Land Reforms- Definition, Types & Importance


Land Reforms

The genesis of the structure of power and authority in rural India can be traced to land. There is an ever-changing relationship between land, power and people. The shifting nexus between the rural elite and agrarian power structure centres around issues relating to land, which is one of the primary sources of existence in as much that land provides basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter to man.


The value of land is ever increasing and requires little renewal and replacement. Due to this basic utility, economists tend to treat land as a special kind of property. In a narrow sense, land reform means the distribution of surplus land to small farmers and landless tillers, accrued as a result of the implementation of the ceiling on agricultural holdings. More broadly, it includes regulation of ownership, operation, leasing, sales, and inheritance of land (indeed, the redistribution of land itself requires legal changes).

Need for Land Reforms in India

In India, the need for land reform can be traced to peasants’ aspirations to own the land they cultivate, obtain tenancy rights thereupon, or seek rationalisation and reduction in rent. Land reform generally reflects public policy of land redistribution for the benefit of the landless, the tenants and the small farmers. It aims at diffusion of wealth, increase in income and productive capacity.


There is a shortage of land and uneven distribution of ownership. Agriculture in India is small peasant based and as such land reforms assume greater importance, not only in the context of social justice and equitable distribution, but also from the point of view of production and agricultural trade. Not surprisingly, it received top priority on the policy agenda at the time of Independence.

Moreover, land reform policy has economic, social and political dimensions. The economic dimension of land reforms involved the ownership of land by a small group that did not actually cultivate but exploited the actual tillers who were the tenants and agricultural labourers.




On the other hand, because of inadequacy of returns and absence of surplus with the tenants, they could not undertake improvements on land. The landlords, having no personal interest in the lands they owned, did not take interest in investing on land  improvement. As a result, land productivity went on declining. This explained the dynamics of underdeveloped agriculture.

Land Reforms in India

As far as the sociological dimension is concerned, traditionally, the upper castes owned land and the lower castes were the tenants/agricultural labourers. Even today, we do not find the lower castes owning land in any significant measure and the upper castes working as tenants/agricultural labourers in India. This social dimension perpetuated the social inequalities. It is here that the economic inequality created under the economic dimension got reinforced by the social inequality in agrarian relations.

Coming to the political dimension, it may be noted that, historically, the owners of land have been supporters of the governments in power. This was much more evident during British rule in India. Because of the numerical minority position of the former zamindars and the later landlords and their economic stranglehold over the tenants, they depended on the government for their protection, (thus promoting their own self-interest). At the same time, the government depended upon them for its own survival so long as tenants, though large in number, did not organise themselves against the exploitative political and social systems. This has been the experience of almost all countries that faced agrarian problems.

Objectives of Land Reforms in India

The important objectives of land reform measures in India were:

a) To enhance the productivity of land by improving the economic conditions of farmers and tenants so that they may have the interest to invest in and improve agriculture.
b) To ensure distributive justice and to create an egalitarian society by eliminating all forms of exploitation. (Immune System)
c) To create a system of peasant proprietorship with the motto of land to the tiller.
d) To transfer the incomes of the few to many so that the demand for consumer goods would be created.

Historical Background

During the ancient as well as medieval period, the principal unit of land settlement in India was the village. Land was never considered to be the property of the King or the Sultan; it was the property of the village, the entitlement of the King being limited to a share of usufruct for the protection he gave in return. Since land revenue was the main source of state revenue, the village became the agency for collection and unit of revenue assessment At the time of independence, there were three types of land tenure system prevailing in the country – the zamindari system, the mahalwari system, and ryotwari system.

The basic difference in these systems was regarding the mode of payment of land revenue. In zamindari system, land revenue was collected from the farmers by zamindar, in mahalwari system by the village headman on behalf of the whole village, while in ryotwari system the land revenue was paid to the state directly by the farmers.

History of Land Reforms

As a result of these systems, some features pervaded pre-independent India like feudal agrarian structure, exploitation, low agricultural productivity, shortage of food grains and unbalanced cropping pattern. These land systems were based on exploitation with difference only in degree, decreasing in order from zamindari to ryotwari. A small group of large landowners, including absentee landlords had land rights. The vast majority of cultivators did not have any right or had limited rights as tenants or sub-tenants. The poor mostly leased-in land for subsistence.

If the tenants used improved seeds, manure or extra labour, they had to share half of the increased produce with the landlords. Even before independence it was widely recognised that the main cause of stagnation and social injustice in economy was the stagnation in the agricultural sector and this stagnation could, to a large extent, be attributed to exploitative agrarian relations. When India became independent, policy makers felt the system of cultivation by tenants had to be overhauled as it was highly exploitative.

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