MORE ON JK LAND REFORM LAWS

It is propagated that had Sheikh Abdullah joined Pakistan, as another option under the Partition Plan, the feudal system of that Dominion would have hindered his “progressive plan” of land reformation. This theory is again fallacious.
Representational pic
Representational pic

In spite of the fact that the Dogra Ruler in 1933 fulfilling "its obligations to its own Muslim subjects" (letter dated 07-04- 1884 by the GOI, Viceroy of India to the Secretary of State) conferred proprietary rights upon the occupancy hereditary cultivators, a good chunk of land still continued to be under the iron grip of Jagirdari & Chakdari systems, and the tenants-at-will of different categories of the landlords continued to be at their mercy. To recall to our minds, jagir villages were not under the survey of two Settlement Officers of the State. The Jagirdars & Muafidars who were predominantly Kashmiri Pandits, other non-Muslim & some Pirzadas & Naqshbandi Muslim families were absolute monarchs of their estates/villages. This feudal position was attributed to the fact that the entire revenue officialdom was in the captivity of Kashmiri Pandits since centuries that enabled them to manipulate & exploit the poor & illiterate Muslim peasantry. According to census of 1941, there was total 22 Lakh Acres = 1. 76 Crore Kanals of cultivable agricultural land in J&K of which 11. 60 Acres was held by the landlords who were mostly feudal vassals. Bulk of this land belonged to the Maharaja himself. The landlords rented the land to peasants under medieval conditions of exploitation. There were, generally speaking, three classes of such economically privileged persons: Jagirdars, Muafidars and Mukarraries (Josef Korbel, Danger in Kashmir (1954) page 210) The Jagirdar was a privileged landowner who owned vast area of land, Jagir, or a territory, the law & order of which was his responsibility under armed cavalry of his overlord for whom he was collecting the revenue paid by the tenants while keeping substantial part for himself for his services. (Prof Mridu Rai , Hindu Rulers , Muslim Subjects (2004) page23, n 16) The Muafidars who were given by the Darbar land revenue assignments were individuals such as pandits and faqirs, or institutions such as mosques, gurdwars, shrines and temples, who received part of the land revenue. (Imtiaz Hussain Hakeem J, Revenue Manual, Land Laws (2007) vol I, page 198-199) The Mukarrari-chakdars and Chak hunudi were the grantees of huge waste uncultivated land given by the Maharaja Ranbir Singh to Pandits & non-local-non-Muslim (contractors) on easy terms for collection of revenue of the allotments from poor Muslim cultivators. (Supra Mridu Rai, pages 151, 156-159) They received cash payments from the State-treasury under various religious and non-religious titles. (Supra Josef Korbel)

Before 1947, the hereditary occupancy/mirasas & proprietary rights/malikana haqooq of good number of peasants of Kashmir following afore-discussed land reforms were well established. But as big estates, Jagirs, were weapons of exploitation in the hands of the big landholders, the State passed the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, 1950 (Khatimai Chakdari Qanoon) that did away with big estates in the hands of landlords. Under this Act, a landlord could under a prescribed ceiling hold maximum 182 Kanals (22. ¾ Acres) of all kinds of land with sites, the rest was transferred to the tillers in possession & where the land was not in cultivation, the same was transferred to the State under the Act. It is said that this enactment abolished 396 Jagirs/Muafis & enabled the State to expropriate 4. 5 lakh Acres of land from the big Jagirdars out of which 2.3 Lakh Acres were directly transferred to the tillers without any compensation free from all prior charges & the remaining 2.2 Lakh Acres were vested in the State. (Grover Virender (1995) page 408 (under sec 25 of this Act, a tiller could not own more than 160 Kanals of land in total) There was an extremely interesting the provision of the said Act for confiscation of the property of "enemy agents" who were largely defined as persons who had expressed a desire for Kashmir to join Pakistan. (Supra Josef Korbel, page 211)

In 1972, the Government passed the Agrarian Reforms Act which abolished "absentee landlordism" & confirmed the ownership of land among the tillers. However, several objections were raised & some writs filed against this Act in the High Court of J&K. It was contended that under the Act, the ownership of the tiller would get confirmed only after twenty years during which period the tiller was bound to pay rent to the Government that would remit it to the original owner whose ownership rights were terminated under the Act. The Act was challenged also on the ground that its drafting was very loose as, for example, the word "personal cultivation" had given rise to ambiguity & confusion. The Act intends to abolish the rights of an owner who does not cultivate land personally. But a genuine cultivator/owner may have been dispossessed by a trespasser, (Ahmad Ghassi v Mohammad Ganai, (1976) KLJ 337), does it mean that the Act will make him owner. So, this Act was later modified & virtually replaced by the Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976 under which, subject to a ceiling of 12 ½ Acres, the ownership rights in the land were given to the tillers who held it in personal cultivation & consequently, all rights of absentee landlords including intermediaries who were not cultivating the land personally in Kharif 1971 were extinguished. Excess land that was held by a tiller vested in the State that distributed the same among the landless according to the rules appended to the Act. Moreover, even the owners who personally cultivated the land were allowed to do so subject to the ceiling fixed by the Act. (Jagtu v Badri, AIR 1980 J&K 1= 1979 KLJ 172) The orchards were excluded from the operation of the Act. Manzoor Ahmed Margray v Gulam Hassan Aram, AIR 2000 SC 191 =(1999) 7 SCC 703) 

