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सेमिनार: अंग्रेज़ी सीखने का अवसर (23 सितंबर: दोपहर 3 बजे)
Land Revenue Systems During British Rule
May 14, 2015

Tax from the land was a major source of revenue for the kings and emperors from ancient times. But the ownership pattern of land had witnessed changes over centuries. During Kingship, land was divided into Jagirs, Jagirs were alloted to Jagirdars, these Jagirdars split the land they got and allocated to sub-ordinate Zamindars. Zamindars made peasants cultivate the land, in-return collected part of their revenue as tax.


It is a well-known fact that India is primarily an agricultural country. The overwhelming majority of its people depend on agriculture for sustenance. If the crop is good, prosperity prevails otherwise it leads to famine and starvation. Till the 18th century, there was a strong relation between agriculture and cottage industries in India. India was not only ahead in the field of agriculture than most other countries but it also held a prominent place in the world in the field of handicraft production. The British destroyed handicraft industry in the country while unleashing far-reaching changes in the country’s agrarian structure by introducing new systems of land tenures and policies of revenue administration. India’s national income, foreign trade, industrial expansion and almost every other dominion of economic activity, depended on the country’s agriculture. The British policies revolved around getting maximum income from land without caring much about Indian interests of the cultivators. They abandoned the age -old system of revenue administration and adopted in their place a ruthless policy of revenue collection. After their advent, the British principally adopted three types of land tenures.

Roughly 19 per cent of the total area under the British rule, i.e., Bengal, Bihar, Banaras, division of the Northern Western Provinces and northern Karnataka, were brought under the Zamindari System or the Permanent Settlement. The second revenue system, called the Mahalwari Settlement, was introduced in about 30 per cent of the total area under British rule i.e., in major parts of the North Western Provinces, Central Provinces and the Punjab with some variations. The Ryotwari System covered about 51 per cent of the area under British rule comprising part of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies, Assam and certain other parts of British India.

Zamindari System 

The main features of the Permanent Settlement were as follows:

  • Zamindari System was introduced by Cornwallis in 1793 through Permanent Settlement Act.

  • It was introduced in provinces of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Varanasi.

  • Also known as Permanent Settlement System.

  • The zamindar was recognised as the owners of land as long as they paid the revenue to the East India Company regularly.

  • The amount of revenue that the zamindar had to pay to the Company was firmly fixed and would not be raised under any circumstances. In other words the Government of the East India Company got 89% leaving the rest to the zamindars.

    ⇒ The realized amount would be divided into 11 parts. 1/11 of the share belongs to Zamindars and 10/11 of the share belongs to East India Company.
    ⇒ The ryots became tenants since they were considered the tillers of the soil.
    ⇒ This settlement took away the administrative and judicial functions of the zamindars.

The Permanent Settlement of Cornwallis was bitterly criticised on the point that it was adopted with ‘undue haste’. The flagrant defect of this arrangement was that no attempt was made ever either to survey the lands or to assess their value. The assessment was made roughly on the basis of accounts of previous collections and it was done in an irregular manner.

Effect of the system

  • The effects of this system both on the zamindars and ryots were disastrous. As the revenue fixed by the system was too high, many zamindars defaulted on payments. Their property was seized and distress sales were conducted leading to their ruin. The rich zamindars who led luxurious lives left their villages and migrated into towns. They entrusted their rent collection to agents who exacted all kinds of illegal taxes besides the legal ones from the ryots.

  • This had resulted in a great deal of misery amongst the peasants and farmers. Therefore Lord Cornwallis’ idea of building a system of benevolent land-lordism failed. Baden Powell remarks, “The zamindars as a class did nothing for the tenants”. Though initially the Company gained financially, in the long run the Company suffered financial loss because land productivity was high, income from it was meagre since it was a fixed sum. It should be noted that in pre- British period a share on the crop was fixed as land tax.

  • Nevertheless, this system proved to be a great boon to the zamindars and to the government of Bengal. It formed a regular income and stabilised the government of the Company. The zamindars prospered at the cost of the welfare of the tenants.

Ryotwari System

  • Ryotwari System was introduced by Thomas Munro in 1820.

  • Major areas of introduction include Madras, Bombay, and parts of Assam and Coorgh provinces of British India.

  • In Ryotwari System the ownership rights were handed over to the peasants. British Government collected taxes directly from the peasants.

  • There was no intermediary like a Zamindar between the peasant and the government. So long as he paid the revenue in time, the peasant was not evicted from the land. Besides, the land revenue was fixed for a period from 20 to 40 years at a time.

  • The revenue rates of Ryotwari System were 50% where the lands were dry and 60% in irrigated land.

  • Every peasant was held personally responsible for direct payment of land revenue to the government. However, in the end, this system also failed. Under this settlement it was certainly not possible to collect revenue in a systematic manner. The revenue officials indulged in harsh measures for non payment or delayed payment.

Mahalwari System

  • Mahalwari system was introduced in 1833 during the period of William Bentick.

  • It was introduced in Central Province, North-West Frontier, Agra, Punjab, Gangetic Valley, etc of British India.

  • The Mahalwari system had many provisions of both the Zamindari System and Ryotwari System.

  • In this system, the land was divided into Mahals. Each Mahal comprises one or more villages.

  • Ownership rights were vested with the peasants.

  • The villages committee was held responsible for collection of the taxes.

  • Though the Mahalwari system eliminated middlemen between the government and the village community and brought about improvement in irrigation facility, yet its benefit was largely enjoyed by the government.

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