Land Reforms in West Bengal Geography and demography of the state • Situated in the Eastern Coast of India, bordering the states of Bihar and Orissa and the neighbouring country Bangladesh. • Population density of 904 per square kilometers as compared to the national average of 324. • In 2001, 71.97 per cent of population was in rural areas. • In 1999-2000, 65.9 per cent of household budget was spent on rice consumption.
5. In 1999-2000, 90.62 per cent of total area for cultivation of food grains was under rice. 6. Area under food grains in 1999-2000 was 4.1 times the area under non food grains (cash crops and vegetables) 7. In 1999-2000, 92.6 per cent of total food grains production was in the form of rice. 8. In 2000, from administrative point of view West Bengal had 17 districts divided into 341 development blocks and 3248 cluster of villages having 40,911 villages (called Mouzas).
History of Land Tenure • West Bengal had a land tenure system known as Permanent Settlement which promoted absentee landlords called Zamindars • The revenue collection pressure created a layer of intermediaries • The lowest strata of actual cultivators were the sharecroppers, known mainly as Bargadars • After Independence in 1947, Zamindars were replaced by new landlords called Jotedars
The Jotedars, mainly rentiers from the erstwhile zamindars, again turned out to be not the actual cultivators in general and many of them were also absentees. • The rights of the Bargadars, in spite of various land reforms measures, remained insecure till the late seventies. Most of them were unrecorded, having no hereditary rights of cultivation. The share of crop violated legal stipulations more than often. Threat of eviction always kept the sharecroppers on the defensive.
Leadership, Commitment and Politics of Change • The major movement of Sharecroppers to ensure 2/3rds share of crop was backed by the communists dominated Peasants organization All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) • The Congress party, which had socialist leanings but basically a centre-left party, ruled since independence and had the backing of the jotedars • The First non-congress communists dominated government was installed in 1967
For the first time, sharecroppers showed some militancy in the rural areas • The present Communist party of India (Marxist) led left front came to power in 1977 general election • In 1977, an amendment to land reforms act made cultivation in absentia an exclusionary clause for eviction of sharecroppers. Sharecroppers were provided heritable rights and the place of crop share was shifted to sharecroppers homestead plot. • In 1978, Registration of names of sharecroppers started in an unprecedented scale under the name “Operation Barga” along with redistribution of ceiling-surplus land.
Who are the major stakeholders in the Land Reform process? • Sharecroppers were the direct beneficiary. By implication the poorer sections of peasantry, namely, marginal and small farmers, benefited the most • Agricultural Labourers, the other major section of the rural poor, were the other beneficiary. They benefited directly from redistribution of confiscated land and indirectly from any wage rate rise. • The major section to lose was the absentee landlords
The major issue in the political economy of reform is whether the target group was correctly chosen? • Data just before independence in 1945, did show that more than 1/3rd of operational area was under sharecropping. • Data also show that percentage of families with primary occupation as agricultural labourers had a continuous decline during the 15 years prior to independence in 1945. • Thus, the decision to concentrate on sharecroppers during post-independence years was politically correct
Share of West Bengal in implementation of distribution of ceiling surplus land among all major rice producing states in India as in March, 2001 States Per cent to National Total West Bengal 47.14 Andhra Pradesh 9.83 Uttar Pradesh 5.40 Tamil Nadu 2.62
Institutional Innovations and Implementation 1. Bringing Bureaucracy close to the Villages • Replacement of traditional Revenue Court approach to register names of sharecroppers by the Rural Camp Method • Operation Barga was carried out in six stages- a. Identification of villages with the help of settlement records and peasants organisations b. Squads of Officers from Land Settlement and Land Management Branch formed
c. Dates of evening camps were settled d. Government Officials explained the benefits of registration of names e. Next day was reserved for claim verification f. Government officers recorded names of the sharecroppers and gave them certificates. They were entered into the village records later. Thus, essentially, quasi property rights were Bestowed upon registered sharecroppers
2. Delegation of financial and planning activities to Local Elected Government • Local elected government have three tiers, known as ‘Panchayats’ • Top tier worked at the district level called Zilla Parishads • The next tier worked at the block level called Panchayat Samitis • The lowest tier worked at the grassroots level of a cluster of small number of villages called Gram Panchayats (GPs)
Quantifiable Tasks of Panchayats • To carry out central government funded schemes like Food for Work (aimed at creating off season jobs) or creation of non-farm rural assets. The major success was in the creation of unsurfaced rural roads and clearing of ponds and tanks. • Distribution of Minikits, a package of seeds, fertiliser and pesticide • Maintenance of tube wells for irrigation through the creation of beneficiaries committees Non-quantifiable Tasks of Panchayats • Role of conflict resolution in case of disputes regarding land, water and wages, as well as other social problems.
Grass roots Democracy • From 1985 onwards, the panchayats enjoyed financial devolution and planning responsibilities. • Operation Barga created more balance of power in the village democracy • All members of an electoral constituency are supposed to meet twice every year in Gram Sansads to discuss village level plans. • In 2000, there were 3000 Gram Sansads of which almost 90 per cent held meetings. • Percentage of electorates attending meeting had shown a downward trend from 30 percent in 1996 to 5 percent in 2000.
Impact of Land Reforms • Impact on Poverty
Regression Results for Causality for cultivators Having operational land below 2 hectares 1) Log(yield) = -0.144 + 0.289** log(roads) + 0.359* log(labour) + 0.370*inter 25, Adjusted R2 = 0.310 2) Log(yield) = 0.142 + 0.313** log(roads) + 0.292** log(labour) + 0.370***inter 20, Adjusted R2 = 0.248 Note: *, **, and *** refer to significant at 1, 5 and 10 per cent levels respectively
Learning and Experimentation The strengths • Strong Political will backed by historical support to peasant struggles of the Left parties • Choice of the right target group, namely small scale sharecropping tenants and landless agricultural labourers • Quasi property rights bestowed on the sharecroppers increasing their incentives • Innovative implementation process
Better balance of rural power • Active involvement of local level elected governments in developmental works, especially construction of roads and excavation of canals and Tanks • Conflict resolution by the local level elected representatives The weaknesses • Land dispossession especially of the redistributed landholders • Insignificant rise of agricultural real wages
The number of cultivators as a proportion of agricultural workers is going down • Poor Attendance in the village level meetings of the panchayats • Questions regarding fairness in electoral process • Indifferent attitude towards financial devolutions and delegation of planning responsibilities to panchayats by the state government Future Directions To sustain fruits of land reform, diversification of production base and increase in non-farm activities are a must. Along with that, serious thought to be given on strengthening of grass roots democracy.