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Ownership Holdings of Land in Rural India: Putting the Record Straight

Ownership Holdings of Land in Rural India: Putting the Record Straight

In the past, research on land distribution in rural India has pointed out that the surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation have yielded underestimates of the extent of land inequality and landlessness. In a fresh analysis, this paper, using household level data from the 48th and 59th rounds (1992 and 2003-04) of the NSSO, finds that (within the limitations of the data) more than 40 per cent of households in rural India do not own land, as much as 15 million acres is in ownership holdings of more than 20 acres, and inequality in ownership has worsened between 1992 and 2003-04.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 8, 200843Ownership Holdings of Land in Rural India: Putting the Record StraightVikas RawalLand is the fundamental means of production in an agrarian society without which no agricultural production can take place. An understanding of the pattern of ownership and operational holdings of land is, therefore, of central importance to an understanding of the agrarian class structure. Data on landholdings in India, in particular, on ownership holdings of land have been fraught with problems. Data from land and livestock surveys conducted decennially by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) are the most important source of information on distribution of landholdings in India. As part of these surveys, detailed data are collected on ownership and operational holdings, tenancy, nature of land use, status of irriga-tion, and cropping pattern. Several scholars in the past have questioned the reliability and accuracy of estimates of distribution of ownership holdings and extent of landlessness as shown by these surveys. It has been noted, for example, that the NSS surveys underestimated the extent of landlessness, extent of tenancy, and inequality in ownership and operational holdings [Ramachandran 1980; Ramakumar 2000; Sharma and Dreze 1998]. Underestimation of inequality in ownership of landholdings and extent of tenancy have been attributed to under-reporting by land rich households in view of land reform laws. Existence of large holdings results in undermining the potential for implementation of land ceilings in different states.According to the published estimates from the 59th round of the land and livestock surveys, only about 10 per cent households did not own any land [Sharma 1994, 2007; Chaddha et al 2004]. Primary data-based studies from most states report a much higher level of landlessness. Also, NSS surveys themselves report a much higher level of landlessness (of the order of about 40 per cent) in terms of operational holdings. Such a large level of discrepancy between landlessness in terms of ownership holdings and landlessness in terms of operational holdings cannot be explained by the extent of tenancy.In recent years, theNSSO has been releasing household-level data from the surveys done by the organisation. With these data, NSSO provides survey schedules, instruction manuals prepared for survey investigators and detailed information on methodo-logy of estimation. These documents have helped better under-stand the nuances of data collected by the organisation.Unit-level data from the land and livestock surveys have been released for the surveys conducted as part of the 48th round (for the reference year 1992) and the 59th round (for the reference year 2003-04). A detailed study of documents provided with I am grateful for V K Ramachandran for comments. While working on the NSS data, I benefited greatly from discussions with Aparajita Bakshi. Vikas Rawal (vikasrawal@gmail.com) is with the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.In the past, research on land distribution in rural India has pointed out that the surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation have yielded underestimates of the extent of land inequality and landlessness. In a fresh analysis, this paper, using household level data from the 48th and 59th rounds (1992 and 2003-04) of the NSSO, finds that (within the limitations of the data) more than 40 per cent of households in rural India do not own land, as much as 15 million acres is in ownership holdings of more than 20 acres, and inequality in ownership has worsened between 1992 and 2003-04.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 8, 200845land is used for residence while crop production takes place on a substantial and distinct part of the same plot. Thirdly, in Kerala, a substantial proportion of households, including poor and households that were provided homesteads as part of land reforms, are known to cultivate commercial crops on parts of their homesteads.All of this means that what is recorded as cultivation on homesteads is not strictly comparable between the two surveys. By the same logic, ownership of land other than homesteads is also not strictly comparable between the two surveys. As a result, it is not possible to accurately compare changes in proportion of landless households and distribution of ownership of land between 1992 and 2003-04. It may also