Things to know about land reforms in India

The land reforms system in India refers to the agrarian reforms in India. These agrarian reforms specify the ownership and regulation of lands in India and include leasing, sales, and inheritance of land.

The land reforms in India were mainly brought in the post-independence period to renew the legal structure for agrarian lands in India. It was to end the major concentration of ownership of lands in the hands of a few landlords, zamindars, etc.

Land reforms in India have undergone four phases:-

  1. The first and longest phase of land reform was between 1950-72, which comprised of land changes that included three significant endeavours:
    • abrogation of the mediators,
    • occupancy change,
    • the rearrangement of land utilising land roofs.

    The abrogation of mediators was somewhat fruitful, yet occupancy change and land roofs met with less achievement.

  2. The subsequent phase got noticed between the period of the year 1972-85 moved thoughtfulness regarding bringing crude land under cultivation.
  3. The third phase was from the year 1985-95, which expanded consideration towards
    • Water and soil protection through the Watershed Development,
    • Drought-Prone Area Development (DPAP)
    • Desert-Area Development Programs (DADP).

    A focal government, Wasteland Development agency, was set up to focus on wasteland and degraded land. A portion of the land strategy from this stage proceeded past its last year.

  4. The fourth period of strategy started from 1995 onwards and continues until yet. It focuses on bantering the need to proceed with land regulation and developing further land income organisation and, specifically, clearness in land records.

Objectives of land reforms in India

The land reforms in India brought a significant change through its objectives in the development of rural India, mainly involved in the agrarian business. The objectives of land reforms in India are here as follows:-

  • The essential goal concerned a general re-establishment of India’s law structure for agricultural lands.
  • These acts focused on an equivalent and uniform conveyance of agricultural lands, so the concentration of ownership doesn’t lie in a few hands.
  • Abolition of mediators of medieval land ownership in India
  • Facilitating ideal agricultural produce with sound and monetary practices
  • Ensuring social and financial equity for past infringement of the turner’s rights
  • Uniform ownership would forestall the abuse of tenant farmers and will help in diminishing country poverty
  • Elimination of the abuse in the land relations
  • To increment farming creation and mix correspondence in society
  • To rebuild the agrarian relations to accomplish a populist social structure
  • To understand the deep-rooted objective of Land to the tiller
  • To reform the non-agricultural purposes like development and manufacturing

Background and History of Land Reforms in India

The land is the basis of all the economic activities of a country. In a country like India, Land is the basis for the undertaken agricultural activities in the country, which has a considerable significance in its contribution towards the country’s GDP.

The agriculture sector has a contribution of 20% (approx.) to the GDP of our country. The land & land reforms of the country led to achieving this stage of agriculture.

The land ownership pattern in India in the colonial period was significantly distorted. There was a large concentration of the lands in the hands of a few zamindars, landlords and Britishers themselves. They used to acquire lands or seize them through force and exploited farmers in their very own land.

The land reforms in India were mainly brought in the post-independence period.

Let’s discuss the circumstances of land reforms in both the pre-independence and post-independence periods.

Pre-Independence phase

In the pre-independence period, few people like landlords, zamindars, etc., primarily had the land’s ownership.

The farmers working on these lands were known as tenant farmers as they did not have ownership of these lands.

These landlords, zamindars, etc. practised leasing or renting out the land

There was an expansion in the number of intermediaries who had no personal stake in the development.

The tenancy contracts were expropriative as they dispossessed the actual owners of their lands.

The abuse and exploitation of tenant farmers were prevalent.

Land records were in extremely bad shape giving rise to a mass of litigation.

The most prevalent agrarian practice was the fragmentation of lands into small parts for commercial farming.

All the issues mentioned above were challenges faced by the government after colonial independence.

Post-Independence phase

The Land Reforms in the post-independence era brought many changes:-

  • Abolition of Intermediaries– The first and foremost step taken by the government was to pass the zamindari abolition act to initiate land reforms in India. This act abolished the zamindari system and eliminated the role of intermediaries

    The zamindars exploit the farmers who worked on their lands by collecting huge rents for personal benefits. They used to purchase the crops from tenant farmers at low prices and sell them to the state at higher prices to earn huge profits.

