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Land distribution

Land distribution

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Economic and Political WeeklyOctober 6, 2001
n a country like India, where agricul-ture is the prime source of livelihoodfor a vast majority of people living inrural and tribal areas, land continues to bethe pivotal property in terms of both in-come and employment, around whichsocio-economic privileges and deprivationsrevolve. Though the members of sched-uled castes and tribes mostly reside in thecountryside and derive their livelihood byworking on land, they are the most disad-vantaged in respect to land. The incidenceof landlessness is more pronounced amongthese groups, the bulk of whom are agri-cultural labourers having minuscule hold-ings or are sharecroppers or other types of insecure tenants [Beteille 1972, Murdia1975, Sharma 1994, Diwakar 1999,Mungekar 1999]. A majority of scheduledcastes (77 per cent) and scheduled tribes(90 per cent) are landless, without anyproductive assets and sustainable employ-ment opportunities.
Around 87 per centof the landholders of scheduled castes and65 per cent of scheduled tribes in thecountry belong to the category of small andmarginal farmers [Agricultural Census1990-91]. According to the Census of India,1991, 64 per cent of scheduled castes’ and36 per cent of scheduled tribes’ mainworkers are agricultural labourers as against31 per cent of others. It also reveals that25 per cent of scheduled castes and 55 percent of scheduled tribes are cultivatorscompared to 40 per cent of others. Thepoorest among the poor in Indian societyare largely from these groups. As per theestimates of the Planning Commission, 48per cent of the population of scheduledcastes and 51 per cent of scheduled tribesare below the poverty line.
In recognition of the basic propositionthat poor land ownership position of thescheduled groups accounts largely for theirperpetual poverty and makes them vulner-able to social injustice and exploitation,the government of India has made a sys-tematic endeavour to protect and promotetheir rights with regard to control and useof land through land reforms and alliedmeasures. Land reforms have been treatedas one of the principal instruments for thecreation of an egalitarian rural society, intune with the socialistic spirit, as providedin the Preamble and under part-IV of theConstitution (Directive Principles of StatePolicy). It has also been included in theNinth Schedule to ensure speedy andunhindered implementation of variouslegislative measures. However, land re-form being a state subject, the legislativeas well as the administrative responsibilitydevolve on states, and the union govern-ment lays down only the general guide-lines. Therefore, the nature of legislativemeasures and their implementation andachievement are likely to vary from stateto state because they are influenced by thecomplex interaction of historical necessi-ties and socio-political and economicforces, which are largely state or region-specific. In such a context, a comprehen-sive and comparative analysis of the leg-islative measures of various states relatingto the land rights of scheduled groups andtheir consequent effects on land distributionis imperative, as these are issues of majorpolicy concern. Though the question of control and use of land among the sched-uled castes and tribes has not been leftentirely out of scientific inquiry, it hasreceived only occasional attention.
Thenon-availability of data on landholdings of these groups was possibly one of the reasonsfor this gap.
Rural Indian society is hierarchical andinequitous, and enmeshed in feudal ethos.In such a society, to be the born into aparticular social group is to be the bearerof specific rights and obligations and tobe involved in a specific pattern of rela-tionship with members of other groups.Both the privileged and the deprived believethat men are born unequal [Nair 1961,Beteille 1974]. In the words of Parry(1979:6), “the ‘encompassing ideology’ of hierarchy permeates every sphere of sociallife and even the subordination of the tenantto his landlord and of the subject to hisrules is expressed in same symbolic lan-guage”. Inequality and domination aretreated as the basis of social relationship.The lower castes, as per their place insocial hierarchy, are supposed to serve thedominant castes and remain loyal to them.To sustain their aristocratic status thedominant castes stay aloof from the sub- ject population and its ascribed duties[Lieten and Srivastava 1999:39]. This hasbeen the practice as far back as the historyof Indian society can be traced. The tribals,who were initially within a relativelyegalitarian and homogeneous social orderwith a separate socio-cultural and ecologi-cal milieu of their own, came under thesubservience and dominance of the richnon-tribals in due course through the‘civilising’ and ‘modernising’ effects of 
Land Distribution among ScheduledCastes and Tribes
 In recognition of the basic proposition that scheduled castes and tribes are themostdisadvantaged in respect to land, which largely accounts for their perpetual povertyand makes them vulnerable to injustice and exploitation, attempts havebeen made by the union and state governments to promote and protect their rights withregard to the control and use of land. Based on 13 major states, the present studyshows that even after 50 years of planned initiatives and policy measures,there has not been substantial improvement in the landholding status of scheduled groups,and in some states, it has declined further.
Economic and Political WeeklyOctober 6, 2001
colonialism and planning.
