History of Land Distribution and Reforms from Akbar to Bhutto

Updated: Jun 11

Land Distribution and Revenue Collection in Mughal Era:

In Mughal Era, the village was the primary unit from where the revenue was collected. Those who had an influence on his village were chosen as the local lord (Zamindar or feudal), and their duty was to collect revenue from the producers and transfer it to the King. Although they didn’t own the land, their authority on the village level was supreme. They could take coercive measures over the peasants, and grant them punishment as well.


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The land ownership was neither in the hand of Feudal nor in common people, but most of the researchers argue that only King had the authority over the land. However, on a local level, people used to exchange lands. The track records were to be maintained by the zamindar. The Zamindari position was inherited in nature in a way that if the feudal dies, his eldest son would hold all the responsibilities and authorities of his father. The Zamindari system was established by the Akbar in the 1570s, which was sustained till the rule of the Mughal Empire was ended. When the Mughals lost their authority, the Zamindar or Jagirdar found an opportunity to capture the lands and claimed the territory.


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Mode of production in Mughal Era

Mughal reign started to deteriorate in the 18th century. Colonials started to gain their grounds, and in 1857, the British, finally, captured the complete rule on the Sub-continent. They dismantled the old system of revenue collection and mode of production and re-introduced the new way of the polity. When the permanent Settlement in Bengal was exercised in 1793, the first time in the Sub-continent, the concept of private ownership of land was introduced. As mentioned above that the Zamindar with the end of the Mughal empire started to claim ownership of land, the British regularized their ownership and instituted a Bureaucratic post of revenue collector to collect revenue from them. Now, Zamindar became the legal owner of the lands and the system of Landholding came into account. This system is known as the Zamindari system. According to historians and sociologists, it was the transition period in the continent from Feudalism to Capitalism. Because the sell-purchase of land had been started, the bourgeois landholder had witnessed an increase in their assets.



British System of Land in Subcontinent:

The second land system which the British introduced in 1820 was called the Ryotwari. In this system, the owner of the land was the government, and the small parts of the land were distributed for a time period to tenants in return for revenue. Sind, which was conquered by the Akbar in 1591, was later annexed by the British in 1843 and merged with Bombay. The conglomeration of Sind and Bombay was named the Bombay presidency.


After annexation, the British introduced the Ryotwari system in the Sind as its new land distribution system. However, despite the land ownership to the British Ruler, massive land was used to give to the Mirs as Jagirs land in return for their loyalty to the Empire.


The British land system brings the agrarian Sind and Punjab to Capitalism. Colonials introduced monetary taxes wherein the landholders or tenants had to pay strict regular taxes to the government. To pay the taxes, they used to sell their harvested crops to the open commodity market. It was the first integration of the Ruler economy to the market, and this kind of mode of production and relation between producers to the consumers can be said as capitalist agriculture.


The debt from moneylenders had compelled the British government to step in for the protection of the Agrarian Society. In Punjab & Sind, the landholder, tenants, and peasants had to pay taxes on any condition whether the land is irrigated and the production is happening or not. These conditions impelled them to take debt from the moneylenders. If tenants could not return the debt, the irrigated land was taken by the lenders. Consequently, most of the lands were converted to non-irrigated and commercial use of lands was also started.


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The Agrarian land of the sub-continent was immensely important for the British because of the industrial boom in Europe and the growing requirement of raw materials. Colonials had found that protection of tenants and the mode of production is extremely necessary for the prosperity of their Empire. Thus, they took legal measures and regularized the system more. For instance, the Punjab Tenancy Act was passed in 1887 for improving the relationship between landlords-tenants. Later, in 1901, the Punjab Alienation Act came into account to restrict the agricultural land to give for non-irrigated purposes, so the land could have remained agrarian.


As in Punjab, the landlord claimed on the land concentrated the land to few landholders, the endowment of lands to Mirs as Jagiri land created the huge disparity among land distribution. However, the occupancy tenants (Maurausi) used to exercise wherein the tenants could attain the land directly from the government. Considerably, the property rights were in the hand of the British on those occupancy lands. These lands were given on the lease to the cultivator for only irrigation purposes.


Land Disparity at the time of Independence:

At the time of independence, the British left the land system into huge inequality where the large spectrum of land was of few landlords. The case was both in Punjab and Sindh. (fig 1.1) shows that how much the unequal distribution of land resources was in 1947 where only 0.5 percent of people owned around 25 percent over 500 acres in Punjab, and in Sindh, only 1 percent owned 35 percent over 500 acres. The majority of people, who were tenants and peasants, owned very less. However, in both provinces, similar kinds of data are seen, but with more focus, one could know that in Sindh, the people who owned 5 acres or less had very less amount of land ownership out of total land as compared with Punjab.


