The two legs of Rural
Development: Land Reforms & Panchayats
The left Front Government of West Bengal has now
come to stay for over two decades now, In terms of stability this offers an unprecedented
record, hitherto unforeseen in the current national and international Scenario, when
antiincumbency has come to play a decisive role in shaping the election results.
Academicians, scholars, political analysts among other had been in search of reasons
underlying this remarkable difference. Some of them have rightly attributed the success of
the left Front Government to the alternative approach it adopted towards rural
development based on Land reforms and democratic decentralisation through Panchyat Raj
Institutions. Both of them are necessarily dependent on political will, some thing lacking
with the non-Left Governments. Land to the tillers and Panchayati Raj had been two
important demands raised during the struggle for independent India. Even after 50 years of
our freedom none of these the demands could be realised. The total amount of ceiling
surplus land that could have been available for distribution taking 20 acres as the
ceiling was estimated to be around 62 million axes during the Second Five Year Plan. Not
even 10% of it could be distributed so far in the country as whole. Similarly inspite of
dozens of recommendations made by committees, set up by the Government of India Meheta
Committee, Ashok Meheta, L M Singh among others) and even after much advertised 73rd
& 74th amendments to our Constitutions Panchayats continue to Languish in
most part of our country. The current onslaught of globalisation and liberalisation has
added wind to the sail of already existing trend of centralisation. Ever widening
disparity in both economic and social spheres and increasing trend of centralisation of
capital assets including land has lead to further shift of correlation of forces against
declaration, unbridled market forces let loose by these forces are out to undo whatever
little could be done through the meager land reform measures. The ninth Plan document has
gone a step further by proposing to open up the land and tenancy market to the national
big business and international finance capital with the avowed objective of relaxing the
ceiling provisions and tenancy regulations. It is in this perspective that the
achievements of Left Front Government in West Bengal should be judged.
The followings are source of the achievements of the left Front
Government, the brief-
- West Bengal having only 2% of the geographical area and 3.5% of agricultural land in the
country accounts for 20% of the total ceiling surplus land distributed in the country.
- Over 10.25 lakhs acres of land has been distributed to around 2.5 million beneficiaries
- S.C. and S.T. account for 56% of the beneficiaries though they constituted 27% of state
population. Over 4 Lakhs of pattas distributed are joint pattas given in the name of both
husband and wife.
- About 1.5 million of share croppers have been recorded through Operation Barga and
settlement of operations, thereby protecting them from eviction by landlords.
- Over 5 lakhs of landless families were given homestead lands.
- The total number of vested land allotted, recorded sharecroppers and recipients of home
stead land together will exceed 4.5 million which accounts for 48% of the total land
reform beneficiaries in the country.
- National sample survey data in 48th rounds shows that 69.4% of land in West
Bengal are owned by small and marginal farmers, as against 35.52% held by them in the
country as a whole.
- Land reform is a precursor of democracy. There cannot be any meaningful democratic
decentralisation with lands remaining concentrated in fewerhtiands. Since 70% of lands
belong to small marginal farmers, over 70% of lands belong to small marginal farmers, over
70% of panchayat members come from these sections, a class composition, unique in the
country. West Bengal is the only state in the country to have regular elections to
Panchayatraj bodies for five consecutive terms during last two decades. That this could be
done without Constitutional Amendment shows it is political will and not the bill, which
is more fundamental requirement. Over 50% of the budgetary plan allocation have been
devolved to the District Planning Committees headed by the chairpersons of the Zilla
- Farms census data from all over the country and world as well shows higher production
performance and employment generation in smaller farms. Land Reforms coupled with supply
of non land inputs through panchayats such as water, credit, seed, fertilizers &
technology etc., has placed West Bengal in the highest position in food grain production.
The annual rate of growth in between 1980-1983 and 1990-1993 had been highest among the
states. (WB-5.5% as against 2.8% as country as a whole.)
- West Bengal having only 3. 5% of the agricultural land as against 8% of the population
of country, production 16% of Rice (Highest) 31% of Potatoes (next to U.P. only) 61% of
Jute (Highest) 18% of fish (highest for 10 consecutive years) 10% consecutive years) 10%
of eggs & broiler each. (competing with A.P. and Tamil Nadu for first position)
11. Growth cannot be sustainable unless it is equitable. Higher growth
rate in West Bengal is accompanied by highest rate of increase in percapita consumption of
cereals in between 1981 and 1990 as per N.S.S. data when it came down in the country as a
12. A comparison of rural poverty estimates between 1973-74 and 1993-94
and 1993-94 as per the report of the Expert Group of Planning Commission (Lakdwala
Committee) shows highest reduction of rural poverty going by the diffence of percentage
from 68% to 40%) in West Bengal among the States. Even in the years of liberalisation
(1990-91 and 1993-94) when percent of rural poverty increased in most of the states, it
came down by over 9% in West Bengal, again the highest reducation among the states. This
is indicative of successful implemention of land reforms and antipoverty programme though
13. Annual rate of growth of employment has been highest among the
states at 2.9% against All India average of 2.35%.
14. Total small savings exceeded Rs. 1600 Crores an all time record for
any state in the country. This has increased the purchasing power in the rural areas. The
annual rate of growth of demand for industrial commodities in rural areas has increased by
over 10%. This shows that land reforms is essential pre-condition for industrialisation.
15. Development is measured by Human Development Index rather than by
the growth rates. Human Development Index for West Bengal was calculated to be 0.394 as
against 0.384 for India as a whole. Going by the social indicators West Bengal ranks
second among the Indian States as estimated by Institute of Pubin. Policy research, New
Delhi next to Kerala only, another State to have implemented land reforms and
decentralisation through Panchayets.
There are many more achievements those could be added to this list.
However there is no scope of complacency. The existing bourgeois-land lord order, centre
state relations and economic policies perused by the central Government pose formidable
challenges and serious threats which most benefit must be made before justifier advance is
made. How this can be done is yet another matter be discussed separately.
Kanta Mishra is Minister of LandReforms and Panchayats West Bengal.