The Permanent Settlement of Land

Cornwallis’s permanent settlement of land revenue, in the year�1793 , was the most far reaching measure since three-quarters�of the revenue came from the land. The permanent zamindari�settlements were made in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Banaras�division of U.P. This settlement was further extended in 1800�to northern Carnatic (north-eastern part of Madras) and the�north-western provinces (eastern U.P.). It covered roughly 19%�of the total area of British India.

The mahalwari tenure was introduced in major portion�of U.P., the Punjab (with some variations) and the central�provinces; while in Awadh, villages were placed under a taluqdar�or middleman with whom the government dealt directly. This�system covered nearly�30%�of the British controlled area.

The ryotwari settlements were made in major portions�of Bombay, Madras and Sindh province. The principles of�this system were also subsequently applied to Assam and�Burma.

Zamindari System

The main features of “settlement” in the zamindari areas were

  • The zamindars became the owners of the entire land in�their zamindaries as also agents of the government in�collecting land revenue.
  • The revenue demand was stabilised at a fixed annual�figure.
  • The land revenue to be collected from the zamindar was�permanently fixed. A zamindar was to pay over ninetenth of what he received from the peasants to the state,�retaining a tenth as remuneration for his effort.
  • He had the disposal of wastelands within his jurisdiction.
  • However, the lands were liable to be sold for arrears of�payment.

Thus, the land revenue collector became a landlord, subject�to the threat that the lands he administered could be sold for�arrears, while the tiers of lesser landholders became his tenants.�The zamindar reaped the profit of rising prices and of cultivation�of wasteland, while the classes below him lost their occupancy�rights. Some of the consequences of this were:

  • The intended protection of these tenants proved illusory�because their rights were customary, unsupported by�documents.�* The legal cases that ensued clogged the courts to the�point of breakdown.
  • In the early days, the zamindar often lost his holding�because the fixed demand was pitched too high.
  • As a result of this measure a landlord class, loyal to the�British connection but divorced from touch with the�cultivators, emerged in India.
  • The Permanent Settlement, by declaring zamindars as�owners of land, brought into existence a wealthy and�privileged class of zamindars which owed its existence�to British rule. This class was compelled by its own basic�interests to support it.
  • The government, receiving the revenue from the�zamindars, knew little of the people and could do little�for them.

The Company hoped that the zamindari class would not only�be a revenue-generating instrument but serve as intermediaries�for the political dominance of their rule, preserving local custom�and protecting rural life from the possibly rapacious influences�of its own representatives. The first part of this hope was realised�as the zamindars became a conservative interest group in Indian�society. But it imposed an excessive burden on the peasantry as�the fixation of revenue had no scientific basis and was ad hoc.�Further, there was a tendency of Company officials and Indian�landlords to force their tenants into plantation-style farming of�cash crops like indigo and cotton rather than rice and wheat.�This was a contributory factor in many of the worst famines of�the nineteenth century.

In this system even the zamindars faced problems. Their�zamindaries were often auctioned for non-payment of revenue.�This encouraged a new group of people to become zamindars.�The urban merchants, speculators, money lenders, etc., bought�zamindaries. This group had no permanent interests in the�development of land or the welfare of peasantry. As a result a�number of peasant uprisings took place in this region. Some�examples of such uprisings were in 1795 in Panchet, 1798 in�Raipur, 1799 in Balasore and in 1799-1800 in villages around�Midnapore. As a consequence of such trends most zamindars�eventually became absentee landlords, and tended to neglect�investment on the land, with adverse impact on agricultural�development of the country.

Ryotwari System

In Madras, Sir Thomas Munro retained the paternal framework�of government but introduced a radically differing method of�revenue management known as the ryotwari system, in which

  • The settlement was made directly with the cultivator,�each field being separately measured and annually�assessed.
  • The system eliminated the middleman but sometimes�placed the cultivators at the mercy of lower officials, who�often formed cliques of caste groups.�Although Munro gradually reduced the rate of taxation�from one half to one third of the gross produce, it was an�excessive burden for the cultivators. The levy was not based�on actual revenues from the produce of the land, but instead�on an estimate of the potential of the soil; in some cases more�than�50%�of the gross revenue was demanded and this was too�much to leave an adequate provision for the peasant.

