Land Revenue System in British India – Features, Effects, and Demerits

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Land Revenue System was a policy that helped the British conquer a diverse country, India, after acquiring heavy taxes from the people. Land revenue is taxation charged on land-based agrarian production. The central responsibility was in the hands of Indian peasants or Ryot, who provided money for the Company’s trading activities and profits, management costs, and the battles of British colonization in India. The three land revenue systems known before India’s independence were the Zamindari System, the Mahalwari System, and the Ryotwari System.

Historically, Land revenue was the primary source of wealth for kingdoms. It was a tax collected as a proportion of the crop or a financial value set on the land to be spent by the farmer. It was directly or indirectly done via middlemen such as revenue farmers or Zamindars, who assembled land earnings from cultivators and pocketed some part as their commission. This article will highlight details about Land Revenue System under British rule in India, along with its types and features.

What is Land Revenue System?

Land revenue is a surcharge or remuneration imposed on farming production on land. British oriented the approach of revenue collection by leaving the age-old technique of revenue administration. This is known as the land revenue system.

The earnings were collected directly through servants or indirectly through mediators, who gathered the land revenue from the cultivator and held a portion of it as their profit. Post the Battle of Plassey, the British won command to collect payment from the Bengal province.

Land Revenue System in British India

The land revenue system under British rule in India was among the significant sources of wages for the Britishers. Before India gained its independence, the three fundamental kinds of land ownership employed were:

  • The Zamindari System – Individuals were permitted to communicate with one another.
  • The Mahalwari System – Mahalwari created this system.
  • The Ryotwari System – It was formed in Japan.

The elemental difference in these land revenue systems relied on the mode of payment of land revenue.

Zamindari System of Land Revenue

Zamindari System was also popularly known as the Permanent Land Revenue Settlement. Cornwallis presented this system in 1793 through the Permanent Settlement Act. Zamindari Land Revenue System was started in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Varanasi regions.

Zamindars were recognized as hereditable landowners who received the right of inheritance. These landowners or landlords could transfer the land or sell it to tenants according to their necessities.

Features of Zamindari System

  • The land owners were referred to as Zamindars, who had the right to fetch rent from the peasants under the Zamindari land revenue system.
  • Zamindars were the land owners, while farmers were the renters.
  • The farmers or tenants had to pay taxes in the form of cash, even during poor or insufficient yield.
  • The taxation amount was split into 11 portions in this land revenue system, of which 10/11 shares belonged to EIC (East India Company), while only 1/11 shares belonged to the Zamindars.

Issues of Zamindari System

Zamindari System in India had a great impact on the cultivators. This land revenue system was restrictive and exploited cultivators of the villages. It is because zamindars had full and unequal rights over the land and charged heavy rents.

  • The cultivators were compelled to take loans and pay rent; if they failed, they were expelled from their land.
  • One of the major issues of the Zamindari land revenue system was that the revenue rates were so high that Zamindars found it very difficult to compensate, eventually losing their zamindari.
  • Zamindars wanted to refrain from upgrading their land. They preferred to give their lands on rent instead of selling them.

Demerits of Zamindari System

This land revenue system had an awful effect on the Zamindars as they could not generate land revenue from their renters and did not pay back the Government at the specified time.

  • Their lands and possessions were sold, even after which they were not interested in enriching their land.
  • The landlord evolved as an absentee landowner in Calcutta or the neighboring country.
  • The permanent colony overlooked the rights of the occupants, yet another demerit of this land revenue system.
  • The residents were directly exposed to the landlords. Hence they felt hesitant and unsafe many a time.
  • The Government lost a part of the unearned gain till their remaining existence.

Ryotwari Land Revenue System

Thomas Munro launched the Ryotwari System in 1820. It was considered the primary land revenue system in the Southern part of India. Ryotwari System was started in parts of Assam and Coorg regions of British India, Bombay, and Madras.

At the onset of the 19th century, the Ryotwari Settlement was oriented in the Madras and Bombay Presidencies. The benefit of this land revenue system was the abolishment of middlemen, who continually victimized locals.

