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LAND TENURE SYSTEM IN INDIA : A HISTORICAL A PERSPECTIVE

Pijushkanti Saha
Vice-Chancellor, North Bengal University,West Bengal.

 

Introduction:

     The history of mankind is intimately associated with land relationship. The role of the State had been the most controlling factor in augmenting the land resources. In agrarian economy the land is the principal source of government revenue and also the major occupation of the people for subsistence. it holds true even today in modern India. The level of Indian economy is largely decided by the status of land.

     Frederic Engels in his classical treaties on 'Origin of Family, Private Property and State', discussed how the land relations activated the social transformation. Individual rights on holding / inheritance of land is a major event of social history. The kind and, the ruling elite were dependent on income from land and so controlled the entire land holding, either directly or indirectly. sometimes the land disputes led to war on a local or regional scale.

     Institutions framed rules for systematic distribution of lands. Institutional framework had been differnet on temporal and regional scale. Technology also played a key role in devising modalities for prospective utilization of land initiating cascading effect for social and economic transformation.

Significance of Land:

     Land is a fixed asset on the surface of the erth. It can neither be enlarged nor reduced under natural conditions. But the land surface, when subject to human use, may be deteriorated. The deterioration lf land may lead to many maladies, including abandonment of its use for prospective agriculture and other functional uses. Being a fixed asset land deserves regulations for optimum utilisation.

     The pressure on land is ever increasing. The population explosion in the later half of the twentieth century has caused several constraints for the utilisation of lands. The experts are recommending appropriate policies for scientific use of lands. For framework of such policies we require relevant information on lands, which are usually available from land records and other sources.

Importance of Land Records:

     Land records are of great importance. Land information from the basis for assignment and settlement of land titles, which are subject to legal scrutiny. The holding of land is controlled by statutory laws by the state at a given point of time. The access to land is determined by ownership patterns, based not only on statutory laws, but also on customary laws in many cases. india has a long tradition of customary laws in diverse regions of the country. The land tenure systems were different in different historicl periods, as the form of institutions changed in the historical context. The land tenure systems laws in many cases. India has a long tradition of customary laws in diverse regions of the country. The land tenure systems were different in different historical periods, as the form of institutions changed in the historical context. The land tenure systems also differed from region to region. This holds true even today due to prevalent diversity of the country like India.

     The importance of land records was recognized even in the past, as it is today. The state largely depended on land revenues for administrative, military and other necessary expenditure. In a democratic polity there have been more stress in evolving a comprehensive system for land management. At various stages of history the level of technology played a significant role in devising the modalities for land records.

History of Land Records:

Pre-British India:

     We have little understanding on land records and tenure system prior to Muslim rule in India. The land belonged to "King" and the property rights of individuals were not specified. Vincent Smith observed, "The native law of India has ordinarily recognized agricultural land as being crown property". (Smith, 1924) The observation by Vincent Smith was also contested. The ARthasashtra (Kautilya) has evidence of the cultivator being able to sell and alienate his land But it also states of the right of the king to replace him in his holding if he fails to pay the rent. This is like a double ownership, as prevalent in British India. In many cases the land also belonged to the community or headman of the village.

     Muslim 'rule' in India continued from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. Exception for a few decisions concerning the giving of land as gifts to relatives, generals, or artists, the State's fundamental interest was with assessing, measuring, and collecting the Sovereign's share of the revenue generated from agricultural production. As long as this revenue was collected without much trouble most, though certainly not all, aspects of village life were left to local elites, traditions, and culture. The village had more autonomy in the Mughal period than in the British Raj. The British historian W.H. Moreland defines it as "administrative Philanthropy". (Moreland, 1929).

     During the rule of Muslim the kind used to collect tax from the land, but the propriety was vested to the peasant, the tiller of land. "The King's right to levy tax was justified by the fact that he gave his subjects protection: there is no suggestion here of the king's right to eject the peasant from his holding; the peasant's right is based on the same basis as the merchant's right to merchandise; as the payment of a tax did not interfere with the proprietary rights of a merchant, similarly the peasant did not lose his right over holding because he paid a tax." (Quereshi, 1956).

     This attitude of the Muslim ruler towards the holding by the peasant was natural, as the Muslim legal system recognized that the cultivator was the owner of the land. The ownership of the land by the peasant was such an established principle in Muslim law that hitherto it had never been questioned.

