Ryotwari Settlement: Land Revenue System in Colonial India

The Ryotwari Settlement was introduced by the British East India Company to streamline land revenue collection and address the administrative challenges posed by the expansion of British rule in India.

There were many shortcomings in the system of Permanent Settlement, so it had more opponents than supporters. The problem became more serious when the Company started expanding its empire as it was not sure which settlement should be made in the newly annexed territory.

The pioneer of Ryotwari Settlement was Thomas Munro. For him, the benefit to the people was the primary concern of any settlement. Under Ryotwari Settlement, land revenue was collected directly from the peasant, as Ryot itself meant peasant in Persian. It was implemented first in the Madras Presidency in the early nineteenth century. Interestingly, the reason given by Reid, an English officer in Madras, was that there was no big zamindar in Madras, unlike in Bengal, for the settlement. Different systems were prevailing in different parts of south India. Some lands were under the Jagir System, some Inam, and some captured. The Government wanted uniformity in tax collection and settlement, so it decided to make a settlement directly with the peasants. The Ryotwari Settlement was implemented in Madras, Malabar, Kanara, Kudupah, Bellarey, Coimbatur, and Karnool.

After the third Anglo-Maratha war (1817-18), a large part of Maratha's Kingdom including Poona and Gujarat were annexed into Bombay Presidency. The Company had no hesitation in implementing Ryotwari Settlement in the newly annexed areas. Elphinston, the local commissioner, was responsible for this. This settlement was also implemented in Gujarat, Central provinces, Berar, Burma, Assam, and Coorg. Ryotwari Settlement was implemented in 52 per cent of British India.

The peasants in this system were made owners of the land, and 50 per cent of the net produce was fixed as land revenue.

Benefits to the Government

1. The Settlement was not Permanent but for a fixed tenure, normally for 30 years; therefore, in case of increased production, the government could also increase the land revenue, unlike in Permanent Settlement.

2. The Government collected land revenue mainly in cash; therefore, in case of a price rise, the Government also benefited.

3. The Government had control over non-occupied and other community land, unlike in the Permanent Settlement area.

Benefits to the Peasant

1. The peasants were treated as owners of the land. They could sell or give their land on contract.

2. He was saved from any intermediaries.

Losses to the Peasant

1. In theory, the land revenue was collected on 'net income', but in practice, it was difficult to estimate the total cost incurred in productivity. It was difficult to maintain the records, for any peasant, of expenditure on seeds, animals, labour, manures, etc. Thus, in reality, the state was collecting land revenue from 'total income' instead of 'net income'.

2. The clever and corrupt revenue officials penetrated the political body of the rural south.

3. The high rate of taxation forced the peasants to borrow money from moneylenders (Mahajans). For other socio-religious purposes too, the peasant borrowed money. The rate of interest was quite high and arbitrary, which made it difficult for the peasant to settle their account with the Mahajans. They were not allowed to settle the debt even if they wished because the papers of land were in the custody of Mahajans who wanted to grab the land and were always looking for excuses and opportunities. The British police and judicial system also helped the Mahajans instead of the oppressed peasants. Thus, the Ryotwari Settlement brought great misery to the peasants. It is not surprising why maximum famine, drought, and unrest were noticed in the parts of British India with the Ryotwari system.

4. The peasant failed to develop their agricultural land and crop pattern due to the high rate of taxation.

It is clear that the tall claim which that English officials like Reid made proved false. The Government had announced in the late nineteenth century that land revenue would be collected only on 'net produce', relief would be given to the peasant during natural calamities, and concession in revenue collection would be given in the case of poor-quality land. The Deccan Agricultural Relief Act, 1879, clearly mentioned stopping land transfer, but all these promises remained on paper. The peasants were left free to face their bitterest enemies the 'Nature', the 'Officials and Mahajans'.

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