Mahalwari Settlement: A New System Is Devised – Ruling The Countryside

In this blog, we are going to learn about the Mahalwari Settlement. By the early nineteenth century, many of the Company officials were convinced that the system of revenue had to be changed again. But the question was? How could revenues be fixed permanently at a time when the Company needed more money to meet its expenses of administration and trade?

In the North-Western Provinces of the Bengal Presidency (most of this area is now in Uttar Pradesh), an Englishman called Holt Mackenzie devised the new system that came into effect in 1822. He felt that the village was an important social institution in north Indian society and needed to be preserved.

Under his directions, collectors went from village to village, inspecting the land, measuring the fields, and recording the customs and rights of different groups. The estimated revenue of each plot within a village was added up to calculate the revenue that each village (mahal) had to pay. This demand was to be revised periodically, not permanently fixed.

What was the Mahalwari settlement?

The charge of collecting the revenue and paying it to the Company was given to the village headman, rather than the zamindar. This system came to be known as the Mahalwari settlement.

The Munro system

In the British territories in the south, there was a similar move away from the idea of Permanent Settlement. The new system that was devised came to be known as the ryotwar (or ryotwari ). It was tried on a small scale by Captain Alexander Read in some of the areas that were taken over by the Company after the wars with Tipu Sultan.

Subsequently developed by Thomas Munro, this system was gradually extended all over south India. Read and Munro felt that in the south there were no traditional zamindars. The settlement, they argued, had to be made directly with the cultivators (ryots) who had tilled the land for generations.

Their fields had to be carefully and separately surveyed before the revenue assessment was made. Munro thought that the British should act as paternal father figures protecting the ryots under their charge. All was not well. Within a few years after the new systems were imposed it was clear that all was not well with them. Driven by the desire to increase the income from land, revenue officials fixed too high a revenue demand.

Peasants were unable to pay, ryots fled the countryside, and villages became deserted in many regions. Optimistic officials had imagined that the new systems would transform the peasants into rich enterprising farmers. But this did not happen.

Read More: The Company Becomes the Diwan: Ruling the Countryside – Class 8

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