation of the farmers who constituted the largest section of the society.

There was also the problems of the tenants where the owners were in position to enjoy the benefits but the tenants of lands were under a very poor state of affairs hence there was also the need of the tenancy reforms. This also constituted an important component of the land reforms. The large land owners had succeeded in controlling the system and even the tenancy laws which were passed by the governments proved useless. Under land reforms ceilings on the holding of the agricultural holdings, by establishing   limitations on owners were placed to have a definite area of land. Moreover the consolidation of the land was to be made.

These objectives were to be strengthened by the proper legislations which in most cases government carried on. In spite of these efforts the land reforms have failed in India. The major reason lies in the imperfect legislations, in several cases the definitions of the technical terms as the tenant is not properly spelt out. No efforts were made to rectify the lacunas in the laws; hence the legal system could not help those who were under oppression since the centuries.

The political leadership was perhaps not much concerned with the plight of the poor and exploited farmers, one reason was that in several cases the political leaders were themselves the big landlords, not much keen to implement the land reforms in comprehensive manner.


The result is that political failures have led to the poor status of the million of farmers who have not been able to come out from the vicious cycle of poverty. Economic Survey 2016 has presented the real status of the agricultural sector in India- ‘the major source of livelihood for nearly half of the Indian population (is agriculture). The share of agriculture in employment was 48.9 per cent of the workforce [National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), 2011-12] while its share in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 17.4 per cent in 2014-15 (First Revised Estimates) at constant (2011-12) prices.

The Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-13 to 2016-17) had envisaged a growth target of 4 per cent for agriculture and allied sectors, necessary for the Indian economy to grow at over 8 per cent. During the last three years, the growth rates in agriculture have been fluctuating at 1.5 per cent in 2012-13, 4.2 per cent in 2013-14, and (-) 0.2 per cent in 2014-15 (Table 5.6). According to the CSO (Central Statistics Office) estimates released on 8 February 2016, the growth in the ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ sector is estimated at 1.1 per cent in 2015-16.’

These figures are highly disturbing and show that India at core is stagnant. Service sector is booming but the real India is at loss and trapped in the pool of stagnation. There are several factors responsible for it but the major factor is easily deducible that the village-farming sector has not changed and structurally it still resembles the old order of the British rule. World Bank in 2013 studied the agricultural productivity in Africa and in its report “Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity,” analyzed that land rights were neither properly defined nor implemented in Africa and the poor land governance caused so much problem in the farm sector. This analysis is equally good for India where farmers are committing the suicides and Maharashtra, Telangana  and Karnataka have emerged as major distressed states in this respect. Land reforms are closely related to the low productivity and the suicides. This aspect though is yet to be investigated at the micro level.

Land reform is mentioned as item no.18 in the state list of the seventh schedule which states ‘Land, that is to say, rights in or over land, land tenures including the relation of landlord and tenant, and the collection of rents; transfer and alienation of agricultural land; land improvement and agricultural loans; colonization.’ Thus state governments need to take note of this problem. Union government initiated but the state governments also need to cooperate in this mammoth effort. Hence it is the responsibility of the politicians and bureaucracy to show positive spirit towards the land reforms otherwise Indian agricultural system will remain trapped in the zone of backwardness.

Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava is Consultant CRIEPS, Kanpur, e mail-[email protected]

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