Gist of EPW October Week 3, 2018

The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective. 

Topic covered in this article are:

  1. The Land Conundrum
  2. Criminal Laws and Civil Rights


The Land Conundrum

Highlights of the Agriculture Census 2015–16

  • The total area under farming in India declined from 159.59 million hectares in 2010–11 to 157.14 million hectares in 2015–16.
  • More women are participating in the farming sector with an overall increase of small and medium land holding farmers and tillers.
  • The percentage of female operational land holders increased from 12.79% in 2010-11 to 13.87% in 2015-16.
  • Operational Holding – All land which is used wholly or partly for Agriculture production and is operated as one technical unit by one person alone or with others without regard to the title, legal form, size or location.
  • Technical Unit – A technical unit has been defined as that unit which is under the same management and has the same means of production such as labour force, machinery and animals.
  • By the number of people tilling the land, Uttar Pradesh topped the chart followed by Bihar and Maharshtra.
  • In terms of total operated area: Rajasthan comes first followed by Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
  • Among the states, the highest increase in number of operational holdings is topped by Madhya Pradesh followed by Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Nagaland.
  • Goa has witnessed the sharpest fall and Manipur had the lowest in number of operational holdings.
  • In terms of area 14 states account for 88.08% of operational holdings. They are: West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha , Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Kerala.
  • Around 86.21% of India’s cultivated and uncultivated land is under the small and marginal farmers holding less than 2 hectares of land.
  • Semi-medium and medium operational holdings (2-10 ha) in 2015-16 were 13.22 per cent, with 43.61 per cent of operated area.

There are five kinds of Land Holdings in India, depending on various sizes as follows:

  • Marginal holdings: Size 1 hectare or less
  • Small holdings: Size 1 to 2 hectares
  • Semi-medium holdings: Size 2 to 4 hectares
  • Medium holdings: Size 4 to 10 hectares
  • Large holdings: Size above 10 hectare

Analysis of the Report

  • The average size of operational holdings in India declining reflecting the pressure of the increasing farming population on agricultural land, which is a critical factor of production that is also limited in supply.
  • It confirms the persisting trend of fragmentation of landholdings and their skewed distribution across size classes.
  • As the size of the landholding itself is a significant factor determining the sustainability of farm incomes, these provisional results are significant pointers of agrarian distress and prevailing discontent in the rural heartlands across India.
  • Studies also show that only a small proportion of the small and marginal farmers have had access to institutional credit and that they often tended to depend on middlemen.
  • Further, as the results of the situation assessment survey (2013) confirmed, it is only to farmers with landholdings of more than one hectare that positive net monthly income, which is the difference between income from all sources and consumption expenditure, accrues.
  • Therefore, marginal holdings of less than one hectare are too small to provide farmer households with sufficient incomes.
  • It is the low level of returns from farming that has led to the persistence of agrarian distress, and the fragmentation of holdings has significantly contributed to this phenomenon.
  • It is these farmers taken together who comprise the most pauperised sections of the agrarian community in India today.
  • In addition, studies show that caste-based discrimination places socially marginalised groups like SCs at a disadvantage in agriculture, as they are likely to have lesser access to resources, resulting in lower levels of productivity and realisation of returns.
  • Given the lack of sufficient off-farm and non-farm employment, the increasing fragmentation is thus indicative of the intensification of the agrarian distress and the pauperisation of the peasantry tied to agriculture for livelihood, with no exit options.

Way Forward

  • To improve the situation there is an urgent need to consolidate operational holdings through reforms so as to enable the economies of scale to operate in farming.
  • Although legalising tenancy, liberalisation of lease markets, and the setting up of land banks have been discussed and deliberated for a while, the consolidation of landholdings would not be an easy process, especially for small and marginal farmers, due to the dearth of accurate land records.
  • Updating of land records and titling would also be required before any attempts at consolidation of holdings.
  • Cooperative farming or organising small and marginal farmers into producer companies would also be a possible solution to overcome the problem of fragmented landholdings.
  • However, the state would need to play an active role as a facilitator in the consolidation process, especially to enable socially marginalised groups to gain more access to land, as most states have failed to implement the necessary land and agrarian reforms.

Criminal Laws and Civil Rights


  • In the past few weeks, constitution benches of the Supreme Court have struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (Navtej Singh Johar and Ors v Union of India 2018) and Section 497 of the IPC (Joseph Shine v Union of India 2018), partly upheld the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and partly struck it down (K S Puttaswamy v Union of India 2018), and held that the rules in Kerala which prevented women from entering the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala were unconstitutional (Indian Young Lawyers Association v State of Kerala 2018).
  • These are important judgments that have tangibly advanced the cause of women’s rights, LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights, and the right to privacy, even if these are baby steps in relation to the larger causes.
  • However, it would be a mistake to assume that these are the only kinds of cases that advance or diminish important civil and political rights in India.

Criminal Laws Judgments

  • Less discussed are those judgments where the Supreme Court is interpreting criminal laws: the all-important trifecta of the IPC, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Even though their origins lie in colonial rule, they do contain valuable legal rights for an accused in a trial and those facing state action.
  • To the modern observer, it may seem odd that the Constitution of India does not explicitly enshrine some of the most important rights of an accused in a criminal trial: the right to be represented by a lawyer, the non-admissibility of extrajudicial confessions, the right to be confronted with charges, and the right to cross-examine witnesses or lead evidence.
  • Every day, these laws are being interpreted by the Supreme Court and the high courts, and are being applied by the trial courts in numerous ways, affecting the rights of the lakhs of people facing trial in the Indian criminal justice system.

Yashwant v State of Maharashtra (2018)

  • According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights, there were 1,674 custodial deaths in India between 1 April 2017 and 28 February 2018.
  • This is a figure that has risen over the years, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s attempts in D K Basu v State of West Bengal (1997) and other cases to put an end to custodial torture and deaths.
  • In Yashwant v State of Maharashtra (2018), the Supreme Court has, for the first time ever, enhanced the punishment awarded to nine policemen who had been convicted of causing a custodial death.
  • These nine policemen had picked up an innocent man, Joinus Adams Yellamatti, under the guise of “investigating” a case, thrashed him in the police lock-up, and left him there overnight, only to find that he had died in the morning.
  • Convicted by the trial court and the Bombay High Court, the nine policemen had been given relatively light sentences of three years of rigorous imprisonment each.
  • When they still persisted with an appeal in the Supreme Court, not only did the Court dismiss their appeals, it enhanced their sentence to the maximum possible in this case, to seven years of rigorous imprisonment each.

Mallikarjun Kodagali v State of Karnataka (2018)

  • In Mallikarjun Kodagali v State of Karnataka (2018) a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court was called upon to decide whether the victim of a crime had the statutory right to file an appeal in the High Court of Karnataka against the acquittal of those accused of attacking him.
  • The judiciary decided two important points: one, that irrespective of when the complaint was made, so long as the trial court judgment was delivered after 2009 (when Section 372 of the CrPC was amended to allow victims to file an appeal), an appeal by a victim would be maintainable; and two, such an appeal did not need to seek the “leave” of the high court.


  • Civil and political rights are not always fought over and debated upon in the Supreme Court or even in the high courts on a daily basis.
  • It is not the writ petitions asking for the striking down of precolonial laws or post-independence ones that are necessarily the most important battles when it comes to guarding fundamental rights.
  • Every time that an accused is produced before the magistrate, every time that a magistrate is called upon to decide on a question of bail, and every time that an accused fights to prove the absence of evidence, these are all small but significant battles in the larger war.

For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”.