Land Tenure System in Pre-Independent India: Zamindari System; Mahalwari System; Ryotwari System

Land Tenure System in Pre-Independent India

At the time of independence, there were three major types of land tenure systems prevailing in the country. The basic difference in these systems was regarding the mode of payment of land revenue.

Zamindari System Mahalwari System Ryotwari System
Under the Zamindari system, the land revenue was collected from the farmers by the intermediaries known as Zamindars. Under the Mahalwari system, the land revenue was collected from the farmers by the village headmen on behalf of the whole village. Under the Ryotwari system, the land revenue was paid by the farmers directly to the state.
Zamindari system was started by the Imperialist East India Company in 1793. In this system, the entire village is converted into one big unit called ‘Mahal’ and treated as one unit as far as payment of land revenue is concerned. In this system, the Individual cultivator called Ryot had full rights regarding sale, transfer, and leasing of the land. The ryots could not be evicted from his land as long as he pays the rent.
Lord Cornwallis entered into ‘Permanent Settlement’ with the landlords with a view to increase land revenue. Under this arrangement, the landlords were declared as zamindars with full proprietorship of the land.

The Zamindars were made responsible for the collection of the rent.

Mahalwari system was popularised by Lord William Bentinck in Agra and Awadh. It was later extended to Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.

The responsibility of collecting and depositing the rent lied with the village headmen.

In this system, the responsibility of paying the rent lies with the individual cultivator called “Ryot”. There exist no intermediaries between the government and the individual cultivator.
The share of the government in the total rent collected by the zamindars was kept at 10/11th, and the balance going to zamindars. The Mahalwari system is found to be less exploitative than the Zamindari system. The ryotwari system though appears satisfactory and better than Zamindari and Mahalwari, in reality, the system had several deficiencies. The system was dominated by the mahajans and moneylenders who granted loans to cultivators by mortgaging their land. The moneylenders exploited the cultivators and evicted them from their land in case of loan default.
The system was most prevalent in West Bengal, Bihar, Orrisa, UP, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The system was prevalent in Agra, Awadh, Punjab, Orrisa and Madhya Pradesh. The system was first introduced in Tamil Nadu and later extended to Maharashtra, Berar, East Punjab, Coorg and Assam.


Himanshu Arora
Doctoral Scholar in Economics & Senior Research Fellow, CDS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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