People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 14, 2010


Left Agenda of Land Reforms

Will Remain a Live Issue


N S Arjun


THE sixth and the last phase of polling in the elections to Bihar state assembly would be over by the time this issue reaches the readers. The counting of votes would be done on November 24. As difficult as it is to predict the outcome of these elections, one thing can be stated with certainty – the issue of land reforms is going to be a live issue in the coming period in the state. With the three Left parties, the CPI(M), CPI and CPI(ML), jointly making the implementation of the recommendations of Bandopadhyaya Commission on Land Reforms as their main electoral plank in these polls, the awareness among the poor and landless about their rights is growing. This is bound to reflect in their participation in the land struggles that the Left is determined to intensify.


Land struggles are not new to Bihar. In fact, the Kisan Sabha movement started in Bihar during the independence struggle in 1929. Swamy Sahajanand Saraswati formed the Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha (BPKS) to mobilise the peasants against the zamindari system. The enactment of Permanent Settlement Act by the British in 1793 strengthened the hold of the zamindars who ruthlessly exploited the poor. Large zamindari estates came up in the state with Darbhanga estate being the biggest. The communists along with Swamy Sahajanand unleashed struggles seeking abolition of zamindari system and demanding land to the tiller. As the struggles spread across the country, the All India Kisan Sabha was formed with Swamy Sahajanand as its first president. Comrades EMS, P Sundarayya, Rahul Sankrutyayan and others were in the leadership. In fact, Comrade Sakrutyayan was injured while participating in one of the land struggles in Bihar.


Post independence, Bihar was the first state to pass a legislation abolishing the zamindari system. Although hailed by bourgeois parties as a pioneering legislation, it was actually a much watered down legislation with clear loopholes to help the landlords. Even this has been implemented only on paper. The much hyped Bhoodan movement launched in 1951 also did not make any difference on the ground. A total of 21 lakh acres were received by the Bhoodan committee for distribution. Around 10 lakh acres were unfit for distribution as it was mostly barren or hilly land. Only 7 lakh acres were 'distributed' while another 4 lakh acres of land was still awaiting technical approval of the state government for distribution.


Be it the Bhoodan lands or the ceiling surplus lands that have been 'distributed', the actual possession of most of these lands is still with the landlords. The governments have not given parchas (title deeds) to majority of 'beneficiaries' while in some other cases, the concerned land is in litigation due to landlords approaching the courts. As a result, today around 76.6 per cent of all agricultural workers in Bihar are totally landless (55th round of survey undertaken by NSSO in the year 1999-2000). And this percentage is growing by the year. Most of the small and marginal farmers are sharecroppers/tenants with hardly any institutional support for credit or agricultural inputs. This is because there is no mechanism for recording them as sharecroppers or tenants.


This situation in Bihar exists primarily due to the compromise of the bourgeois forces with the landlord feudal elements, like elsewhere in the country. Successive Congress governments in the state never showed the will nor inclination to undertake even the minimum amount of land reforms as is necessary for capitalist growth. Despite the fact that 83 per cent of dalits and 66 per cent of the backwards were landless, the limitations of the social justice plank parties like the Janata Party or its latter day versions RJD and JD(U), in implementing the land reforms during their regimes were glaringly seen. They limited themselves to rhetoric and never took on the predominantly upper caste landlords on the question of land. As the Working Group on Land Reforms of the National Commission on Agriculture stated regarding Bihar in 1973: “The land owners are organised and aggressive. With an obliging administration on their side, they are definitely not going to give up an iota of their privileges and economic dominance without a stiff fight”.


How true this statement by the Working Group was became starkly evident once again during the tenure of present JD(U)-NDA regime. As part of fulfilling his electoral promise,   the chief minister Nitish Kumar constituted a Bihar State Land Reforms Commission under the chairmanship of Bandopadhyaya, a retired bureaucrat from West Bengal who was involved in the land reforms programme of that state. Addressing the National Development Council (NDC) meeting in New Delhi on May 29, 2007, Nitish stated “A well formulated Land Policy is critical for enhancing productivity and diversification in the agricultural sector. We have constituted the Land Reforms Commission with a view to suggest inter alia legal measures to regulate leasing of land for the purposes of agriculture”.


The Bandopadhyaya Commission finished its task in 2008 and submitted its report to the chief minister. Among the main recommendations of the commission were the following:


·                    Allotting between one acre and 0.66 acre of ceiling surplus land to the lowest income quintile of agricultural labourers consisting of 16.68 lakh households each and assignment of at least 10 decimals of land to shelter-less households of 5.48 lakh non-farm rural workers each, and



·Enacting a Bataidari Act to ensure secure and heritable right of cultivation to all tenants/sharecroppers with 60 per cent share of the produce (if the landowner bears the cost of production) or 70 to 75 per cent of the produce (if the bataidar bears the cost of production)


The commission report sparked, as expected, a severe reaction from the landlords. Cutting across parties [JD(U), BJP, Congress, RJD and LJP] and castes [Bhumihars, Rajputs, Brahmins, Kurmis, Yadavs etc] these landlords united against the report. They formed a Kisan Mahapanchayat and held a rally in Patna on May 9 this year brandishing swords, guns  and other weapons. Prabhunath Singh of JD(U) warned of a civil war in the state if the commission recommendations are implemented. They sought to spread canards saying that the tenancy act will result in all present landowners (irrespective of size) losing their land. The landlords from this stage vowed to defeat the Nitish government if it tries to implement the report.


Faced with the backlash from the landlords, Nitish Kumar dropped the commission report like a hot potato and sought compromise with them. So afraid was he that he did not even place the report in the assembly. A frustrated Bandopadhyaya took the extreme step of sending his voluminous report directly to the MLAs in CDs. As the elections approached and the shrillness of the landlords grew, Nitish Kumar openly started giving statements that there are no plans to enact any tenancy legislation. The convenient form of burying a report – constituting another committee to look into it – was adopted by the government.


It is to be noted that there are still around 15 landlord estates in Bihar that have over 10,000 acres land holdings. The farming is done under the shadow of guns. Among the biggest landlord estate is that of Maul Singh from Purnea, who has over 20,000 acres. This man's daughter-in-law is an MP and his son-in-law is an IAS officer in the rank of secretary. It was in Purnea that CPI(M) state leader Ajit Sarkar was brutally gunned down by criminal Pappu Yadav at the behest of landlords for leading militant land struggle against this estate. Such landlords holdings are actually growing. The Bandopadhyaya report points to a reverse trend of land concentration: between 1992 and 2003, the proportion of large landowners has gone down from 0.2 per cent to 0.1 per cent, yet their share in total land area has increased from 4.44 per cent to 4.63 per cent over the same period.


With the submission of Bandopadhyaya commission report, the CPI(M) undertook a vigorous campaign in the state demanding implementation of the report. The point that what is being demanded is not a radical programme of the Left but government's own committee recommendations is being made vociferously. In the wake of landlords show of strength in Patna, the CPI(M) conducted a statewide Land Reforms Awareness Jatha programme in May. Two jathas from Darbhanga and Begusarai districts toured the areas in the state that witnessed land struggles and propagated the demand for implementation of the Bandopadhyaya commission report. In a way, the consolidation of the landlord forces has aided the Left in coming together and fighting these elections unitedly. With all the strongholds of these parties also being centres of land struggles, this coming together is bound to instill confidence and hope among the landless about the imminent sharpening of class struggle under the leadership of the Left.