     The Mughals organised that land revenue system following the footholds of Sher Shah Sur. They found the principal structure of agrarian base well established. The Mughals during the reign of Emperor Akbar, the great Mughal, moderately revised and integrated the system for efficient land revenue collection. They understood that in a dominant agrarian economy the organization of land administration would be more effective. The Mughals introduced the systems of sharing, appraisement and measurement. Emperor Akbar considered such agrarian reforms as important task for his own reasons. The Mughal empire during his reign was expanding and he had to maintain large number of officers for military and administration. Akbar introduced the Mansabdari system and tied the system, with land revenue collections. He was compelled to initite, reforms in administration and land revenue system, otherwise the conditions threatened to be more chaotic.

      Akbar's mission was fulfilled by his trusted officers like Raja Todarmal and Muzaffar Khan who effected a major change in the system of revenue collection. Raja Todarmal was instrumental in survey. A compendium of land records was prepared through collection of data from the field and entered in a register. It was really a beginning of systematic land records in India for which the British also owe to the Mughals. The dahshala or 10 year revenue system (Census) was the contribution of RAja Todarmal, who along with Diwan Shah Mansur divided the Mughal empire into 12 provinces, each administered by a governor and a Diwan. On the basis of land survey Raja Todarmal prepared the maps showing different holdings and assessed rents, which probably were the first cadastral maps in India. In 1571 he introduced the rational revenue assessment based on intimately surveyed land holdings. It was a revolutionary task in the context of technological level, then prevalent in India. The contribution was no less worthy in the historical context, when at the same period Mercator in 1969 published his world map, using conformal projection in his chart showing 'waxing latitudes'. Mercator was endowed with expanding horizon of scientific knowledge in Europe in the late 16th century, where Raja Todarmal had many hurdles.

      The Mughals applied new techniques for land survey. Firstly, they adopted standard units of measurement. A yard, called a Gaz, was introduced consisting of forty one digits. A bigha was measured as equal to an area sixty yards square. The reform was not only confined in adopting a new scale, but in standardizing the existing ones. The old practice of measuring length with a rope was replaced with bamboo poles. Because the rope used to shrink when it came in contact with moisture. Instead 'Bamboo rods joined together with iron rings were used which were less affected by moisture'. (Abu-L-Fazl (Ed.Beveridge),1939).

     The Mughals under the leadership of Raja Todarmal, the revenue and finance minister of Akbar, also instituted the classification of lands for assessment of revenues. The assessment of rent varied for different types of land. Basically the length of the period of cultivation was considered for a land classification. Where a land had been continuously cultivated, it was classified as Polaj land. When it was left uncultivated for a short period to regain fertility it was defined as parauti. When a land was not cultivated for a stretch of three to four years, it was categorized as Chachar. The wastelands, abandoned for cultivation for many years, were called the Banjar. The land revenue was highest for the Polaj lands, as the yields were usually high from such lands. The parauti land when cultivated was charged the same revenue that of Polaj land. The Mughals encouraged the conversion of wastelands into cultivated lands. The Banjar lands, when brought under cultivation, used to pay nominal taxes in the initial years. The Chachar land was treated similarly like the Banjar land. The Mughals were keen to expand cultivated area and extended special concessions to the cultivators for bringing new areas under cultivation. The new areas were shown separately in the statements submitted to the higher authorities. The authorities were vigilant to expand the cultivated land, in no case the cultivated land should be permitted for degradation into chachar and Banjar lands. The land policy of Akbar was peasant's friendly. He introduced the quality assessemnt to ensure enhanced land revenue for his expanding empire. But in no case he overburdened the cultivators. The officers were given farman to protect the crops and interest of the peasants. The peasant society in pre-British India had more autonomy and was adored with respect and admiration.

British India:

     The British domination over Indian land started in the seventeenth century and by the end of that century the British rule extended over large areas with the fall of Mughal empire, defeat of the Marathas and subjugation of local powers. The British inherited the institutional form of agrarian system from the Mughals. The British superimposed a system over the existing pattern in tune with British customs and laws relating land. Broadly three principal types of land revenue system were introduced in British India. The basic characteristic of each system was the attempt to incorporate elements of the preceding agrarian structure. The interaction of colonial policy and existing systems produced widely different local results and hybrid forms. it is interesting to note that the techniques used in land surveying in many parts of India even today remain substantially unchanged since their introduction by Raja Todarmal during the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar.