be mentioned that different treatment of cultivation on homestead land affects the dataon operational holdings as well, and therefore, it is not possible to compare distribution of operational holdings of landbetween the two years. The problems of comparability of data on ownership and operational holdings of households are particularly serious in states were cultivation on a part of homestead is widespread.Another serious problem with the 59th round survey was that, in that survey, information on land use and access to irrigation was not collected for ownership holding of the households but only for land that was operated by the household. Also, categoriesof land use were mixed with information on crops that were grown. For owned land, the distinction was made only between homestead and all other land. Land other than homestead was not further classified into agricultural land and land under other categories of use. It is, therefore, not possible to isolate owner-ship of productive, agricultural, or irrigated and unirrigated lands from the 59th round survey. Poor Design of 59th RoundThe survey schedule for the 59th round of the land and livestock survey conducted by NSSO was very poorly designed. This is unusual for NSSO, an organisation that is unparalleled anywhere in the less-developed world in terms of its enormous in-house expertise in organising and conducting socio-economic surveys. The design of the 59th round survey schedule was such that infor-mation on important aspects of landholdings were not captured. Land and livestock surveys have not missed some important aspects of land relations in the earlier rounds as well. For example, these surveys do not collect information on mortgage, and sale and purchase of land. The details on terms of tenancy are also inadequate. By dropping information on land use and status of irrigation on ownership holdings, the NSSO further narrowed the scope of the land and livestock survey in the 59th round. More so, the data collected in the 59th round were such that the estimates based on these are not comparable with the previous rounds.TheNSSO needs to expand the scope of these and use them to collect much more detailed data on land relations and livestock. It would also be appropriate to collect these data quinquennially rather than decennially.In this article, I have used unit-level data from the 59th and the 48th round surveys to provide new estimates of landlessness and inequality in ownership of land other than homestead. Given the limitation that information on land use was not available, I have tried to create variables that represent ownership of productive land as closely as possible.Table 1 shows the extent of landlessness across different states by three different measures of landlessness. Column (2) of the table gives the official estimates of proportion of households that do not own any land, either homestead or otherwise. Column (3) of the table gives the proportion of households that do not have any land other than homestead (some of these may not have any homestead also). Column (4) gives the proportion of households that do not have any land other than homestead and do not culti-vate any part of homestead that they may own. It may be noted that the estimates of landlessness presented in columns (3) and (4) of the table are considerably higher than the official estimates of landlessness (column 2). The estimates show that in 2003-04 about 41.6 per cent of households in rural India did not own any land other than homestead (of these, about 10 per cent did not own even homestead land). About 31.1 per cent of households did not own any land other than homestead and did not do any cultivation on their homestead (column 4). Interstate VariationsTable 1 also shows that the extent of landlessness, by whatever measure is used, varies considerably across different regions and states. The proportion households that do not own any land other Table 1: Proportion of Households that Do Not Own Land(2003-04 , in %)State Official Estimates Households That Do Not Households That Neither Own (Households That Do Not Own Any Land AnyLandOtherThanHomestead Own Any Land Including Other Than Nor Cultivate on Owned Homestead)HomesteadHomesteadLand (1) (2) (3) (4)Jammu and Kashmir 3.29 10.97 7.29Himachal Pradesh 15 22.68 21.87Punjab 4.5756.89 29.51Uttarakhand 10.64 26.4 21.15Haryana 9.21 49.49 25.96Uttar Pradesh 3.82 26.2 16.31Rajasthan 5.65 19.95 12.73Chhattisgarh 12.09 27.31 20.8Madhya Pradesh 12.05 31.81 22.76Gujarat 13.644.11 35.37Maharashtra 17.66 44.78 38.27Andhra Pradesh 14.33 53.19 48.75Karnataka 14.09 40.47 30.76Kerala 4.8 68.36 36.74Tamil Nadu 16.55 64.52 55.43Bihar 7.638.831.01West Bengal 6.15 46.52 34.69Jharkhand 4.8 39.25 18.43Orissa 9.5638.48 31.07Sikkim 30.67 44.4 37.96Arunachal Pradesh 21.59 23.5 22.59Nagaland 8.02 15.45 10.85Manipur 2.68 30.3 13.53Mizoram 2.34 14.1 6.67Tripura 8.6959.52 33.22Meghalaya 6.7 29.01 19.93Assam 8.05 40.3 23India 10.04 41.63 31.12

Households owning more than 5 hectares (2.09, 26.5)

Households owning between 2 and 5 hectares (6.97, 29.61)

Households owning between 1 and 2 hectares (10.75, 21.03) Households owning less than 1 hectare (49 06, 22.85)

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