Viewed in thisperspective, scheduled castes and tribesare the historically deprived and backwardsections of Indian society who languish atthe lower portions of the social and eco-nomic pyramid. In a society of this kind,where inequality and domination are deeplyfrozen in the social structure and in thepsyche of the people, it is difficult to upliftand empower the deprived groups throughlegislative measures because any attemptto exercise the rights created by law isoften to challenge the existing order of relations [Beteille 1974]. The modes of living, working and the ideology that makeup this stratification constitute very realinhibitions and obstacles, and the strengthof the system is evidenced by the unwill-ingness of the underprivileged and ex-ploited lower strata to challenge them[Myrdal 1972:41].Though the scheduled castes and tribeshave a combined demographic strength of one-fourth of India’s population – whichis greater than the population of manycountries – they have not been able toemerge as a powerful combination. Theycontinue to be ruled by the dominant elitesof the upper castes
because of their sub-missiveness, tolerance and survival-mindedness. The ruling minorities, whofind the existing social order beneficial,remain apathetic or lukewarm towardsissues concerning the upliftment andempowerment of the people at the lowerrungs as it tends to challenge their spectraldominance. Though movements haveemerged time and again among scheduledpopulation, they were mostly sporadic,unorganised and fragmented, and weresuppressed or diluted by the dominantgroups through various strategies [Omvedt1974, Ranadive 1979, Desai 1979]. Never-theless, many of these movements haveenlightened the members of lower castesand tribes and also produced some percep-tible changes in agrarian social relations[Patankar and Omvedt 1979, Dhanagare1983, Kulkarni 1983]. Moreover, plan-ning in India, like in other south Asiancountries, which is viewed as a ‘demo-cratic planning’ in popular notion is funda-mentally a political programme throughwhich the state tries to impress the massesin order to get their support without muchcoercion and regimentation [Myrdal 1972:62]. Therefore, the state representing theprivileged minorities formulates policiesthat can concede the demands of the upperstrata on the one side and produce ideo-logical effect that is responsive to ‘popularwill’ on the other. To quote Myrdal(1972:44) “...the south-Asian plannersremain in their paradoxical position: on ageneral and non-committal level theyfreely and almost passionately proclaimthe need for radical social and economicchange, whereas in planning their policiesthey tread most warily in order to notdisrupt the traditional social order. Andwhen they do legislate radical institutionalreforms...they permit laws to containloopholes of all sorts and even let themunenforced.”Land distribution in India closely fol-lows social hierarchy. While the largelandowners invariably belong to the uppercastes, the cultivators belong to the middlecastes and the agricultural workers largelyto the scheduled castes and tribes [Beteille1972, Sankaran 1996]. Land being theimportant socially valued asset, its un-equal distribution helps maintain the hier-archical structure and strengthen the basisof dominance of the privileged groups byperpetuating inequality and deprivation invarious socio-economic spheres. Seen from
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Economic and Political WeeklyOctober 6, 2001
this point, the idea of fair distribution of land directly strikes at the roots of suchsocial relations. Therefore, the upper castes’landed interests have opposed the legis-lative measures with respect to land redis-tribution through various methods [Joshi1975, Hiro 1976, Omvedt 1993, Judge1999]. But when the magnitude of resist-ance of the deprived people challengesthe existing order or shows signs of pot-ential threat, the resultant change provokesreform measures. In an insensitive democ-racy like India, state action is identifiedwith people’s action and people’s empow-erment rests on their collective resistanceand agitation. The measures to promoteand protect the interests of the deprivedare not usually expected without persistentdemands and protracted struggles. Landreforms in India have been launched inresponse to compelling demands expressedthrough agitation, struggle and movements[Dhanagare 1983, Radhakrishnan 1989].But, land reform policy being fundamen-tally a political issue, the state passeslegislation only to pacify and neutralise theagrarian tension [Suri and Raghavulu1996]. In order to monitor the implemen-tation of such measures, the existence of strong social movements is crucial. Theentrenched dominant landowning privi-leged groups would never like to surrendertheir power and privilege without exertionon them of mounting pressure from thedeprived people.Against this backdrop, the present paperattempts to examine the aspects of landdistribution among scheduled castes andtribes across the major states.
The paperhas three objectives: (i) to review thelegislative measures enacted for the pro-tection and promotion of land rights of scheduled groups and to examine theirachievements, (ii) to analyse the changesin land distribution among scheduledgroups, and (iii) to find out the causesthat hinder or facilitate the improve-ment of the land ownership position of scheduled groups.