    These intermediaries like zamindars used to work between the government and farmers having major economic powers on land.

  • Regulation of Rents– The zamindars or jagirdars used to collect heavy rents from the farmers working on their lands. The rents amounted to 50-70% of the produce. This practice in the colonial period made the lives of tenant farmers miserable.

    On the suggestions of the central government for the regulation of rent to 20-25% of the produce, the state governments enacted separate tenancy legislation for such purpose.

    The rents differed from state to state, but the objective was to make the rent fair and reasonable to avoid the exploitation of farmers.

    Tenants got declared as the owners of the land they cultivated. They needed to pay compensation to the owners, and the amount of compensation should be reasonable, not exceeding the level of fair rent.

  • Tenancy Reform– The introduction of tenancy reform was requisite to eliminate abuse ad exploitation of farmers. This reform provided security in tenure, regulated rent and conferred ownership to the tenants.

    It is not uniform throughout the country and varies from state to state.

    The reform protected tenant farmers from unlawful evictions and granted them permanent ownership of lands they used to work.

    Even after ending the lease, their immediate eviction was declared illegal.

    They have three essential features of tenancy reform:-.

    1. Arbitrary eviction of the tenants is not allowed and can only get done in conformity with the laws.
    2. The landlord can resume ownership of the lands only on personal cultivation grounds. But the landlord can resume the land-only up to a certain maximum limit.
    3. The landlord should allow some area to the tenant for his cultivation, and the tenant should be made landless in no case.
  • Ceilings on Landholdings– The ceilings on landholdings gets referred to as fixing an upper limit on the ownership of lands by a single entity.

    By this method, the state found it feasible to identify surplus lands in possession of landlords and jagirdars, etc.

    The state used to acquire the surplus land (i.e. above the ceiling limit) from the wealthy landlords and redistribute it to the landless people. It is a redistributive measure.

    The important methods of ceiling legislation are:-

    1. Unit of application
    2. Fixing the upper limit for land holdings
    3. Acquisition of surplus land
    4. Distribution of such land among the small farmers and landless workers

    Before 1972, a single person was considered a single unit, but after 1972, a whole family consisted of a single unit.

    In conformity with this reform land, all states passed the ceilings act.

  • Consolidation on Land Holdings– It means redistribution or reorganisation of the fragmented Lands into one single land.

    Land fragmentation in India is a major factor in the lack of development of the agricultural sector, limiting large-scale farming and production. The trend of the fragmentation of the lands resulted in the lack of personal supervision and irrigation management task.

    So, consolidation of land holdings by exchanging or purchasing the lands gets done to achieve the objective of production at a larger scale. It resulted in resolving the problem of lack of supervision and management.

  • Co-operative farming:- It is a method of voluntarily forming an organisation where farmers pool their resources to achieve effective and common interests.

    It is done to achieve production at mass level and earn a good amount of profit on such large scale production.

    It got introduced to resolve the problem of fragmentation of landholdings.

    Even after having such benefits, Cooperative farming in India proved to fail. The farmers in India are not adequately socialised in the cooperative system, and they are not even aware of the profits in such a working system.

    Due to attachment from their lands and capital shortage in cooperative farming societies, farmers don’t want to indulge in such practices.

  • Compilation and updating of land records:- The steps are taken to compile and update land records promptly and effectively as a measure of land reforms in India.

    The states have initiated this process of updating and digitising their land records in a time-bound manner to avoid any form of disruption in future.

States which implemented land reforms in India

In the absence of central legislation and varied agrarian conditions in various states, the states of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Maharashtra, Mysore, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, came with their legislations from time to time.

Bihar, Tamil Nadu, UP, MP, etc., passed the zamindari abolition act. The surplus lands lying with the zamindars were confiscated.

Every state came with its tenancy legislation and land ceilings laws, like, the State of Bihar came with its Bihar Land Reforms (Fixation of Ceiling Area and Acquisition of Surplus Land) Act, 1961.

