Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was among the pioneer states of India in the field of implementation of land reforms. Terrorism and militancy had disturbed its march towards land reforms. Despite its challenges, the state continues to take care of landless persons by giving them government ceiling surplus land and by protecting the cultivating rights of the tillers irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.
As per the J&K Constitution, the landlords were not paid compensation as their properties were acquired in the public interest under the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950. From tillers, only a nominal price of land was realised. An estimated 4,50,000 acres of land was distributed to the actual tillers within a short period spread over a couple of years. The success can be very well appreciated from the fact that out of 9,50,000 acres of land distributed throughout the country till 1970, about half was distributed in J&K alone. 5,33,222 persons have been declared prospective owners and absolute ownership has been conferred on 1,62,041 persons as per a report by Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussorie.
Due to poor maintenance and lack of updation of land records, the progress has slackened. Perhaps the revenue administration got preoccupied with the militancy sponsored by Pakistan. There is lot of unfinished work yet to be done in the field of land reforms in J&K which is very obvious from the figures of an Indian government report that states consideration is still on in respect of 1.32 lakh acres of land up to September, 2006. It is anticipated that a total of 6,60,000 acres of land would pass on to the tillers or tenants. The landlords could still retain over 2,00,000 acres of land within the ceiling limit.
Another area of land reforms in which state’s record is indeed creditable is tenancy reforms. As per a Government of India’s report (Annual Report, 2006-07, Ministry of Rural Development), a total 6,10,000 tenants have been conferred ownership up to September, 2006 in this small state as against 14 lakh bargadar recorded in the major state of West Bengal. Incidence of tenancy, both in terms of number of households leasing-in and leasing-out of land and land leased in and leased-out as percentage of area owned, has sharply declined in the state between 1971 and 1981. In 1971, 13.15% of the households (as compared to 23.72% all India) in rural J&K leased-in land. The leased-in area was equal to 8.03% against 10.69% at the all India average of the area owned. This trend continued up to 1981. The leased market has thus, moved in favour of the marginal and small holdings. The percentage of area leased-in for share produce in 1971 was 86.85% as compared to 47.87% at the all India level, the second highest after West Bengal.
The achievement in the area of tenancy reform can be attributed to various Acts enacted in the state from time to time. The Jammu & Kashmir Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976, made comprehensive provisions that, with a few exceptions which are in general public interest, ownership follows personal cultivation. Even in cases of religious and charitable institutions, the right of tiller or tenant will continue unabated which is a very secular measure.
Disposal of Surplus land
As regards to distribution of surplus land, the J&K Agrarian Reforms Act in the state provides for giving of surplus land to the tillers of land and ex-owners, refugees of 1947 having less than 2.5 standard acres of land and landless agricultural labourers in that order of priority. Within these categories, priority is given to persons serving in Defence Forces, Gujjars and Bakerwals. Pattas given to these persons are non-transferable without the permission of the Governor. Thus, there is a solid edifice built based on land reforms for the poor people of Jammu and Kashmir who are primarily agriculturists.
After making Article 370 of the Constitution of India ineffective, a new Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, after the amendment in the Constitution of India, has been passed. It has retained most of the land reform acts and statutes with some modifications here and there. It is well understandable that Government of India did not have the time required to review all such complicated Acts and statutes. These Acts and statutes will be equally applicable after Jammu and Kashmir becomes a Union Territory. In all likelihood, Jammu and Kashmir barring the Ladakh area will resume its statehood in due course of time. For the Ladakh district, there were separate provisions in Jammu and Kashmir land laws due to its different geographical and socio-economic situation. It is high time that the land laws which are pro-people should be retained to maintain peace and agricultural production in rural Jammu and Kashmir and any decision in regard to land reform laws may be taken after due consideration by an expert body keeping the interest of the rural poor in mind.