Staff reporter

‘If we do not repeal it, we will face stagnation again’

‘Agricultural production came down owing to fragmentation…farming became unimportant’

‘More land needed for economically viable housing or agriculture’

KOCHI: The Kerala Land Reforms Act is no longer relevant and it is time to repeal the Act; this is the personal opinion of T. Balakrishnan, Principal Secretary (Industries and Commerce). He made this comment while delivering the ‘K.C. Mammen Mappilai memorial lecture on economics, management and leadership’ organised by the Bodhananda Research Foundation for Management and Leadership Studies and the Bodhananda Sruti Seva Trust here on Saturday. Swami Bodhananda Saraswathi; Francis Cherunilam, professor of management studies; and K.G. Nayar, vice-president of Bodhananda Sruti Trust, were among the dignitaries present.

Tracing the history behind the implementation of the Act and after, Mr. Balakrishnan argued that the abolition of land reforms would not harm anyone now. “If we do not do it, we will face stagnation again. We have outlived its utility and let us start a dialogue,” he said, reiterating that there was nothing official about his statement.

Context of the Act

The Land Reforms Act, 1963, was introduced in the context of stagnation in the economy amid clashes between tenants and landowners, Mr. Balakrishnan said. Millions of ‘kudikidappukars’ became landowners as a result of the reform, giving them a new identity. The landlords, who had not been contributing to society, started migrating in search of new income-generating avenues. Extremist groups such as naxalites could not get volunteers thanks to the uplift of the lower strata of society.

Negative impact

Charting out the negative impact of the land reforms, he said agricultural production came down owing to fragmentation. Though wages of farm workers rose as a result of organised labour, it did not have a matching increase in production. Farmers lost pride, and farming became an unimportant work or hobby, resulting in pressure on government jobs.

Analysing the present situation, Mr. Balakrishnan said land had to be seen like any other commodity. For taking up economically viable housing or agriculture, there was a need for more land; beyond the 15-acre ceiling laid down by the Act. Informal tenancy was happening now with self-help groups taking up farming and other activities in larger land holdings. Thus, the existing system was proving a hindrance, he noted.

Earlier, Swami Bodhananda called for a debate on the Kerala model of development. Distributing wealth without creating it would amount to distribution of poverty, he noted.

Land reform was not land ceiling alone, said Mr. Francis. Like every other individual, the farmer should also have the right to utilise the land that suits him best. He also saw a conspiracy of interests of politicians and estate-owners as there was no ceiling on estates.