Legislating Against Fundamental Change:
Land Legislation in Karnataka
THE analysis of agrarian reform in India has generally centred around the implementation of a given land legislation.1 A high rate of implementation has been taken as sufficient evidence that the reform has m fact been successful. Little or no attention is paid to the nature of the legislation itself. Analyses of the biases of a particular legislation and the possibility of dominant classes benefiting from it have been given far less attention than they deserve. Our purpose in this paper is to view land legislation in Karnataka from this perspective.
In analysing the land reforms law in Karnataka it is perhaps best to start with the Mysore Land Reforms Act, 1961, which came into force in 1965. This represents a starting point in the sense that it was the first Act to cover the whole State. Prior to this time there were five major Acts in operation in different parts of the State with the Hyderabad Karnataka, the Bombay Karnataka, old Mysore, Coorg and the Karnataka districts of the Madras Presidency each having a land legislation of its own.2
The 1961 Act was in many ways typical of the land reform legislations of the period. It had stated objectives of change accompanied by stated loopholes to avoid change. Change in this conception consisted of just two basic components. First, the abolition of tenancy and, second, fixing a ceiling on land holdings with the surplus land to be redistributed. All further leases were banned. The only categories exempted from this ban were widows, unmarried women, minors, small cultivators, disabled persons and personnel of the armed services* With respect to the leases already in force when the Act commenced, the resumption of cultivation by the owner was restricted. The rent was fixed at one-fourth of the gross produce in the case of irrigated lands and one fifth of the gross produce in the case of other lands, subject to the condition that the existing rent could not be lowered. Land which could not be resumed was to be vested with the Government to be handed over to the tenants. Further, a ceiling on land holdings was imposed.