British colonialism, through its landrevenue policy and elaborate exploitativebureaucratic structure, made land alienableon a large scale especially in tribal areas.The upper caste elites who were dominat-ing each sphere of British administrationconsolidated their landowning positionthrough the state machinery, depeasantisingthe tribals and lower caste peasants. Thetribals who were cultivating land cleaningforest within their customary norms andpractices without any experience of land-lessness, were compelled to work aslabourers in their own land and subjectedto various kinds of oppression and exploi-tation. Gradually it generated strong dis-contentment and the simmening tensionsculminated in rebellions one after another.Among them the Chotanagpur TribalRevolt (1807-08), Munda Rebellion (1832,1867-90), Kol Rebellion (1831-32), SantalRebellion (1885-86), Rampa Rebellion(1879-90), Madri Kalo Revolt (1898) andothers posed a major threat to Britishadministration in India in general and tribalareas in particular. Though many of thesemovements had religious and social is-sues, agrarian problems were the principalmobilising force.
Resistance of this naturemade the British raj conscious of therebellious potentialities of the tribals andultimately compelled them to initiate somemeasures to pacify tension in the tribalareas. Possibly as a result of this, theChotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, CentralProvinces Land Alienation Act 1916, BiharTenancy Act 1885 and Bombay LandRevenue Code (Section 73A) were enacted.However, these measures were formallyundertaken only to suppress the tribalagitation and the British did not show anyinterest in its proper implementation be-cause the provisions of these acts wereaffecting the interests of the upper casteelites who were mostly landlords, money-lenders, zamindars and other intermediar-ies of various kinds and the main agentsof British administration in India. Despitethe provision for prevention of land trans-fers from tribals to non-tribals, land alien-ation through debt mechanism, tenancyand other dishonest practices continuedunabated in many parts of tribal India[Haimendorf 1945, Patnaik 1971, Rao1987, Mohanty 1997].The tribal movements that began in thefirst part of the 20th century were mostlyagrarian in nature. The Srirama Raju’sUprising (1922-24) in West Godavari,Gond Revolt (1940) in Adilabad and theTelengana Revolt (1946-51) in Nalgonda,Karimnagar and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, Warli movement (1946-48) in Thane district of Maharashtra, SantalAgitation (1937-40) in Purnea, Bihar, theMunda Rising (1936-39) in Sundergarh,Orissa and the Jharkhand movement thatspread over the major tribal districts inBihar, Orissa, West Bengal and MadhyaPradesh revolved around the issues relat-ing to land alienation and exploitation bynon-tribal landlords and moneylenders.Apart from this, the Halipratha movement(1920-48) in Bulsar, Surat and Bharuchdistricts of Gujurat against the patidars andkanbi landlords, Tenants Struggle (1920-21 and 1930-35) in Pratapgarh, Rai Bareli,Faizabad and Sultanpur districts of UPagainst the mahajans, banias and landedaristocracies, the Tanjore Revolt (1946-49) of Tamil Nadu against the higher castelanded gentry, the Tebhaga Movement(1946-47) in Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur, MaldaRangpur, Midnapur and 24 Parganas of West Bengal against the landlords and theKishan Sabha activities in Andhra Pradesh,Bihar, West Bengal and other states putmounting pressure on the state to protectand promote the land rights of the poortribals and lower caste peasants [Ekka andDanda 1979, Das 1983, Dhanagare 1983].Dhanagare’s study (1983) on importantpeasant movements in India confirms thisfirmly when he says “...each of the move-ments that we have examined was fol-lowed by some legislative or ameliorativemeasures. Some legal reforms, somemodifications in the structure of landcontrol, always followed peasant resistance”.Besides, the social reform movements withanti-brahminical overtones led by E VRamaswamy Periyar in Tamil Nadu,Narayan Guru in Kerala, Jyotiba Phule andAmbedkar in Maharashtra and SantRamdas in UP provided the lower casteswith a distinct identity and awakened thegovernment to recognise the rights of thesedeprived groups and to undertake mea-sures for the removal of social injusticeand exploitation [Patankar and Omvedt1979, Ranadive 1979, Ram 1979].As a consequence, land reforms becamea necessary part of the process of nationalplanning for the emancipation of thesedeprived people. All states without excep-tion started showing interest in land redis-tribution, and formulated their own legis-lative measures to allot land as well toprotect it from being transferred to non-scheduled groups. It is rightly commentedthat in the post-independence period, Indiawas subjected to the largest body of landreform legislation ever to have been passedin so short a period in any country [Thorner1976:18]. A statewise list of legislativemeasures and executive orders for theprotection and promotion of land rights of scheduled castes and tribes is illustratedin Table 1. An analysis reveals that in manystates the measures undertaken to check the alienation of land of tribal and lowercaste peasants have not been adequatelyframed. Though provisions have been madeto prevent land transfers from scheduledgroups to non-scheduled groups, in manystates (for example, Orissa, MP, Rajasthan,Gujarat and Kerala) such transfers can bemade with the prior permission of thecompetent authority (collector, sub-divi-sional officer, among others) which ulti-

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Rabindra Kumar Biswal added this note
Dear sir/Mam one of the scheduled castes Man wanted to sale his land to me. but I am a general cast person can I take his land , and what is the rules of Odisha .Please mail me Thanks
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