Pre-Independent Land Reforms


            There were no proper land reforms before the arrival of British. When British came to power they wanted a proper land Revenue system for collection of taxes from the cultivators; peasants; land lords etc. Lord Cornwallis who first initiated the major land reform in 1793 it was known as Zamindari System. Zamindars attains the high position because of this system. In 1820 Ryotwari System was introduced by Thomas Munro because of the rising demerits in the existed Zamindari System. It gave importance to peasants, they can able to pay tax directly to the government officials instead of paying to zamindars. Middle men were dismissed in the Ryotwari System. Mahalwari system was introduced in 1833 by William Bentick. Ownership rights were vested with the peasants.   

Zamindari System

Origin and Growth:

Zamindari system otherwise known as permanent settlement. We have seen that in 1765, the East India Company acquired the Diwani or control over the revenues, of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Initially, it made an attempt to continue the old system of revenue collection. Though the amount of land revenue was pushed high by zamindars and other speculators bidding against each other, the actual collection varied from year to year and seldom came up to official expectations. Finally, after prolonged discussion and debate, the Permanent Settlement was introduced in Bengal and Bihar in 1793 by Lord Cornwallis. It had two special features. First, the zamindars and revenue collectors were converted into so many landlords. They were not only to act as agents of the government in collecting land revenue from the ryot but also to become the owners of the entire land in their zamindars. There right of ownership was hereditary and transferable. On the other hand the cultivators were reduced to the low status of mere tenants and were deprived of long-standing rights to the soil and other customary rights. The use of the pasture and forest lands, irrigation canals, fisheries, and homestead plots and protection against enhancement of rent were some of the rights which were sacrificed.

Significance of Zamindari System:

In fact, the tenantry of Bengal and Bihar was left entirely at the mercy of the zamindars. This was done so that the zamindars might be able to pay in time the exorbitant land revenue demand of the company. Second, the zamindars were to give 10/11th of the rental they derived from the pesantry to the state, keeping only 1/11th for themselves. But the sums to be paid by them as land revenue were fixed in perpetuity. If the rental of a zamindars estate increased owing to extension of cultivation and improvement in agriculture, or his capacity to extract more from his tenants, or any other reason, he would keep the entire amount of the increase. The state would not make any further demand upon him. At the same time, the zamindar had to pay his revenue rigidly on the due date even if the crop had failed for some reason; otherwise his land were to be sold.

The initial fixation of revenue was made arbitrarily and without any consultation with zamindars. The attempt of the official was to secure the maximum amount. As a result, the rates of revenue were fixed very high. Between 1765-66 and 1793, land revenue demand nearly doubled, John Shore, the man who planned the permanent settlement and later succeeded Cornwallis as Governor-General, calculated that if the gross produce of Bengal be taken as 100, the government claimed 45, zamindars and other intermediaries below them received 15, and only 40 remained with the actual cultivator. One result of this high and impossible land revenue demand was that nearly half the zamindari lands were put up for sale between 1794 and 1807.

The Permanent Zamindari Settlement was latter extended to Orissa, the Northern Districts of Madras, and the District of Varanasi. In parts of Central India and Awadh the British introduced a temporary zamindari settlement under which the zamindars were made owners of land but the revenue they had to pay was created all over India when the government started the practice of giving land to persons who had rendered faithful service to the foreign rulers.


  • The permanent settlement secured a fixed and stable income for the state and the state could depend upon that income. It saved the Government the expenses that had to be spent in making periodical assessments and settlements.
  • Permanent settlement would encourage agricultural enterprise and prosperity; Waste land would be reclaimed and the soil under cultivation would improved; the Zamindars would introduce new methods of cultivation like better rotation of crops, use of manure etc. Thus the settlement would create conditions for the development of the fullest Power of the soil. This in turn would create a contented and resourceful peasantry.
  • Cornwallis expected that the Permanent settlement should create a class of loyal Zamindars who would be prepared to defend the company at all costs because their rights were guaranteed by the company.
  • The permanent settlement of Bengal set free the ablest servants of the company for judicial services. Further it avoided the evils normally associated with the temporary settlements, the harassment of the cultivators, the tendency on the part of the cultivators to leave the land deteriorate towards the end of the term to get a low assessment etc.


  • It soon turned into an engine of exploitation and oppression. It created “feudalism at the top and serfdom at the bottom”.
  • The state has proved to be a great loser in the long run. Even when new areas of land were brought under cultivation and the rents of the land already under cultivation had been increased manifold, the state could not claim its legitimate share in the increase. The state demand fixed in 1793
  • Most of the landlords did not take any interest in the improvements of the land, but were merely interested in extracting the maximum possible rent from the ryot.
  • The cultivator, being under the constant fear of rejectment, had no incentive to improve the land. The Zamindars did not live on the estates, but away in the cities where they wasted their time and money in Luxury. By recognising the absolute right of ownership of the Zamindars the company sacrificed the interests of the peasants whether of property or occupancy.
  • The Permanent Settlement required the payment of the yearly revenue by the zamindar on or before the sun-set of a particular day.
  • zamindars now became the owners of land oppression of the ryots by zamindars increased manifold. A large section of ryots (tenants) were dispossessed of their land to become landless labourers.

