Chapter 14: INDIA SINCE INDEPENDENCE PART - XIV
Challenges of Land Reforms
Land Ceiling was a reform proposed
for making landownership more equitable. The Kisan Sabha was first
to propose this measure and even the congress and its leaders
advocated this measure. It was decided to allow states the
flexibility of having limits after considering the situation in
the states. However the First Plan stated that it would be
difficult to have land holding ceilings and the necessary survey
and apparatus too isn't available.Thus beyond rhetoric this plan
didn't succeed in the initial years after independence. One of the
reasons that the issue of land ceilings wasn't implemented like
the zamindari abolition was lack of societal consensus on the
The Congress party was internally
divided on this matter and important leaders like Rajagopalchari
and N Ranga were alarmed at this leftist decision. All right wing
opinions had consolidated under a single front and were now
protesting against this decision. The states and rich peasantry
too felt this as an attack on Right to Private property.The
campaigners and the main beneficiaries of the Zamindari abolition
were now against this reform. The other reason for delay in
implementation was the reluctance of state legislatures to
implement reforms on land ceilings.
The delay in imposing these ceilings
by the states rendered the legislation's ineffective. Also
initially ceilings were imposed on individual holdings and not
family holdings so landlords could transfer land to relatives.
Also the ceilings in some states were abnormally high up to 300
acres!! which made very few exemptions possible. The ceilings
also exemptions to farmers if they had dairy farming,
orchards, tea-coffee-rubber plantations or mechanized farming or
efficient farming. The generous exemptions were exploited by
landlords who transferred lands to bogus cooperatives or declared
The ceiling acts were also stalled
by legal petitions filed against the government by the landowners.
This forced the central government to put the land ceiling
legislation's under the 9th schedule to make them immune from
judicial scrutiny. The various weaknesses led to the failure of
this legislation and not a single acre land was released from
North Indian states. Only J&K saw efficient implementation of
the reforms and the thousands of acres of surplus land was
transferred from landowners to the landless. However the problem
of land fragmentation also emerged and un-economical holdings
The rich peasant - landlord class
had now gained political foothold and was capable of stalling
reforms or diluting them to suit their interests. This also led to
clashes with Naxalbari movement which saw land grabbing incidents
in the West Bengal, Orissa regions. Although the incidents were
few and could be suppressed but they brought to attention the
plight of the landless and the gravity of the situation.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave a prominent
Gandhian started this movement. This involved every landed family
to donate at least one sixth of their land holdings to a poor
landless peasant and accept him as a member of their family. For
this purpose Bhave started Sarvodaya Samaj and asked its
volunteers to do padyatra through villages and request families to
donate land. Their target was 50 million acres which was one-sixth
of India's total cultivable area.
Although this movement proceeded
independent of the Government but it received support from the
Congress party. Jayprakash Narayan left politics to join this
movement. The initial years of Bhoodan were promising and a large
part of the land was collected. However most of it was under
litigation or unsuitable for cultivation and so not distributed.
Thus the movement lost focus after the few initial years. But a
newer form was to emerge known as the Gramdan movement.
This believed that all land belonged
to God and collective efforts should be made to cultivate it. All
villagers would pool their land together and cultivate it sharing
resources and labor. However Gramdan movement too had its problems
a sit couldn't work in villages where class distinction had
emerged. Vinoba Bhave targeted villages populated by tribal
communities as Gramdan worked well there. Most of the villages
under Gramdan too were in tribal belts of Odisa, Maharashtra.
The movements have been
criticized as being Utopian, Reactionary, class collaborationist
and a safety valve to prevent peasant discontent from becoming
into a movement. The same criticisms were made of Gandhian
movements launched during independence struggle. The movement
however made an impact as they were the first attempts at a
social revolution independent of the government. The spirit of
collectivization also promoted by them was in sync with Ideals
of Socialism. The movement was a non violent satyagraha and the
leaders believed that a satyagraha could be launched if
landlords refused to cooperate in donating lands. However this
is where the movement failed. It couldn't build a social
transformation by active satyagraha.
Cooperativization of Agriculture
Congress and its leaders even
Gandhiji were in favor of cooperativization of agriculture.
