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THE ECONOMIC WEEKLY November 13, 1954

Effects of the Abolition of Zamindari in West Bengal


B i n o d e h a r i Chowdhury

T HE possible effects of the aboli- tween the landlord and the tenant.
tion of the zamindari system On the other hand, the landlord
on the rural economy and r u r a l wel- spends money for the improvement
of population has led to the gradual
extension of cultivation. The i n -
come of the zamindars from rent
fare require to be examined care of his land and the benefits of the receipts has progressively increased,
fully. A n attempt w i l l be made be- 'improvement effected at the land- partly because of larger areas
low to assess the probable effects lord's investments, accrued at least coming under cultivation a n d
among others, on the f o l l o w i n g : (i) partly, to the tenant. partly because of enhancement of
agricultural production and distri- the previous rate of rent on account
bution, ( i i ) wage of the agricultural In the provinces of I n d i a (now- of high price of agricultural pro-
labourer, ( i i i ) rents of the cultivat- Class ' A ' States) where the perma- duce or on other grounds. This has
i n g tenants, ( i v ) employment in nent settlement is in vogue, the given an incentive to sub-intenda-
r u r a l area, ( v ) conferment of new zamindars hold the land as pro- tion and many intermediary interests
rights on the cultivating tenants or prietors subject to punctual pay- between the cultivator-tenant and
labourers, ( v i ) rural welfare, etc. ment of a land revenue, fixed in per- the zamindar have grown up. The
petuity, to the Government and also huge surplus of the rents paid by
At the outset, we should lay stress subject to various rights of the the actual cultivators over the re-
on the fact that the abolition of the tenants, some of which have been venue (fixed in perpetuity) paid by
zamindari system is not tantamount created by grant or contract, others the zamindars to the state has been
to nationalisation of land or other owe their origin to custom or to shared out among a large number
gifts of nature. T h e purpose of the special statutes enacted for the bene- of people. T h e average, share is
abolition is not what was intended to fit of the tenants. U n l i k e in Eng- not large. 'There has not been ac-
bring about by buying out the Eng- land, only a very small percentage cumulation of cultivable lands in
lish landlords in Ireland under the of the total acreage (not perhaps fewer and fewer hands nor' the i n -
L a n d Purchase Acts passed by the exceeding 10 per cent) is in actual comes from rents have been con-
British Parliament. As our moves occupation of the zamindars, and centrated in fewer and fewer hands,
for reforms in general appear to be not less than 70 per cent of the The enormous surplus of the gross
guided by considerations of what acreage is held by cultivators w h o rental paid by the cultivating
was thought to be desirable in the have permanent right of occupancy
Western countries, especially i n U K . in their lands. The occupancy rights
we may perhaps describe here briefly of such cultivators are heritable and
the land system that obtained in transferable and the rents they pay
England and the agrarian conditions are reasonable and cannot be en-
prevailing under the zamindars in hanced except, in accordance w i t h
the permanently or temporarily the provisions of law which arc
settled estates in what were formerly very stringent. In West. Bengal w i t h
provinces of British I n d i a . which this article deals, the rents
payable by the cultivators having
In England vast areas belonged to permanent right of occupancy can-
big landlords and the area owned not be enhanced now. T h e culti-
by small free-holders was insignifi- vating tenant (ryot) has the right
cant in comparison. T h e areas held of possession and of transfer w i t h -
by peasant proprietors were like out any reference whatsoever to his
mere islets in an ocean. T h e land- landlord, the rent he has to pay is
lords let out their lands in farms to fixed and is not enhanceable, his
farmers who held the farms for a right to his land is heritable, and
stipulated period at a rental agreed the landlord cannot dispossess h i m
upon. T h e rights and obligations even if he defaults in paying rents.
as between the landlord and the T h e only remedy the landlord lias
tenant were governed by the lease is to sue in the court few a decree
under which the farmer held the for arrears of rents and to sell in
land. T h e farmer had no perma- execution of the decree for rents the
nent right in the lands held by h i m holdings in respect of w h i c h the
and after the expiry of the period arrears have accrued. The- remedy
of his lease, his tenancy was termi- is practically the same as is avail-
nated. Landlords invested capital able for the recovery of money be-
for the improvement of the farms coming due on grounds other than
and tenants got the benefit, at least rent.
a portion of the benefits, of the i m -
provements resulting from the capi- Except for the comparatively small
t a l outlay of the landlords. T h e acreage under the direct cultivation
