Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Land Reforms in India

"Aunty, I read something called ‘Land reforms’. What is that Aunty? What do they reform in Land?”

“Ha-ha, Raju! I am glad you asked! This is not about reforming the land! It’s much more important!

Let me start with a question; we eat rice daily. How much you buy it for in the market?”

“Aunty, it’s around Rs. 40!”

“Good, now will it be good, if it’s Rs 20 per kg?”

“Of-course Aunty! Its 50% discount! We would save lots of money! Why, is the price of rice going to come down?! ”

“Ha-ha, I wish it comes down! Then we can get soon get you the one-plus one mobile! Lol!”

“Ha-ha, then do some magic and get it reduced aunty!”

“It’s not magic Raju, it’s simple economics; if the supply of rice is more, then its price comes down in the market! Isn’t? So, we produce more rice, then cost comes down!

Ok, guess how much rice is produced from say, from land measuring a hectare?”
(A hectare is 10,000 sq meters, .i.e. a square of 100x100 meters. It is 2.5 times of an acre)

“No idea Aunty! May be some 1000 kg?”

“2,000 kg is the average Raju. It varies as the soil and climatic conditions vary widely in India! Dindugal in Tamil nadu produces around 4,000 kg/hectare, whereas in Rajasthan it’s less than 1000 kg!

Ok, now, how much we were producing in 1950s? Around 600 kgs! So, there is an improvement of around 250% in last 60 years! This may look good!

But, during the same time, other countries improved by 450%!

Needless to say, higher the ‘yield per hectare’ (called as productivity), better is for the country!”

“I get it aunty! I am sure all those in the govt must be raking their brains to increase the productivity of rice, as it’s a staple crop in India! Why just rice, they must be working to increase the productivity of every crop! I have read about the green revolution Aunty. Technology must be helping them!”

“Yes Raju, technology does help. But, then there are other issues too.”

“Raju, you have been asking for an i10 car for you from your dad? Isn’t? Now, imagine your dad gives you a new i10 tomorrow! But, then he says that, it has been hired for a year, and you have to give it back the owner after 2 years. And you can use this as taxi, but, 50% whatever you earn goes to the owner. And all expenditures are yours!”

“Lol! Aunty, So, I use it as taxi, and also for my personal purpose? Why can’t he just buy and give me one?!”

“Ok, that we will see later. Now, can you tell me why you feel that you want your own car? Why can’t you use this hired car for 2 years? After all it’s the same i10?”

“Oh no aunty, it will not be like my own car! Then I will love it and take care of it better! If I have to return it after 2 years, why will I invest more on maintaining? I will use as taxi for getting my minimum to put petrol and pocket money! Anyway, rest 50% goes to the owner! But, aunty, above all, I won’t feel the same happiness or enjoy the status of owner of a car, that could boost my confidence!”

“Ha-ha! Well said Raju! You talked about almost all important the aspects of land reforms now!

Replace the car with land! What happens? If you are given land for agriculture on rental basis, you tend to do the same! You don’t maintain it well, as it will go back to the owner! You don’t put that to best use, as anyway 50% goes to owner! And above all, you don’t feel the status and confidence!”

“Oops! Aunty! Great! Now, don’t tell me that, most of the land in India is under this hiring scheme!”

“Raju, yes, most of the land in India is under this hiring scheme. It’s called as tenancy. Farmers take the land on one or two year lease and work on that. They give a portion to the land lord and keep the rest to them. Almost 90% of the land was cultivated this way before independence. Now, it may be around 50%!”

“Goodness! I have read that, land should be given to the tiller, and that is the best thing to happen. Why still we are keeping 50% land under this tenancy? Can’t we make laws and give the land to the tillers permanently?”

“We have laws Raju! Almost all the states and the governments passed law on this; called as land reform laws. They also executed the law. But the results are not so good! Prof. M.L. Dantwala observes; ‘By and large, land reforms in India enacted so far, are in the right direction; and yet due to lack of implementation, the actual results are far from satisfactory’

Let me explain! Indeed, the land reform has four basic components: first, to give the land to the tiller! This can be done, only if the owner has large tracts of land, so that we can give away all lands except a minimum that he needs for his survival. So, the govt made a law that, one family can own only 10 hectares of land, and rest of them have to be given to those who are actually tilling the land on rent basis. This is called as ‘ceiling act’, and it fixed a ceiling on the quantum of land that can be held by any individual.

Second, is, about the improving the agreement conditions between the tiller and land owner. This is required, as still there will be owner-tenant relationship, in cases where the land lord holds land within the ceiling, but unable to cultivate himself due to various reasons. These are called as ‘tenancy reforms’.

The third was on consolidation, which meant consolidating small holdings of land. This was required, as consolidating will help in better use of technology like tractors etc.

The fourth, (some call this as first!) was, setting right the historical wrong; that is abolishing the system, where there were many intermediaries, like Inamdars, Jagirdars etc., who used to hold 1000s of hectares of land, on the behalf of govt, and fleeced the tillers to cultivate and give huge share to them!

These four components were implemented across the states with different success rates. Needless to say, those states where the govt are more committed to land reform did well.”

“Aunty, all these four concepts look so good! Why where they not implemented? What were the obstacles?”

“Raju, the fourth one; abolishing the intermediaries was done! But, for others; people by-passed the ceiling law, retained huge tracts of lands, by just showing that the lands are owned by many! (benamis!) Regarding the reforms in the tenancy, it’s still ineffective, as most of the transactions in rural India are informal and thus, less chance of regulation by law. On consolidation front, we did some 1600 lakh hectares were done. Still lot to go.

The obstacle seems to be lack of political will to drive the implementation. In a democracy, political will matters a lot!

For example, so many land issue are pending in various courts. The governments have not created enough land courts or officers to clear the pendency. No strict action was taken to identify the benamis and seize the land. The land reform agenda appear to have been put on the back burner now!”

“Why Aunty? Why will the governments do that? Won’t it get them good will from all?”

“Raju, in the democracy, the governments are formed, based on the votes. Unless all the illegal ways of getting votes are closed, the political leadership will try to earn the votes by dubious means, which include use of muscle and money power. And both these come from the landed aristocracy, who own huge tracts of land under benami names! “

“Hmm. I understand Aunty! Hope elections get better or good parties come to power to complete the unfinished task of land reforms”

“yes Raju! Indeed, Naxal movement is strongest in those places where less is done in land reforms! Look at other countries like Philippines, which went for a comprehensive reform, where they supported the new land owners with farm inputs, capital and marketing. We need innovation and strong will be make the land reforms succeed in India. May be youngsters like you will one day complete this unfinished agenda!”

“Yes Aunty! I hope too. Because, unless we make the foundation strong, and ensures the productivity increase, how can we become a super power? How can a farmer lacking motivation and confidence, contribute in making our country great?”

“Well said Raju! I hope these words reach the hallowed halls of the Parliament!”

Authored jointly by Shri. Ezhil Buddhan, ITS and Shri, Manivannan, IAS.