However after independence the Government had to proceed with
caution as like the issue of land ceilings , cooperativization too
had no consensus amongst the masses even the rural peasantry. The
Congress to agreed that cooperativization shall proceed only with
cooperation of the peasants. However the later congress committee
felt that states should be empowered to launched
cooperativization. Large landowners and farmers would be made to
utilize cooperatives for marketing, transportation and
post-harvest activities. The smaller peasants would have to
collectively harvest their lands. The states could re-assure the
peasants wary of cooperativization using intelligent propaganda.
However this turned out to be a failure.
The First Plan was modest in this
approach. It recommended that if majority of the landowners owning
more than 50% of the land of the village agreed then the decision
to form a cooperative would be binding on all. The expectations
from cooperativization to improve the agricultural output without
increase in investment by the State was one reason for this. The
Second Plan was even more optimistic and revised the expectations
upwards. It was believed that the strong grass-root presence of
congress workers would enable effective implementation as the
cadre would motivate people to collectively pool resources and
work. Even the Chinese estimates of output due to collectivization
created an anxiety and it was believed that India isn't exploiting
full potential of its idea. Later it was found that this figure
was exaggerated. A delegation of Planning Commission also reported
that Chinese model should be replicated and Indian states should
take steps in this direction.
However the severe protests against
Nehru's plan for cooperativization led Nehru to adopt a
conciliatory approach. He assured that no legislation to impose
cooperativization would be made and only intelligent propaganda
would be used to convince farmers to join cooperativization. The
third plan too had a mellowed response and only aimed for
automatic adoption of cooperativization as a result of land
reforms and growing awareness but it had no concrete action plan
Cooperative movement lacked the
general consensus and had no roots in the peasant movements in the
pre-independence period. Therefore the ordinary rural farmer was
hesitant to join it. The government too didn't take concrete steps
to address this drawback. The cooperative formed were mostly bogus
created to evade land ceiling norms or get public subsidy. These
were dominated by rural rich and had bogus members like the rural
poor deliberately enlisted to ensure that the cooperative could
take advantage of government schemes. However such cooperative
were headed by the socially advantaged sections and poor were
treated as wage laborers. The second type of cooperatives were the
government cooperatives but these too were running into losses due
to bureaucratic apathy.
Service level cooperatives like
agriculture banks, marketing societies however had more success.
But even these suffered from same drawbacks as the rich peasant
cooperatives. These cooperatives too were dominated by the Rich
class of the society who used these to corner all the government
subsidy or critical inputs like fertilizers, credit etc.
Another common hindrance of the
cooperative movement was that instead of being a channel for
people's participation it became a government department with
clerks, inspectors and officers. These were generally not in touch
with the people's aims and aspirations. They also sided with the
dominant interests at local level. Thus becoming more of a
hindrance than an instrument. The cooperative credit societies
were also not successful as they had to face problem of bad loans.
The high rate of default forced governments to utilize public
money in form of loan waivers. The debt default wasn't due to poor
farmers but the politically powerful rich farmer lobby.
Cooperative banks were instrumental
in ensuring that cheap credit facilities were available to all the
classes of peasantry not just the rich. They helped in gaining
access to other agricultural inputs like fertilizers, seeds etc.
All this led to adoption of Green Revolution even faster by
providing necessary facilities for the input intensive version of
Technological Reforms: Agriculture
and the Green Revolution
The 1960's saw a change in the strategy of agriculture. The Green
Revolution was brought in an it changed the face of the country
from its begging bowl image to that of a self sufficient economy.
The Green revolution was also responsible for making India become
self reliant which had repercussions even for its foreign policy.
There were however controversies associated with the revolution.
Firstly, Nehruvian policies were criticized for focusing more on
institutional reforms rather than technological reforms. This
however wasn't true as Five year plans allocated nearly 30% of
their resources towards agriculture. Nehru believed in the
importance of institutional reforms and his focus on
cooperativization of agriculture was misplaced but this doesn't
mean he ignored technology for agriculture. In fact he wanted
Agriculture universities, fertilizer plants, research institutions
too as "Temples of Modern India" like the Steel plants. Nehru
believed that soon the institutional reforms would become
insufficient for ensuring agricultural growth hence he focused on
technological reforms. The intensive agriculture development
program was launched in 15 districts to quicken the development.