Percentage of landholding in Punjab & Sindh in 1947
Fig 1.1

Analyzing the land distribution, Muslim league, post-independence, felt the land reforms in the country. Consequently, the first committee was formed in 1948, named the "Agrarian Reforms committee." Because Pakistan and India both inherited the agriculture sector as the backbone of the economy, there was a dire need for Land Reforms. The committee suggested that the gifted British land as the Jagirs must be taken back from Zamidars without any compensation and redistributed to small tenants and peasants. Moreover, the ceiling should be put that no individual could have more than 150 acres irrigated and 450 acres of non-irrigated land. However, due to the influence of elite landholders in Pakistan politics, the plan could not be executed, and the reforms were not initiated.


The ramifications of not implementing Land Reforms were very crucial to Pakistan's agriculture sector. The consequences can be seen between 1949 and 1958, where the agriculture growth was extremely stagnant that its average annual growth remained 1.49 per cent which was half of the population growth. As an agrarian country, Pakistan's economic and socio-economic conditions were not satisfactory due to the economic dependency on the agriculture sector. Its slow pace was the adaptation of the British-left land system and not having the rightful redistribution.


Ayub's First Land Reforms 1959:

The one thing that was cleared was that if Pakistan wants to be prosperous, its agriculture growth is mandatory and can only be functionalized through Land reforms. Because vast chunks of land were in the hands of few elites, the lower strata could not reap the economic benefits from the land resource, and the surplus extraction would be in the pockets of Jagirdars, and their reluctance to invest in Agriculture growth could make the situation more worsen.

The Ayub Khan introduced the first land reforms in 1959, known as Ayub's Land Reform. These come into existence by Martial Law Regulation (MLR-64). Since independence, it was the first time that the ceilings were being put on excessive landholdings. According to the provisions, a person can only uphold 500 acres irrigated and 1000 acres of non-irrigated lands. The surplus would be captured by the state and redistributed to those with no land assets.

Some argue that the Ayub's Reforms were not so remarkable, but the statistical data shows that Pakistan witnessed immense growth in its Agriculture sector between 1959 and 1970. The data (Fig 2.2) shows that between 1959 and 1970, the growth rate was groundbreaking. For example, from 1959 (when the land reforms were instituted) to 1964, the growth rate surpassed 3.5 per cent, but between 1964 to 1970, it was more than 6 per cent. It may be because of the Green Revolution period wherein the agriculture productivity boosted to the outstanding point. The dams were built, and the canal system was improved, making Pakistan the best irrigation system country in the world.


Moreover, technological innovation such as installing Tube wells, the inclusion of Tractors, and genetically modified seeds grew the agriculture sector. However, whether Ayub's reform was the main driving force or not, the reality is that the mid-1960s era was golden throughout Pakistan history. The socio-economic conditions were improved for tenants and peasants.


Pakistan Agriculture growth from 1947 to 1964


Bhutto's Land Reform 1972:

However, the emergence of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as a populist leader and getting a large vote bank, especially from the poor class, proves that the people were searching for change. Bhutto started his political tenure as a cabinet member of the Ayub Khan government, but the later disagreement with Ayub’s policy was evident, leading him to Stand as a democratic leader. The charismatic Bhutto claimed himself as the voice of farmers and promised land reforms whereby the poor people could get the land shares.


In pursuance of his promises, Bhutto promulgated his Land Reforms called Martial Law Regulation – 115 in 1972, later transformed to Land Reforms Regulation (LLR - 1972). The new law annulled the 1959 reforms and brought new provisions to the legislative and executive levels. Bhutto reforms were different from the Ayub’e reforms for the following reasons: (1) in Ayub’s reforms, the surplus lands of the elites were redistributing and were sold to the tenants while Bhutto redistributed freely. (2) Ayub ceiling was 500 acres and 1000 acres on irrigated and non-irrigated land, respectively. However, Bhutto reduced it to 150 irrigated and 300 non-irrigated.


Ayub and bhutto land reforms

However, according to some, Bhutto’s land reform wasn’t proved much effective because due to his charismatic rhetoric, many landlords, who were not happy with Ayub’s policies, turned with Bhutto. Even he was also a landlord and had a massive influence in Sindh and Punjab. On the other hand, those landlords, who opposed Bhutto’s regime, feared political victimization. The nationalization process was not impartial. Even in most of the cases, those who supported PPP were exempted from accountability.


Bhutto's Second Land Reforms 1977:

In 1977, Bhutto again promulgated new land reforms. The reason for bringing reforms was that the 1972 reforms could not give the desired results. He made a few changes in the former: the ceiling on irrigated land was further reduced to 100 acres, and non-irrigated land was reduced to 200 acres. Moreover, the flat tax, which was introduced in 1972’s law, was replaced with the agriculture income tax, and those, who owned less than 25 acres, were exempted from the tax.