Land Reforms in India: Ryotwari, Mahalwari & Zamindari System

By Naveen Singh|Updated : March 16th, 2020

Land Reforms in India During the British Era

What is land reform?

  • Land reform involves taking away land from rich and redistributing among landless.
  • Formally, improving land tenure and institution related to agriculture.
  • It is an integrated program to remove barriers for economic and social development caused by the existing land tenure system.
  • During the British legacy, EIC faced the following problem,
  • Demand for British goods in India is was negligible.
  • The company needed cash to maintain an army for defeating the native rulers.
  • EIC came up with the following land revenue policy.

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Permanent Settlement (1793)/ Zamindari System

  • Started by Lord Cornwallis + John Shore
  • Where – Bengal and Bihar
  • Cornwallis wanted a consistent revenue system therefore; he fixed the revenue with the zamindars and every year they had to pay their fixed amount.
  • It covered 56% of British India.
  • It would be easy for the company to collect the revenue from zamindars rather than millions of peasants.
  • He wanted to create a social class of zamindars who would be loyal to the company in future.
  • He expected that it would increase agricultural productivity as a company would not demand a share in the surplus production.
  • Zamindars were made as owners of those lands in which they had previously being revenue collectors.
  • Their rights were hereditary. They could sell, transfer and even mortgage the land.
  • They had to pay 10/11 part to the company.
  • By the evening at the predetermined date, they had to pay their due. Therefore, it is also known as sunset law.

Ryotwari Settlement (1820)

  • Thomas Munro and Alexander Reed
  • Where- Madras, Bombay and Assam
  • It covered 37% of British India.
  • This settlement was made directly with the peasants who were known as ryot.
  • The peasants were issued PATTA. This was a document which confirms the ownership rights of the peasants.
  • The state revenue was too high and was calculated as 50% of the standard production.
  • Farmers could sell, use, mortgage and transfer their land as long as they paid their taxes. If they did not pay taxes they were evicted.
  • Taxes were only fixed in a temporary for a period of 20-30 years and then revised.
  • Farmers had o pay revenue even during droughts and famines.
  • The government insisted on cash revenue, farmers started growing cash crops instead of food crops and cash crops needed more inputs increasing loans and indebtedness.

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Mahalwari Settlement(1822)

  • Holt Mackenzie and R.M. Bird
  • Where- Gangetic valley, North West provinces, parts of Central India and Punjab.
  • It covered 7% of British India.
  • Unit of assessment was a village.
  • Taxes on village community and they had to distribute it among the cultivators.
  • Farmers had the right to sell and mortgage land.
  • A village inhabitant called lambardar collected the amounts and gave o the British.
  • British periodically revised tax rates.
  • Since Punjab and northern India was fertile so, they want to collect the maximum amount. Revenue was usually 50-75% of produce.
  • Fragmentation occurs and the land becomes smaller and smaller.
  • British demanded revenue in cash so farmers had to take a loan to pay revenue, as a result, more and more farms passed into the hands of moneylenders.
  • It is also called modified zamindari system.

Consequences of British tenure policy:

  • Land becomes a property before its private ownership did not exist.
  • Panchayat lost prestige.
  • Since British demanded revenue in cash, declining the food crops. It increased food security.
  • British did not do much about irrigation and taxes on irrigation were high.
  • More area brought under cultivation particularly in Punjab.
  • It increases the absentee landlordism.
  • Rural industry destroyed due to the high pressure of agriculture.
  • They introduced the commercialization of agriculture.

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