VIEW: Tenure reforms an alternative to land reforms —Saroop Ijaz - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Source :\10\26\story_26-10-2010_pg3_3

A more pragmatic and efficient response towards land reforms can be through tenure reforms by altering the relations between landlord and tenants. The choice of what type of land reforms should be brought about in a nation is an empirical question

A few days back the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) submitted to the National Assembly Secretariat a land reforms bill seeking distribution of large landholdings among small and landless farmers with the ostensible objective of ending feudalism and hereditary politics in the country. The bill said that the ceiling, i.e. maximum allowed landholding, should be fixed at 36 acres for irrigated and 54 acres for arid lands.

The two major attempts at land reforms in Pakistan were by Ayub Khan in 1959 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. Both land reforms failed to have the intended effect and did not significantly alter the situation pertaining to actual ownership of land. The policy model of both these reforms was identical to that proposed by the MQM, i.e. the imposition of a ceiling above which agricultural land will be expropriated by the state, with or without compensation, and subsequently redistributed among the landless peasants. The ceiling imposed by the 1959 reforms was 500 acres for irrigated land and 1,000 acres for barren land. The ceiling was reduced by Bhutto’s land reforms of 1972 to 150 acres of irrigated land or 300 acres of arid lands. The ceiling was further reduced to 100 acres of irrigated lands or 200 acres of un-irrigated land by another Act of 1977. The proposal by the MQM, though radical and in line with their anti-feudal stance, is misconceived as it fails to address the primary reasons that led to the failure of the previous efforts.

Recently, Zimbabwe under President Mugabe introduced radical land reforms starting from early 2000 and continuing to date. The seizure of and division of large farms into plots to be give to the people without the means to manage them properly has been a disaster for Zimbabwe’s economy, which like Pakistan’s is primarily agricultural.

The imposition of a land ceiling as a primary instrument was the cause of failure of previous attempts, and a more pragmatic and efficient response towards land reforms can be through tenure reforms by altering the relations between landlord and tenants. The choice of what type of land reforms should be brought about in a nation is an empirical question, and the political will providing impetus for that particular land reform is critical.

Tenure reforms are predicated upon the recognition of certain defects in the agrarian systems. The degree of alteration of the agrarian system is minimal even in theory. The tenurial reform is not immediately offensive to the ruling elites because of the minimal disruption and the costs implied by its seemingly modest aims. Tenure reforms are by no means a novel idea; various tenure reforms have been introduced in South Asia at different times.

The situation in Pakistan is unique in several aspects from many of the other reforms as the non-economic dimension of the land reforms in Pakistan is more pervasive in Pakistan as compared to many of the other South Asian states. Tenure reforms is an interventionist regulatory model with the primary aim of readjusting the terms on which non-owning cultivators hold the land without fundamental alteration of the social organisation of production. Tenure reforms are often less radical in terms of social and political changes but have significant effects on production and income distribution. Tenure reforms typically aim to provide tenants with security of tenure, protect them from eviction, fix rental value below market level, eliminate intermediaries and prohibit sub-leasing, thus regulating the relationship between the owner of the land and the sharecropper. The ultimate goal in land tenure improvement is to secure the ownership of land for the tillers of the soil.

Ownership of land consists of a set of legal rights that entitle the possessor of those rights to the land. Tenure reforms transfer most of those rights to the tenant and thus render the physical changing hands of the land area unnecessary. The security of tenure and incentive, which should be the cornerstone of any tenure reform, should include reasonable security of possession, relative freedom of use, the power to transmit and inherit rights (not necessarily title), a fair return either in product or value equivalent on his inputs of labour, capital and management, regardless of the legal nature of the holding, and finally a holding that can utilise an optimum labour and management effort from the cultivator, his family, and his power source.

The imposition of a ceiling is a theoretically perfectly justifiable position, but is contingent upon the pragmatic and political mandate to implement it. Present power distribution in Pakistan cannot be ignored in devising a strategy regarding what is to be done.

I do not contend that a tenure reform system in Pakistan is likely to succeed in isolation from other political and institutional changes but it is less radical than imposition of a ceiling or a mass scale nationalisation programme, and thus is relatively more pragmatic in implementation under the present institutional arrangements. A tenure reform would require corresponding changes in the bureaucracy, and the willingness to enforce these reforms. Tenure reforms are by no means independent of political will, and thus would depend upon sufficient political will to undertake these reforms, but it is easier to garner political will in Pakistan for tenure reforms as compared to radical land reforms. Amendments made in the legislation as proposed by the MQM would not be effective if on a macro level political will is absent. Nevertheless, in my opinion a tenure reform remains the most pragmatic and implementable land reform measure capable of meaningful change in land relations in Pakistan.

The writer is a lawyer practicing at Lahore and can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment