What is Land Ceiling? [the 1950s to 1970s]
Land reform was one of the first concerns of the newly Independent India. As a country dependent majorly on its agrarian economy, the leaders of independent India had to make sure that the rich farmers did not hold on to the land and that there had to be an equal distribution of land for lowering economic disparities by reducing inequalities in ownership of land and income. The government believed that one way of achieving this was creating a framework of law that could determine the maximum size of land any individual could hold on their name. These came to be known as the Land Ceiling laws which would acquire the surplus land, i.e any land that surpassed the given limit and redistributes that surplus land among the small farmers.
The ceiling legislature began from the late 1950s and by 1961-62, most of the state governments had passed the land ceiling acts; Jammu and Kashmir being the first followed by West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and so on. The Acts, however, did not achieve the desired result. Most of the ceiling limits varied from one state to another. In a decade or so, 23 lakh acres of land (approx) was declared as surplus land out of which only 13 lakh acres was redistributed whereas states like Odisha, Bihar, Karnataka, and Rajasthan had no surplus land declared. It was a lack of implementation of law as well as proper mechanism of check on the functioning on the ground that led to falsification of records and benami transfers (a transaction where the person in whose name the land is signed is not the real beneficiary. This was prohibited under the Benami Transactions (Prohibitions) Act in 1988).
New Land Ceiling Policy 1972
Due to the discouraging results of the Ceiling Laws, a New Land Ceiling Policy was passed in 1972. These were the following provisions of the New Policy:
1) barring minor variations, the land ceiling imposed 10-18 acres for good land, 18-27 acres for second class land and 27-54 acres for hills and desert areas as the limit.
2) The limit, unlike before was imposed not on an individual but on the family of five members, where the family as a unit was defined as to include the husband, the wife, and three minor children. If in any such case, it might present that there are more members in a family, each member will be allowed land in such a manner that the land does not exceed twice their ceiling limit.
3) The ceiling laws did not apply to coffee, tea, cocoa, and cardamom plantations as well as commercial and industrial ventures for non-agricultural practices. However, Sugarcane farms were not exempted from the Law. The State could provide exemptions to public religious and educational organizations as well as exempting any land held by the Bhoodan Yagnya Committee, nationalized banks, cooperative banks and cooperative farming societies organized by weaker sections.
4) The compensation given in return of the surplus land should be below the market value of the land.
5) While commencing the distribution of surplus land, the landless workers, especially from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, should be given priority.
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Amendments to the Land Ceiling Law and its Failure
Ceiling Law was a state subject and therefore the range of the ceiling limit varied from state to state but adhered to the essence of the Law passed. However, the progress of redistribution remained marginal and neglected. Many of the above provisions of exemptions were manipulated and used by the interested parties to avoid land ceiling, reducing the acquisition of surplus land. It was often observed that the surplus land surrendered as the surplus land was either uncultivated and barren or was of very poor quality, without any water facility or sometimes prone to more floods. The law was amended in 1975 in response to the loopholes presented in the Law passed in 1972. Some of the amendments were;
1) Transferring land during the course of ceiling proceedings was prohibited
2) Under Section 14(1), the tenure-holder was allowed to gather the crop standing on the surplus land only on the date of the surrendering as and when he declared the surplus land at his own.
3) Tenure holder was held accountable for occupation and use of surplus land and was liable to pay for the damages.
4) There were strict penal provisions put in place,i.e. fine and punishment, for the people who provided false information regarding any unauthorized holding of surplus land in any manner.
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In 2016, a story covering the rate of distribution of land in rural areas showed that the average land being given to the landless farmers had been falling from 0.95 acres in 2002 to 0.88 acres in 2015 which shows a 7.4% drop over a thirteen-year period. The report shows the surplus declared as of December 2015 was 6.7 million acres, out of which the government claimed 6.1 million acres and distributed 5.1 million acres to 5.78 million people. It also showed that the surplus land declared had considerably fallen over the years, being an average of 150,000 acres every year between 1973 and 2002 which decreased to 4000 acres every year between 2002-2015.
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The Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act 1976
In 1976, the government enacted The Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act to regulate urban land prices and promote low-income housing in an effort to socialize urban land exempting central and state land, and other public, religious or educational organizations along with LIC Companies. This included
1) acquiring vacant land holdings of individuals or companies
2) Limiting the size of the future living quarters to be built.
3) Regulating the transfer of urban property.
The Act classified four categories of land ownership ceiling limits:
1) Class A [Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Madras]- 500sq m
2) Class B[Cities with a population over a million]- 1000sq m
3) Class C[population between 0.3 and 1 million]- 1500sq m
4) Class D[population between 2-300,000]- 2000sq m.
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In 1999, the Act was repealed in Haryana, Punjab and the Union Territories. U.P, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Karnataka passed resolutions in their legislative assemblies to repeal the Act in their states. By 2011 most of the States had repealed this Act majorly because of the claims that the Act was barring urban development.
It is important to understand that land reforms if implemented systematically, could bring change to many lives. If a small section amasses everything, it would leave the rest with nothing and so they must be limited for the betterment of the society. This was the essence of what our leaders wanted but because of the State’s reluctance and the systemic loopholes, the Laws still largely remain on the paper and the reality on the ground worsens with every passing day.