Land Revenue System

What is Land Revenue?

Definition of land revenue: Land revenue is tax or revenue levied on agricultural production on land. It is either collected as a percentage of the share of total crop or a monetary value is fixed on the land to be paid by the farmer. It has been the major source of revenue for empires.

Land Revenue System Under Mughals

Before the Britishers, the land revenue system in major parts of India was based on Mughal land revenue system. The land revenue system under Mughals can be divided into following three categories

Ghalla Bakshi (crop sharing) also known as Batai and Bhaoli. Abu Fazal in his Ain-i-Akbari has described three methods of crops sharing, they are:

  • Khet Batai: In this method, the standing crop was divided by dividing the field between the share of the ruler and the farmer.
  • Lang Batai: In this system, the harvested crops were divided without the separation of grains from it.
  • Division of grains at the threshing floor after the grain from the crop has been obtained. The division was on the basis of an agreement. The crops sharing method was expensive as the state had to employ a large number of employees for the division of the crops. However, it was referred as the best method of revenue assessment system and Collection.

Kankut/ Dambandi: The word Kan means grain and Kat means to estimate, while the word Dam means grain and Bandi means fixing anything. In this method, the field was measured and then, per bigha productivity of good, middle and bad land was determined by an estimation. The revenue demand was based on this estimation.

Zabti or Dhasala system: This land revenue system was initially started by Sher Shah Suri and later adopted and modified by Akbar. In this system, the land was divided into four types as per the continuity and discontinuity of cultivation.

  • Polaj: The land which was annually cultivated without any discontinuity of cultivation.
  • Parudi: The land which was left uncultivated for some time to regain fertility.
  • Chachar: These lands were left uncultivated for three to four years.
  • Bankar: These lands were left uncultivated for more than five years or even longer.

Akbar appointed 'Karori to measure the actual produce, prices, and productivity of the land. On the basis of the information by Karoris, the average production and prices of crops were fixed by taking into account the estimation of last 10 years. One-third of the crop production was states minimum share. In general, under all systems, states share varied between one-third to two-thirds and even three-fourth in some cases.

Land Revenue System Under British

British got Diwani rights of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa in 1765. The major aim of British East India Company was to increase their land revenue collection. So its policies were aimed at getting maximum income from land without caring about its consequences on cultivators and peasants.

They introduced the policy of revenue collection by abandoning the age-old system of revenue administration. The entire burden of Company s profits, cost of its administration and expenses on wars and conquests were mainly borne by the peasants.

Permanent Settlement System

Also known as Jagirdari, Malguzari or Bizwedari, it was introduced in the 19% of total area under British rule. This was implemented in states of Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Northern Carnatic and Banaras divisions after the failure of revenue farming system in Bengal in which the right to collect revenue was given to the highest bidder which was introduced by Lord Warren Hastings.

In 1790 under Lord Cornwallis, a 10-year revenue settlement was made with the Zamindars and they were recognized as the owners of the land who could mortgage or sell the land, from being just the agent of the government for revenue collection. In 1793, this was converted into a permanent settlement and zamindari system was made hereditary and the land was made transferable.

The tenants were now at the mercy of zamindars and their customary rights were sacrificed. The zamindars had to pay 10/11th of rent taken from the peasant to the company and keep only 1/11th of revenue for themselves. This resulted in illegal extortions from peasants by the zamindars. One may note here that the state's share of revenue was fixed and no limit was kept on revenue collected by zamindar from the cultivator. In the very first year of its adoption, the company's revenues rose by 80%.

Reasons for Adopting the Permanent Settlement

  • Due to the failure of the 'farming system' adopted by Lord Warren Hastings a new system of land revenue was required.
  • The permanent settlement was to ensure a stable and fixed income for the company.
  • To reduce the expenses of the Company on periodic revenue settlements and land assessments. It was also to end the corruption by the officials in revenue assessments.
  • To reduce the burden of revenue collection on the company and to create a loyal group of zamindars whose interests were aligned to the continuation of British Raj.
  • The company thought that fixed rates would increase investments in agriculture by the zamindars and company could benefit from the taxes from increased trade and commerce.

