Land settlements and reforms – Post-Independence Land Reforms

Post-Independence Reforms:

  • Zamindari Abolition
  • Tenancy Reforms
  • Land Celing Legislation
  • Bhoodan Movement

Zamindari Abolition:

In 1949 Zamindari abolition bills or land tenure legislation were introduced in a number of provinces such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Madras, Assam and Bombay with the report of the Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition Committee chaired by G.B. Pant, acting as the initial model for many others. In a meantime, the constituent Assembly was in the process of framing India‚Äôs constitution. There was, however, widespread apprehension, including among Congress leaders deeply committed to zamindar abolition like Jawaharlal Nehru , G.B. Pant and Sardar Patel , that the zamindar could try to stymie the acquisition of their estates by moving the courts , raising issues like violation of right to property or  unjustness of the compensation

The zamindars in various parts of the country challenged the constitutionality of the law permitting zamindari abolition and the courts. The congress government responded by getting constitutional amendments passed. The 1st amendment in 1951 and 4th amendment in 1955 were aimed at further strengthening the hands of the state, legislators for implementing zamindari abolition, making the question of violation of any fundamental rights or insufficiency of compensation not permissible in the courts. Though the zamindars continued to make numerous appeals to the High Court and Supreme Court, if for no other purpose but to delay the acquition of their estates, yet, the back of their resistance was broken by the mid-1950s. it may be reiterated that, contrary  to a view often put forward, the formers of the constitution , including the so-called right wings, were not participating in a design to stymie land reform but were in fact trying to complete the process within a democratic framework.

A major difficultly in implementing the zamindari abolition act, passed in most provinces by 1956, was the absence of adequate land records. But reforms which threatened the interests of section of the upper peasantry who were very much part of the national movement and had considerable societal support were far more difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.

The abolition of zamindari meant that about 20 million erstwhile tenants now became landowners. The figures for area and number of household under tenancy are highly unreliable partly because in many areas a very large proportion of tenancy was oral and therefore unrecorded. Yet, scholars agree that there was some decline in tenancy after the reforms started, one rough estimate being that area under tenancy decreased from about 42 percent in 1950-51 to between 20and 25 percent by early 1960s. However, the decline in tenancy and the considerable increase in self-cultivation was not a result only of tenants becoming landowners but also of eviction of existing tenants becoming landowners but also of eviction of existing tenants by landowners, as we shall see presently.

The compensation actually paid to the zamindars once their estates were acquired was generally small and varied from state to state depending upon the strength of the peasant movement and consequent class balance between the landlords and the tenants and the ideological composition of the congress leadership and of the legislature as a whole. 

The small zamindars (they were often hardly distinguishable from the well to do peasants; land reform initiatives were quite consciously not directed against them) who used to pay land revenue of up to RS 25 were to receive about twenty times net annual income as compensation whereas the big zamindars who paid land revenue ranging between rs.2000 and rs.10000 were to receive merely two to four times their net annual income