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 matter.

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.

Weaknesses

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 themselves efficient.

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 became common.

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.

Bhoodan Movement

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 for this.

Weaknesses

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 farming.

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 lifetime.    

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. 

Weaknesses

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 income inequalities.

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 revolution.

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.