C2 Rural and Agrarian Transformation in India

Topics of interest for CSE:

  1. Green revolution and social change.
  2. Changing Modes of Production in Indian agriculture.
  3. Problems of rural labour, bondage, and migration.
  4. Programmes of rural development, community development, cooperatives and poverty alleviation.


After consolidating their political supremacy, the colonial regime initiated the task of reorganising local society in a framework that would make governance and tax collection easier. Within this framework the British introduced the three land settlements:

  • Permanent/Zamindari settlement in Bengal.
  • Ryotwari settlement in Bombay, Madras, and Berar.
  • Mahalwari settlement in Delhi, UP, Punjab, and Central Provinces.

While differing widely from each other the revenue settlements for the first time conferred legal ownership of land on zamindars, ryots, and mahals. This radically altered the existing land relations as well as began a trend of commercialisation of land and agriculture.

As the revenue demand grew, peasants found it easier to meet the demands by growing cash crops (for sale) instead of the staple food crops (for consumption) that they had been growing previously. Thus, the peasant was increasingly exposed to the market forces, even when they did not have the capacity to produce surplus. Price fluctuations now meant the difference between being well fed for the year, or starving in the lean season, a difference which grew more acute over the years.

The new pattern of land relations led to the emergence of the money lender as an intermediate class between landlords and peasants. With increasing pressure and growing commodification of land, land alienation became a new reality for small/marginal peasants. While indebtedness was not an entirely new thing for Indian peasants, it was the nature of collateral which had now shifted from crops to the land itself. Peasant indebtedness and land alienation were a common feature across the three settlements and by the early 20th century even colonial administrators began to see it as a problem. Several legislations were passed to stem the rebellious sentiments of peasants so uprooted such as the:

  1. Deccan Relief Act of 1879,
  2. Punjab Alienation of Land Act of 1901, etc.

While colonial administration is generally seen as having had a negative impact on Indian agriculture, Marxist scholars laud it as it broke the earlier stagnant system in which a revolution would have been nigh impossible. Marx himself said that colonial rule in India was what helped private property relations and thereby contradictions to grow in Indian society, which would ultimately lead to revolution.

Utsa Patnaik says that colonial rule broke down the earlier structures without reconstituting them, and bourgeois property relations developed without a corresponding development of capitalist relation of production in Indian agriculture.

Post-Independence ChangesIn many ways, independence from colonial rule marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of Indian agriculture. However, while the political system had changed in a fundamental sense, the old colonial structures which had evolved over time still existed at the micro level.

Daniel Thorner said that earlier structures of land relations and debt dependencies, where a small section of a few landlords and money lenders were dominant, continued to prevail in the countryside. The nature of property relations, values that related social prestige negatively to physical labour, and the absence of any surplus with the actual cultivator for investment on land ultimately perpetuated stagnation. (Maalik, Kisan, Mazdoor example)

Initially two views were debated to reform Indian agriculture.

  • Institutionalists argued for a radical reorganisation of land ownership patterns, which would not only democratize the village but also increase productivity.
  • The second viewpoint argued that redistribution was unviable, as not enough land was available for everyone, and that it went against the logic of economics. It was argued that landlords’ reorientation was the way to improve agriculture.

However, the choice of the Indian state to implement land reforms were guided more by the political considerations of the day rather than the theoretical strength of that position. A large number of legislations were passed in a few short years, which led Daniel Thorner to comment that they could be “the largest body of agrarian legislations to have been passed in so brief a span of years in any country whose history has been recorded.”

However, the actual implementation of land reforms was an entirely different story. Most legislations intentionally provided loopholes which allowed dominant landowners to tamper with land records by redistributing land among relatives (or benami), evicting tenants, and using other means to escape the law’s net.

Clive Bell says that despite their overall failure, land reforms led to a weakened hold of absentee landlords over rural society and assisted in the emergence of a class of substantial peasants and petty landlords as the dominant political and economic group. The beneficiaries of land reforms were mostly middle caste groups who cultivated land traditionally as part of their caste identity. Otherwise, the holding structure remained iniquitous though the proportion of small and medium size land owners has been expanding.




