Tenancy Reforms in India

After passing the Zamindari Abolition Acts, the next major problem was of tenancy regulation. Tenancy reforms aim to regulation of rent, provide security of tenure and conferring ownership to tenants. The tenancy reforms laws provide the provisions for registration of tenants, or giving ownership rights to the former tenants to bring them directly under the state.

Regulation of Rent

The rent paid by the tenants during the pre-independence period was exorbitant. It was anything between the 35 and 75 percent of gross produce throughout India. With the enactment of legislation for regulating the rent payable by the cultivators in the early 1950s, fair rent was fixed at 20 to 25 percent of the gross produce level in all the states except Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and some parts of Andhra Pradesh. In these states, the rent payable by the tenants varied between 25 percent and 40 percent, depending on the available irrigation facilities.

Security of tenure

Providing security of tenure was the second important reforms brought about during the first three five-year plans via tenancy acts. Legislation for security of tenure had three essential elements:

  • Ejection could not take place except in accordance with the provision of the law;
  • Land could be resumed by an owner, but only for personal cultivation;
  • and in the event of resumption, the tenant was assured of a prescribed minimum area.

Tenancy laws were enacted in all states though their implementation varied widely across the states.

Conferment of ownership rights to tenants

The third important component of tenancy legislations was the conferment of ownership rights to tenants.

At national level, a tenancy regulation policy was announced. As per this policy, large landowners were allowed to evict their tenants and to bring the land under personal cultivation up to a ceiling limit to be prescribed by each state. At that time, the term “personal cultivation” was defined as cultivation by the owner of the land and other members of his family.

The tenants of those lands which were not resumable (i.e. without landowners) were given occupancy rights on payment of a price to be fixed as a multiple of the rental value of the land.

The owners of land not exceeding a family holding were defined as small owners. Land belonging to small and middle owners was divided into two categories viz. land under personal cultivation, and land leased to tenants at will. If the land posses was below a ceiling restriction, tenants of such land owners were given limited protection, provided that it should be renewed for five to ten years and should be renewable, and that the maximum rent payable should not exceed 20 to 25 percent of the gross produce. However, in second five year plan, the definition of “personal cultivation” was amended with three elements viz. risk of cultivation, personal supervision, and personal labor. This further narrowed down to define who was eligible for the ownership rights on land. In the third five year plan, the final goal was fixed to confer rights of ownership to as many tenants as possible. The policy suggested that the states should study the problem and determine the suitable action in light of prevailing conditions.  In the fourth plan, the tenancies were suggested to be declared non-resumable and permanent except in the case of landowners working in defence services or with any disability.” Thus, the lands where cultivators, agricultural labourers, and artisans had constructed their houses, was now to be their own land.

All these efforts were partially successful in reversing the conditions of the British Era. But still, there were issues of tenants being forced to sell the lands due to poverty. The government was suggested to make efforts to bring them within the institutional credit regime.

In the sixth five year plan, a time bound schedule was given to the states to implement the measures of land reforms. It further recommended that the states in which legislative provisions for conferment of ownership rights on all tenants did not exist should immediately introduce appropriate legislative measures within one year (by 1981–1982). However, it was not achieved in all states.

Critical Assessment of Tenancy Reforms in Independent India

Despite repeated emphasis in the plan documents, some states could not pass legislation to confer rights of ownership to tenants. Few states in India have completely abolished tenancy while others states have given clearly spelt out rights to recognized tenants and sharecroppers. The tenancy reforms led to only a small percentage of tenants acquiring ownership rights, but undoubtedly it has reduced the area under tenancy.

Impact of Tenancy reforms on productivity

Further, since the tenancy reforms coincided with green revolution, it was difficult to define, how exactly it helped in productivity. However, some studies attempted to separate all the other effects and concluded that: –

  • There was a positive correlation between the growth in production and the progress of tenancy.
  • It led to changes such as greater social equity and self-confidence among the poor tenants.
  • However, some studies criticise it and say that due to poor resource base, tenancy reforms could not led to growth in productivity.

The proportion of landless agricultural households in the rural area had stabilized. However, at the same time, there has been an increase in the marginal and small holdings. However, the increase in smaller holdings is also due to increase in population and lack of alternative employment in rural areas.

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