General Studies Paper 3 (Indian Economy): Land reforms

Land reforms - Indian agriculture

IAS Junior Mains Answer Writing June-Sep 2019 Schedule (Click Here)


Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3 (Indian Economy)


Though land reforms since Independence have brought many positive changes in Indian agriculture and in the lives of farmers, yet the reform process is far from complete. Discuss.



Being a source of productivity of food, a place to live or work the land is considered as a precious asset for every country. At the time of independence ownership of land was concentrated in the hands of a few. This led to the exploitation of the farmers and was a major hindrance towards the socio-economic development of the rural population. Equal distribution of land was therefore an area of focus of Independent India’s government.



What is land reform?

It refers to an institutional measure directed towards altering the existing pattern of ownership, tenancy and management of land. This policy includes regulation of ownership, sales, leasing, operation, and inheritance of land.

Phases of land reforms in India after independence.

  • The first and longest phase (1950-1972) – This phase consisted of land reforms that included  three major efforts.
    • Zamindari Abolition Acts
      • The intermediaries who worked under feudal lords (Zamindari) to collect rent for the British were reputed to allow a larger share of the surplus from the land to be extracted from tenants. Most states had passed legislation to abolish intermediaries prior to 1958.
      • Most states had passed legislation to abolish intermediaries prior to 1958.
    • Tenancy reform.
      • These include attempts to regulate tenancy contracts both via registration and stipulation of contractual terms, such as shares in share tenancy contracts, as well as attempts to abolish tenancy and transfer ownership to tenants.
    • The third category of land reform acts concerned efforts to implement ceilings on land holdings, with a view to redistributing surplus land to the landless.
  • Second phase (1972-85) – This phase reforms include
    • Irrigation and soil conservation in dry land regions. Technological changes. Second phase of land reforms with land ceiling acts and consolidation of holding.
    • Drought-prone area development. Desert area development programmes. Soil conservation. Dry farming.
    • Land and water management programme under drought-prone area programme in select areas.
  • Third phase(1985-95)
    • Soil and water conservation. Prevention of land degradation. Wastelands Development programmes.
    • Watershed approach. Soil conservation combined with watershed programmes. Agro climatic regional planning approach incorporated.
    • Increase attention towards water and soil through watershed development, Drought prone area development(DPAP), Desert area development programmes.(DADP)
  • Fourth phase(1995 onwards)
    • Bringing underutilized land under cultivation.
    • Management of wastelands. Maintenance of village commons.
    • Decentralized land management system.
    • Panchayati Raj institutions to manage the village lands.
    • Rethinking on land legislation.
    • Efforts to improve land revenue administration and, in particular, clarity in land records


Outcomes of Land Reforms

These reforms have benefitted farmers in a number of ways

  • The self-sufficiency achieved in agriculture due to Green revolution owes much to the base created by first generation land reforms. Ex: Emergence of Punjab and Haryana as wheat and rice belt of India, after green evolution.
  • Large, semi-feudal landlords rack-renting the peasantry as well as extracting illegal cesses in cash, kind or labour had by and large become a thing of the past.
  • State demand from the peasant, the other major burden on the agriculturist, also gradually virtually disappeared. Many states scrapped land revenue.
  • The stranglehold of the money lender over the peasantry was also considerably weakened with the growing availability of cooperative and institutional credit. The resources available to the peasantry, as a whole for agricultural improvement, thus increased significantly.
  • Similarly, the tenants and sharecroppers who got ownership rights could make far greater investment and improvements in the lands, which now they could call their own. Even zamindars shunned absentee landlordism, and took to personal cultivation via modern farming methods.
  • The state, which was earlier insensitive to agricultural productivity, now made major efforts at agricultural improvement through Community Development projects to inculcate improved farming methods, supply seeds and implements. The results of these reforms speak for themselves, as during the first three Plans, Indian agriculture grew at an annual rate of over 3 per cent. This was a growth rate 7.5 times higher than that achieved during the last half century or so of the colonial period.

But this growth story has not been able to lift Indian farmer out of abject poverty. Farmers are still living on subsistence basis, with average landholdings in India accounting to less than 2 hectares. This highlight the fact that land reforms have not achieved the intended results and there are more changes needed in agricultural land management in India.

After 72 years of independence, one notices some achievements in the sphere of land reforms. At the same time, our efforts in this direction have not yielded desired results. Most of the planks of land reform measures are ambivalent and there are large gaps between policy and legislation and between legislation and implementation. And “land reform measures were conceived boldly but were implemented badly” Some steps which need immediate attention are as below.

Way ahead

  • States need to legalize land leasing to promote agricultural efficiency, equity and poverty reduction. The new land leasing law released by Niti Ayog should be implemented by states.
  • Establishing an independent regulator for resolution of disputes arising out of leasing.
  • Strict implementation of compensation and consent clauses of Land Acquisition Act 2013, which are openly flouted by state governments.
  • Institutionalisation and promotion of land pooling, contract farming, cooperativization in agriculture.
  • Modernization and digitization of land records, using suitable technologies, so that each and every owner has proper titles of his land. This will also reduce litigation related to the land leasing. NLRMP (National Land Records Modernization Program) should be implemented in a time-bound manner.
  • Creating awareness about women rights, to counter patriarchal thinking, which denies land and property rights to women guaranteed under the Hindu Succession Amendment Act 2005.
  • Time bound distribution of surplus land available with the government to landless by streamlining bureaucratic hurdles and corruption.



It is true that the pace of implementation of land reform measures has been slow.   Moreover, there is a marked unevenness in respect of progress in various states. progress needs to be accelerated. The manifold problems of our land are to be solved through the introduction of a suitable land policy. Myriad schemes and projects launched for agriculture by the government can only be  successful if they are accompanied by simultaneous land reforms. Land reforms alter the power structure, both economic and political, as land has always been a source of wealth, income, status and power. It empowers the actual tillers of the soil, and organises and enables them to seek development benefits from the state.


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