%age of holdings
%age of holdings
%age of holdings

Adrian C Mayer in his longitudnal study of Ramkheri village (1952-1991) found:

  1. Purity and pollution norms had been diluted. Lower castes were allowed to use public roads.
  2. Rules for commensality had changed. Earlier lower castes would not eat with higher castes, but now they sat together to eat, even if the rows were separated.
  3. Sub-caste endogamy gave way to caste endogamy. There were inter caste marriages but few and far in between.
  4. Caste occupations remained hereditary. Education and mobility gave opportunities but more to the upper castes than to the lower castes.


The green revolution conceptualised agrarian change in purely technological terms and was based on the trickle-down theory of economic growth. Its advocates argued that the new technology (HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) was scale neutral and could be used with equal benefit by both small and big farmers. However, in actual implementation, small holdings were not found to be technologically viable units.

The new technology was scale neutral, but was definitely not resource neutral.

  1. Farmers’ market dependence rose greatly as they now had to borrow money to buy the necessary implements and inputs.
  2. They were further exposed as they sold their produce at a time when prices were low (excess supply) and bought later in the year when prices were high.
  3. It strengthened the economic and political position of rich farmers and created dependencies for small farmers.

New farmers’ movements emerged almost simultaneously in virtually all green revolution regions, which gained great momentum in the 80s. The members of this new social class not only emerged as a dominant group at village level but they also came to dominate state-level politics in most parts of India. This, new class of farmers was ever looking for new avenues to invest their surplus and being culturally different from the classical peasants and landlords, often diversified into other activities or migrated to urban areas.

Thorner says that while it may have had its local specificities and regional variations, the capitalist mode of production was on its way to dominating the agrarian economy of India and most certainly that of the regions which had experienced the green revolution.

Aggarwal said that the green revolution made many of the traditional occupations redundant and led to the rapid disintegration of Jajmani relations. This was also shown by the rapid increase in the ratio of agricultural labour to total population dependent on agriculture (which rose from 16.7% in 1961 to 26.3% in 1971). Micro studies have shown that this was not due to sale of land by marginal farmers, rather due to the large scale eviction of tenants after land reforms.

Bhalla says that green revolution led to the rise of formalised contractual arrangements between farmers and attached labourers.Although studies have shown that presence of attached labourers and their high indebtedness meant that the relations of production even in green revolution belt of Haryana were semi-feudal. Still others argued that the presence of attached labour was not in itself an indication of semi-feudal relations as the nature of attached labour had changed from the feudalistic lord-serf relation to a creditor-employee relation.

Further evidence of the growing capitalistic nature of agrarian economy is given by the fact that the integration of the village into the broader market has increased the availability of alternative sources of employment outside agriculture. This, along with the changing political and ideological environment has led to the weakening of the landowners’ hold over labourers.

Also, students of agrarian gender and agrarian change have shown how the new technology had a clear bias against women.

BGREI - Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India.


The census of India defines agricultural workers as those who either work as cultivators or as agricultural labourers. The proportion of agricultural labourers to total agricultural workers increased from 37.8% in 1971 to over 50% in 2011 (total agricultural workers number 233 million in 2011).

Over the years the ratio of agricultural labourers (AL) to agricultural workers (AW) and to total rural workers (RW) has recorded a rapid rise. Simultaneously, the proportion of casual labourers among AL has also increased rapidly. Overtime increasing proportion of rural households are becoming labour households and most of them are engaged in agriculture. A trend of feminisation of agriculture has also been observed.

Between 1977-78 and 1999-00 the ratio of rural labour households (RLH) has gone up from 32% to 40% with the ratio of agricultural labour households (ALH) among these going up from 25% to 33% in the same time period.

Social Representation

ALHs are characterised by a preponderance of weaker sections. In 1999-00

35% of ALHs belonged to SC, 13% to ST, and 33% to OBC.

The proportion of SC/ST households in ALH is much higher than their representation in total rural households indicating that they are concentrated here.


Another major issue faced by RLHs is that over 60% of them are landless or possess very small land area and landlessness is on the rise. Also, the average area with ALHs is declining over time, dropping from 0.32 hectares in 1987-88 to 0.18 hectares in 1999-00.


