How Much Property One Can Own According To Land Ceiling Laws?


Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for almost 70-80% of rural India consisting of a variety of crops and non-food items. After gaining independence, various reforms were brought in the country, Land Reforms being one of them. The Land Reforms Act was introduced to abolish the Zamindari System existing in the country since the British Raj period. These reforms were brought in to ensure equal distribution of land and to make sure that the poor farmers or landowners were not mistreated by the rich farmers. This would reduce economic disparities, thereby creating more employment opportunities.

The framework of law would be known by the Land Ceiling Act and the focus of the act was to set a cap for maximum area of land that any individual would hold on their name. Thus the surplus land, i.e., any land that would surpass the mentioned limit would be acquired with or without payment, and would be distributed amongst small farmers.

The Land Ceiling Act was enacted by many states, beginning with Jammu & Kashmir, followed by West Bengal and so on, but failed due to legislation flaws. The laws varied from state to state. Some states maintained land ceiling on the basis of landowners, whereas, others did on the basis of families.


To ensure uniformity in land ceiling laws, a new policy was introduced in 1971. This was known as the New Land Ceiling Policy, 1972.

The main features of the 1972 Policy were:

1. Lowering of ceiling to 28 acres of wetland and 54 acres of unirrigated land

2. A change over to family rather than the individual as the unit for determining land holdings lowered ceiling for a family of five.

3. Fewer exemptions from ceilings

4. Retrospective application of the law for declaring benami transactions null and void; and

5. No scope to move the court on ground of infringement of fundamental rights

Besides, national guidelines were issued in 1972, which specified the land ceiling limit as:

1. The best land 10 acres

2. For second class land 18-27 acres; and

3. For the rest, 27-54 acres with a slightly higher limit in the hill and desert areas


The Urban land Act, 1976 was implemented in 17 states across India along with a few Union territories for urban development on large areas of available land. However, the act was repealed in 1999 in Union Territories and states such as Haryana, Punjab among other few. Over the years, the act was gradually repealed in other states also, Jharkhand being the last in 2011. However, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal still have the act in force along with states such as Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya to name a few.

  • The Urban Land Act, 1976 was repealed due to the following issues:
  • The act was not able to fulfil its purpose.
  • Acquiring lands for urban projects became difficult, thus, growth was affected.
  • The ownership of land was not declared by individuals in states
  • The vacant land was used to brought up residential colonies
  • Too many court cases evolved


After the Urban Land Ceiling Act, 1976 was repealed by majority of states, they came up with land ceiling acts for their individual states. Thus, the ownership of land depends on the distribution or basis formed by the state laws. Starting with Andhra Pradesh, one can hold an agricultural land between 10 acres to 54 acres according to respective classes of lands. However, if the land falls under any one of the eight types of agricultural land exempted in the act, as per section 23, the ceiling limit will not apply.

In Assam, anyone who holds more than 21 acres of land is considered to have a surplus. However Section 2 of the Act exempts 5 categories of agricultural land including tea gardening and cultivation as it has quite a big holding.

In Bihar, the ceiling limit ranges between 15 acres to 45 acres. However, that is only on paper since several landowners in the state have an effective control on at least 1000 acres of land.

In Gujarat, there are broadly two categories exempted as per section 3 of the Act. The first one includes land held by the government for universities, hospitals, tidal land, etc. The second one includes industrial undertakings and land held for Gaushalas. However, 54 acres of land is allowed for holding.

In Himachal Pradesh, religious or charitable institutes are not provided any exemption. The ceiling limit provided is around 10-30 acres depending on the irrigation facilities. Likewise, Karnataka has 10-54 acres of permissible land and has not provided exemptions for religious or charitable institutes. Madhya Pradesh also has a limit of 10-54 acres of land by virtue of Section 7 and section 3 of the Act, although the cultivable land is not proportionate to the size of the state and almost 30% is covered by forest area.

In Rajasthan, the ceiling limit varies between 18-175 acres of land as the state has a vast dessert area. Section 22 of the act exempts land for Gaushala and other religious purposes.

In West Bengal, Section 14M provides the ceiling limit on the basis of marriage and family, ranging between 6.17 standard acres to 17.29 standard acres.


The enforcement of ceiling laws has always been a topic of controversy about the rights of farmers and economic development. The motive with which the act was enacted has definitely been lost over the years and farmers the most affected by virtue of the legal flaws. While every government had the opportunity to introduce some new reforms or change the existing laws in the support of the farmers, they seem to neglect this opportunity. Land ceiling laws vary from state to state, however, the zamindari system still prevails in the society in some form or the other.

While every state moves towards urban development, they forget that agriculture is the main occupation of the country and they cannot compromise on the rights and livelihood of the farmers continuously. Thus, there is a need of new set of ceiling laws that not only ensures security to farmers, but also utilizes land in a manner that the state can develop by setting up industries, private companies, residential housings, etc.

This article has been written by Nandita Sharma, student of LLB, at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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