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Ambedkar’s Long Neglected Thoughts on Land Reforms and Agriculture

Ambedkar’s Long Neglected Thoughts on Land Reforms and Agriculture

utkarsh mohod


Utkarsh Mohod

utkarsh mohodAgriculture’s contribution to the Indian economy plays a vital role in economic development and in keeping hunger of rural India at bay. Though secondary (Industry) sector is dominant in contemporary economic development of the country, around 65 per cent of people’s lives still depends on the primary sector (Agriculture). Agriculture’s share in the GDP have declined rapidly in the recent past. The role of agricultural sector cannot be neglected since it assures employment for 58 per cent in the country (as per 2001 census).

Seventy per cent of India’s population lives in rural areas. 79.8 per cent of Dalits live in villages, out of which around 70 per cent are landless and very few have lands, and are mostly marginal farmers. Entitlement to land brings change in the lives of rural Dalits and contributes to the economy and enables them to enjoy a dignified life. Caste and class are inseparable in India, as the people who had control over the means of production in the feudal era still continue to retain that control in the capitalist era. The question of caste is deeply related with land holdings.

Land reform is intended to provide secure and equitable rights. The rural masses should have right to productive land under the principle of State socialism, as propounded by Dr. Ambedkar, which places an obligation on “the state to plan the economic life of the people on lines which would lead to the highest point of productivity without closing every avenue to private enterprise and also provide for the equitable distribution of wealth” (AWAS, Vol-3. P408).

Economic policy of the state should protect the vulnerable sections of society and try to improve their economic status. This will help to transform India, inherited as a semi-feudal agrarian society, into a socially and ecological sustainable developed state. Land reform, according to Webster’s dictionary, means measures designed to effect more equitable distribution of agricultural land, especially by governmental action. It necessarily includes a redistribution of rights to land from large landholders to benefit the rural poor, by providing them with more equitable and secure access to land.

Dr. Ambedkar’s thinking behind land reform was to uplift the untouchables who were predominantly landless or small cultivators. The outmoded methods of cultivation which were gradually decreasing in efficiency had to be replaced by joint or collective farming – that was his predominant thought. He argued convincingly in his book “Small Holdings In India and their Remedies” (The journal of Indian economic society Vol. 1,2,3) against the prevailing land tenure system (Kothi) in which rural dalits were suffering from extreme economic exploitation. He presented a bill in the state assembly aimed to prevent exploitation in the form of malpractices by the money lenders. His successful agitation against Mahar Watan emancipated a large section of the rural poor from virtual serfdom.

Ambedkar was the first legislator in India to introduce a bill for the abolition of the serfdom of agricultural tenants. He wanted to solve the problem of Mahar Watans by all legislative and constitutional means. He introduced a bill in Poona session of Bombay Legislative Council in 1937 (17th September) to abolish the Mahar Watan for which he had been agitating since 1927.

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Dr. Ambedkar was a strong proponent of land reforms, and for a prominent role for the state in economic development. Dr. Ambedkar stressed the need for thoroughgoing land reforms, noting that smallness or largeness of an agricultural holding is not determined by its physical extent alone but by the intensity of cultivation as reflected in the amounts of productive investment made on the land and the amounts of all other inputs used including labour. While defining the ideal land holding, his stand point was consumption and not production.

“He proposed state ownership in agriculture with a collectivized method of cultivation and a modified form of state socialism in the field of industry. It placed squarely on the shoulders of the state obligation to supply capital neccesary for agriculture as well as industry.” (AWAS, Vol-3, P.408)

Dr. Ambedkar argued that the solution to the agrarian question “lies not in increasing the size of farms, but in having intensive cultivation that is employing more capital and more labour on the farms such as we have.” He was deeply concerned with the emphasis on small fragmented and uneconomic holdings as the primary reason for decline of agriculture development. He deliberately looked at increasing the productivity of land, as the economic and non-economic nature of land, in his view, is not dependent on its size but on productivity, applied inputs etc.

The remedy for the ills of agriculture is not primarily dependent on small holdings but on capital and capital goods. Industrialisation is a natural and powerful remedy to it. Rural India’s needs still haven’t been met and this is only only due to the discontinuation of simultaneous functioning of “Industrial development and Land Reform”.

At the same time he also defined the role of the state which will remain socialistic; it should have welfare based approach so that state will be responsible for preventing economic exploitation of people in the transition from feudalistic economy to capitalist and market led economy. State socialism is very important in rapid industrialization as we had experienced the increase in economic inequalities with the emergence of private capitalism.

Responding to the libertarian argument that if the state refrains from intervention in private affairs – economic and social – the residue is liberty, Dr. Ambedkar says: “It is true that where the state refrains from intervention what remains is liberty. To whom and for whom is this liberty? Obviously this liberty is liberty to the landlords to increase rents, for capitalists to increase hours of work and reduce rate of wages.” Further, he says: “In an economic system employing armies of workers, and mass producing goods en masse at regular intervals, someone must make rules so that workers will work and the wheels of industry run on. If the state does not do it, the private employer will. In other words, what is called liberty from the control of the state is another name for the dictatorship of the private employer.”

 1. The key industries shall be owned and run and should have control of state.

2. Basic but non-key industries shall be owned by the state and run by the state or by corporations established by it;

3. Agriculture shall be a state industry, and be organized by the state taking over all land and letting it out for cultivation in suitable standard sizes to residents of villages; these shall be cultivated as collective farms by groups of families.



1. Dr. Ambedkar’s writings, published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1979.

2. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches Vol-1, Mumbai.

3. Economic thoughts of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Commonwealth Publishors Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi P.No. 68, 69. By Raj Kumar.

4. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “State And Minorities”.

5. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “Small Holdings In India and their Remedies”.



Utkarsh Mohod is from Yavatmal, and is doing his M.Sc in Development in Policy, Planning and Practice  at Tata Institute Of Social Sciences, Tuljapur campus.

Illustration by Unnamati Syama Sundar.