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Land Revenue Systems in British India

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  • Last Updated : 12 Jan, 2022

In the pre-colonial period, the Indian economy was predominantly agrarian and the primary occupation of the people was agriculture. The British conquerors tried to derive the maximum economic advantage and therefore had to rely on land revenue as the principal source of income for the state. After the battle of Plassey, the British secured the right to collect revenue from the province of Bengal.

The first land income settlement was introduced by Warren Hastings assuming that all land belonged to the sovereign. The changes introduced by him include:

  1. Auctioning the land to the highest bidder.
  2. Old zamindars /families were thrown away, and the annual settlement was changed to quinquennial (five-yearly) and back to normal again.

The early administrators of EIC acted on the principle that the company was entitled to the entire economic rent leaving merely the expenses of cultivation and wages to the cultivators, which resulted in the decline of agriculture. Large areas went out of cultivation, and famines occurred frequently. The excessive demand for income from land has been shown to be counterproductive. This adverse situation forced the policy framers to experiment with land tenures in India. The Britishers adopted three different types of land tenures in India:

Zamindari System or Permanent Settlement

In the year 1793, this system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis. This system was confined to the areas of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. Under the system, the zamindar was recognized as the owner of the land, who had the power to mortgage, bequeath and sell the land. They collected land revenue of which one-eleventh was retained by them as their remuneration, and the rest was deposited by the company. Land revenue demand was fixed, but the rent realized by the cultivator remained unsettled.

Features of Zamindari system:

  • Zamindars  were recognized as the hereditary owner of the land and received the right of inheritance.
  • Landlords can sell or transfer the land as per their wishes.
  • The landlord’s property remains as long as it pays a certain income to the government on the specified day. If they don’t pay, their rights will be extinguished and the land will be auctioned.
  • The amount to be paid to the landlords was a fixed amount. It was decided that it would not increase in the future (forever).
  • The fixed amount was 10/11 of revenue to the Britishers and 1/11 of revenue to zamindar. This tax rate was much higher than in England.
  • The zamindar also had to give the tenant a patent describing the land given to him and the rent that the zamindar had to pay.
  • The responsibility of looking after the peasants fell on the shoulders of the Indian landlords.

Because of the permanent nature of the arrangement, everyone had a sense of security. The company knew how much profit it was making. The owner was also assured of the amount. After all, the farmers also relied on their property instead of a hoof and knew how much rent they would pay.

Demerits of Zamindari system

  • The immediate effect of the land revenue system on the zamindars was disastrous. Many of them could not derive land income from their tenants and therefore could not pay the government money on time. As a result, their land was sold.
  • Contrary to their expectations, the zamindars did not show any particular interest in developing their land. The landlord became an absentee landowner in Calcutta or country towns.
  • The permanent settlement disregarded the rights of its inhabitants. They were completely exposed to the landowners, making them insecure at any moment. Landlords can ask the tenant for any amount.
  • The government lost a share of the unearned increment forever. 

Ryotwari System

The Ryotwari System was introduced by Thomas Munro in May 1820. This system was confined in most of southern India, first introduced in Tamil Nadu, then the areas of Bombay, Madras, some part of east Punjab, Coorg Province and Assam. Under this system, the Ryots (peasants) had received the land rights of the land, and they were individually responsible for the payment of land revenue to the states. 

Features of Ryotwari System

  • Land revenue was paid by the farmers directly to the state, that’s why this system helped to the elimination of the middlemen, who often oppressed villagers.
  • As long as peasants paid the tax for the land, the peasants could not be evicted from their land.
  • The Assessment upon the individual cultivators, measurement of fields and estimate of produce.
  • In this system, the Government rates were fixed, for wetland and dryland, the rates were 60% and 50% respectively. 

Demerits Ryotwari System

  • Excessive rate of revenue due to which agriculture had become unremunerative.
  • The method of collection was harsh.
  • He revolutionized the relationship between creditors and debtors, creating a class of usurers.
  • The interest rate was high, and the cultivator could only pay the interest.
  • The value of the landed property declined.
  • The measurement was incorrect, and the production estimate was faulty.
  • There was no appeal to the courts against the overvaluation.

Mahalwari System

The Mahalwari system was introduced by Holt Mackenzie in the year 1822 and this system was modified by Lord William Bentinck in 1833. This version of settlement was introduced into the Ganges Valley, the North-Western Provinces, parts of central India and Punjab. 

Features of Mahalwari System:

  • In this system, the basis of assessment was the produce of a mahal, and all the proprietors of a mahal were jointly responsible for the management and payment of the revenues, sometimes, this Mahal was constituted by one or more villages. 
  • This was a two-fold settlement. The occupancy and ownership rights were reserved for the individual peasants, and the cultivation was done individually. 
  • They were required to pay the land revenue through the village headman or village leaders collectively. The cultivation was carried on individually, but the land revenue was paid collectively.
  • The state reserved the right to direct management of the agricultural economy by introducing the concept of average rents for different soil classes.
  • In this system, the Government’s revenue rate was fixed i.e. 66% and the agreement of this settlement was done for up to 30 years.

Demerits of Mahalwari System:

  • In actual practice, rights were made to certain leading groups of prominent families.
  • The peasants, in general, were driven to the position of tenants, co-workers, etc.
  • The economic and social inequalities increased, and the peasants were overburdened.
  • There was no progress in the field of productivity.
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