What is Land Reform, Meaning, Definition, History, Land Reform Program

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In anagrarian country like India where more than 50 per cent population is dependent on agriculture as means of employment and sustenance, ‘land’ pla a very important role. Land reform usually refers to equitable distribution of lar between all the strata of society. Before independence our agrarian society was governed by semi-feudal principles. This society was broadly divided into four classes: the cultivating holders, the intermediaries cum cultivating holders, tenants-at-will and agricultural labourers. The agricultural labourers were the unemployed, underemployed and seasonal employed class of the agrarian society. Other classes constituted small and large land owners. This feudal structure of society led to the backwardness of society and sheer poverty among the rural masses, as land is the major source of wealth and social hierarchy.

Land Revenue Systems in Pre-Independence Era

In the pre-independence era three types of land revenue systems existed in India namely: ‘Ryotwari, Zamindari and Mahalwari’. The Ryotwari system started in Madras in 1772. Under this system, the government had set responsibility of paying land revenue to the cultivator. In this system no middleman existed. On the other hand, Zamindari system which started in 1793 under Lord Cornwallis, was the most harsh one. It went on to create intermediaries between state and the cultivator. Started in West Bengal and later on adopted in other states, the system remained in existence till our independence.

Landlords owned the land and rented them out to cultivators. However, the landlords never cultivated the land themselves but only collected revenue from t cultivators. The Company fixed the revenue at a very high rate which the zamindars extracted from the poorFF cultivators. Ultimately the farmers suffered greatly. The revenue was fixed regardless of the harvest. It made rent collection a perennial problem. Similar to these two, a third system was Mahalwari system. ‘Mahals’ signified villages.

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This system mostly was in practice in Western Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab etc. Here, the whole of village or mahal was responsible for payment of land revenue to the state. Therefore, the ownership of land was under a village body. The system was started by Lord William Bentick.

Recommendation of Agrarian Reforms Committee (Post Independence)

After Independence in order to get rid of the discussed rigidities, a committee was set-up under the Chairmanship of JC Kumarappa which was known as Agrarian Reforms Committee. It submitted its report in 1949 and became the main plank of land reform in our country. The committee suggested abolition of intermediaries; fixing land ceilings holding and redistribution of surplus land among the marginalised. However, the time lag between passing the law and its implementation allowed for finding loopholes in the legislation. Intermediaries continued to exist even after abolition of Zamindari as they made legal or illegal transfers of land in the name of their relatives without actually being the cultivator of the land. Agrarian reform also suggested for tenency reforms. It prohibited any system of cultivation by the tenants.


The Planning Commission of India and its Objectives

The Planning Commission of India sums up the objectives of the land reform in two comprehensive steps. First, to remove the impediments which hinders the agricultural production. Second, to eliminate all elements of exploitation and social injustice within the agrarian system. It will provide security to the cultivator and assure equality of status and opportunity to all the sections of the rural population.

The Constitution makers also understood the importance of land. Therefore, land was made a Fundamental Right under Article 31. But due to innumerable litigations being filed in this regard, 1st Constitutional Amendment changed the provision and made it a legal right.

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Other Notable Efforts in the History of Land Reforms

Some other notable efforts towards land reform in India are Consolidation of land holdings, Bhoodan movement and Cooperative farming. Consolidation of land holding is aggregating of small fragments of land in an area and then purchasing it from the owner. Due to inheritance of land, the property gets smaller with passing generation as land is passed from the father to his sons and daughters and so on. Therefore, to make agriculture viable, government resorted to this technique. One of the most important events in the history of land reform is the Bhoodan Movement of 1951 that was started by Acharya Vinoba Bhave. He made an emotive appeal to rich landlords and appropriated almost 54.60 lakh acres of land. But this effort was not successful, land donated were mostly not conducive for agriculture and only 25% were distributed. Similarly cooperative farming was also promoted to solve the problems of sub-division and fragmentation of lad holdings. However, in India the concept failed miserably as people were not agreeing to part with their land for community welfare.

Failure of Land Reform Programme

After independence several land reform programmes were started with great enthusiasm which was soon lost as these programmes failed. The principal reasons behind this were lack of political will, absence of presume from the poor peasants, apathetic attitude of the bureaucracy, absence of up-to-date land records etc. Some states like West Bengal and Kerala took steps to better the fate of the agriculture labourers by providing security of employment to them, ensuring prompt payment of wages to the workers and also by regulating the working hours.

In the Eleventh Five Year Plan tenancy was legalised in a limited manner. It provided security to the tenant for the contractual period, which could be long enough to encourage long-term investment by the tenant. Again one of the main objective of the Twelfth Five Year Plan is to move Indian agriculture from a low productivity staple producing system to a rising productivity commercially oriented sector.

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Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013

This act was a landmark legislation for land reforms in India. It provides for land acquisition as well as rehabilitation and resettlement. The main features of this Act are

  1. A social impact assessment survey, preliminary notification stating the intent of acquisition, a declaration of acquisition and a fair compensation to the people affected by acquisition.
  2. Compensation to be provided to the owners of the acquired land shall be four times in rural areas and twice in urban areas.
  3. In case of land acquisition for use by the private companies or public-private partnerships, consent of 80% people will be required.

This act has ensured that people are paid a fair amount of compensation and rehabilitated when the government has acquired the land for public welfare and national prosperity.


As we are in a phase of achieving sustainable economic development in the years to come, land and its contribution plays an active role in achieving this target. Since we are moving from an Agrarian economy towards an Industrial economy, the government needs to ensure the appropriate use of land to meet this gap. Shortage of food supply in many areas and other land related problems which still exist tells us about unfinished agenda on land reforms.

Land reform should include the people who will be affected by it. People should be the centre piece of any reform. The purpose of any reform will be positive if it is strongly implemented. Land should not become a tool of politics or violence rather it should be a facilitator of growth and development. The main purpose of land reforms is to help weaker section of society and do justice in land distribution that land should be allocated to the actual cultivator.

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