People's Democracy

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


No. 10

March  06, 2011


Land Reforms and Agriculture in West Bengal


Madan Ghosh


THE agrarian scenario in the entire country is far from shining. Whether defending whatever land the peasants have in possession or defending agricultural production, the peasant economy is reeling from acute crisis. In this backdrop, the record of West Bengal and the role played by the Left Front government there are exceptionally noteworthy.

In the last couple of years, detractors of the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal have often accused that the Left Front government has been snatching land away from poor peasants and has become a land grabber. Nothing is further from the truth.

On the contrary, West Bengal has the most glorious record of land redistribution in the country. The extent of land redistribution in the state of West Bengal can be ascertained from Table 1.


Table 1

Agricultural Land Distributed under Land Reform and

Land Reform Beneficiaries: India and West Bengal

A description...

Source: Land Reform Continues in West Bengal, V K Ramachandran, The Hindu, August 22, 2008


West Bengal has 3.9 per cent of the net sown area in the country. From the above table it is clear that 54.5 per cent of all the beneficiaries of land redistribution belong to West Bengal alone while 22.6 per cent of the total area of land redistributed belongs to the state. In other words, West Bengal has been the state that has experienced the most intensive land redistribution exercise in the country. Total agricultural land distributed in West Bengal amounted to over 11.28 lakh acres up to February 2010. Over 30.1 lakh farmers have benefited from the land reforms programme, and 37 per cent of them belong to the scheduled castes, 18 per cent to the scheduled tribes and almost 18 per cent to the minority households. With a view to empowering women, 6.15 lakh joint pattas and 1.62 lakh female pattas have been distributed. From the recording of sharecroppers (Operation Barga), which forms an important component of the land reforms, another 15.13 lakh farmers have benefitted. The land reforms initiative has ensured that 84 per cent of agricultural land in West Bengal is owned by small and marginal peasants.




One of the biggest lies currently being propagated is that the Left Front government is forcibly acquiring huge tracts of land for the purpose of building the special economic zones (SEZs). This, however, is completely false. Since the time the SEZ Act has come into force in 2006, 11 SEZs have been built in West Bengal; these comprise mainly IT/ITES SEZs which are built on 10 to 20 hectares of land. A comparative picture of the land acquired for SEZs in West Bengal and other states will show that West Bengal has acquired the least amount of land for this purpose. (See Table 2.)


Table 2

Special Economic Zones in Selected States Notified Since 2006

A description...


From Table 2, it is clear that the amount of land acquired for SEZs in West Bengal is less than even that acquired in a small state like Goa. Much more in comparison West Bengal, states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu etc have acquired thousands of hectares of land for the purpose of building the SEZs. Those who are trying to tarnish the image of West Bengal on the fictitious claim of land acquisition for SEZs are completely silent about the states where thousands of hectares of land have been acquired, thereby completely exposing their hypocrisy and hatred against the Left Front government.

Moreover, it is also a fact that the Left Front government was actively redistributing land at the time this slander campaign was going on. As much as 16,700 acres (6,760 hectares) of land was distributed by the government there between 2007 and 2010. The Left Front government has also distributed homestead land worth Rs 20,000 (0.1 to 0.5 acre), free of cost, to each landless family in the rural areas of the state. Besides, over 26,000 pattas for 15,300 acres have already been given to the adivasis and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. It is also a fact that in 1995-96, the net sown area in West Bengal was 62.8 per cent of the total area in the state, which marginally declined to 61 per cent in 2008-09 (Economic Review of West Bengal, 2009-10). This shows that only 1.8 per cent of land has been shifted out of agriculture, which is not necessarily a result of land acquisition. This is mainly because of natural calamities. Urbanisation and other factors also contributed to this process to a degree.  




The success of the land reform measures in West Bengal has been noted positively by a committee of the Department of Land Resources, under the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India. This report on State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task in Land Reforms, submitted in 2009, stated the following (page 29) about the success of land reforms in West Bengal.

“A significant finding of the Committee is that the lands assigned to the poor were mostly uncultivable and, where cultivable lands have been assigned, they were not under their possession. These assigned lands were mostly alienated. This situation prevails right across the country except in the case of states like West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.”

