The First Firangis | Chap 4 | Extracting Land Revenue

Every aspirant worth his salt would be aware of the 3 land revenue systems employed by the Brits to extract heavy booty from India. We trust you to fall in the same category but no harm revising some concepts, right?

Before we dig into the systems, lets try to understand the land holdings/revenue systems that existed in the pre-British (Mughal) times.

The country was not governed as a single unit with a single set of rules. The society was very diverse and so were the land holdings. We had the Khalisa Land, the Jagirs, the Mansabs, the Zamindari lands, etc. What’s important to note here was that these land owners had occupancy rights not propriety rights. So the concept of Private Property was absent. One couldn’t buy and sell property in the market like a commodity. This changes with the new policies of the British.

Circling back to the land revenue systems  –

  • Permanent Settlement: The first of its kind in Bengal, Bihar & Orissa. Instituted by Lord Cornwallis (true blue aristocrat).
  • Ryotwari: Thomas Munroe got this up and working in Madras, Bombay and Assam. He had some tough time convincing the Brits to not go for Permanent Settlement here!
  • Mahalwari: North India, parts of western and central india – Company outsourced the revenue collection to village communities itself.

Enough has been written and lectured about these 3 and UPSC probably won’t ask anything off it again but then, we thought, that it might just swoop in and churn out some heavy analytical stuff to trip you off.

#1. Why was there a need to bring about Ryotwari, Mahalwari and whatever-wari when you already had Permanent Settlement?

#2. Can you relate these changes in land revenue ideologies with what was happening in the English society? Like marry these policy changes with changes in ideologies etc etc!

#3. Did new systems actually solve anything or did we just dabble in theories?

Something like that… you never know! These days IAS Mains is witnessing a mix of pretty obvious/ complex sawaal jawaab.

Since the grant of diwani for Bengal, Bihar & Orissa in 1765, the major concern for the EIC was to get more & more revenue. Why such greed?

That’s because of an amazing economic concept called Mercantilism which guided EIC’s efforts to make sure that the salary packages of their Indian troops come  from India itself. No chance of a money transfer for any of the Indian expenditures!

[back2basics] Mercantilism was the idea that the only true measure of a country’s wealth and success was the amount of gold that it had. If one country had more gold than another, it was necessarily better off. So essentially, you need to manage your imports and exports in such a way that exports >> imports.

If you want a heavier definition, here’s what wiki says, “Mercantilism includes a national economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially unfinished goods.” This will let the country save more gold for itself and be better off.

Naturally, England did not want to ship off its accrued gold to India to pay for EIC’s expenses and hence these guys had one & only one goal –

“Collect as much money as you can get boys”

We read in the previous chapter of this series that in 1784, Cornwallis was sent to India with a specific mandate to streamline the revenue administration. And he thought that one way to solve the problem of corruption in revenue management was to permanently fix the revenue.

“Assessment for ever”, that was the funda behind Permanent Settlement. The period of settlement was ~10 years (unless you default). And even with all the caveats in place, it did not reap fruitful results. We have covered most of this system in the previous post.

At this time, you would do well to introduce yourself with a new powerful class in making, The Jotedars.

[b2b] Don’t confuse them with Zamindars. The Zamindars used to often lived in Urban areas but theseJotedars were located within the villages and exercised direct control over a considerable section of poor villagers. When a Zamindar defaulted on it his due, these guys would swoop in and bid a higher price in the re-auction. And these badasses made a lot of money!

In comes Thomas Munro & his Ryotwari experiment

Two major differences between these two guys & hence the different policies.

  1. Cornwallis believed in rule of law & old school brit wisdom of replicating what worked at their home (England).
  2. Thomas Munro (in Madras) & some of his minions in western and northern India believed that we need to pay heed to Indian tradition & experience, empower the aam aadmi & ask him to become a ryot and pay up the price!

Hence, Thomas Munro made an elaborate speech and contrary to Lord Cornwallis’ assessment, he instituted Ryotwari system in his command. Some say that he was inspired by the way Tipu Sultan used to administer revenue of his subjects (similar system – his military personnel used to collect revenue from individual farmers).

Life of a farmer in a Ryotwari System?

  1. You will wake up in one of these parts of India – Madras, Bombay, Assam, Sind.
  2. You will have a piece of land to yourself – do whatever the hell you want, grow food crop/ cash crop, mortgage the land, but at the end of the year – you need to pay up tax (in cash).
  3. If you default, then you are kicked out (pretty much the expected outcome).
  4. You might go to money lenders and get loans for yourself (at times of drought, famines etc etc.) – which is a tragedy in waiting! More loans & indebtedness.
  5. Your rents won’t be the same – apparently Brits will assess the soil worthiness of your land and can frequently update their assessment.

Last of all – Mahalwari or the pseudo Zamindari system

Why was it called pseudo zamindari?

Mahals were essentially a unit of land measurement in Punjab & Central India and Lambardars were heads (like zamindars) who were responsible for the collection of revenue.

Mahalwari = mix of Permanent Settlement + Ryotwari was started by Holt Mackenzie. 

  1. In this system, the land was divided into Mahals. Each Mahal comprises one or more villages.
  2. Ownership rights were vested with the peasants.
  3. The villages committee was held responsible for collection of the taxes. Here’s where the Lambardar comes in and collects revenue.

We thought it be a good digression to quickly cover up these three systems before we move onto the next governor general of substance.

Do try to solve the 3 questions listed above.



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