position was that the tenants had of the landlords, the landlords are
no permanent right in the lands held mere rent receivers. They do not
f r o m the landlords, and the period make any improvements for the
for w h i c h the tenancy w o u l d last tenanted lands, they do nothing to
as well as the rent at which it was increase the productivity of the. lands
held was a matter of contract be- held by their tenants. The pressure
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November 13, 1954 THE ECONOMIC WEEKLY
tenants over the revenue the zamin- the share of the produce that can Government has started c o m m u n i t y
riars have to pay to the state is be claimed by the owners of lands projects.
enjoyed by a large number of peo- from the bargadars.
ple, including the middlemen be- T h e primary object of the aboli-
tween the actual cultivator and the A m a x i m u m landholding limit has tion of the zamindari system appears
zamindar. T h e probable effects of been stipulated and the landlord to be the immediate vesting in the
the abolition have to be examined w i l l have to surrender the area i n state of all the intermediary rent-
in this context. excess of the prescribed l i m i t . This receiving interests between the state
l i m i t might have anti-social reper- and the ryots (cultivating occupan-
T h e abolition by itself cannot give cussions. The landlords may be cy tenants). After the preliminary
any incentive to increase agricultural tempted to cut down trees on the objective has been achieved, w h a t
production. For the cultivating excess area. W h e n the Government steps the Government actually takes
tenant, having right of occupancy are encouraging growing of trees in for the improvement of agriculture
in his holding, it will not firing any various ways, lands with fruit a n d and for the betterment of the lot
reduction of rent; the only change valuable trees should have been ex- of the agriculturists, beyond punc-
it w i l l effect is the substitution of tual realisation of rents, still remains
cluded from the operation of the
the state as the rent-receiver in to be seen. T h e position of the per-
m a x i m u m limit. If the landlords
place of his immediate landlord. sons holding their lands under the
circumvent the provisions of the
This change is of no consequence to ryots, (ie of under-ryots) and of the
m a x i m u m limit of landholdings, f o r m
h i m . rather if the amount of rent bargadar " w h o cultivates the land
l i m i t e d liability concerns and take to
remains the same, he w o u l d prefer of another person on condition of
large-scale fanning with the help of
his old landlord with whom he may delivering a share of the produce of
have- personal ties and who w i l l not tractors, etc, the abolition of zamin-
dari system w i l l indirectly bring such land to that other person ", and
be entitled to recover arrears of rent bears the risk of production, require
by stringent and harsh summary pro- benefits to the country. We should
separate examination. These and
cedure as the state. The hindrances conclude by pointing that as the wel- the effect of the abolition on the
to agriculture, such as fragmenta- fare of rural areas is hound to be country, especially on the middle
tion and sub-division of holdings. adversely affected by the abolition class, w i l l be examined in the con-
inability to use fertilizers and i m - of zamindari system, the Govern- text of the history of the system
proved implements, etc. owe their ment should earmark a portion of and the special circumstances of the
origin elsewhere than in the zamin- their rental income for improve- state in a subsequent article.
dari system, as they are common in ment of rural areas for which the
ryotwari system also, it is possible,
however, that under the state as the
sole rent receiver, effective steps
may be taken for the consolidation
of holdings. The abolition is not
likewise likely to increase demand
for agricultural labour and hence to
raise wages. As already pointed out
there w i l l be no reduction in ryots'
rents. On the other hand, the
abolition w i l l effect, employment in
rural areas as the persons employed
for collection of rents w i l l lose their
jobs, i t will also effect the class of
rent receivers as their income horn
rentals w i l l vanish and the amount
of compensation provided for them
and the manner of payment cannot
easily give them alternative occupa-
tion. It will be poor consolidation
to the men who lose their jobs and
incomes that the scope of employ-
ment under the Government in the
rent collection and other connected
departments w i l l expand. It w i l l be
helpful to the Government which
has to face retrenchment of surplus
stall. Even w i t h absentee landlord-
ism, some portion of incomes f r o m
rents I bound to he spent in the
locality om which rental income
is derived This has the tendency
to provide employment and increase
welfare in the locality.
Provisions have rightly been made
under separate acts to protect the
agricultural labourers known as
' bargadars' f r o m eviction and a
statutory limit has been placed to
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