Ahead of his times
Former PM Narasimha Rao’s revolutionary land reforms in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh have had a long-lasting impact that continues to echo in the field of agriculture in Telangana today
When former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao conceived of land reforms in the then united Andhra Pradesh State in the capacity of the Chief Minister, among many others, our family too got perturbed over the possibility of being required to surrender ancestral lands owned by us. Of course, it was Burgula Ramakrishna Rao, first elected Chief Minister of Hyderabad State, who eradicated the system of 'jaghirdar' and 'makthedar' in Telangana and introduced the law of tenancy. It had a lot of impact on the landowners with huge land holdings all over the state, particularly in my native Khammam Taluk of Khammam District in Telangana. We too had to surrender considerable acres of lands impacted by tenancy law. Another land reform resulting in more lands surrendered was our fear.
I remember the day when I accompanied late Parcha Srinivasa Rao, a relative of mine and a landlord in Khammam district, in meeting Chief Minister PV Narasimha Rao at his official residence Ananda Nilayam in Begumpet. Late KV Narsinga Rao, an advocate and close associate of PV took us there to communicate our fears to the CM. Late Tella Lakshmi Kantamma, then a Member of Lok Sabha from Khammam and late Akkiraju Vasudeva Rao, a minister in the PV cabinet were also present at this meeting. Subsequently, on a few other occasions, I had the opportunity of meeting PV while he was Union HRD Minister, External Affairs Minister and Prime Minister. Along with former MP Rayapati Samba Siva Rao I met PM PV and was briefed regarding the implementation of the 20-point programme in the State.
PV, who had drafted the land reforms bill himself and was totally engrossed with at that time with its implementation, found the time to see us and hear out our concerns with patience. He explained the necessity of the reforms and the need to distribute land to the landless. Setting aside our fears, he told us that the land that would be left after the excess was redistributed would be enough for a family. He explained that under this reform, he himself would have to surrender hundreds of acres of lands. Today, history stands witness to the fact that these land reforms have helped shape Telangana's future.
Introducing the Bill in the State Assembly, PV exhibited his authority on many features of the bill, touching upon several interesting and challenging characteristics that echo his statesmanship, his all-round knowledge on land-related issues and issues related to politico-socio-economic facets. In the process, PV mentioned his personnel commitment to secure social justice by way of implementing these land reforms; about the designated role of the high courts in minimising injustice to aggrieved persons; about 'Stridhana' or the property held by a woman provided for in the 'Dayabhage' and 'Mitakshara' schools; about providing due compensation to farmers who would lose holdings under the ceiling; distribution of land to SCs and STs and to the backward classes: about constituting tribunals and about the need to bring an ordinance in advance. PV pointed out that he started the implementation process of the land ceiling in May 1972 by way of bringing an ordinance. It was a preventive action, said PV, so that implementation of the land reform at a later date would not be defeated.
PV said that the objective of the bill is to delimit of acquisitions of agricultural holdings and to prevent the big landlords from transferring large agricultural holdings in different names including their cats and dogs and other domestic animals to escape the proposed agricultural lands ceiling act. He stated that he had already discussed this ordinance with several important people, and they had agreed, in turn, that this bill is very much necessary for curbing the aforementioned practices.
In the Legislative Assembly, PV said, "The seeds of land reforms were sown as long ago as the days of Ramayana. The interest and personal attention bestowed by a small farmer on a small piece of land is much better than that of a landlord. 'Land Reforms Act', with so many dimensions and ramifications, cannot be brought by sitting at home but needs a State-wide dialogue. At the same time, consuming time on unnecessary discussions will also help the landlord to circumvent the Act. Otherwise, dogs and cats will also get a share in the landlord's property. Hence, an ordinance became necessary to avoid further damage. The bill is not aimed at taking revenge on anybody or not to put anybody to loss. This is only to bring equality in society".
Leaving little to the imagination, he added, "Today, society respects someone who is landed and possess 500 acres or more of land, He is proud and arrogant. If his landholding is reduced to some 20 or 30, proportionately his arrogance will also come down. A society that is totally dependent on property and a society where a property holder is seen as respectable by virtue of the land he holds will be void of values. Any act is passed to benefit the people. As representatives of the people, we never think to bring an act that is not to your liking. Charity begins at home. Most of the legislators are from rural areas. We are going to declare our lands first. As leaders, we have a responsibility to do it first. A leader is not just for getting votes. Let me remind you that you cannot escape from this Act. If you give voluntarily, then fine. Otherwise, I will take through the act. People want it and they want the Act to be implemented".
'The Land Reforms Act' introduced as a Bill on August 30, 1972, and brought in to implementation with effect from June 1, 1973, benefited Telangana to a large extent. As per the available statistics those days, about 3.14 lakh acres of surplus land was distributed to SCs, STs and other weaker sections for agriculture and house site purposes benefiting 2.26 lakh people consequent to land reforms. Including this, about 23 lakh acres of land has been assigned to various sections benefiting about 15.84 lakh individuals. However, the land so distributed could not be exploited properly since the governments of those days did not bother to provide agriculture-related facilities or inputs required by the small and marginal farmer and as a result, the purpose was not fulfilled.
Thanks to PV's land Reforms, not only did the bigger landlords have to surrender surplus land, furthermore, land concentration and purchase of agricultural lands by them was stopped. When Telangana Government decided to go for land records rectification and purification, the available statistical data revealed that the marginal, small, semi-medium and medium holdings accounted for as much as 97 per cent!
Today, the biggest beneficiaries of Chief Minister KCR's Rs 10,000 per acre investment subsidy for agriculture are undoubtedly the small, medium and marginal farmers. It was to the credit of PV that we have smallholdings and it is to the credit of KCR that they are getting the benefit! Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao rightly hailed late Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao as reformist par excellence.
The writer is the Chief Public Relations Officer to the Chief Minister of Telangana. Views expressed are personal