2. Ceilings and Redistribution of Land

The majority af Asian countries have issued laws fixing the maximum size of land holdings. Ceilings have been fixed as follows:

In some countries, expropriation of land of absentees was higher than that for resident landlords, or the absentees were even totally expropiated as, for instance, in Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia.

These ceilings, which are rather high in view of the shortage of land in most countries, are even further raised in a number of countries by special concessions in favour of landowners. Sometimes, orchards, seed farms, mechanized farms, etc. are exempted (West-Pakistan). Quite often landlords are permitted to redistribute land among the members of their family or to organize cooperative farming societies before the application of the ceilings law. Often landlords can decide what part of their land they want expropriated, so that they can choose the least productive land. Thus, a great deal of waste land, cemeteries etc., useless for distribution, has been confiscated. Compensation has usually been fixed at a high level and only a few countries provide for its investment to the benefit of the general economy. The best known example is Taiwan where part of the compensation was in shares of industrial undertakings, and the Philippines, where the interest rate for government bonds increased proportionately with the period during which these bonds were retained without being sold.

To prevent an increase in the number of uneconomic holdings, some countries have fixed minimum size of holdings, it being provided that holdings of a minimum size should not be further reduced by partition due to inheritance.

Implementation of ceiling laws was often prevented by the vested interests of landowners, who took advantage of political power, lack of records on ownership and the shortcomings in the administrative system. Especially in South and South-East Asia, ceiling legislation has therefore not been very successful. The area expropriated and redistributed to new owners is limited. Some tenants, usually those belonging to the privileged class of occupancy tenants, became owners, i. e. land was distributed mainly to those who already possessed rights on the land.

Ceiling legislation hardly affected inequalities at the village level: the laws did not seriously affect the rural upper class (except some absentees or very big landlords). The peasant landlords could retain their property and power. At the same time, the law rarely benefited sharecroppers, and nearly never improved the situation of landless labourers. Due to a variety of factors the limited area available for redistribution, the desire of the rural upper classes to have access to cheap labour, and the high purchase price for land asked from beneficiaries, sharecroppers and labourers were prevented from becoming landowners. Consequently, the ceiling laws had only a limited influence on production: in some cases, the former occupancy tenants may have invested more after becoming owners and landlords may have developed more interest in agriculture after changing to self-cultivation, but these cases are few and far between. The frustration of the rural poor, whose hopes had been raised and who were disappointed by the meagre outcome of the land reform laws, is a factor of much greater importance. Even worse, the emphasis placed by propaganda on ceiling laws to quite an extent diverted attention from other measures which would have benefited much larger numbers of rural population.