Wednesday, 09 April 2014 05:19




In the Pre-British period in India there is no evidence to show the existence of private ownership of land. The peasants worked on the land and the King of Government received a proportion of the produce, which was usually fixed at 1/6th to 1/12th of the produced.

The British conquest of India led to a change in the existing land system. The new system introduced by the British created two forms of property of land- landlordism in some parts of the country and the individual peasants’ proprietorship in others.

Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement in Bengal and Bihar in 1793. It made the landlord or zamindar deposit a fixed amount of money in the state treasury. In return they were recognized as hereditary owners of land. This made the zamindar the owner of the land. The amount of revenue to be paid to the Company was fixed.

The Permanent Settlement recognized the landlords as the proprietor of the land with the right of hereditary succession. They had also the right to transfer, sell or mortgage the land in their possession. But all their rights ended with their failure to pay the fixed revenue on the fixed date to the government. The government entrusted the landlord with duty of safeguarding the rights of their tenants by giving them land to look after and its rent was stated. The peasants on the other hand, suffered the most from the Settlement. They were left entirely at the mercy of their landlords, who also had share in the production and the land which was not fixed.

The Company has also created a group of landlords out of the petty chief by transferring their tributes into revenue and by taking over their political, military and administrative power. Persons who rendered valuable military or other aid to the British Government were also granted land and were transformed into landlords.

In 1822, the British introduced the Mahalwari Settlement in the North Western Provinces, Punjab, the Ganga Valley and parts of Central India. Here the basis of assessment was the product of a mahal or estate, which may be a village or a group of villages. Here all the proprietors of mahal were jointly responsible for paying the sum of revenue assessed by the government. The amount of the revenue which the whole village was required to pay was paid by the individual villager according to their respective holdings. Thus, the villager himself was the owner of the land as long as he pays his revenue for the land. In most cases the revenue was fixed according to the yielding capacity of the soil, the nature of crop it produced, and the prices of such crops.

The Mahalwari System brought low benefit for the cultivators. It was a modified version of the Zamindari or Permanent Settlement which benefited only the upper class of the village. The headman and some well-to-do villager act as middlemen between the cultivator and the government. They took large area of village land under their possession and used the small tenants as cultivators. The headman submitted the fixed revenue to the government while the rest went to his pocket. The burden of all other heavy taxation fell on the cultivators.

The Ryotwari Settlement was introduced in the beginning of the 19th century in many parts of Bombay and Madras Presidencies by Sir Thomas Munro. Here the land revenue was imposed directly on the ryots, the individual cultivators, who actually worked on the land. The peasant was recognized as the owner of the land as long as he was able to pay the revenue but the exploitation continued with the high revenue demands.

Under this system, there was no middleman like the landlord who mediated between the government and the tiller of the soil. The government fixed the revenue directly with the cultivators. The land was classified according to the fertility and nature of the soil and the crops produced. The revenue was collected with the help of local hereditary village officers who were recognized by the Government. The state demand was mostly kept at 50% of the produced. The Ryotwari Settlement protected neither the rights of the cultivators nor put them to any financial gain. The cultivators had to pay regular revenue otherwise they could be dispossessed of their land at any time. The high rate of assessment fixed by the government proved at times hard for cultivators. They often suffered oppression and harsh treatment at the hands of the government’s tax collectors.

The main motive behind the introduction of Zamindari, Ryotwari and Mahalwari system of revenue by the British was to increase the revenue of the Government.