Though agriculture is the main occupation in India, yet it is backward. Agricultural productivity in India is still low. On the eve of independence the agrarian society was governed by semi-feudal principles. There was unjust system of land tenure which deprives a large number of cultivators, the ownership right. There was Zamindari System in India. The farmers own small pieces of land.
The problems of fragmentation and uneconomic holdings also cause low productivity. The institutional factors like-the feudal structure of society, the small size of land holdings, the presence of Zamindars or intermediaries, high land rents and insecurity of tenancy rights led to the backwardness of society. After independence India felt the need of land reforms programme to break the socio-economic structure of rural India and to stop the exploitation of the actual tilters of the soil and pass on the ownership of land to them.
Meaning of Land Reforms:
Land reforms were intended to boost the agricultural productivity by eliminating all elements of exploitation and social injustice within the agrarian system to provide the ownership right and security for the actual tillers of the land. Land reforms mean redistribution of land among the landless people and marginal farmers.
Land reforms means all the institutional changes i.e. changes in the system of land tenure, imposition of land ceilings, consolidation of land holdings, abolition of zamindari system and intermediaries, land reforms consist of all the institutional changes on the land which causes exploitation of the actual tillers of the soil and low productivity of agriculture.
Need for Land Reforms:
The land reforms were needed to change all the systems or institutional factors, which were responsible for the low productivity of agriculture and poverty among the rural poor. At the time of independence the agrarian society was divided into four classes landlords or big farmers, the intermediaries-cum- cultivating holders, the tenants the actual cultivators and agricultural labourers.
There was unjust and defective land tenure system which deprives a large number of cultivators the ownership rights and to make any decisions about the land they hold and cultivate. The system of land tenure is still oppressive.
Out of 100 people engaged in agriculture, only 10% are the big land owners who owns enough land, the rest 90% whether small cultivators, marginal cultivators or landless labourers have not all the facilities held by the big landowners and as a result they cannot do full just with the agricultural activities.
In India there was the system of zamindari. The zamindars acted as an intermediary between the cultivators and the state. The system encouraged the practice of cultivation by tenants who were exploited by the zamindars or the landlords. The cultivators did not get a fair share of the agricultural produce. They were heavily rented. In Indian economy there are also the problems of fragmentation and small uneconomic holdings.
Measures adopted under Land Reforms:
Under land reforms various institutional measures have been adopted to improve agricultural productivity and the status of the actual tillers by the central and state government from time to time. The government abolished the zamindari system. It was the curse of the Indian agriculture that those who cultivated land were not its owners. Land was owned by zamindars. They performed no economic activities but devoured large part of the production.
The tillers who cultivated the land were poorly paid. With the removal of zamindari system and intermediaries about 20 million tenants were given the occupancy rights. Tenancy reforms have provided security of the tenure to tenants, regulated rent and conferred ownership rights on tenants. This was the second steps taken by the government.
The third measure taken was the consolidation of scattered and small land holdings. Consolidation of holdings means allocation of compact plot of land in exchange for the several small plots held by the owner of the land to make them economically viable. The government of India has passed laws for compulsory consolidation of holdings. The step to solve the problem of fragmentation of land was co-operative farming.
Under this system, a large tract of land owned by different house-holds may be jointly cultivated by them. The constant updating and maintenance of land records was also undertaken. The chakbandi system was also one of the measures taken under land reforms.
Land ceiling was another steps taken under land reforms, ceiling on holding means a prescribed area of land left with the zamindars after the abolition of Zamindari System. The surplus land is taken from the zamindars and distributed among the tillers of land and weaker sections of society; Laws regarding ceiling limit which was 30 acres have been passed by the government and about 3 million hectare of land has been declared as surplus. But, it is not sufficient.
Success and Failure of Land Reforms:
The objectives of land reforms were to bring about economic efficiency and social justice. Efforts have been made to improve the condition of labourers through the abolition of Zamindari system, ceiling acts, redistribution of land and minimum wages acts etc. still their condition is deplorable. The implementation of the land reforms programme in India failed in its endeavour.
A majority of the agricultural labourers continued to be confronted with socio-economic difficulties and could not benefit from the land reforms measures. The progress of consolidation of land holdings is not satisfactory only 1/4 of the land has been consolidated and this has been completed only in Punjab, Haryana and Western U.P. The distribution of surplus land is also not satisfactory.
In some of the states like Keraia, political will and intervention has led to the success of land reforms. All states except Nagaland and Meghalaya have passed ceiling acts. The five-year plans propose to lessen the sufferings of the landless people. With the removal of intermediaries, the cultivators came in direct contact with the government. A considerable area of cultivable waste land and private forest-land which came under the hand of the government was distributed among the landless and agricultural labourers.
In the ninth-five-year plan, it had been pointed out that rural poverty is largely among the landless and the marginal farmers. The plan proposed redistribution of surplus land, tenancy reforms for recording rights of tenants, consolidation of holdings etc. The tenth five-year plan also carries further the reforms in the agricultural sector which were earlier neglected.
It can be said that if land reform measures are effectively and whole-heartedly implemented it would be successful in lessening the problems of rural people. With the Green Revolution land reforms have been also contributed in increasing agricultural production and somewhat improving the condition of the rural people.