     Different land revenue systems were introduced in various part of British India, as the British annexed different parts of India in various periods. Let us have an intropection into three broad land revenue systems introduced by the British. These land revenue systems are 1. Zamindari System, 2. Rywotari System and 3. Mahalwari System.

Zamindari System:

     The Zamindari system was introduced in early British period. The Permanent settlement Act was passed in 1793 and initially introduced in Bengal. The system was also found in large parts of Northern India (except Avdh, Agra, Jaipur and Jodhpur), Bihar and Orissa. The system was introduced to ensure the revenue receipt of the british colonial power, where a Zamindar was declared the proprietor of land on condition of fixed revenue payments to the British regime. The peasants were turned into tenant farmers and deprived of the land title including other rights and privileges enjoyed during the Mughal period. The Zamindars collected the rents of land through different intermediate collectors. As a result of such practice there had been creation of multilevel ranks of collector under the Zamindar. The peasantry was subject to deprivation of his share in produce from land and relegated to abject poverty. This revenue system accounted for 57 per cent of cultivated area in the country. The Floud commission, inquiring the reasons of the Great Bengal Famine in 1943, recommended the abolition of intermediaries on land interest to the British Government.

Rywotari System:

     The Rywotari system was introduced in Madras Presidency in 1792 and in Bombay Presidency in 1817-18. This system recognized the proprietary right of the peasant on land and resembled the revenue system of the Mughal to a great extent. The system covered nearly all the southern states and many western states of India including the erstwhile Central Province (i.e. Madhya Pradesh). Even the princely states of Jaipur and Jodhpur had this category of revenue system, as it existed during the Mughal period. However, the pockets of Zamindri prevailed within the Rywotari regions, particularly in the princely states and the areas governed by the feudal lords. The Rywotari system covered nearly 38 per cent of the cultivated area in India.

Mahalwari System:

     The Mahalwari system was introduced between 1840 and 1850. In this system the entire village constituted revenue settlement as collective unit. The peasants paid the revenue share of whole village in proportion accoding to their individual holdings. The system covered the erstwhile Punjab, parts of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, and the princely stated of Avdh and Agra in Uttar Pradesh. The System was not extensive and included only 5 per cent of the cultivated land in India.

      Of the three systems the Rywotari resembled the Mughal revenue system, wherein the proprietary rights of the cultivators had been recognized. This system is considered to be most convenient and appropriate instrument for social development. However, the British legislation institutionalised the transfer of land and created the abse of land-market, which was almost absent in the Mughal period. The legislation enacted during 1850s in Rywotari and Mahalwari areas enabled moneylenders to recover debts from the mortagaged land holdings. It caused serious impact on transfer of land from the holding of cultivator to non-cultivator. "As a result, rural society in Rywotari and Mahalwari areas was polarised into landlords and rich peasants versus tenants and agricultural labourers, and the distribution of land became highly unequal". (The Royal Commission on Agriculture, 1924-25).

      An interesting study has been made on agricultural growth rate relating to types of tenure system prevailing in vrious states. The study reveals that the former Rywotari and Mahalwari areas of Southern and Western India have achieved higher rates of agricultural growth than the former Zamindari areas of Northern and Eastern India. However, the exception is the state of West Bengal. West bengal has surpassed all the states in all categories of land tenure system except Punjab. This has been possible in implementing land reforms with the pro-active role of Panchayats. In Punjab higher growth rate has been the outcome of Green Revolution. The following table will show the results.

Typology of States by Tenure System and Agricultural Growth Rate

Tenure System / State
Zamindari (57 Per cent)

Average Annual Growth Rate (Percent)

 

Uttar Pradesh (Except Avdh & Agra)

1.9

 

Bihar

1.5

 

Orissa

2.6

 

West Bengal

4.4

 

Rajasthan

1.1

 

Andhra Pradesh

----

 

Rywotari (38 Per cent)

.

