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Land Tenure Systems

Land Tenure – Meaning:

Land tenure refers to the way in which land is held by an individual from the Government. It shows the relationships between the land holder and the State. The absolute ownership of land rests with the Government. Government gives proprietary rights to individuals or communities. Thus, whom we call a land owner, is in that sense is the proprietor of that land and he has to pay land renew for that.

History of Land Tenures in India:

In ancient times, the State of India claimed a share of the produce of the land from the cultivator. The laws of Manu mention one sixth of the gross produce at the legitimate share of the King. During the war and other emergencies, it was increased to one fourth.

The institute set up by Timur represented the first systematic attempt in the direction of converting the State’s share of the produce into money. Sher-shah made some improvement. However, it remained incomplete due to his short reign.

The most famous settlement was made under Akbar by his able Finance Minister, Todarmal. While fixing the revenue, scientific and detailed investigation was made to assess the taxable capacity of different soils. Land was carefully measured and divided into four classes representing different grades of fertility. The Government’s share was fixed as one-third of the gross produce. Thus, Mughals did not introduce any fundamental changes in the ancient revenue system but put a coherant system in place of customary and unwritten usages of the Hindu administration.

Malik Amber of Ahmednager made similar improvements in the Deccan. He fixed one-third of the gross value of produce as the revenue. Maratha rulers continued the system. They fixed `Kamal’ or the maximum rates for the best lands. The assessment was not permanent in majority of the cases. However, `Miras’ tenure was subject to the payment of fixed assessment.

In the declining days of Mughal Empire, the control over the revenue officials became weak. The flow of income started declining. So, the system called ‘revenue farming’ was introduced in Bengal in the reign of Farukhsiyer (1713-19). Under this system, the revenue farmer paid the Government nine-tenth of the whole collection and kept the rest as his collection charges. However, in the later period, the right of collecting land revenue for a pargana or a district was sold by public auction to the highest bidders. Due to this, the exploitation of the cultivators started. The revenue farmers became more dominant. This revenue farming system which started during the Mughal rule in Bengal was soon extended to other parts of the country.

In Deccan, Nana Fadanis, in the later part of the 18th Century, had introduced a revenue system which was very efficient and equitable. It was universally recognised.

The revenue farming system even came to the Deccan. In Konkan, the Khots who were earlier revenue farmers acquired landlord rights. In United Provinces and in Punjab revenue farmers succeeded in acquiring certain overlord rights.

The disorders in the revenue administration resulted in many complexities of land tenures and rights.

Land Tenures under British Rule:

Under British Rule, there were three main types of land tenure systems in India. They were Zamindars, Mahalwari and Rayatwari.

  1. Zamindari: This system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in Bengal in 1973. Under this system, the lands of a village or few villages was held by one person or few joint owners who were responsible for payment of land revenue to the Government. There used to be number of intermediaries between the Zamindars and the actual tillers of the soil. The system took were various forms such as Zamindari, Jagirdari, Inamdari, etc. In many cases revenue collectors were raised to the status of land owners. This system was introduced in many parts of the country. In this system, tillers of the soil were exploited by way of exhorbitant rents. There were no incentives for them to improve the land or to use better cultivation practices. There were many other social evils of the system. It is said that the British introduced Zamindari system to achieve two objectives. First, it helped in regular collection of land revenue from a few persons i.e. Zamindars. Secondly, it created a class of people who would remain loyal to the British ruler in the country.

  2. Mahalwari: Under this system, the village lands were held jointly by the village communities, the members of which were jointly and severally responsible for the payment of land revenue. Land revenue was fixed for the whole village and the village headman (Lumberdar) collected it for which he received ‘Panchatra’ i.e. 5 per cent as commission.

  3. Rayatwari: It was introduced by Sir Thomas Munro first in Madras state and then in Bombay State. In this system, there was a direct relationship between Government and the tenant or Rayat i.e. individual land holder. Every registered holder was recognised as its proprietor and he could sell or transfer the land. He was assured of permanent tenure as long as he paid the land revenue. The land holder was also allowed to sublet his land. It was a better system as compared to Zamindari or Mahalwari and similar other forms of tenure.