Andhra Pradesh introduced the Andhra Pradesh tenancy act 1956 and Andhra Pradesh Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings Act 1961.

The law applicable to the state of Telangana is the Telangana tenancy and agricultural lands act 1950.

After facing a lot of conflicts, Madras Cultivating Tenants Protection Act, 1955 and the Fair Rent Act 1956 were enacted to comply with the evolution in the agricultural sector in the state of Madras.

Karnataka land reforms act 1961 also got introduced to comply with the direction of the J.C. Kumarappan committee in the state of Karnataka while,

The land reforms in Kerala aimed to get regulated under the Kerala land reforms act 1963.

Arguments in Favour of Land Reforms

  • Under the land reforms legislation, the abolition of the intermediaries made the farmers owner of the land they cultivated.
  • The legal obligations made the government directly responsible for cultivating farmers.
  • The reforms made the cost of cultivation feasible.
  • Numerous fragmentation of land holdings into small parts can get checked now.
  • Large scale cultivation is attainable due to less time and efforts consumption.
  • Economies get scaled through productive farming and combined efforts
  • The fixed upper limit of the ceiling requires a certain amount of capital.
  • The ownership of tenant farmers is continued instead of a certain reasonable amount of compensation.
  • It secured the tenancy period of a farmer from any arbitrary decision of the landlords.
  • A family is considered a single unit that doesn’t lead to the large acquisition of lands with one person.

Arguments Against Land Reforms

  • Land reforms led to the large scale eviction of intermediaries, which resulted in the emergence of social, economic, administrative and legal issues.
  • The emergence of absentee landlords posed to increase in litigations
  • Fixing the upper limit of distribution per unit (i.e. family) restricted individuals’ growth
  • The surplus land transfer led to the emergence of illegal transfer of land, judicial interventions, non-availability of land records, inefficient administration, etc.
  • The abolition of intermediaries caused a financial burden on the government.
  • Fragmentation of land cannot be a depreciation factor in large scale cultivation.
  • The tenant farmers on large-sized lands will not be efficient enough to carry out such large scale farmings.
  • Cultivation in small lands is uneconomic and unprofitable, which breaks down the ultimate objective of land reforms.
  • Cooperative farming is unattainable due to the huge financial burden of cooperative farming societies, illiteracy among farmers, loss of decision making on one’s land.


India is an agrarian economy, and a major contribution of GDP comes from the agriculture sector. It was necessary to bring land reforms in India to regulate agricultural lands’ ownership, operation, lease, and inheritance. The central government came up with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, for protecting the rights of the affected persons in aspects of compensation, resettlement and rehabilitation.

Even now, in India, around 75% of the lands are below 2 hectares, and a major concentration of the agricultural lands is with landlords or rich farmers. Even the land reform legislations proved to be ineffective concerning the conditions of tenant farmers in the country.

The government is putting its continuous initiatives towards the enhancement of land reforms. One such initiative is the introduction of the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) for the digitisation of land records.


What is Swamitva Yojna?

Swamitva Yojna is a scheme that came up with the initiative of mapping the residential lands in rural India with the help of drones.

It will create a non-disputable record that will ultimately help farmers with bank finance, tax depositing on such lands, ease in making development plans, keep a check on illegal land acquisitions.

Who started the Bhoodan movement and why?

Vinoba Bhave in 1951 brought the Bhoodan movement to urge the rich landlords to donate a part of their land to landless people willingly.

Which was the first committee set up to address the issues related to land reforms?

The first committee on agrarian reforms was set up in 1949 under the chairmanship of J.C. Kumarappan.

The Land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement authority was set up under which legislation?

The Land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement authority was established under section 51 of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013

About Author

Ayush Ranjan Jha is a 4th-year law student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies (VIPS), IP University, Delhi.

He is inquisitive towards Corporate law, International law & Constitutional law.

He is very keen on research work and got published a number of Research papers and articles related to legal topics during his previous academic years.

Currently, he is preparing for Judicial services examinations.

Related Posts