The average earning of ALs are lower than those of RLs in both agricultural and non-agricultural operations for all categories of labour. The wages in non-agricultural occupations for males and females are significantly higher than those in agriculture indicating that productivity is distinctly higher there.Even for men, ST workers receive lower wages than those received by men of other social classes for almost all agricultural operations. However, SC/OBC workers are able to obtain wages in par with men of other social classes. The discrimination is much greater for women of ST households.65% of agri labour is women. They are paid lower wages and don't get access to govt benefits as they don't directly own any land.


The average debt was Rs. 5k in 1999-00 and is 47k in 2015. A significant portion of the debt was for unproductive purposes such as:

  • household consumption (31%),
  • marriages, and other social ceremonies (24%).
  • The debt for productive purposes constitutes only about 21% of the total debt on average.
  • Banks only account for 54% of rural agri credit. JDY holds promise but banking needs to become more accessible.

The extent of debt for unproductive purposes was much higher in ALHs compared with farmer households. However, a positive here is that the share of loan used for productive purposes has shown a rising trend over time.

(Major irritant before was the lack of bank penetration and an unwillingness to lend by those banks which were present) (Agri-loan waivers has aggravated this problem. Problems of agri loan waivers and price collapse in the markets)

Adverse possession clauses in existing tenancy laws cause tenants to be cut off from formal sources of credit. Model tenancy law introduced to remedy this but must be taken up by states.


Ashish Bose explains rural to urban migration from a demographic perspective. Push factors in the places of origin, such as:

  • lack of resources,
  • unemployment,
  • overpopulation,
  • drought, or other such natural calamities, etc.

which make a decent standard of living impossible. At the same time, pull factors in cities are:

  • employment opportunities,
  • entertainment,
  • educational facilities,
  • trade centres, etc.

Bose also points at the push back factors such as:

  • lack of social security in urban areas,
  • over crowding,
  • excessive competition for jobs, etc.

Types of Migration

  • Primitive/early migration. Ex. migration of polynesian tribes to Madagascar.
  • Internal and external migration. Ex. inter and intra state migration.
  • Forced/impelled migration. Ex. CC migration, displacement, Rohingyas.
  • Refugee movements. Ex. Syrian refugees in Europe.
  • Seasonal/Periodic migration. Ex. migration during harvest season in agri belts.

Migration Streams

  • Rural-Rural

Seasonal migration where people migrate from one village to another for sowing/harvesting crops. In this form of migration, the migrants are mostly males, with women sometimes accompanying the male members. Women only stream in rural-rural migration is mostly for marriage.

  • Rural-Urban

In regions of high rural population densities and fast urban-industrial development this stream is predominant.

  • Urban-Urban

Common in highly urbanised (developed countries) parts of the world as well as in less developed countries. People move from one city to another to look for better jobs/status. Large cities attracting people from smaller neighbouring towns is known as step-wise migration.

  • Urban-Rural

Congestion is cities or lack of social integration sometimes forces migrants to return to their native places.

Migration Trends

As per the 2011 census there are about 45.6 crore people who are normally on the move within India.

  • Rural-rural migration accounts for about 54% or 21 crore;
  • 20% or 8 crore move in the rural-urban stream;
  • 20% or 8 crore in the urban-urban; and
  • 5% or 3 crore in the urban-rural streams.

Intra-state movement accounts for 90% of all migration (40 crore people)


SECC 2011 - DATA still not revealed fully in 2020.Identifies households as deprived on the basis of 7 indicators:

  • Single room house with kachha walls and roof.
  • No adult between ages of 15-59 in the household.
  • Single mother household with no male adult between ages of 15-59.
  • No literate in the household above the age of 25.
  • Disabled household with no able bodied members between 15-59 years of age.
  • SC/ST households.
  • Landless households which derive majority of their income from farm labour.

The SECC also took in data about possession of vehicles as well as luxury items such as TV and refrigerators in households. Possession of these items would automatically disqualify people from eligibility for government benefits.

It will be used for benefit allocation to the people based on performance on the multidimensional deprivation index. People would be classified as:

  • Included for benfits.
  • Excluded based on possessions.
  • Graded benefits for people in between depending on level of deprivation.

DDAY National Rural Livelihood Mission

Programme for self-employment of the rural poor with effect from 1 April 1999 as Swarna Jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana and rebranded in 2015. Objective of the scheme is to bring the assisted poor families above the poverty line by organising them into SHGs through the process of:

  • social mobilisation,
  • training and capacity building, and
  • provision developing income generating assets through a mix of bank credit and government subsidy.