Impact of Land Revenue System Under Permanent Settlement

  • As the land revenue was going to be permanently fixed, the company fixed the rates arbitrarily high (10/11th of total collection) much higher than the past rates. This placed a high burden on the zamindars which were ultimately borne by the peasants.
  • Peasants were left at the mercy of zamindars as no rules were made for revenue collection by zamindars. The property rights of peasants suffered and they faced evictions and 'begar .
  • It led to the growth of new landlords as the property was now transferable and those zamindars who could not pay rents, their lands were auctioned.
  • It also led to the growth of a system of absentee landlordism. These zamindars were interested only to maximize their revenue collection and had no interest in the investments in agriculture.
  • A new class of landless cultivators, agricultural coolies on one hand and money lenders on the other was now created.
  • High revenue demand and harsh methods of collection, eventually led to frequent land transfers which didn't benefit zamindars either. Company's revenue collection also fell as agricultural output declined. By 1770's Bengal witnessed famines.

Ryotwari System

Ryotwari system was adopted in 51% of the total area under British rule that is in state of Malabar, Coimbatore, Madras, Assam, and Madurai and later it was extended to Maharashtra and East Bengal. It was introduced on the recommendations of British officials Reed and Sir Thomas Munro. The state demand was fixed in cash and had no connection with actual yields. Besides, the revenue fixed was one of the highest in modern period, at 55 percent.

  • Under this system, the taxes were directly collected by the government. It established a direct relationship between the government and the ryot (cultivator).
  • Farmers had the right to sell, mortgage and lease the land but had to pay their taxes on time. If they failed to pay taxes, they were evicted from the land. Later on, the government went on to claim that the land revenue was rent and not a tax. This negated the ownership rights of farmers.
  • The government fixed the tax rates for temporary periods of around 20 to 30 years after which land revenue was revised. But the government retained the rights to increase the land revenue anytime at its own will.

Reasons for the Adoption of Ryotwari System

  • The British officials believed that there are no zamindars or feudal lords with large estates in these areas. So it was difficult for the British to implement the zamindari system.
  • The government revenues were fixed in the permanent settlement so it could not gain from the rise in prices. Moreover, the government felt that the revenue was being unnecessarily shared with the zamindars which reduced its profits.
  • The zamindari system was oppressive for the peasants and led to frequent agrarian revolts. The government wanted to avoid these situations. It also hoped that by introducing ryotwari system, the purchasing power of peasants would increase, which would increase the demands for British goods in India.

Impact of Land Revenue System Under Ryotwari System

  • The peasants did not benefit from this land revenue system and felt that smaller zamindars we are replaced by one giant zamindar, the British government . The farmers were forced to pay land revenue even during the famines otherwise they were forced to evict the land.
  • Further, the land revenue was very high, between 45% to 55% in different areas, which led to the impoverishment of farmers.
  • A major drawback of this system was over assessment of crop yields.
  • The system of tenancy and landlordism still existed as the artisans who were now unemployed, worked as tenants for rich farmers. In the several districts, more than two third of the total agricultural land was leased.
  • The government insisted the peasants grow cash crops which required higher investments. It led to the indebtedness of farmers and when prices declined they suffered the most. For example, when the prices of cotton declined after the end of American Civil War the peasants suffered the most. This created conditions ripe for rebellion that came in the form of Deccan Agrarian riots in 1875.

Mahalwari System

The Mahalwari system was introduced in around 30% of total area under British rule. It was a modified version of zamindari system. It was introduced in the Gangetic valley, major parts of North West Frontier province, Punjab and in Central provinces. In these areas, more than often there was a system of collective land holdings by the heads of the families or the landlords. The village community mainly included the group of elders, mainly from the higher castes.

  • The revenue settlement was made with the Mahal (a village or a group of villages). The taxes were imposed collectively on the members of the community. These taxes were revised periodically.
  • The taxes were distributed between the individual farmers who paid their share in the tax revenue. However, the ownership rights of lands were with the individual peasants, who could mortgage or sell his land.

Impacts of Land Revenue System Under Mahalwari System

  • As the areas covered under the Mahalwari system in Northern India were fertile, the government put the revenue demands between 50% to 75% of the crop production.
  • Within subsequent generations, the lands were fragmented, but the revenue demand was still high which had to be paid in cash. This led to their indebtedness in the hands of money lenders.
  • Further, this system led to the eviction of farmers from the land. Due to this sub-leasing of land was more common in Mahalwari areas.

British revenue systems therefore led to the impoverishment of peasantry. by making land a transferable property, the British facilitated rise of absentee landlords, oppressive moneylenders and pushed the peasant further into misery.

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