'Colonial legacy dictating agri land laws, legal reform needed to benefit farmers in Maharashtra'

In a virtual seminar organised to address issues regarding laws that regulate land ownership in Maharashtra, speakers highlighted that the legal framework needs an overhaul. The speakers held that the existing laws are based on a colonial interpretation of the land rights and ignore the socio-economic realities of post-independence India.

Pratyaksh SrivastavaPratyaksh Srivastava   1 April 2022 5:25 PM GMT

Colonial legacy dictating agri land laws, legal reform needed to benefit farmers in Maharashtra

Disparity in the the legal understanding of the urban and the rural land holdings was highlighted in the virtual seminar.

While underlining that the laws framed to regulate land ownership in Maharashtra trace their origin to the colonial British legacy of revenue collection as the primary motive, experts while participating in a virtual seminal explored the development of agricultural land laws in the state, their effect on farmers, and their potential for reform.

The discussion titled Whose Land Is It Anyway? was organised by the Delhi-based non-profit research organisation Centre for Civil Society on March 15. The discussion was moderated by Prashant Narang, senior research fellow at the non-profit.

One of the speakers in the discussion, Rahela Khorakiwala, a senior resident fellow from Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy stated that land revenue was the most significant source of income for the British government in India — which led to the creation of land laws with a focus on revenue collection rather than the welfare and rights of the land holders in the state.

"For instance, the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code 1966 (earlier the Bombay Land Revenue Code, 1897) is a fiscal statute. It comes under the Revenue and Fiscal Department instead of the Land Resources Department. Also, in purely legal terms, the state owns all land and any de facto landowner is merely an occupant," the legal expert stated at the virtual seminar.

'Land laws redundant, contribute to agrarian distress'

Amar Habib, a Beed-based journalist and publisher of Kisanputra magazine pointed out that agriculture was the most significant source of revenue generation in the early 1900s.

"Today, due to technological advancements, other sources have surpassed agriculture. However, the land laws designed in the past have not evolved with time and continue to restrict farmers," Habib said.

He also asserted that most of the farmers in Maharashtra are engaged in agriculture as a compulsion rather than individual choice.

"Land laws such as the Ceilings Act limit the opportunities for farmers by restricting them to a pre-decided area of land. Ninety four per cent of the farmers who committed suicide in Maharashtra were those who owned five acres or less land," he stated.



He also raised concerns about the 'overregulation' of tribal lands in Maharashtra, highlighting how adivasis (tribals) are stuck in poverty because the laws restrict them from selling their lands to non-tribals.

Anil Ghanwat, president of the Maharashtra-based Swatantra Bharat Party echoed Habib's perspective on tribal land holdings. Ghanwat said that the state government acquired class I lands (lands with unfettered rights) in the 1960s , but Class II lands were given as compensation, restricting the rights of landowners to sell their lands at will.

He also shared the story of his friend who belongs to the tribal community and wanted to sell his land to meet the expenses for his son's treatment.

"A potential buyer offered 20 lakhs (Rs 2 million) per acre for the land, but the transfer could not occur as the buyer was a non-tribal. The land was finally sold to another tribal, who could only offer four lakhs per acre, five times less than the non-tribal," he said.

Rural-Urban divide

Satish Borulkar, an advocate at the Bombay High Court was invited as one of the panellists in the discussion. He focused his remarks on the disparity in the legal understanding of the urban and the rural land holdings.

"Agricultural lands are not considered as important as urban lands because urban projects generate much more revenue, unlike agriculture. There is a need to rethink and reform the existing land laws as they were designed before the liberalisation of the economy and have lost their relevance," Borulkar said.

The advocate also threw light on the historical genesis of the land laws in the state whose foundation lay in the legal framework of the mediaeval times.



"Zamindar, Jagirdar, Ryotwar, Patil and similar titles were conferred upon the intermediaries who collected revenue from the land holders during the Maratha rule. The revenue system remained the same during British rule and also new intermediaries were added. This created uneven landholdings amongst intermediaries and led to the oppression of peasants," the lawyer explained.

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