Emphasis on establishing activity clusters through selection of key activities based on aptitude and skill of the people, availability of resources and market potential.

Adopts a process approach and attempts to build the capacities of the rural poor. It provides for involvement of NGOs/CBOs/Individuals/Banks and Self Help Promoting Institutions in nurturing and development of SHGs, including skill development. The scheme provides for the cost of social intermediation and skill development training based on the local requirement.

National Social Assistance Programme

National Social Assistance Programme is a social security and welfare programme to provide support to aged persons, widows, disabled persons and bereaved families on death of primary bread winner, belonging to below poverty line households.

It consists of 5 schemes:

  • Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS). Pension of 300/month.
  • Indira Gandhi National Widow Pension Scheme (IGNWPS). Pension of 300/month.
  • Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme (IGNDPS). Pension of 300/month.
  • National Family Benefit Scheme NFBS). Lump sum payment of 20K in case of death of breadwinner of the family.
  • Annapurna. 10 kg of wheat/rice is given per beneficiary per month.


  1. Demand driven scheme.
  2. Guarantees a minimum 100 days of unskilled employment in a year to rural Indians who are willing and able to do work.
  3. Guarantees assignment of work within 15 days of request and payment of daily delay bonus (5% of daily wage) if work not assigned withing 15 days.
  4. About one-third of the selected workforce are women.

MGNREGS was presented with an aim of increasing the wages of individuals in rural areas; by providing them unskilled or semi-skilled work in rural areas irrespective of BPL status.

MGNREGS has been criticised for:

  • delayed payments,
  • lack of skill development,
  • arbitrary work assignment and
  • leakage of funds; among other things.

However its effect on improving the bargaining power of the rural poor, and efficacy as a social security measure have both been commended. It was proposed that MGNREGS be used for works to relieve drought ridden areas from chronic water shortage but it has failed to meet the expectations.

Individual worker details from around 2.5 lakh gram panchayats are available in the MGNREGS MIS. The MIS system is increasingly being used to centralise payment and job identificatoin for MGNREGS. This has caused a loss of interest for local level bodies and thus a reduction in the quality of works.

Central government has been wilfully cutting down on the funds available to MGNREGA. Looked at as a percentage of GDP, the budgetary allocations have come down from 0.36 in 12-13 to 0.26 in 16-17. Due to covid 19 lockdowns, mass unemployment is being handled through MGNREGS.

Integrated Rural Development Program

Integrated rural development programme (IRDP) was started as a flagship programme approaching holistically to rural development.

  1. It is a self-employment program intended to raise the income-generation capacity of TGs.
  2. TGs consists largely of small and marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans living below the poverty line.
  3. Pattern of subsidy is:
    1. 25% for small farmers,
    2. 33.33% for marginal farmers, agricultural labourers and rural artisans
    3. 50% for SC/ST families and physically handicapped persons.
      Objective of IRDP is to bring TG above poverty line by providing productive assets and inputs. The assets, which could be in primary, secondary or tertiary sectors, are provided through financial assistance in the form of subsidy by the government and term credit advanced by financial institutions.

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana

Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana was launched by in December 2000 as a massive programme to provide all weather rural road connectivity to every rural habitation with a minimum population of 500 in the plains and 250-plus in hill states, tribal districts and desert areas.

80% such habitations connected by 2017. Deadline for completion of PMGSY is 2022.

Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana

Five crore pucca houses will be built for the poor in rural area by 2022. PMAY is the new version of Prime Minister’s Housing For All by 2022 vision.

  • Phase 1: Would span from April 2015 to March 2017 and covering 100 cities.
  • Phase 2: Would span from April 2017 to March 2019, covering 200 more cities.
  • Phase 3: Would span from April 2019 to March 2022 and will cover the remaining cities.

Features of Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana:

  • The government would provide an interest subsidy of 6.5% on housing loans availed by the beneficiaries for a period of 15 years from the start of loan.
  • Houses under PMAY would be preferably allotted to the female member of the family.
  • The beneficiaries of the scheme include Women, EWS, ST and SC.
  • Subsidy ranging between 1-2.30 lakh to people from above categories.

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