Till 18th century, Indian agriculture and cottage industries had a very strong relation. India held prominent place in field of agriculture and handicraft production in the world. The coming of British colonial rulers destroyed handicraft industry while causing far-reaching changes in country’s agrarian structure by introducing novel systems of land tenure and policies of revenue administration.
British mainly adopted three types of land tenure systems.
- Permanent Settlement /Zamindari System: Roughly 19% of total area under British rule – Bengal, bihar, Banaras, NWFP divisions.
- Ryotwari System: Covered about 51% of the area under British Rule – Assam, Bombay and Madras Presidencies.
- Mahalwari System: Covered 30% of area under British Rule – major parts of NWFP, central provinces and Punjab.
Let us study each one of these Land revenue system and land settlements under British rule in India.
Permanent Settlement or Istamarari (Sthayi) Bandobast
It was introduced in Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and districts of Benaras by Lord Cornwallis in 1793. John Shore planned the Permanent Settlement.
- Under the Pernmanent Settlement, zamindars were recognised as the owners of the land.
- The amount of revenue that the zamindar haad to pay was fixed and it was decided that it wont be raised for the given period of time.
- The zamindars had to pay 10/11th or 89% of the revenue collected to the East India Company while keeping the rest 1/11th or 11% to himself.
- The zamindars were free to fix the rent.
- The ryots(cultivators) were considered tenents/ tillers of soil.
- Under Permanent settlement, zamindars lost their administrative and judicial functions. They were performed by the Company now.
- If a zamindar did not pay the fixed amount, his property was seized and sold. leading to ruin of zamindar.
Effect of Permanent Settlement:
Absentee Landlordism : Since zamindars were assured of their ownership of lands, many of them stayed in towns. They entrusted rent collection to agents who even extracted illegal taxes besides the legal ones from the tenets.
After increase in prices, company suffered financial loss because land productivity was high while income from it was meagre.
It was introduced in Bombay, Madras, Assam and Berar. Sir Thomas Munro introduced it in Madras. It was during the term of Lord Hastings.
- Since there were no zamindars in south India, the company recognised the peasant as the proprietor.
- Under the Ryotwari system, a direct settlement was made between the government and the ryot / cultivator.
- The revenue was fixed for a period from 20 to 40 years, where every individual was responsible for payment of revenue.
- The revenue was fixed on the basis of quality of the soil and the nature of crop. It was based on the scientific rent theory of economist Ricardo.
Impact of Ryotwari system:
Even while the position of cultivator became more secure, but the rigid system of revenue collection forced ryots into the hands of moneylender.
Since the government itself became a big zamindar, it had right to enhance revenue at will. The cultivator was left at the mercy of the collecting officers.
In 1833, the Mahalwari System was introduced under Wlliam Bentinck . This was basically a modified form of the zamindari system/settlement introduced in the Ganga valley, Punjab, North-west Frontier Province, parts of Central India.
- Under this system, a basic unit of revenue settlement was ‘Mahal’ or ‘Village’.
- The village land belonged jointly to the village community, they were responsible for payment of revenue.
- Entire land of ‘Mahal’ was measured at the time of fixing the revenue.
- There were also known as Bhaichare, or Mahals, which were basically groups of villages.
Impact of Mahalwari System:
Since the government revised the revenue periodically, the peasants had not much benefit of elimination of middlemen between the government and the village.
This brought about some improvement in irrigation facilities, though major benefits of the system were largely enjoyed by the government.
Impact of Land Revenue System: Land Tenure System
- These land settlements introduced a market economy and removed customary rights. With cash payments of revenue, there was increased money-lending activity.
- The Land tenure system sharpened social differentiation. While rich had access to the courts to defend their properties, the poor didn’t have any resources.
- The peasants were forced to grow commercial crops which led them to buy food grains at higher prices and sell the cash crops at low prices.
- The land revenue system of British in India shook the stability of Indian villages where majority of the people depended on agriculture and related activities. They became miserable if crop failed in any given year.
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