Hence, the history of land reforms of J&K is long. It started with the appointment of two principal Settlement Officers of the State in 1887 & concluded with passing of the Agrarian Reforms Act in 1976. It was a process started during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh under the pressure of the British. Reformation of Land Revenue laws of JK was a systematic legal & evolutionary process, not specific to J&K only, but all those princely States where Jagirdari Nizam existed, even before Partition of 1947, they too had taken steps for land reforms. But, owing to general ignorance, illiteracy & abject poverty of common Kashmiri masses & absence of any media in J&K, the then  leadership hijacked this entire systematic legal development with respect to then-existing social, political & economic conditions of the State. That time political leadership took over the administration of the State after 1947 and used the process of land reforms as a part of its political agenda under the dominant influence of Communist Ideology on its minds. (Mirza M Afzal Beg, On the Way to Golden Harvests, Government of J&K pages 4-5; supra Josef Korbel, page 253) New Kashmir Manifesto of 1944 was a part of this communist agenda prepared by well known Communist leader BPL Bedi who was Sheikh Abdullah's eminence grise.  (Supra Josef Korbel, page 253) Exactly the same method was applied in Communist Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. (Ibid at page 223) These reforms earned for the National Conference a solid vote-bank-base among 85% of farmers' population of J&K predominantly Muslims. 

Notwithstanding aforestated, there is a group of people who have propounded two theories insofar as land reforms process was concerned & continued by the NC after 1947. These theories are: 

(1) It was Sheikh Abdullah's 1950's Big Landed Estates Abolition Law that gave rise to "Jammu Communal Agitation of 1953" against him. It is a mere conjecture or bunk. If it were the cause why didn't Jammu people immediately hit the roads of Jammu against passage of such progressive legislation? Why it took them three years to agitate? In that "Communal Agitation", nowhere J&K's Land Reforms legislation was questioned. Reason was simple. Such law had benefitted thousands of Hindu peasants in Hindu dominated areas of Jammu itself. Why would they have repulsed against emancipation from age old yoke of Jagirdars from their necks? Historically it is incorrect but used by the NC as a propaganda tool for self-aggrandizement & politicking among Kashmiri masses. To note, agrarian measures had started in all provinces before independence of India but as right to property was a fundamental right under Articles 19 & 31 of the Constitution, the abolition of Jagirdari or Zamindari system or absentee landlordism couldn't succeed till first amendment was effected to the Constitution whereby this right was taken out of the Fundamental Rights Chapter III of the Constitution. This enabled the States to pass their own Zamindari Abolition Acts.  (Ramchander Guha, India After Gandhi (2011) pages 219-220.) By 1956, the entire system of Jagirdari or Zamindari system & absentee landlordism was abolished in all States in India. But as the said Part of the Indian Constitution did not apply to the JK State, the State was simply following its earlier programme of land reforms under its own property laws.  So, it was nothing confined to JK only. (For details see First, Second & Third Indian Planning Commission Reports on Land Reforms in India & Murthy & Narayana's book "Rural Economy of India" (1989)

(2) It is propagated that had Sheikh Abdullah joined Pakistan, as another option under the Partition Plan, the feudal system of that Dominion would have hindered his "progressive plan" of land reformation. This theory is again fallacious. Firstly, Pakistan in the same decade followed the Indian law abolishing Jagirdari system in that country. Second, the Hereditary State Subject Laws of Maharaja Hari Singh of 1927 are intact in PAK & Gilgit Baltistan & by virtue of Northern Areas Council Legal Framework Order 1974-75 the Jagirdari Nizam was abolished in that part of Kashmir too. (Kashmir Life dated 23-07-2010) Third, Sheikh was promised by "visiting delegation" in October 1947 from Pak that J&K shall have full autonomy on all internal matters that included land laws too. And, naturally, he could have easily continued with his "progressive agenda" of New Kashmir of 1944 which included entire J&K. 

Views are personal, not of the organisation the author works for. 

mjaslam09@gmail.com

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