8 HISTORY OF LAND REFORM RELATIONS IN WEST BENGAL i Pre

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During this period another form of landholder emerged in Bengal The jotedars. were a rich class of peasants who reclaimed and gained control of large quantities of. uncultivated forests and wetlands outside the territory governed by the Permanent. Settlement 6 The jotedars cultivated some of this land through the direct supervision of. hired labor or servants However the bulk of the jotedars land like much of the land in. Bengal was farmed by bargadars 7 Rural agitations over the plight of bargadars were. common in the decades prior to and after Independence In the 1940s the Tebhaga. movement called for a smaller cropshare payment and also created the slogan He who. tills the land owns the land The movement is given credit for shaping post. Independence land reform legislation in West Bengal 8. References, 1 Sankar Kumar Bhaumik Tenancy Relations and Agrarian Development A study of West Bengal 1993 at 24 25. 2 Id at 25 27,3 Id at 29,4 Id at 23 28, 5 The Act placed limits on rent increases and eviction and gave formal occupancy rights to tenants who had possessed. the land either themselves or through inheritance for 12 years. 6 Bhaumik supra note 42 at 30 These lands were initially illegally encroached on but were eventually granted by the. British to those willing to reclaim them with the requirement that the jotedars pay revenue to the British government. 7 Id at 30 39, 8 Prabhat Kumar Datta Land Reforms Administrations in West Bengal 1988 at 25. ii Post Independence Land Reform, In the decades since Independence West Bengal s land reform progress can be. divided into three phases The first phase 1953 1966 saw the adoption of the basic. legislation although it was significantly amended in later years little progress in. redistribution of above ceiling land and deterioration in the protection of bargadars In. the second phase 1967 1976 West Bengal made most of the overall achievements in. above ceiling redistribution but made little progress in protecting the rights of. bargadars In the third phase 1977 present tremendous progress was made in recording. and protecting the rights of bargadars and the redistribution of above ceiling land. continued but at a slower pace, West Bengal inherited very complex production relations which were widely.
acknowledged to be obstacles to the development of agriculture This may be why West. Bengal continued to be a poor performing state in terms of agricultural output until the. end of the 1970s These relations were historically the result of the Permanent. Settlement system adopted by the British in Bengal The system created a class of. parasitic non cultivating landlords who expropriated rent from the actual tillers who. cultivated their lands In particular the system was associated with a high prevalence of. sub infeudation with many layers of intermediaries between the actual cultivator and the. landlord all of whom had some rights or claims upon the produce of the land 1. 1 Phase I 1953 1966, Land reform in post independence West Bengal had assumed a special. significance following the partition of Bengal and the continuation of influx of refugees. from East to West Bengal shrunk in size and the influx of refugees put a very heavy. pressure on land These two factors affected the land man ratio calling for serious and. careful attention to the land reforms, The intermediaries Jotedars Zamindars system continued even after. independence when the period of Permanent Settlement was over There remained a. large group of sub infeudaries with varying types of claims to the land Most of the. cultivation was carried out by sharecroppers who cultivated relatively small plots of land. and were generally indebted and impoverished They were not in any position to make. improvements on lands nor did they have any incentive to do so However there were. some larger landowners who cultivated their land themselves and many among them also. hired out part of their land to sharecroppers There was also a small group of middle. peasants who based their cultivation on family labour with some use of hired labour. Finally there was a large and growing class of poor landless labourers. Both production and distribution was adversely affected by the existing state of. land relations The land tenure system served as and obstruction to agricultural. production affected incomes and access to productive employment for the landless and. created unequal access to social and political power as well 2. Land reforms in post independence West Bengal began with the passage of the. West Bengal Bargadar Act 1950 followed by the West Bengal Estate Acquisition Act. 1952 and the West Bengal Land Reforms Act 1955 These three Acts were enacted at. the initiative of the congress governments of the State. But the legal provisions were not seriously enforced To the local level. administrators and the police nothing seemed to be more natural than to see their role as. defenders of the vested interests irrespective of the changes in law More importantly. there was a conspicuous lack of political will This was in line with the general Indian. While some LRA Land Reform Act provisions broke new ground little. implementation was accomplished In fact the LRA led to some perverse consequences. as counter to the intentions of the LRA many landlords evicted those cultivating their. land resulting in a large increase in the percentage of landless agricultural laborers. throughout the state 3 The aspect of the LRA most often blamed for its negative impact is. the provision that allowed landowners to resume personal cultivation including. through the use of hired labor or servants to reclaim land from bargadars 4 Others were. evicted because they did not possess documents necessary to prove that they were. bargadars During this first phase of land reform in West Bengal 300 000 acres of. above ceiling land was redistributed 5 a little less than 3 per cent of the cropped land in. the state However much above ceiling land was retained by intermediaries through. evasive transfers to relatives friends or fictitious persons benami transactions 6. 2 Phase II 1967 1977, Movement for land reforms gained momentum when the United Front U F. consisting of the centrist and the leftist parties was voted to power in the state for two. short spells in 1967 and 1969, In 1967 left wing and centrist parties formed a coalition government known as. the United Front The countryside was seething with social unrest and a militant peasant. movement was growing The United Front government sought to address the underlying. concerns of the peasants by improving the position of the bargadars and distributing. more surplus land 7 However because bargadar rights remained unrecorded little could. be done to grant bargadars greater security without causing widespread evictions. Significant success was achieved however in redistributing ceiling surplus land. Between 1967 1970 an additional 600 000 acres of such land was redistributed 8 Much of. this redistributed land had been invaded by peasants during the 1960s 9. When the United Front government collapsed in 1970 President s rule was. imposed During this period important amendments were made to the LRA that offered. the potential to improve the position of bargadars 10 However these amendments while. groundbreaking were not adequately implemented Those who did try to exercise their. rights under the law were often evicted and large amounts of the surplus land that had. been acquired during 1967 1970 was taken back by former landowners during this. In 1975 West Bengal adopted the West Bengal Acquisition of Homestead Land. for Agricultural Laborers Artisans and Fishermen Act The Act aimed to enhance the. position of landless agricultural laborers by severing the power that landowners could. exercise over laborers through control of their home plots The Act called for the. allocation of ownership over a home plot of up to 0 08 acre for poor and landless. agricultural laborers artisans and fishermen 12, The United Front s land reform policy had two elements a breaking the hold of.