This only shows the seriousness of the Left ruled states in providing land to the poor. The report further notes the following ((page 92) about tenancy rights:

“……informal and short-term, albeit insecure, tenancies continue to exit in most places. Also the fair rent is implemented nowhere except in West Bengal, where sharecroppers enjoy a strong backing from the left front government” (emphasis added).

In other words, the process of redistributing land to the poor and landless people is still continuing in West Bengal --- contrary to what the opposition wants the people to believe. Moreover, the allegation that the Left Front government is diverting agricultural land on a large scale for industrial purposes is incorrect.

True, there have been some apprehensions among the people in the recent past with regard to land acquisition. However, learning lessons from these experiences, the Left Front government has adopted a more cautious approach on the land acquisition issue. On the other hand, the government is steadfastly adhering its commitment to the people by continuing with its policy of redistribution of land and other policies that are aimed at the betterment of the poor people of the state.




Land reforms have not only changed the correlation of forces in rural West Bengal; they have directly acted as an incentive to agricultural production. It is on the basis of this success in land reforms that agriculture witnessed in West Bengal a turnaround compared to the stagnation that prevailed in this sector before the Left Front government came to office. The agriculture sector in West Bengal grew at a negligible rate before the Left Front government came to office. However, there was a dramatic turnaround in foodgrain production with the Left Front government coming to office. This is shown in Table 3 below.


Table 3

Growth Rate of Food Grain Production in West Bengal


Growth Rate











Source: Changing Trajectories: Agricultural Growth in West Bengal, 1950 to 1996, Vikas Rawal and Madhura Swaminathan, Economic & Political Weekly, October 3, 1998


As is evident from Table 3, the growth rate of foodgrain production in West Bengal was at an abysmally low level before the Left Front government came to office. However, soon after the Left Front government came to office, the growth rate of foodgrain production increased and West Bengal achieved the position of a surplus state along with four other states. 

With the advent of the neo-liberal globalisation policies in India, however, growth rate of agriculture has declined all over the country. West Bengal has not wholly been an exception to this general trend. Yet it must be noted that agricultural growth in West Bengal during 1995-96 to 2004-05 was 2.67 per cent, which was the third highest among all major states (after Bihar at 3.51 per cent and Andhra Pradesh at 2.69 per cent), and way above the national average of 1.85 per cent. Maharashtra’s agricultural growth during this period was 0.1 per cent and Karnataka’s 0.03 per cent only. (See Eleventh Five Year Plan, Vol. 3, Planning Commission, Government of India, page 5.) While the acute agrarian crisis has led to mass level suicides by farmers in several states, especially in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal has remained relatively immune from this acute distress. In fact, the state continues to perform well in agriculture, registering 4.2 per cent agricultural growth in 2009-10, while the national average was 0.2 per cent. 




This drastic improvement in agricultural production comes out more sharply if we focus on some major crops and compare the growth rate in their production in West Bengal with that in other states in India. Between 1990 and 2005, West Bengal recorded a 2.03 per cent growth in rice production which was much higher than that in Tamilnadu (minus 2.56 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (0.17 per cent) or Uttar Pradesh (1.46 per cent). Even in regard to wheat production, its growth rate in West Bengal was 3.46 per cent in the same period, which was higher than that in Haryana (2.61 per cent), Punjab (1.46 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (1.9 per cent). (See West Bengal Development Report 2010, Planning Commission, Government of India, page 45.) It is not surprising that West Bengal has now emerged as the largest producer of rice in the country. (Its volume was 148 million tonnes in 2009-10.) The state is currently the largest producer of vegetables, fruits and fishes as well. 

There has been an expansion of irrigation facilities also, which has contributed to this growth. In 1977, only 39 per cent of land in the state was irrigated; it has reached to nearly 80 per cent now. The crop intensity has increased to 182 per cent, along with diversity.

There are big potentials in the agricultural sector of the state. To attain it, scientific use of inputs, crop diversification and growth of allied areas need to be ensured. Apart from the state government and the panchayati raj institutions, the peasant movement in West Bengal is also focussed on these issues.

Over the last 34 years, the Left Front government of West Bengal has been pursuing an alternative path of development, aimed at upliftment of the poor and working people of the state. It is needless to say that a conducive political situation is a precondition for defending the rights of the peasants and agricultural workers and for further augmenting the growth in agriculture. Therefore, the urgent task before the rural people in general and the peasantry in particular is to defeat the anti-Left gang-up and defend the Left Front government.