Immediately after the swearing in of the Communist ministry in 1957, the Government had issued a historic ordinance. The ordinance prohibited the eviction of people from their tenancy land, the land occupied by them for dwelling and homestead. It was the first step of the comprehensive land legislation which the ministry was preparing.
As per the constitutional provisions the ordinance was presented in the next session of the Assembly and was passed. Thus the collection of arrears of rent and eviction from land and homestead was declared illegal. The leaseholders who possessed and occupied land could dwell on and cultivate their land without any fear.
The Communist Government introduced such a bill after studying the experience in the neighboring states. Land lords in other states evicted their tenants and hutment dwellers from their land by utilizing the time gap they got when the bill was presented and got passed in the legislature. By the time the law was ready for enforcement, the homestead dwellers and tenants would have already been evicted from their lands. In order to avoid this kind of an eventuality, the Government of Kerala issued the ordinance first and a bill legalising it was passed by the legislature later.
The result was then, all collection of arrears and eviction were prevented till the legislative process extending over months was completed. The law which empowered the peasants to hold on their land had paved the way for social change in Kerala. The background of raising such a slogan was the activities of the peasant organisation that came up in the Malabar region in the 1930s and the organisation of the agricultural labourers which came in to existence in the beginning of 1940s in Alappuzha, which later spread throughout Travancore-Cochin region.
The law which was enacted by the Government of 1957 was almost undermined by the right wing Government which came to power later. Their intervention was mainly three-fold.
1. The consent of the president was delayed to the bill passed by the Assembly.
2. Provisions of the bill were questioned in the court.
3. Loopholes were created in the law using authority.
As a result the quantum of surplus land available in Kerala got reduced. Moreover, provisions were added to legalise gift deeds. Though provision was there to fix ceiling to individuals at 7.5 acres and 15 acres of land for families, by utilizing the same provision surplus land was converted in to non surplus. It should be seen that such a situation was created because of the intervention of the right wing forces and the limitations of the system.
Attempts were made to overcome this difficulty by the coalition Government of 1967-69. The policies of the Government of 1957-59 were carried forward. Specific provisions were included in the bill with regard to ceiling of land, land holding, and distribution of surplus land. Penal provisions for not declaring surplus land, confiscation of surplus land and fixity of tenure to hutment dweller were the features of the law. The new bill enabled the hutment dweller to have right over the ten cents of land and the hut in it. Such a stipulation was enacted for the first time in a non-communist country.
The land reforms bill first introduced in 1957 was finalised after 12 years in October, 1969. The surplus land struggles organised by the peasants and agricultural labourers’ organisations compelled the Kerala Government to enforce the new Act.
But this Government was toppled. The convention of peasants and agricultural labourers held at Alappuzha on 14th December, 1969, gave a call for an agitation. This struggle played a major role in implementing the law which so far remained a paper only.
Land legislation in Kerala is completed within the limits of the existing system. The land legislation in Kerala had attracted the attention of the entire world. It is the basis of the Kerala model of development which is being internationally discussed.
This does not mean that, there is no land problem remaining in Kerala. The party has recognised certain drawbacks which have to be rectified. It is related to surplus land and the right wing is responsible for that. As per the estimates of 1959 there were 7, 20,000 acres of surplus land. But as a result of the dilution of the provisions of law, only 93,178 acres of land could be distributed.
The practical way to solve the land problem in the present circumstances in Kerala is to confiscate surplus land and distribute it among the land less. The State Committee of the Party has decided to go ahead with measures on that basis. Accordingly the following resolution was adopted. It explains thus:
“The remaining surplus land will be taken over. Time bound steps will be taken to resume the alienated state owned land. The whole scheduled tribes will be supplied with cultivable land by utilising the new forest law. Attempts will be made to make cultivable land available to other weaker sections also. The aim is to provide at least house sites to all landless people. All speculative land deals will be stopped. But necessary land will be provided for industrial purposes.''
The CPI (M) is carrying out a programme to implement an approach for a further advancement of land reforms in this manner.