 

Karnataka

2.7

 

Gujarat

2.0

 

Tamiln Nadu

1.6

 

Kerala

0.7

 

Maharashtra

2.7

 

Madhya Pradesh (60 Per cent area)

1.6

 

Andhra Pradesh (except Telangana)

2.7

 

Assam

0.4

 

Rajasthan(only Jaipur & Jodhpur)

----

 

Mahalwari (5 Per cent)

----

 

Rajasthan(only Jaipur & Jodhpur)

----

 

Punjab

4.5

 

Haryana

2.4

 

Madhya Pradesh (40 Per cent)

1.6

 

Orissa ( 9 per cent )

----

 

Uttar Pradesh (only Avdh & Agra)

----

 

All India

2.1

 

 


Comparative Assessment of the British Revenue System with the Mughal System:

     The British considered that the state had entitlement to a share of the annual produce of each unit of land. Under the Mughal system the State's precise share of the produce varied. The actual claims by the State depended upon local conditions - including the weather conditions (flood or drought), variations in cropping pattern and sources of irrigation. Besides the size of the share, the method of assessment of the gross produce was also left to the Sovereign. Obviously the State needed a large number of officials and functionaries to assess and collect its revenue. The State's method of assessment and revenue collection was to assign a portion of the State revenue to be collected and enjoyed by different ranks of people who were either the employees of the State or its dependents. The British also embraced this aspect of the Mughal System.

     The Mughal assessed revenue through estimation and measurement. In the estimation process, the State sent officials who in collaboration with village officials and leaders assessed the cultivator's liability before the product was ripe. The cultivator was to pay this liability in cash after harvest and sale. The measurement procedure applied a schedule of rates prepared on the basis of average yeield per unit for each type of crop following a calculation of land size. The average value for different crops was determined on the prevalent price in the area. One third of the calculated price was fixed as revenue for the State. The Mughal, afterwards assessed the land revenue according to the variability of soil fertility, types of crops grown and average prices, prevalent in any locality over a number of years and took measures to collect these data on its own initiative. In modern eyes the Mughal's revenue system appears to be remarkable degree of flexibility towards thespecificity of the locale. This practice, however, complicated their revenue collection and burdened their bureaucracy.

      The British domination in India may be regarded as less ideal andmore capitalistic, with an intention for developing the colonial market. They pursued the policy to reap for increasing surplus value unleashed by the logic of empire capital. It was the imperialist design for capital accumulation. The capitalists used to intervene in evry pore of the earth's productive surface, transform conceptions of space, time, and culture, thereby assimilationg local spaces into the rhythms of global capital. The principles of capitalism also embody commitments to freedom, equity, justice, contract, and individuality. With such dichotomy, the British differed from the Mughal in their design to transform the face of local culture in the process of collecting revenue.

      Whatever the long-term effects of the Permanent Settlement, it failed to create the capitalist landowner class of British Model. To the contrary there had been transfer of property from hereditary Zamindars and Rajas to the urban mercantile class. Nor were members of this class able to become agricultural capitalists. The reasons are many, not the least of which is the resistance of the peasants to such appropriation and relegation of their occupational rights. In spite of their struggle, the peasants did lose their customary rights to fixed revenue-rates, and of their rights to common property in wastelands, fisheries, forests, gardens and trees.

Present Land Records System in India

     In India, land records data are now kept and maintained at tahsil office or other appropriate offices. The records ae principally of two types:

v      Alphanumeric data containing record of rights in details, crop statistics of individual plots.

v      The cadastral maps depicting the boundaries and extent of the plots. Theseare maintained in the     form of village (mouza) maps or Field Measurement Book.

     Various registers are maintained for alphanumeric data containing the following records:

     Record of Rights: It contains the ownership records in details for each parcel, sub-divisions.

     Crop Details: These data are updated thrice/twice in the States based on crop seasons and                            inspection reports showing details of crops sown,area, cultivators and yield                            details.

     Pedigree Table: The pedigree sheet shows the details of family history, relationship with                                 ownership in details.

Cadastral Survey

     A cadastre means the parcel. The cadastral survey is 10 per cent spatial information on a map and 90 per cent data on land records kept in the register. The objective of cadastral survey is the determination of village and field boundaries, preparation of village map showing such boundaries and area lists, and preparation of field registers. Themaps and area lists depict the physical boundaries and areas and the field registers give the land particulars including records on ownership, revenue assessment, land classification, etc.