Basically, the raiyatwari system was more pragmatic than�doctrinal. By this time the local chiefs were mostly eliminated�or reduced to insignificance. The contact of the administration�with each individual farmer, implied in the raiyatwari system�appeared more conducive to the interest of the state, which�could itself assess the cultivated area and the income of the�tax payer, and which could itself carry out the collection of�taxes. This system also had the advantage for the peasant that�he would be liberated from the oppressive domination of a big�land owner. Lastly this system had less impact on the customs�and social balances of the rural areas.

In western India, Mountstuart Elphinstone attempted�to reconcile the restive populace of the peshwa’s dominions to�British control.

  • He retained Indian agency as far as possible, allowing�the Maratha nobles, or jagirdars, to retain most of their�land and many of their privileges.
  • He used the ryotwari method of assessing land revenue,�collecting it through local officials from the village�headmen.
  • In Bombay he encouraged Western learning and science,�tempting Indians to open their minds to the West.
  • In some ways he foresaw the ultimate end of British rule�through voluntary Westernisation, and he took some�steps toward introducing the new world of the West�without antagonising the old.

Mahalwari system

In the north of the Company’s dominions, Charles Metcalfe�discovered the largely autonomous village with its joint�ownership of land and cultivation by caste groupings. He�believed this to be the original pattern of rural organisation�throughout India, and he tried to preserve it as far as possible�in current conditions. Like several other administrators of the�period, he was suspicious of change and wished to leave the�villagers alone as far as possible.

He was strongly supported by the work of Holt MacKenzie,�a Bengal ICS official whose memorandum of 1819 set a course�of recognition and record of village rights for the whole of the�north-western provinces and, as later revised and codified,�marked the end of the Bengal system of permanent revenue�settlement in this region.

This was the basis of the mahalwari system introduced�in 1822, with the estate or mahals which were considered�proprietary bodies, where lands belonged jointly to the village�community technically called the ‘body of co-shares’. The�body of co-shares was jointly responsible for the payment of�land revenue though individual responsibility was not left out�completely. In a typically mahalwari village, the co-sharers were�the actual cultivators.

Nature and impact of the new system

The resulting system of administration of British India was still�substantially Indian in pattern, though British direction and�superintendence was superimposed on it. It was paternalistic�and hierarchical, and it suffered, like its predecessors, from�a chronic tendency to over-assess the revenue demand. The�Mughal emperor was replaced by the mystical entity that came�to be known among the common people as the ‘Company�Bahadur’, and its representative, the governor-general, moved�about with almost the same pomp and splendour as was�associated with the Mughal Emperors. At higher levels the�conduct and direction were exclusively European, but the�officers acted in the Mughal spirit, and the administration at�sub district and village level went on much as before.

There were also major changes in the socio-economic�pattern. The British established on a national scale the idea of�property in land, and the resulting buying and selling caused�large class changes. Their new security benefited the commercial�classes generally, but the deliberate sacrifice of Indian industry�to the claims of the new machine industries of Britain ruined�such ancient crafts as cotton and silk weaving. The new legal�system, with its network of courts, proved efficient on the�criminal justice side but was heavily overloaded on the civil.

The strains and the problems caused by this situation created�a demand for increased Indian role in the administration and�caused the first cracks in the British monopoly of higher office.�Indianisation began specifically with the obvious inefficiencies�of the British legal system. The picture was completed by the�company’s army, separately organised in the three presidencies�and officered, like the civil service, exclusively by the British. It�was backed by contingents of the British army. The Bengal army�preponderated in numbers and fighting spirit. By European�standards it was cumbrous and inefficient; but it was still more�than a match for anything that could be brought against it.

Written by princy

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