Mahalwari System – Impact, Features, Drawbacks of Mahalwari Settlement

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Mahalwari System was one of India’s three major land tenure systems before Independence. The other two systems were the Zamindari System and Ryotwari System. The difference between these three systems was only the land revenue and mode of payment. The word “Mahalwari” comes from the Hindi word Mahal, which means home, district, community, or quarter. The Mahalwari settlement included characteristics of both the Zamindari and the Ryotwari systems.

Mahalwari System was introduced by Holt Mackenzie in 1822 and was reviewed under Lord William Bentinck in 1833. The land enclosed under the Mahalwari settlement consisted of all land in the villages, such as pastures, forestland, etc. It was first introduced in Agra, North-West Frontier, Punjab, Central Province, and Gangetic Valley. This article will throw light on the meaning of the Mahalwari System, its history, features, importance, and drawbacks.

What is Mahalwari System?

The Englishman Holt Mackenzie introduced the Mahalwari System in 1822 in the North-Western Provinces of Bengal. Later it was popularized by Lord William Bentick in Agra and Awadh and, with time, extended to Central Province, Agra, Punjab, Gangetic Valley, North-West Frontier, etc. of British India.

Mahalwari System UPSC Notes

Mahalwari System was a modified version of the Zamindari System. It had provisions of both the Ryotwari System and the Zamindari System. Under this system, the village leader collected the revenue from farmers on behalf of the whole village.

  • Under the Mahalwari settlement, the entire land was transformed into a single, larger unit called a “Mahal, which often consisted of a few villages.
  • The revenue was to be adjusted occasionally rather than being set in stone.
  • Eventually, the Mahalwari System failed due to many reasons.

Who introduced Mahalwari System?

Holt Mackenzie introduced the Mahalwari System to colonized India in 1822. This system was introduced in the North-west Provinces. Later this system was popularized by Lord William Bentick in Agra and Awadh and reached Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

Holt Mackenzie was a British Colonial Administrator in India. He was influential in setting up India’s Mahalwari System of land revenue. He rose steadily during his tenure and retired to England in 1831.

Mahalwari Settlement – History

The British established control over India during the 1800s. The Land Revenue System was a prime income source for the British. Their main motive was to control land and the entire revenue system, strengthening their economic status in India.

The village head was responsible for all land surveys, records of land rights, settlement of land revenues, demand in the Mahals, etc. In the Mahalwari system, demand was fixed at 95% of the rental. However, the Mahalwari system failed as the state demand was enormous and rigid. The amount overdue by the cultivators was more than what they could afford.

Features of Mahalwari System

Mahalwari System was one of the three fundamental land revenue systems in British India. It was a changed rendition of the Zamindari settlement, also known as the Permanent settlement. The key features of the Mahalwari System are facilitated below:

  • Under the Mahalwari System, the land was segmented into Mahals and accounted for one or more villages.
  • The revenue was fixed for the Mahal as per the crop production assessment. So the Mahalwari system was periodically revised.
  • Every individual farmer had their share in that fixed revenue, and the revenue collection was operated by the village leader or village head under the Mahalwari system.
  • The state had a 66% share of the rental value, and the Mahalwari settlement was done for a period of 30 years. After the implementation of this system, the income of the government increased.

Drawbacks of the Mahalwari System

Mahalwari System was the revised system of the earlier two systems and had the following drawbacks. These significant drawbacks lead Mahalwari System to its failure.

  • According to the Mahalwari system, the farmers had to pay revenue even during drought.
  • The survey was based on faulty assumptions that opened a space for corruption and manipulations.
  • At times, the company spent more on the collection than the collected revenue.
  • If the farmers failed to pay revenue, the money leaders seized the land.
  • The Mahalwari System failed later due to its defective policies.

Importance of the Mahalwari System

Mahalwari System was one of the three land revenue systems introduced in colonized India. It was an improvised version of Permanent settlement. The village was converted into one large unit known as the ‘Mahal.’ Peasants were exploited a lot due to no fixed amount of revenue. Mahalwari System was the first in which land was treated as an asset. Due to the constant rise in revenue, peasants were forced to turn to moneylenders.

The Mahalwari System was essential in the land revenue system, leading to social unrest and discrimination. Food shortage and hunger were the results of the Mahalwari Settlement in India. Ryotwari System was based on the Mahalwari System framework, which was introduced after its failure. The only difference was that in the ryotwari system, there were no middlemen, as peasants owned the lands.

