Ryotwari, Mahalwari & Zamindari – Land revenue systems during British rule

The land revenue system during the British era is a very important topic for UPSC and State PSC exams. Many questions are asked every year from this topic in prelims as well as in the mains exam. This article will cover all the necessary concepts and facts required for these exams. So let’s start the topic.

Tax from the land has been a major source of revenue for the rulers and the governments from ancient times. 

Revenue system existed in India from ancient times but the amount or the percentage of tax differed from time to time depending upon the nature of the governance and the greed of the rulers and governments.

During the British era, when India was a colony of the British government, various land revenue systems were imposed on Indians by the ruthless Britishers to quench their thirst for wealth. The drain of wealth theory by Dada Bhai Naoroji in his book “Poverty and Un-British Rule in India” explains how Britishers looted and transferred the Indian wealth to Britain. Moreover, Britain prospered and India became poor by the ruthless governance and greedy land revenue system of the Britishers. 

Mainly three types of land revenue systems existed during British rule in India, these are the following;

1. Permanent settlement system or zamindari system

2. Ryotwari system

3. Mahalwari system


1. Permanent settlement or zamindari system:

The Permanent system is also known as the Zamindari system was introduced by Cornwallis. In this system 19% of the land where covered. The area where this system was imposed were mainly;

  • Bengal
  • Bihar
  • Orissa

Later the coromandel coast was also included in this system for the generation of more revenue.

In this system of revenue, ownership was given to the zamindars, which means that Zamindar Became the owner of the land and the farmers (who were the actual owners) become the tenant on their own land.

Zamindars were responsible for the collection of revenue which was mainly collected in form of cash.

This system was introduced in 1793.

The time period for this settlement was 10 years and it was extended after every 10 years. It means that a zamindar was allotted the land for 10 years and the zamindar used to collect the taxes and submit them to the Britishers.

The share of the company (Britishers) was fixed at 10/11th of the revenue and 1/11th part to the zamindars. Even after the poor yield, the revenue had to be paid.

This is also known as sunset law, it means that if the payment is not made on the due date before sunset, zamindari was liable to be cancelled and fresh auctions could be initiated and a new zamindar could be given the powers. But women were exempted from the sunset provisions.


2. Ryotwari system:

‘Ryot’ means peasant or cultivator. From the name itself, it is clear that the ownership of the land was given to the peasants and Britishers directly collated the revenue from the peasants themselves. This system was based on the Ricardian theory of rent.

Hence, in the Ryotwari system, the peasants were recognized as the owner of the land.

The Ryotwari system was introduced in 1802 by Alexander Reed and later continued by Thomas Munro.

This system was mainly implemented in the following areas;

  • Parts of Madras province
  • Parts of Bombay province
  • Later extended to the Deccan areas

This system covered approximately 51% of land and 61 % of irrigated areas.

The revenue was fixed on an annual basis between the cultivator and the government but the revenue rate was very high like 50% on dry land and 60% on the irrigated land.


3. Mahalwari system:

Mahal means village or estate. It was a modified version of the Zamindari system. In this system, the land was divided into mahals and each Mahal comprises one and more villages headed by the Lambardar called village headman or also called village committee which was responsible for the collection of revenue.

The Mahalwari system came into effect in 1822 and this system was introduced by Holt Mackenzie and was implemented during the time of Lord Bentinck.

This system was extended to the Ganga Yamuna doab and North-West province which comprised of 29% of the company land. Mainly this system was implemented in the following areas;

1. Ganga Yamuna doab

2. North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)

3. Parts of Central India

4. Parts of Punjab


Now let’s discuss some of the bad impacts on the farmers and peasants due to these land revenue systems;

1. Many peasants become landless due to loss of ownership to zamindars. Also, the emergence of European planters like purchasing land through the sunset law made them landless.

2. The destruction of the traditional style of farming and shifting to the cash crop due to the compulsion of the company lead to commercialization and put farmers in the poverty.

3. New class of Jotedars emerged which are wealthy peasants leads to inequality in the peasants themselves.

4. The emergence of the local moneylenders put the peasants in a debt trap and lastly they sold their land due to the financial crisis and abject poverty.

5. Impoverishment of peasants, over-assessment of land, and imposing excessive taxation.

6. Development of land market and agents lead to increased fraud in selling the land of Poors.

7. Strengthened the caste and social hierarchy in society lead the discrimination.


Someone said that;

History repeats itself and still in this era of modern cultivation and technological intervention we are still unable to remove the curse of the Britisher’s land revenue system’s negative impact.

Still, our farmers and peasants are the most vulnerable section in the society and they are still dependent on the small land which was destroyed by the subjugated policy of Britishers.


This article is written by;

Mr. Pankaj Kumar Gupta

(Email ID: [email protected])