New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh, as is known to all, is a state that is still craving for development and has not made it to the list of developed states of India. Despite it being an agricultural state, the news of farmers dying due to the burden of loan or poverty has always made it to the headlines of the national newspapers. Now the question is what laws do we have to protect their rights?
In the earlier days, when Zamindari was in practice, only a few people i.e. Zamindars owned most of the land while the others i.e. poor farmers, struggled to make ends meet. This practice was plaguing the social fabric of the country. The practice of forced labour, bonded labour and begari was an integral part of the Zamindari system. To curb this practice, the Zamindari Abolition Act, 1950 was introduced by the Government. The process of Zamindari abolition was started even before the enactment of the Constitution. In 1949, Zamindari Abolition Bills were introduced in Bombay, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, and Madras. A report of Uttar Pradesh Zamindari Abolition Committee which was chaired by GB Pant was used as an initial model. However, since this Act was not in the interest of the Zamindars, they approached the court contending that this was against their fundamental right of Right to Property under Article 19 and 31 (now repealed). When the Constitution was passed, after the First Amendment in 1951, the government removed the Right to Property from the list of Fundamental Rights. This was the start of the abolition of Zamindari System.
The act mainly benefitted the occupancy tenants and superior tenants who had direct leases from zamindars and were virtual owners. For the purpose of enforcing this Act, around 1700 lakh hectares of land were acquired by various State Governments across India and compensation of about 700 crores was given to the zamindars. However, this was not the end. After the abolition of Zamindari Act, the superior tenants became the virtual owners of the land and a lot of land was kept by the Zamindars for ‘personal cultivation’. And therefore, the basic problem remained the same wherein most of the land was owned by few people.
Then came the U.P Imposition of Ceilings on Land Holdings Act, 1960. This Act gave a limit of land that a family/an individual can own. Any land owned above the limit of the ceiling according to the Act, is called surplus land. This surplus land was then distributed amongst small farmers, landless people, village farmers and cooperative farming societies. Article 38 of the Constitution of India, DPSP, aims to minimise the inequalities of income, status, facilities, and opportunities. Land ceiling minimises inequality in land ownership which reduces the income gap of people. Also, Article 39, DPSP, seeks to ensure that the operation of economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth. In a village, land means wealth. So, land ceiling was necessary to prevent concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Article 39 also provides adequate means of livelihood to all citizens. Land ceiling Act provides lands to landless farmers so that they have adequate self-employment opportunities. But, there was still a long way to go before people could actually be benefitted by the policies and Acts of the Government. So, many Acts, policies and schemes were introduced by the Government. But more efforts were needed.
The government was not able to make enough revenue for the purpose of development. Therefore, the Uttar Pradesh revenue code, 2006 was passed and a fresh amendment was introduced to it titled as the Uttar Pradesh Revenue Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015. This Act has brought in a major change in an obsolete law of the British Government and now it allows the Dalits to sell their lands to non-Dalits, even if their remaining holding is less than 3.5 acres. During the British era, the Dalits were not allowed to sell their lands to the Upper Castes. This Act also provides for setting up of Revenue Courts for speedy disposal of cases under this Act. Further, this Act also brings in changes for women empowerment. Under the new Act, the unmarried daughters of a family have a right to inherit their father’s property. The unmarried daughters are put at par with sons and they will be treated as primary heirs. This Act gives maximum benefit to farmers and women and aim for their upliftment.
The Government has been trying to uplift and improve the condition of farmers and benefit them by these Acts and has been quite successful in its mission. However, we still have a long way to go before Uttar Pradesh can be seen as a developed Indian State.
(The writer is a Law Practitioner)