Posted on: July 6, 2020 Posted by: Ashwin Umrikar Comments: 0
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One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

–    Milton Friedman.

(One of the most influential economists ever.)

Whenever there is a talk about where Indian policymakers went wrong, these lines by Friedman will resonate over. The relevance here is that through this series I’ll be discussing various laws which were initially introduced with a noble objective of aiding the farmers but have turned into a tool to exploit them, as truly Anti-farmer one would say. It’s an interesting tale (or a lesson if you take it) of the governmental failures. You’ll be surprised by how welfare measures initiated by the government despite their ideal objectives turns into an Asymmetrical Absurdity and provides anything but the welfare. This article deals with such Asymmetrical non-welfarist absurdity created by Land Ceiling laws which were enacted as a part of Land Reform Measures to abolish zamindari and meant to aid farmers.


Land ceiling acts are the state subject laws and enacted by various states in various forms. They work on the basic mechanism that, ceiling means a limitation on maximum landholding. It means fixing the maximum size of landholding that an individual/family can own. Land over and above the ceiling limit, called surplus land. If the individual/family owns more land than the ceiling limit, the surplus land is taken away (with or without paying compensation to the original owner). This surplus land will be owned by the government and leased as a secondary owner amongst the small farmers, tenants, landless labourers or handed over to village panchayat or given to cooperative farming societies.

The diverse States provide different limits of the Ceilings through different acts. For example, In Maharashtra Ceiling Act made its entry in 1961. But it was not implemented immediately. In 1971, the Central Government called a meeting of all Chief Ministers in the country. As for the aftermath, 17 States made Changes in limits of Ceiling as per the directives of the centre. Maharashtra fixed the ceiling of dry-land agriculture at 54 acres for a family. It was the maximum as per the Centre’s directive. States of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh etc. by and large approved this limit. But the state of Bengal fixed the limit at the lower level of 18 Acres. Maharashtra also fixed the Ceiling of irrigated land at 18 acres. State of West Bengal determined it 13 acres. In Maharashtra, the implementation of this Act was done after the drought of the 1972.


  • The misleading objective of abolishing Zamindari:

Key misguided and falsely marketed objective of the land reform acts including land ceiling acts was that they were enacted to abolish Zamindari. It is true that through zamindari, vatandari and other established system lands of the working farmers were grabbed by few Individuals and for it would have been an injustice if those land were not returned to those who cultivate it. But there was no necessity to bring Ceiling Acts into the picture to redress this issue. America had crueller ‘Zamindari’ than ours. They abolished Zamindari without enacting Ceiling Acts. For instance, a campaign like ‘zamin wapasi’ could have been undertaken to transform that held land to the original owner and redressing it by establishing special courts within 10 years.

Most of the intellectual discourse still fails to understand that Zamindari does not mean ownership of the large portion of the land it rather means that there bonded labourers are forced to work on those lands for the Zamindar. Bonded labour is prohibited in India by law vide Articles 21 and 23 of the Constitution. Does by default zamindari was abolished but still, the ceiling laws were enacted.

Despite the availability of several means to abolish Zamindari, Government brought Ceiling Acts. The plain meaning is that the government did not intend to bring this legislation for abolishing Zamindari. The irony is that the government marketed this act under the false premises of abolishing Zamindari to such an extent which even after 70 years many present-day so-called intellectuals think that Ceiling Act is a way of abolishing Zamindari and even for that purpose it failed.

  • True objectives of the Anti-Farmer enactment.

In the relevant period, the Bolshevik revolution had taken place in Russia. Lenin had nationalized land. Its resonance was echoed the world over. Against this backdrop, the process of making of Constitution of India had been initiated. A proposal for the nationalization of land had come before the Constituent Assembly. It was deliberated at length. As it was opposed by C. Rajagopalachari and others, ultimately the proposal was rejected. The people who were interested in the nationalization of land were insisting on re-distribution of land. People had animosity towards Zamindars and this emotion was utilized to bring in Ceiling Acts.

Even on the excess acquired land released from Ceiling Original ownership remained with the government and the persons to whom it is given for cultivation is entered as cultivator/possessor. The landless possessor is a secondary owner not primary owner just like he was for the Zamindar. What this means is that the land released from Ceiling becomes owned by the government. It can be reasonably guessed that the hidden agenda behind this might be the nationalization of entire land progressively.

The Act had other objectives also. In our country industrialization began in the British era and innumerable farmers and rural labourers migrated from village to urban in a hope of employment. This experience was already gathered. The country had become newly independent. Industrialization was the priority of the Nehruvian policy and if sudden migration happens there was no way to accommodate that much population in the urban with adequate employment, housing etc. This Act might have been brought to retain maximum people on the small pieces of land.

Another objective might be there as it was an era of food scarcity. Confining maximum people in agriculture and make them earn a livelihood from agriculture was a good strategy to curb such scarcity.

  • Made Farming Economically Unfeasible

The land has been fragmented into very small pieces. About 85 percent of the farmers in the country are small or marginal. Average holding in India is 1 hectare. It means 85% of farmers make living on an area less than 2.5acres. The families of the farmers cannot survive on dry land measuring 2 or 2.5 acres. Fragmentation of the lands has become a major problem. Due to the restriction under this act, a person who’s is willing and able enough to invest capital and labour like any other economic sectors doesn’t find it appealing enough. To participate in the world competition in the world direct capital investment is an essential factor but nobody will invest in owners of small parcels of land. And Indian Agri Industry has to remain incompetent on the International scale. Ultimately we have reached at such position that a sector which could be an asset for our country due to the fertile soil, major chunk of population labouring on it and the other factors has just become a liability and the Act plays a key role.