Cadastral Maps

     Village maps are prepared by using the individual survey field data. Such maps appear to be slightly inaccurate due to error in individual field records being collected from the village. Errors, in general, are generated due to measurement data being rounded off and also due to terrain nature of the ground. The boundary of the village is determined by traverse survey and used to control the accumulated error in the mosaic village map. In traverse survey, the entire village is divided into more than one block and known boundary points (called traverse stations).

Issues

     Though many states have degitized their records but it will take time where we can achieve parity between data entered and transactions through computers. The manual system of issuing of Record of Rights (ROR) is prevalent in most of the states. Vinay Thakur and others have identified relevant issues relating to ROR. (Thakur et al, 2004)

v      Data entry and verification of legacy data.

v      Regular update of the records because of mutations.

v      Unstructured Data.

v      Language issues.

v      Land records maintained on paper/cloth appear to be in a very bad shape.

v      Duplication on similar media is cumbersome and will result in similar problems of    maintenance     after a few year.

v      Update of boundaries or title information by manual process is highly timeconsuming and any     error will get propagated to the village maps.

v      Cross verification is required over records for logner period of time to avoid inconsistencies after update.

v      Retrieval for redress of any dispute is time consuming due to the large volume of information.

v      Every retrieval/use has an associated risk of further physical damage of the old records.

v      Legal sanctity to computer generated ROR.

v      Accuracy of maps and different scales of available maps.

Application of Technology

     GIS as a tool can be effectively used for better visualization and spatial analysis. Maps are useful medium for planning, analysis and monitoring. It integrates non-spatial and spatial data sets for query (SQL) and better display. Cadastral Maps can be digitized and used on a computer platform for decision making at grass root level.

     Information can be stored in a computer and retrieved at any time. With any DBMS software the data can be processed, handled and managed to help planners and decision makers in arriving at appropriate decisions. Data warehouse can deliver strategic intelligence to the decision-makers and provide an insight into the overall situation. This technology helps decision-makers in taking micro level decisions instantly. The land-related data can be organised into a meaningful Information Warehouse. The land information, containing history of property transfer, division of land parcels, yield trends, crop pattern and revenue details, will be of immense help for all concerned. Most of the states have now stored relevant land records in computer files and copies of Record of Rights are being issued on a computer format. However, the organisation of data on land records hall be standardized on a national scale, if possible, on an international scale. Updated echnology shall be applied with flexible modalities for specific purpose and use.

Conclusion

     India has a long history of land records and heritage of systematic land tenure. Though the land history in the pre-Muslim period is observed, it can be argued that the land potentials of Ancient India attracted many invading ethnic groups. But all such ethnic groups were not alienated from the cultural ethos of India and mingled with the mainstream of Indian society. The only exception was the British. It may debated whether the British domination for nearly three centuries helped in socio-economic transformation for a better society or not. Certainly the British came with an ulterior motive to reap the benefits from land resources and transfer the surplus from land to accumulate the imperial capital. Eminent social scientist G.K. Shirokov observed, "The exploitation of the direct producers, particularly peasants, was intensified and the chances for saving were minimised. This put a brake on the development of productive forces and introduction of modern techniques. The immutable system of reproduction and the way of life in the countryside ensured the traditional demands for consumer and producer goods. There was to put it in another way, a direct relation between the persistence of the backward productive forces in agriculture and preservation of lower forms of industry." (Shirokov, 1973) If there were no British intervention the agricultural prosperity prevailing in Mughal India would pave he transition to bourgeois society earlier from thefeudal society.

References:-

       Abu-L-Fazl (Ed. Beveridge. H) (1939): The Akbar Nama, Vol.III Asiatic Society, Calcutta.

       Moreland, W.H. (1929): The agrarian Systemof Moslem India, Cambridge.

       Qureshi, JH. (1979) : The Administration of Mughal Empire, Janaki Prakashan, Delhi.

       Royal Commissionon Agriculture (1925) : Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture,
1924-25,Delhi.

       Shirokov, G.K. (1973) : Industrialization in India, Moscow.

       Smith, Vincent (1924) : Early History of India, Oxford.

       Thakur, Vinay et al (2004) : Land Records Management System in India Technical Framework,         G.I.S. Development, New Delhi.