Hence it is said that the Green Revolution though began
after his death but its foundations were laid by him during his
The Green revolution was a result of certain trends observed
during that time that led to increase in focus on agriculture and
timely scientific discoveries. The Indian situation was grim as a
large population depended on agriculture for occupation. The land
holdings were small and food productivity low. When faced with
famine India had to resort to food imports. The democratic setting
also meant that India couldn't use coercion to force people to
sell to ration shops. This was done by Soviet Union and China.
Successive government were equally committed to improve the
agriculture situation. The break-through in scientific discovery
came in the form of high yielding variety of wheat suitable to
Indian conditions developed for Mexican fields. The New
Agriculture Strategy was developed and input intensive agriculture
began in Northern states like Punjab, Haryana, Western UP that had
assured irrigation. The chemical fertilizers, mechanized farming
also increased. The labor needed was less compared to the output.
The pressure on land and seeds to reduced as productivity improved
without increase in acreage.
The concentration of Green
Revolution to the North Western regions that were prosperous was
criticized. It was argued that the class distinction had become
more strong now that the class of peasantry which could afford
expensive inputs like chemical fertilizers, machinery etc could be
a part of the revolution. This increased their incomes but on the
other hand with no credit to invest in such inputs the poor landed
farmers continued their techniques and got a lower yield. Hence
they couldn't participate in the Green Revolution. The second
phase 1970-73 and third phase 1980-83 and 1992-1995 increased the
reach of the revolution to cover more states and even crops like
rice. This reduced criticisms related to regional disparity and
It was also alleged that the Green
revolution led farm mechanization would lead to labor loss and
further immiserate the lives of poor rural folk. The slogan of
"Red Revolution to follow Green Revolution".
However the steps taken to
ameliorate the disparity between rich and small farmers and
prevent loss of labor to poor rural people averted these crisis.
Cheap short and long term credit was made available to small and
marginal farmers. The credit societies and agricultural
cooperatives played an important role here. The small and marginal
farmers and agricultural laborers also benefited from schemes
launched to build rural infrastructure like Rural Works Program
etc. This meant that small and marginal farmers as a class
continued to get public benefits and were able to exploit the
Green Revolution. It is believed that the total fertilizer used,
total agriculture output produced and credit disbursed a sizeable
portion went to small and marginal farmers.
Thus the fear of distress
selling of land holdings to large farmers were allayed and in
fact small farming turned to be more viable due to technological
impact of green revolution. The current land holding trends
confirm that small and marginal land holdings continue to rise
and have occupied a larger share of total area under cultivation
than large farmers. However Tenants and Share-croppers were the
losers as most of the landlords evicted them and started
intensive cultivation. Rents and leases costs too increased in
Green Revolution areas as land productivity boosted.
The introduction of tractors was
supposed to be the end of agricultural laborers. However the
impact was more felt by bullocks not laborers as Green revolution
tripled the demand for agriculture laborers. The high population
regions saw an increase in migration as labor shifted to parts of
Punjab and North-West where demand is high. The improvement in
agriculture sector had a domino effect in non farm employment
avenues too. The development of agro industries, fertilizer
factories, marketing and packaging industries also developed and
secondary and tertiary sector industries came up. The growth in
jobs improved due to the Green Revolution. However this wasn't
enough to meet the needs of a growing economy like India.
Green Revolution had a positive
effect on agriculture productivity and taking advantage of this
many rural wage guarantee programs could be launched. The farm
income improved and also the incomes of laborers increased. This
created migration which also had a positive impact on wage growth
as areas that saw high migration also saw shortage of labor and
thus boost to wage. The income inequality though increased due to
Green revolution but this was due to faster income growth of rich
farmers compared to poor farmers. The alternative strategy of
equitable growth would have been slower and more harmful to the
already downtrodden masses.
Green revolution however had some
adverse environmental impact as higher chemical fertilizer usage,
pesticide and water usage increased soil toxicity. The excess
consumption of ground water would affect the underground water
table. However all such effects could be mitigated by educating
and training the farmers instead of criticizing the green
It is also proved that the yield
achieved due to green revolution if had to replicated using pre -
revolution techniques would mean bringing an additional 66 million
hectares under cultivation. This would have further brought down
the forest cover and created an even higher environmental impact.
Thus instead of criticizing the Green Revolution it is more
important to make scientific inventions or hone existing
inventions to make them suitable to climatic conditions of India.