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Q1) What was the need to have different land revenue systems under the same colonial regime? Assess the impact of land revenue systems on society and economy.


The land revenue systems were an important aspect of the economic policies of the British colonial government in India. The British implemented mainly three kinds of land revenue systems in different parts of the country: Zamindari System, Mahalwari System and Ryotwari System.

The need to have different land revenue systems under the same colonial regime can be understood in the following ways:

  1. Historical Reasons: The British colonial government inherited diversity in land revenue systems across regions. They sought to maintain it by adapting the local land revenue systems to colonial needs.
  2. Economic Reasons:
  3. a) Agriculture productivity: Different systems were designed to reflect the varying agricultural practices and levels of productivity in different regions. E.g., permanent settlement with intermediary zamindars in more productive areas in eastern India and ryotwari without intermediaries in less productive regions in southern and western India.
  4. b) The permanent settlement provided a fixed and stable income for the company that had seen a crisis of revenue in preceding years.
  5. c) Britishers hoped that the soil under cultivation would improve through investment and improvements in land to generate greater income. As a result, the purchasing power of peasants would increase, which would increase the demands for British goods in India.
  6. Political Reasons:
  7. a) The colonial government sought to establish its legitimacy by maintaining the existing social and political structures. E.g., talukdars and poligars as traditional elements of the social hierarchy in the rural society.
  8. b) The Permanent Settlement was created to create a class of loyal zamindars who would be prepared to defend the company at all costs as zamindars’ rights were guaranteed by the company.
  9. Administrative Reasons: Permanent settlement with zamindars saved the government the expenses that had to be spent in making collections. Similarly, Mahalwari system with the role for village headman also simplified revenue extraction.

The impact of the land revenue system on society is as follows:

  1. Peasant revolts: The permanent settlement often led to exploitation of peasants and the growth of absentee landlordism. It eroded the personal bonds between cultivators and zamindars. The rigid manner of collection and unjust demands caused peasant revolts.
  2. Social Inequality: The land revenue systems were designed to benefit large landowners at the expense of small farmers and tenants. This contributed to social inequality and created a system of exploitation that persists to this day.
  3. Impact on local administration: It deprived village panchayats of their two main functions: land settlements and judicial and executive functions. Thus, the old political-economic-social framework of village communities broke down.

The impact of the land revenue systems on economy is as follows:

  1. Forced commercialization of agriculture: To meet the high revenue demands, the farmers had to shift from food to cash crops like indigo and cotton. It affected the subsistence base of rural society and was a major reason for famines under colonial rule.
  2. Pauperisation of the rural economy: Decline of intermediaries like taluqdars caused loss of traditional patronage for handicrafts, which increased demographic pressure on land. Tenant cultivators saw eviction from land.
  3. Rural indebtedness: Due to the high revenue rates and overassessment, the peasants had to often borrow money to pay taxes.

Different land revenue systems during the colonial era were designed for the needs of the British colonial empire, which resulted in economic misery and social unrest.

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