Features of Ryotwari System

  • Under the Ryotwari land revenue system, peasants had ownership rights.
  • Peasants had to pay taxes to the British government directly.
  • The revenue rates of the Ryotwari System were 60% in irrigated land and 50% where the lands were arid.
  • Though farmers had the authority over land ownership, they became poverty-stricken in this type of land revenue system due to excessive tax payment that was increased repeatedly.

Issues of Ryotwari System

The functions of Subordinate revenue officers were harshly regulated, and they were offered much power under the Ryotwari land revenue system. The moneylenders and the Mahajan monopolized the system.

  • They were responsible for providing loans to peasants by taking out a mortgage on their land.
  • Moneylenders had the power to expel cultivators from their land if they could not pay their loans.
  • Zamindars were merely interested in boosting the funds collected under this land revenue system and were unwilling to invest in agriculture.

Demerits of Ryotwari System

The major demerit of the Ryotwari land revenue system was it charged excessive revenue rates and caused the agricultural practice to become unprofitable.

  • They followed a rigorous process of gathering.
  • The relationship between creditors and debtors was altered, generating a unique class of payday lenders.
  • The interest rate was as high as the sky, so the farmers could only pay the interest.
  • Another disadvantage of this land revenue system was a reduction in the value of the land.
  • The output estimation was incorrect, as the measurement was not performed accurately.
  • No legal challenge was brought for the act of high value of lands (overvaluation).

Mahalwari Land Revenue System

Holt Mackenzie launched the Mahalwari system in 1822. William Bentick improved this land revenue system in 1833. Mahalwari System was established in Agra, Central Province, Gangetic Valley, North-West Frontier, Punjab, etc., of British India.

It is regarded as the basic land revenue system in North-West India. Mahalwari System had many provisions similar to the Zamindari System and Ryotwari System. There was often a system of collective landholdings by the family heads or owners, mostly from upper castes.

Features of Mahalwari System of Land Revenue

  • The land under the Mahalwari System was separated into Mahals.
  • Every Mahal incorporated one or more villages.
  • The complete Mahal or village was viewed as one division for tax collection.
  • The tax duty was allotted to the village headman or committee.
  • Peasants obtained ownership rights.
  • The rate of tax was extremely high in this land revenue system.
  • The Mahalwari system in North India was encircled with fertile land; therefore, the government put its revenue needs at 50% – 75% of farming yield.

Issues of Mahalwari Land Revenue System

The rudimentary drawback of the Mahalwari land revenue system was that the analysis was based on various hypotheses, which enabled illegal offense and emotional manipulation. It propelled the officers to focus more on collecting money than concentrating on its revenue. These were some of the reasons that led to the failure of this land revenue system.

Demerits of Mahalwari System

During the practice of the Mahalwari System, rights were given to the appointed leading groups of renowned families. Peasants were moved into positions of coworkers, tenants, and more.

  • This land revenue system experienced no increase in terms of production.
  • Peasants remained worried.
  • Social and economic mistreatments broadened with time.

Land Revenue System of Akbar

Akbar, with Raja Todar Mal’s support, performed several land revenue management experiments. Akbar’s land revenue system was named as Bandobast or Zabti system. It was also referred to as the Dahsala System, completed in 1580. Raja Todar Mal played an important role in improving this land revenue system.

The Dahsala system was estimated as the average yields of diverse crops and prices over the last ten years. Raja Todar Mal presented a new revenue collection system called the Zabti system and the Dahshala system, a kind of tax system. He was the finance minister of Akbar.

Conclusion of Land Revenue System

The land revenue system was predominant for the emperors and rulers as it allowed them to collect tax from land. Land revenue was considered a prominent source of income in ancient India. The pattern of land ownership changed drastically over the last few centuries.

The land was separated into Jagirs, which were distributed to Jagirdars. The land obtained by these Jagirdars was divided and allocated to sub-ordinate Zamindars. Peasants cultivated land owned by the Zamindars. The Zamindars collected tax in return as part of their revenue. This was an overall strategy employed by the land revenue system.

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