Land Revenue Systems in British India

Lipika Pandey L

When we think about the British India, our minds turn to the armed forces, the Raj and the great divide between East and West. But there’s a lot more beyond all that. There were the Land Revenue systems that brought up the people’s interest in land ownership and business development. 

Land revenue systems in British India were a major component of the land reforms carried out by the British colonial administration from 1793 onwards and played an important role in shaping the system of land ownership in India today, influencing real estate patterns and commercial activities across the country to this day.

The introduction of new systems such as the zamindari system and Ryotwari system forever changed the face of real estate in India as well as its financial prospects with long-lasting effects that can still be felt today.

Land revenue systems in British India formed the base of real estate transactions and ownership patterns in India.

Zamindari System

When it comes to real estate, the amount of land someone owns tells you a lot about their financial situation. For centuries, this was also true of Zamindari system in India. The Zamindari system in India meant that land was held by a landholder, or zamindar.

The lands were generally distributed to peasants to cultivate, but it was only through cultivating these lands that they could actually own them; many times, these lands had been held in a family for generations before being transferred as an inheritance.

The construction, lease and transfer of real estate properties were all illegal during British rule in India. The land was considered property belonging to the government which had to be leased for agricultural purposes only.

However, due to improper regulation by colonial authorities, private ownership was established once again. This led to an increase in private ownership after several years. This trend continues even today although under a different form than before as part of zamindari system.

Ryotwari system

The Ryotwari system was introduced to the new British-ruled India in 1820 by Lord Hastings, and it had a significant impact on the growth of real estate in India. Although the Ryotwari system was established over two centuries ago, its effects are still visible in some areas of India today. The Ryotwari system included individual land ownership, which changed how landownership worked in India. 

Initially, a person had to be in possession of land for 11 years in order to claim it as his own. He could then transfer it to another person after recording their details. However, individual ownership was not allowed under Ryotwari system. When an owner died, half of his land would be inherited by male and female children equally while one-fourth was given as maintenance allowance to wife.

In case there were no children or wife, half would go back to government and remaining owned by legal heirs who would pay a nominal tax (dafali) per acre (10 marlas). This rule remained until 1955 when holdings were permitted.

The Ryotwari system allowed peasants (Ryots) to own their land and to pass it down within their family. This meant that no landlord could claim ownership or re-sell it, thus ensuring that peasant families stayed in one place for generations.

During British rule, tenancy rights were abolished and land was sold off to help finance Britain’s rapidly expanding infrastructure projects. In addition, there was a good deal of corruption in India’s revenue department at that time – bribes from builders (who owned huge swathes of land) often resulted in individual plots being re-sold more than once before completion. The net result is that many properties have dubious title deeds and may need professional assistance when it comes to making any significant structural changes or upgrades. 

Mahalwari system

Mahalwari system of land revenue was prevalent in Northern India before it was replaced by the Zamindari system in 1858.

The word Mahalwari refers to the house of the Zamindar, the representative of the ruler who collected the land revenue on behalf of the government and administered the land under his jurisdiction. 

Mahalwari system is generally applicable to farming/agricultural lands only. Residential as well as commercial properties developed in urban areas are not covered under Mahalwari system. The ‘share of property’ under Mahalwari system (if applicable) is recorded in revenue records for each district across India.

The land-owners who are registered under Mahalwari payment schedule pay property tax on regular basis to local municipal authorities or panchayats that come into play only when sales or transfer of property takes place by such persons.

If you have one or more pieces of property under Mahalwari system, you can get benefits of various schemes related to irrigation, minor irrigation projects, drinking water supply schemes for villages, etc. When lands are acquired for such government schemes using powers conferred by Land Acquisition Act 1894 or Land Acquisition Act 1894 (1 of 1894), then compensation is paid to owners at current market value as decided by local land revenue officer after following certain legal procedure.

This payment is made to farmers/landowners in cash from budget allocated from time to time by Central Government. Such budgetary allocation process has been in vogue since decades so that farmers/landowners get timely payment and proper price for their lands.


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