The Mahalwari System – Working, Areas Of Operation and Drawbacks

Historical Background of the Mahalwari System?

Mahalwari System
Mahalwari system

The Mahalwari system was a mechanism for revenue collection introduced by the British in 1833. By the year 1818 after the 3rd Anglo-Maratha war, the British had established their hegemony over the entire Indian subcontinent except Punjab, which was finally annexed after the 2nd Anglo-Sikh war in 1849. In order to manage a vast territory the British required a sound and efficient system of revenue collection. The Permanent Settlement system was already introduced in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in 1793 by Charles Cornwallis.

But it had some drawbacks. In order to check the drawbacks of the Permanent Settlement system, William Bentick, the then Governor General appointed Holt Mackenzie and Robert Martins Bird to devise a new system of revenue collection for the northern territories which would be more flexible. The Mahalwari system areas included Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, parts of Orissa and Central India. Another system of revenue collection prevalent in western and southern India was the Ryotwari system

What is the Mahalwari System?

The word ‘Mahalwari’ has been derived from the word ‘Mahal’ which in Hindi means a house or a neighbourhood or a district. 

  • The most salient feature of the Mahalwari system was that it was based on the assessment of actual land use and crop production, rather than on arbitrary assessments or fixed taxes. 
  • This made it a more fair and accurate method of collecting revenue, as the amount of revenue collected was directly proportional to the amount of land being used and the crops being grown. 
  • The area under assessment included village lands, forests and pastures. 
  • It was the responsibility of the Lambardar to maintain land records, conduct land surveys, settle land revenues, assess demand of the Mahals and finally collect the land revenues.
  • The process of estimation of produce and rents was simplified.
  • It also improvised the process of measuring land and assessing the quality of soil.
  • The revenue was fixed at 66% of the rental value and the settlement was done for 30 years.
  • The revenue from a village was collected by the government through a revenue officer. This officer was responsible for assessing the amount of land in a village and the crops grown on that land. 
  • The revenue officer would then set the amount of revenue to be collected from the village based on these factors.

Disadvantages

Though the Mahalwari system was designed after a lot of considerations, it was not devoid of lacunae. Some of the disadvantages of this system can be seen as:

  • It was difficult to accurately assess the amount of land in a village and the types of crops grown on that land. This was particularly true in areas where there was a lack of accurate records or where there were large amounts of uncultivated land.
  • Another issue with the Mahalwari system was that it did not take into account the ability of landowners to pay the revenue being collected. This meant that landowners who were struggling financially may have had difficulty paying the full amount of revenue being demanded, leading to financial hardship and even the loss of their land.
  • The revenue received by the authorities was less than the expenditure incurred.
  • The 66% taxation was too exorbitant. The Saharanpur Rules of 1855, under Lord Dalhaousie, however revised the rates at 50%. However the British officials paid little attention to these rules which resulted in widespread discontent. This discontent was also one of the reasons for the outbreak of Revolt of 1857.

Mahalwari System Was Introduced By

  • The Mahalwari system was introduced by Holt Mackenzie. 
  • The system was administered by Robert Martins Bird. 
  • Lord William Bentick had appointed the duo to devise a new revenue system that would address the drawbacks of the Permanent Settlement system.
  •  Holt Mackenzie and Robert Merttins Bird were key figures in the development of the new system. 
  • They recognized the need for a more flexible approach to land revenue collection and worked to simplify the process of estimating produce and rents. 
  • They also introduced the concept of fixing average rents based on soil quality, which aimed to make the system more fair and accurate. 

Prior to this, the Regulation of 1822 had been in place for land revenue collection in British India. However, this regulation had resulted in widespread misery and discontent among the population, leading Bentinck’s government to seek a more effective and fair solution.

How Was The Mahalwari System Different From The Permanent Settlement?

Mahalwari System

  • The Mahalwari system was introduced in 1833 and was implemented in the North-Western Provinces, Punjab, and parts of Central India
  • Under this system, the revenue from a village was collected by the government through a revenue officer. 
  • The revenue officer would assess the amount of land in a village and the crops grown on that land, and set the amount of revenue to be collected from the village based on these factors. 
  • The revenue collected under the Mahalwari system was used to fund various government projects and services in British India, and was also used to pay for the expenses of the revenue officers and other government officials involved in the revenue collection process.

Permanent Settlement

  • The Permanent Settlement, on the other hand, was a land revenue collection system that was implemented in 1793 in the Bengal Presidency, which included parts of modern-day India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. 
  • Under the Permanent Settlement, the British government entered into agreements with the zamindars, or landlords, in the Bengal Presidency. 
  • These agreements fixed the amount of land revenue that the zamindars were required to pay to the government in perpetuity, regardless of changes in the value of the land or the crops grown on it. 
  • The Permanent Settlement was seen as a more stable and predictable method of collecting land revenue, but it was also criticized for being inflexible and not taking into account changes in the economic conditions of the region.

Overall, the main difference between the Mahalwari system and the Permanent Settlement was the way in which land revenue was collected. The Mahalwari system was based on the assessment of actual land use and crop production, while the Permanent Settlement was based on fixed agreements with landlords. The Mahalwari system was implemented in a wider geographical area than the Permanent Settlement and was seen as a more flexible and fair method of collecting land revenue, but it also had its own set of challenges and limitations.

Mahalwari System UPSC

The Mahalwari system is an important topic in the history of British India and is likely to be covered in the Indian Civil Services (UPSC) exams. Questions can be asked in both Prelims and Mains on Mahalwari System. But since it is just one of the topics from the vast array of topics from Indian History, the representation of the topic in both the exams is quite infrequent. Nevertheless an understanding of the revenue collection system in British rule gives a candidate insights into the nature and character of British rule in India.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Mahalwari system was a land revenue collection system that was introduced in British India in 1833. It was implemented in the North-Western Provinces, Punjab, and parts of Central India and was designed to be a more efficient and fair method of collecting revenue from the land. The Mahalwari system was based on the assessment of actual land use and crop production, rather than on arbitrary assessments or fixed taxes, and it was used to fund various government projects and services in British India.

However, the Mahalwari system also had its own set of challenges and limitations. It was often difficult to accurately assess the amount of land in a village and the crops being grown on that land, particularly in areas with poor record-keeping or large amounts of uncultivated land. The system also did not take into account the ability of landowners to pay the revenue being collected, which could lead to financial hardship and even the loss of land for those who were struggling financially.

Despite these issues, the Mahalwari system remained in place for many years and was an important part of the revenue collection process in British India. It was eventually replaced by other land revenue systems, such as the Ryotwari system and the Zamindari system, which sought to address some of the issues with the Mahalwari system.

See Also

Permanent Settlement System In Bengal

Ryotwari System

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Tipu Sultan – History, Wars, Palace, Sword, Fort and Mosque

Rise and fall of the Maratha Empire

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