A Question Regarding ‘Historic’ Land Reforms in Kashmir in Early post-1947 Years

Recently economist Jean Dreze told, “There were radical land reforms in Kashmir in 1950s and those land reforms were made possible due to Article-370.” [https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/economist-jean-dreze-jandk-more-developed-than-gujarat-special-status-helped-reducing-poverty] It is really so because without Article 370 the then Chief Minister Sheikh Abdullah could not expropriate big landlords without compensation. We know that happened from a 1953 article by Daniel Thorner, ‘The Kashmir Land Reforms Some Personal Impressions’ (EPW Sept 12, 1953).

But the Land Distribution Statistics given at the Economic Survey J&K 2013-14 by Government of Jammu & Kashmir, Directorate of Economics & Statistics, J&K (see page 196) shows an altogether different picture. The data given are from Agricultural Census J&K State 2005-06 (with necessary calculations done by the present author.)

Category No. of Holdings (000) % of Holdings Area Operated Ha (000) % of Area Average Size Ha
Marginal 1122.97 81.6224624 406 44.03471 0.36
Small 167.17 12.15066034 237 25.70499 1.40
Semi-medium 71.40 5.189670085 193 20.93275 2.70
Medium 13.65 0.99214281 74 8.02603 5.42
Large 0.62 0.045064362 12 1.301518 19.35

From here we can get the following, from which an approximate Lorentz Curve could be drawn and Gini Co-efficient (for inequality) could be guessed.

% Holding Cum % Holding % Area Cum % Area
0 0 0 0
81.622 81.622 44.035 44.035
12.151 93.773 25.705 69.74
5.19 98.863 20.932 90.672
0.992 99.855 8.026 98.698
0.045 100 1.302 100

The Gini Co-efficient is 0.74771 which indicates a grave inequality with respect to land holdings. The corresponding Lorentz Curve is here.

Lorentz Curve of Kashmir Land distribution accoording to agri census 2005 06

[By the way, in the above curve plotted by R shows cumulative % holding or cumulative % area as, for example, 80% = 80/100 = 0.8; the Red curve is the equality line and the black curve is the Lorentz curve of land distribution in J&K as per 2005-06 agri. census data.]

Now, the question is — how could a successful ‘radical’ land distribution give rise to inequality like this? An easy answer is: unbridled capitalist development (and not following the path envisaged by National Conference in pre-independence days like expropriation of landlords without compensation, giving land to the tillers, forming agricultural cooperatives and then going to more socialised production) in the later period (1960-2000 say) might have given rise to this inequality. But this transition, if it is real, need more explanation of different stages in the agrarian history of J&K of last 70-75 years which the present author is unable to deal with having no knowledge regarding this.

Only one point can be highlighted from the said essay of Daniel Thorner – the last paragraph from the conclusion part. “For their total effect the Kashmir land reforms have to be examined and assessed in the light of the day to-day functioning of village life. Mere statistics of so and so many hundred thousand acres taken away from the big landlords can be quite misleading. India’s most-publicized land reforms cannot be said to have Succeeded in improving the economic: lot of the Kashmiri peasant. Whether the legislation was well conceived for this purpose remains debatable. In practice any beneficial results have been more than balanced by the Government’s food procurement polity, the co-operatives’ reign of extortion, the implementation of redistribution through the old bureaucracy, and the sole political party’s setting itself up as yet another privileged rural hierarchy.”

Sandeep Banerjee is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India. Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at [email protected]


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