The Ryotwari System

Orgin and Growth:

The establishment of British rule in south and south-western India brought new problems of land settlement. The officials believed that in these regions there were no zamindars with large estates with whom settlement of land revenue could be made and that the introduction of zamindari system would upset the existing state of affairs. Many Madras officials led by Reed and Munro recommended that settlement should, therefore, be made directly with the actual cultivators. They also pointed out that under the Permanent Settlement the Company was a financial loser as it had to share of the growing income from land. Moreover, the cultivator was left at the mercy of the zamindar who could oppress him at will. Under the system they proposed, which is known as the Ryotwari Settlement, the cultivator was to be recognised as the owner of his plot of land subject to the payment of land revenue. The Ryotwari System came in to existence in 1820. The supporters of the Ryotwari system claimed that is was a continuation of the state of affairs that had existed in the past. Munro said: “It is the system which has always prevailed in India”. The Ryotwari Settlement was in the end introduced in parts of the Madras and Bombay Presidencies in the beginning of the nineteenth century. The settlement under the Ryotwari system was not made permanent. It was revised periodically after 20 to 30 years when the revenue demand was usually raised.

The Ryotwari Settlement did not bring into existence a system of pesant ownership. The peasant soon discovered that the large number of zamindars had been replaced by one giant zamindar the state and that they were mere government tenants whose land was sold if they failed to punctually pay land revenue. In fact, the government later openly claimed that land revenue was rent and not a tax.

The royts rights of ownership of his land were also negated by three other factors:

  1. In most areas the land revenue fixed was exorbitant; the ryot was hardly left with bare maintenance even in the best of seasons. For instance, in Madras the government claim was fixed as high as 45 to 55 percent of gross production in the settlement. The situation was nearly as bad in Bombay.
  2. The government retained the right to enhance land revenue at will.
  3. The ryot had to pay revenue even when his produce was partially or wholly destroyed by drought or floods.


  • There were no middlemen. The tax was collected directly from the ryots or cultivators.
  • The ryot was the owner of the land he cultivated.
  • He could transfer, sell or mortgage his property.
  • He could not be ejected from his land as long as he paid the revenue.
  • The assessment was fixed in money and it did not change every year.


  • The tax rate was quite high.
  • The tax was not based on the actual revenues from the produce of the land. It was based on an estimate of the potential of the soil.
  • In some cases the tax more than 50% of the gross revenue.
  • The tax had to be paid in cash this exposed the cultivators to the demands of the moneylenders when crops failed.

The Mahalwari system

Origin and growth:

A modified version of the zamindari settlement, introduced in the Ganga valley, the North-West Provinces, parts of central India, and the Punjab, was known as the Mahalwari system. The revenue settlement was to be made village by village or estate (mahal) by estate with landlords or heads of families who collectively claimed to be the landlords of the village or the estate. In the Punjab a modified Mahalwari system known as the village system was introduced. In Mahalwari areas also, the land revenue was periodically revised. Both the Zamindari and the Ryotwari systems departed fundamentally from the traditional land systems of the country. The British created a new form of private property in land in such a way that the benefit of the innovation did not go to the cultivators. All over the country, land was now made saleable, and alienable. This was done primarily to protect the governments revenue. If land had not been made transferable or saleable, the government would find it very difficult to realise revenue from a cultivator who had no savings or possessions out of which to pay it. Now he could borrow money on the security of this land or even sell part of it and pay his land revenue. If he refused to do so, the government could and often did auction his land and realise the amount. Another reason for introducing private ownership of land was provided by the belief that only right of ownership would make the landlord or the ryot exert himself in making improvements. The British by making land a commodity which could be freely bought and sold introduced a fundamental change in the existing land system of the country.


The amount was not fixed. The amount was revised periodically depending on the net produced.


Mahalwari system of revenue by the British was to increase the revenue of the Government. It brought about an agrarian revolution. One of the consequences of the system was that the objective of village agricultural production for village used was replaced by that for the market. The mode production and produced were now determined by the new objective, that of sale. The collection of the revenue under the different system were not in the interests of the cultivators as the demand of the state went on increasing. The British policy gave advantage only to the government or the privileged sections of the society at the cost of the cultivators. One of the most important result was the creation of new form of private property which had never existed in India before this period and which benefited the government.


            According to these land reforms huge amount of money were collected as the tax. In each reforms system only a particular sect of people were gaining the profit and remaining people lose there land or money. These reforms were not regulated periodically. There were both merits and demerits in these reforms. After independence these reforms were regulated and many new reforms and act was passed by the Indian Government.