  • Violative of the constitutional scheme (but immune by the 9th Schedule)

The scheme of the act at the core is violated of the principles of equality under Article 14 and freedom to trade and profession under article 19. Just for a conceptual understanding let us assume that the rate of agricultural land is Rs. 1 crore per acre (nearly fictitious), 54 acres are valued at Rs. 54 crores. In other words, a farmer in Maharashtra cannot hold agricultural land valued at more than Rs. 54 crores. And compare it to the turnovers of the industries which supports fewer population, it exceeds more 54 cr. There is no limitation on how many factories an industrialist should construct. A Hotelier can start as many hotels as he likes. There is no limit on the clients for a doctor or a lawyer not even limitation on the fees.

Traders, industrialist, professionals, nobody is subjected to restrictions. The restrictions are imposed only on farmers who are at the root of poverty. So it can be concluded that the act imposes inherent discrimination on the farmers. Unfortunately, Ceiling Acts could not be struck down as unconstitutional for the mere reason that they have been enlisted in the 9th schedule.

  • The mischievous fallacy of ‘Re-distribution of the land’

‘Robbing someone to pay other’ is the basic principle behind the redistribution of land. the government acquired surplus land with or without mere compensation and redistributed to landless for cultivation. It sounds convincing and reasonable but if we look closely we’ll find the fallacy. Surplus land was not only taken away from the Zamindar but also from the farmers. And even taking it away from Zamindar means it was taken from the farmers who were cultivating it and benefited from that piece of land. Government redistributed those acquired properties according to their whims and fancies and this transaction was objectionable. Why were the lands of those in government employees not confiscated? Or did nobody raise that demand? As per law, a person in government service is prohibited from doing any other business. This rule has been formed by the government. By applying this rule literally, the lands belonging to government employees could be acquired and distributed among the landless. But Government employees were to be kept untouched and whatever the farmers had was to be taken away. This practice was unjust to the farmers. Unfortunately, farmers were a soft target.

As per the government data received under the right to information application, Agricultural land measuring up 7,25,078 acres was declared as surplus. Out of that, 6,70,815 acres of agricultural land was acquired by the government. If the average rate of the acquired land is presumed to be Rs.10 lakh per acre the government has looted Rs.70 lakh crores from the farmers by applying the Ceiling Act.

Out of the land taken in possession, land measuring up 6,34,158 acres was distributed. The numbers of beneficiaries were 1,39,755. On average, an individual landless person got 4.5 acres field. The implementation of ceiling Act was done in Maharashtra from 1972 to 1976. Just imagine what size of the piece must have remained in hands of the heirs of 3rd- 4th generation out of the lands distributed during this period. How many cultivated fields? How many sold the field and moved away? Heirs of how many are engaged in agriculture now? Nobody has any data. Neither the government nor the universities nor the NGOs bother to conduct any research.

Had such study been conducted the meaninglessness and jugglery of this land distribution would have been exposed. It is realized from general observation that the majority of them sold the lands and moved to the cities. They dwelled in slums in the cities. But some of them grabbed the opportunity and step up the social ladder. But the conditions of those who continued with agriculture turned so bad that many of them had taken their own lives.

If a property is to be taken from someone and given to another, it must be taken with his consent. Further, instead of taking it from someone who follows that occupation, taking it from persons engaged in other occupations (e.g. government employees) would have been more justified. A ceiling on agricultural land for implementing the program of land redistribution is unjustifiable and unreasonable.

  • What if the capitalists step in to purchase lands from small farmers and make them landless if the Ceiling Act is lifted?

This fear is uncalled for. Capitalists even now (that means despite the existence of Ceiling Act) face no obstruction to purchase lands. Sahara group has landed over 38,000 acres. Just imagine what others may be possessing. Ceiling Act does not pose any obstructions to Capitalists and industrialists or prohibit them from taking the lands of the farmers. They have no injunction to take lands despite the existence of the Ceiling Act. The restriction of Ceiling is only for the farmers, as the act is only applicable to agricultural land.

One more point needs to be understood. Check our Forbes 100 or Fortune 500 you will not find any agricultural production company in the top 100 companies of the world, Leave alone India, for as the governments here have been following anti-farmer policies, an Indian farmer could never be listed. But many countries in the world do not have a Ceiling. Why there is no appearance of any farming company. The reason is there are several ways to quickly gain riches than becoming rich through the pursuit of agriculture. Capitalists, traders prefer those ways. Hence nobody dreams of being included in 100 richest persons in the world by cultivating fields.

So it completely illogical fear that capitalists would take over the farms and farmers will become landless and that capitalist would be a modern Zamindar.


The tale is here at the conclusion. The act which was established to aid farmers, did it help them? Certainly not but it has altogether inverse impact. It harmed the farmer and become one of the reasons for their poverty. I think in today’s India with increasing farmer suicide farming stands at the root of poverty. To resolve that some of our policymakers have to undo some of their mistakes. The time has come to bid farewell to Ceiling Laws.

Ashwin Umrikar
+ posts

Second year BALLB student at Maharashtra National Law University Aurangabad.

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