Though we have discussed the above three main systems of land tenure, there was lot of intermixing of characteristics of these systems. It is said that these three systems gravitated towards the tendencies of the Zamindari system. The Mahalwari system in states like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh subletting and rock renting became common. It became common even in the Rayatwari areas. There was no proper revenue record. This was the situation which prevailed at the time of independence.

Post-independence Period:

Our leaders had thought about the need for land reforms even prior to independence. For instance, the Agrarian Reforms Committee under Shri J.C.Kumarappa had given the guidelines for the formulation of land reform policies in the independent India. The committee recommended that

    1. all intermediary interest should be abolished and land should belong to the tiller;

    2. leasing of land should be prohibited except in case of widows, minors and other disabled persons.

    3. All the tenants who had been cultivating land for a period of 6 years should be granted occupancy rights

    4. The tenants should have the right to purchase the holdings at reasonable price to be determined by the land tribunal;

    5. The agrarian economy should provide an opportunity for the development of the farmers.

Abolition of Zaminari and Intermediaries Acts;

India’s First Five year plan has clearly mentioned the land policy and the specific land reform measures to be undertaken. Most of the states passed the legislations for abolition of zamindari and similar exploitative land tenure systems. The first act in this respect was passed in Madras in 1948. The other states followed it. Now land tenure systems like Zamindari, Mahalwari, Jagir, Inam, etc. are abolished in all the states in the country.

It has been said that in implementation of land reforms, this first and the important step of abolition of zaminari was completed peacefully.

As a result of abolition of Zaminari and intermediaries, about 26 lakh intermediaries and 20 lakh tenants got proprietory rights of lands i.e. they became the land owners. This has resulted in improving their economic and social conditions. The land revenue income of the states also increased.

Tenancy reforms:

Tenancy refers to the relation between the land holder (owner) and the actual tiller of the soil. Many of the land owners did not cultivate their lands personally but gave it to some tiller and took rent for that. They were absentee landlords. The tenancy prevailed in all forms of land tenure systems including Rayatwari system. The main reason was the increase in the population of landless labourers. In 1951, of the total families dependent on agriculture, as many as 23.6 per cent families belonged to the tenant class. The National Sample Survey (8th round) indicated that the lands leased out varied from 11 per cent to 26 per cent of the total, in different states. The tenants were exploited by the land owners by way of heavy rents (50 per cent or even 2/3rd of the produce). There was no protection of tenure (evictions on minor pretexts). Thus, there were no incentives for tenants to make land improvements or to increase production. This necessitated enacting the legislation for tenancy reforms. Tenancy Acts were passed in most of the States, they provided for

  1. regulation of rents

  2. security of tenure, and

  3. confirment of ownership on tenants.

Bombay State promptly enacted the legislation as early as in 1950. As regards the regulation of rents, different states fixed different rates. For instance, in Bombay (Maharashtra), Gujarat and Rajasthan, one-sixth of the grass produce has been fixed as the maximum rent; while in Punjab rent fixed is one-third of the produce.

It was found that there were large scale evictions of tenants on the plea of resumption for personal cultivation.

As reported in the draft fourth five year plan, as a result of tenancy legislations in India, 3 million tenants or share croppers became the land owners. Uttar Pradesh was in the forefront in this respect. The next state in order is Maharashtra where 13.56 lakh tenants got the ownership rights of about 32 lakh hectares of land by September, 1992.

Protection of tenants and regulation of rent is the first step in the tenancy reforms. The ultimate object of the reform is "land to the tiller". The Tenancy Acts have been moved in that direction.

It could be said that the land reform measures adopted by the States soon after independence, provided a sound basis for agricultural developments that took place in the country in the later period.

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(Agri - Economics)