Mahalwari System in Hindi

महालवाड़ी व्यवस्था, ईस्ट इंडिया कंपनी द्वारा सन १८२२ में उत्तर प्रदेश, पंजाब, मध्य प्रदेश में लागू की गयी भू-राजस्व की प्रणाली थी। यह भू राजस्व भारत के 30% भूभाग पर लागू किया गया। इसके पहले कम्पनी बंगाल में स्थायी बन्दोबस्त (सन १७९३ ई में) तथा बम्बई, मद्रास आदि में रैयतवाड़ी (सन १८२० में ) लागू कर चुकी थी।

गांव को महाल कहे जाने के कारण इस व्यवस्था का नाम महालवाड़ी व्यवस्था पड़ा इस व्यवस्था की अवधारणा सर्वप्रथम होल्ड मैकेन्जी ने 1819 ईसवी में दिया। 1822 के रेग्यूलेशन के अनुसार कुल भूभाग का 95% निश्चित किया गया था तथा इसे वसूलने के अत्यधिक कठोरता बनाई गई थी। अतः यह व्यवस्था असफल रही।


Mahalwari System’s Impact on Socio-Economic Condition of Peasants

Near the end of the colonial period, the burden on the peasant for interest payments was high, and the rent and debt were around 14,200 million due to the flawed Mahalwari system.

  • The zamindars gave loans to the labourers or farmers and asked for free labour in return. Due to this, the farmers or labourers could serve as wages.
  • The upper cast had control of the land. The rich farmers could invest in seeds, fertilizers, and other farming resources.
  • While the lower caste people suffered a lot as they didn’t get agricultural support.
  • Due to all these reasons, agriculture started to show signs of decline during the last declaration of colonialism.
  • Most farmers were hardly left with money to invest again in agriculture. Most of their income went into paying taxes.

Difference between Mahalwari System and Permanent Settlement

Permanent Settlement, also known as Zamindari System, was introduced in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis. Zamindars acted as middlemen between peasants and British authorities for revenue collection. The revenue amount was fixed, and Zamindars and Taluqdars owned the land.

Whereas in the Mahalwari System revenue amount was not fixed, and the revenue was collected by lambardar (village headmen). The main difference between Mahalwari system and permanent settlement is the fixation of revenue collection as it was not fixed in Mahalwari system and was revised periodically as per the worth of the land.

Difference between Mahalwari System and Ryotwari System

Mahalwari System and Ryotwari System are both types of Land Revenue System. The main goal of both the revenue system was to exploit peasants, but they varied based on ownership and areas it was applicable. Check out the difference between the Mahalwari system and the ryotwari system in the table facilitated below:

Ryotwari vs Mahalwari Settlement

Mahalwari System Ryotwari System
The land revenue was collected by village lambardar (headman) on behalf of the whole village The land revenue was paid by peasants directly to the state
Land was owned by Village Lambardar Land was owned by the Peasants
Revenue was revised on a regular period of time Revenue was revised on a regular period of time
Introduced by Holt Mackenzie in 1822 Introduced by Thomas Munro in 1820
The Mahalwari System was first started in the North-West Frontier, Agra, Central Province, Gangetic Valley, Punjab, etc Ryotwari System was first started in Madras, Bombay, Assam, and Coorg provinces

Mahalwari System UPSC

Mahalwari System was one of India’s three primary land tenure systems before Independence. The Mahalwari system was introduced by Englishman Holt Mackenzie in 1822. Students must read about the Mahalwari Settlement’s history, features, drawbacks, importance, and impact on the condition of Peasants.

Mahalwari System must be understood well through Modern History Notes for UPSC, as questions from this section are asked in both Prelims and Mains exams. Candidates must focus on practicing Mahalwari System UPSC questions to fetch optimum marks from the Modern History section. Candidates can cover this topic from NCERT Books for UPSC.

Mahalwari System MCQs

Question: With reference to Mahalwari System, consider the statements. (1) Local Zamindar was responsible, on behalf of all peasants, for the payment of land revenue, (2) The peasant was free to sell or mortgage their land, (3) The system was implemented in western part of United Provinces, Punjab, and some part of central Provinces. Choose the correct option – 2 and 3, 1 and 3, 1 and 2, All
Answer: All

Prelims Question: Mahalwari System was first introduced in? (I) Assam, (II) Parts of Central India, (III) Gangetic Valley, (IV) North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP): A – II and III, B- II, III and IV, C- III and IV, D- I, II, III, and IV
Answer: II, III and IV

Question: Consider the statements (A) and (B) about Mahalwari and Ryotwari system of revenues and choose the correct answer: (A) The Mahalwari was devised for North-Western provinces of Bengal presidency, while the Ryotwari was devised for British territories in South, (B) While in Mahalwari, village headman collected and paid revenue of the whole village to the company, in Ryotwari direct settlements was made with cultivators – (1) Neither (A) nor (B) correctly explain differences between the two revenue systems, (2) Both (A) and (B) correctly explain differences between the two revenue systems, (3) Only (B) correctly explains differences between the two revenue systems, (4) Only (A) correctly explains differences between the two revenue systems
Answer: Both (A) and (B) correctly explain differences between the two revenue systems

Question: Which of the following land revenue settlement was first to have concluded with the village community? (1) Ryotwari Settlement, (2) Permanent Settlement, (3) Mahalwari Settlement, (4) None of these
Answer: Mahalwari Settlement

Mains Question: What were the Land revenue settlements by the Britishers in India? Discuss its impact on Indian Peasants.

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