land lordism through effective implementation of ceiling laws and quick redistribution of. surplus land among the landless and poor peasantry Dasgupta S 1986 and b the. stopping of eviction of sharecroppers in consultation with the members of the gram. panchayats representative of the peasants and the members of the legislature Dutta P K. 1988 Clearly the United Front Govt could not rely exclusively on the bureaucracy for. implementing land reforms This was in conformity with their assessment of the nature. and character of bureaucracy in a capitalist system However it had paid good dividends. Till the first congress ministry 1953 67 only about 3 5 lakh acres of land were vested in. the state But during the United Front 1967 72 regime nearly 6 lakh acres of land were. vested in the State Source Ghosh 1981 and Basu 2000. 3 Phase III 1977 Present, The Left Front government led by the Communist Party of India Marxist. CPIM came to power in 1977 on the promise of extensive agrarian and political. reform CPIM has remained in power ever since The government has achieved some. incremental progress in redistributing ceiling surplus land during this period but it s. most notable success has been in recording and protecting bargadar rights. The Left Front acted more aggressively to take over land that exceeded ceiling. limits and to close loopholes that previously allowed exemptions to the ceiling for. religious and charitable trusts plantations and fisheries 13 Furthermore in 1979 the State. Government amended the LRA to narrow the definition of personal cultivation to better. ensure that those that owned the land were the actual cultivators 14. The Left Front s most notable land reform achievement was in launching. Operation Barga under which government functionaries recorded the names of. bargadars in order to provide them with greater tenure security 15 By recording their. status bargadars were finally able to avail themselves of the protections of the LRA. without fear of eviction No new legislation was passed Rather this program sought to. record names as originally provided for but never actually done under the LRA 16. Reform of land relations was one of the earliest and most consistent aspects of. state government policy for the first two decades after the Left Front came to power in. West Bengal in 1977 It reflected part of a more general vision of the ruling party and. governing essential for social and economic change in progressive directions for greater. empowerment of ordinary peasant and workers and indeed for meaningful democracy 17. From the early 1950s therefore in West Bengal as in other states of India land. reform was a concern of the government Nevertheless West Bengal is till date the only. state in India with the exception of Kerala to have undertaken both tenancy reform and. redistributive land reforms The amount of land redistributed in West Bengal has by far. surpassed that in any of the other states More spectacular and widely discussed has been. West Bengal s programme of tenancy reform or Operation Barga as it is more. popularly known This effort marked a solid departure from the earlier attempts at land. References,1 Human Development Report West Bengal 2004. 3 Datta supra note 49 at 27, 5 D Bandyopadhyay Land Reform in West Bengal Remembering Hare Krishna Konar and Benoy Chaudhury. Economic Political Weekly May 27 2000 at 1795,6 Bhaumik supra note 42 at 44. 7 Bandyopadhyay supra note 55 at 1795,8 Datta supra note 49 at 28.
9 Bandyopadhyay supra note 55 at 1795, 10 These amendments 1 allowed bargadars whose landowners land vested in the state to retain up to 2 47 standard. acres of land as owners 2 reduced the share payment 3 made bargadar rights hereditary 4 required landowners. to provide a receipt upon payment of the share 5 required a bargadar s surrender of rights to be verified by a. government official 6 and further restricted eviction Bargadars could still be forced off land if the owner wished to. resume personal cultivation however the bargadar now had to be left with at least 2 47 acres Further amendments to. the LRA in 1972 provided that the ceiling would be determined on a family basis and that landowners with holdings. over a certain amount had to provide a statement of their landholdings that was to be used to vest surplus land in the. state DATTA supra note 49 at 29,11 Bhaumik supra note 42 at 46. 12 Id Eight one hundredths of an acre or 8 cents equals 3458 square feet and roughly 325 square meters. 13 Bhaumik supra note 42 at 49, 14 Specifically there were three changes 1 land had to be cultivated by a family member whereas before hired labor. could be used 2 a distance criteria was added so that a landlord asserting personal cultivation had to live near the. field and 3 a family had to get the majority of its income from agriculture West Bengal Land Reforms Act 2 8. 1995 hereinafter LRA, 15 Amiya Kumar Bagchi Studies on the Economy of West Bengal since Independence Economic Political Weekly. Nov 21 Dec 4 1998 at 2975,16 Bhaumik supra note 42 at 48.
17 Human Development Report West Bengal 2004,8A Land Reform Programmes in West Bengal. West Bengal with a population of 80 2 million and a population density of 904. persons per square kilometer is the fourth most populated state in India and the number. HISTORY OF LAND REFORM RELATIONS IN WEST BENGAL i 1953 1966 saw the adoption followed by the West Bengal Estate Acquisition Act 1952

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