Land Reforms in India

By Hemant Kumar|Updated : June 21st, 2020

Land reforms refer to the regulation of ownership, operation, leasing, sales and inheritance of land. This is a very relevant topic for UPSC exam preparation. Land Reforms in India for UPSC Exam Preparation is an important topic.

Land Reforms in India: History; Objectives; Constitutional Provisions; Impact; Reasons of failure and the way forward

Brief history and why needed

  • During the British era, Land of many tribal communities and forest communities were seized by British cultivators.
  • Oppressive land tax was collected through systems like Zamindari, Ryotwari or Mahalwari. Hence poor peasants stuck into the debt trap and become landless.
  • No incentive for the peasants, tenants, zamindars to invest in agriculture. Hence stagnant agriculture growth
  • As a result, rich minority landowning and poor landless peasants became the symbol of Indian agrarian society.
  • As land is the fundamental asset for the economic development of an individual and to achieve the socialist pattern of society, land reforms became necessary during and after the freedom struggle

Objectives of the Land reforms

  • Abolition of intermediaries like zamindars, landholders, farm merchants to protect the peasant, tenants, sharecroppers from all kinds of exploitation.
  • To ensure Land ceilings and take away the surplus land and distribute among the small and marginal farmers.
  • Settlement and regulation of tenancy to protect the rights of tenants on the rented land.
  • Consolidation of land holdings for most efficient management.
  • Promoting co-operative farming to overcome the difficulties faced by the small and fragmented landholders.
  • To increase the productivity of agriculture and ensuring food security in the country.
  • To promote social development and to lessen social inequality, a step towards an egalitarian society. (D.P.S.P; Article-38)

Phases of Land Reforms

Land reform before independence


  • Congress passed various resolutions to protect farmers such as in Karachi session of 1931, Ferozpur resolution of 1936, Collective session with all India Kisan congress in 1936 and Land reforms in the election manifesto of 1937 and 1946 elections.
  • After the 1937 provincial elections, Congress formed the government and took various steps for land reforms such as reduced rent, Bihar tenancy act etc.
  • Mahatma Gandhi time and again launched and supported movements for farmers rights.

Land reform after independence

(phase 1)

  • Zamindari, Mahalwari, Ryotwari were fully abolished.
  • Bhoodan( Vinoba Bhave) and Gramdan movement were started.
  • Zamindari Abolition was the only successful aspect of land reforms however success is formal because most of the zamindars got heavy compensation and became self cultivators and invested capital in setting rural industries like rice mills
  • Tenancy reforms by steps like regulation of rents, the security of tenure, Ownership rights (Land to the tillers approach). It was comparatively successful. The most successful effort has been in Kerala and operation Barga in west Bengal. this benefited intermediate caste.
  • The reorganisation of agriculture by redistribution of land among the landless poor masses by ceiling law though this was the most crucial for Land distribution it remained one of the weakest aspects. Laws with loopholes came into existence. People protected their land by dividing joint families, Benami transfers and even got a formal divorce to their wives to protect their lands. 
  • Cooperative farming was only used by big farmers to escape from ceiling laws
  • Land consolidation was done only in limited areas of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Land reform (phase 2)

  • National land record management programme was started in 2008
  • Niti Aayog came out with the Model Land leasing act,2016
  • Model contract farming Act has also been released.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Directive Principles Art 39 (b and c) makes it a constitutional obligation on Indian states to observe the concentration of wealth and Economic Resources.
  • 44th Constitutional Act has repealed the Right to Property.
  • 9th Schedule introduced by 1st Amendment Act contains a large number of land reform legislation.

Positive resulted out of Land Reforms:

  • Land reforms abolished the land tenure system prevalent in the British era.
  • It helped in distributing the surplus land among the landless and the weaker sections of the society
  • It provided the security of tenure to the tenants and in some cases even gave ownership rights.
  • Lower castes have become more organized and assertive about their rights. Hence reduces the caste rigidities
  • It enhanced the productivity of agriculture and helped in bringing food security in the country.
  • It brought fundamental changes in the agrarian economy, rural social structure and rural power structure and moved India towards an egalitarian society.
  • Reduced the dominance of the upper section and increased the democratization of Indian polity.


According to the 2011-2012 agriculture census and 2011 Socio-economic caste census and this data clearly shows the failure of land reforms in India.

  • No more than 4.9% of farmers control 32% of India’s farmland.
  • A “large” Farmer in India has 45 times more land than the marginal farmer.
  • Four million people or 56.4% of a rural household, own no land.
  • Only 12.9% of landmarked- the size of Gujarat-for takeover from landlords was taken over by December 2015
  • Five million acres- half the size of Haryana – was given to 5.78 million poor farmers by December 2015
  • Tenancy act, contract farming act, cooperative farming is very limited implemented in various states.

Reasons for the failure of the land reforms:

  • The land is mentioned in the state list under schedule 7 of the Indian constitution. So, different states have different rules and policies. The Union government can frame policy, release fund but implementation rests in the hand of state government. Hence great inequality in different states even pointed out in the UN report.
  • Land in India is considered as the symbol of social prestige, unlike other economies where it is seen just as an asset for income earning.
  • In permanent settlement areas and the princely states, there were no updation of land record. Due to this outdated land records, there were land disputes hence court cases and the result was that the land reforms remained 
  • The system of land records and land administration was different in the northeast region and due to Jhumming or shifting cultivation in the northeast region, there were no land records.
  • Lack of organised Peasant Movement in the country.
  • Land revenue administration came under the non-plan expenditure. Hence doesn’t get much budgetary allocation.
  • Bureaucratic apathy was another reason for the failure of the land reforms in India because most of the officers lived in the cities and rarely went to the village and submit reports without on-spot verification. Hence land mafia and rich farmers get their things done by paying bribes.

Some of others reasons observed by the task force on Agrarian Relations set up by the Planning Commission headed by P. S. Appu.

  • Land reforms have practically disappeared from the agenda of most political parties.
  • Five-year plan only gave lip services for the land reforms but didn’t allot significant funds.

Way Forward:

  • Land records modernization/computerization and linkage of land records with aadhar for authentic data under DILRMP in letter and spirit.
  • Model Agricultural land leasing act, 2016 should be adopted which Provides an incentive to tenants to make an investment in land improvement by giving them the entitlement to get back the unused value of the investment at the time of termination of tenancy.
  • Contract farming-Draft Model contract farming act, 2018 should be promoted
  • Promotion of Farmer producer organizations and cooperative farming to improve the productivity of agriculture
  • Increasing access to formal sources of credit for small and marginal farmers through schemes like PM Jan Dhan Yojana, Kisan credit card etc to avoid intermediaries
  • Consolidation of land holdings to reap out the benefit of economies of scale.
  • West Bengal and Kerala model for land reforms should be adopted by all other states.

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