Salient Features of Sher Shah’s General Administration:
Sher Shah, by the dint of his military skill, daring acts, great courage and resourcefulness not only established a mighty empire.
But also by his shrewd capacity for organizing, unique forethought and intimate knowledge of administration, made necessary arrangements for smooth and efficient administration and controlling the coveted empire.
Some of the salient features of his administration are given below:
A benevolent despot:
Dr. Ishwar Prasad has rightly observed, “The Government of Sher Shah, though autocratic was enlightened and vigorous.” Sher Shah himself used to say, “It behoves the great to be always active.” And he himself adhered to this maxim. According to Crooke, “He was the first Musalman ruler who studied the good of the people.” Sher Shah believed, “Tyranny is unlawful in everyone, especially in a sovereign who is the guardian of his public.”
Advice of the council of Ministers:
Sher Shah had a number of ministers to assist him in his administrative work. The ministers looked after their respective departments. Their appointment and dismissal was at his discretion.
Historians have differed on the issue of Sher Shah’s provincial administration. While Qanungo has opined that there was no administrative unit called ‘Suba’ or ‘Iqta’, Dr. P. Saran states that there were ‘Subas’ where military officers were appointed by She Shah.
The entire kingdom was divided into provinces. Some provinces were very large and others small. There was no uniformity with regard to their income, size and administration. In the sensitive provinces like Lahore, Multan and Malwa, military governors looked after the administration. On the other hand, the province of Bengal was administered by a civilian.
A province was divided into a number of Sarkars (Districts). In all there were 47 districts. There were two chief officers in every district. The one chief Shiqdar or Shiqdar-i- Shiqdaran was a military officer. He maintained peace and order in the district, helped in the collection of revenue and other taxes and also supervised the work of his subordinate officers called Shiqdars.
The other officer was called the chief Munsif or Munsif- i-Muinsfan. He was primarily a judicial officer who looked after justice in the district. He also looked after the working of his subordinate judicial officers in the parganas. These two officers were helped by a number of junior officers and other subordinates in carrying out their duties.
Each Sarkar was divided into small units called the parganas and each Pargana was further subdivided into a number of villages. Like the Sarkars, there were two chief officers called a Shiqdar (military officer) and Munsif (civilian judge) who were assisted by other staff in the discharge-of their duties.
A village was the smallest self-sufficient unit, administered by village panchayats. Sher Shah introduced the system of transferring officers of the Sarkars and the Paragans every two or three years so that they may not develop vested interest, the root cause of corruption.
Sources of income:
Important sources of income were:
(i) Land revenue
(ii) Taxes on the transportation of raw and finished products
(iii) The royal mint
(iv) Confiscation of the unclaimed property
(v) Tributes from the rajas, nawabs jagirdars, etc.
(vi) Gifts from the foreign travellers
(vii) Salt tax
(viii) Jaziya on the Hindus
(ix) One-fifth of the Kham (booty).
Land and revenue administration:
The revenue administration of Sher Shah has been regarded as one of the best during the medieval period.
Important features of the revenue administration were as under:
1. Land for the purpose of revenue was divided into three categories on the basis of production—good, average and bad.
2. Generally land revenue was one-third of the produce, but could be paid both in cash and kind.
3. The land of each cultivator was measured according to a uniform standard and its quality was ascertained.
4. Lease deeds (pathas) were drawn between the farmers and the government. The area, the type of the soil, and the rates of land revenue were recorded on the lease deeds which were got signed by the farmers. The deeds confirmed the rights of the farmers on the lands.
5. Land revenue was remitted on poor crops.
6. Financial assistance (Taqavi loans) was granted to the farmers when needed by them.
7. The Sultan had ordered that while fixing the land revenue, the peasants should be treated with generosity but once settled they were asked to pay their revenue regularly.
In the words of Qanungo, “The land revenue administration of Sher Shah was a valuable heritage for the Mughals. He tried to levy the land revenue in accordance with the income of the peasants. The British adopted this system.”
Welfare of farmers:
Sher Shah was very particular about the welfare of the peasants. He used to say, “If I oppress them they will abandon their villages and the country will be mined and deserted.”
Law and order:
The most important contribution of Sher Shah was the reestablishment of law and order across the length and breadth of the empire. Dacoits and robbers were dealt with very sternly. It has been stated by several historians that during the reign of Sher Shah, an old woman might place a basket of golden ornaments on her head and go on a journey without any fear. No thief or robber would come near her for fear of punishment.
Local responsibility for theft:
The local people or the head (Mukhiya) of the village was responsible for the safety of the people of the area and the travellers. It was the responsibility of the village Panchayat or the local people to produce the culprit or to pay for the stolen goods. In case the local officers of the village failed to trace the murderer, the headman was given the penalty of death. This method helped to wipe off thefts, robberies and murders.
Fair judicial administration:
Sher Shah used to say and act upon it, “Justice is the most excellent of religious rites.” No one could escape punishment on account of high status.
The Sultan was the highest judicial authority in the state. Sher Shah held his court every Wednesday in the evening. Next to him was the chief Qazi who was the head of the department of justice.
There were subordinate Qazis in every district and in all important cities. The criminal law was severe. The offenders were punished by fines, flogging, imprisonment and even cutting of the limbs.
Efficient Espionage System:
Sher Shah’s efficient administrative system largely depended upon his well-organised espionage system. The king kept himself posted with the minutest happening in his kingdom. The nobles were afraid of indulging in activities not conducive to the stability of the rule of the Sultan. Even the rates prevailing in the mandis were made available to the king. Spies were kept at all important places and at all importantt offices.
Well organised ‘dak’ system:
The saraits were also used as Dak Chaukis. Two horses were kept at every sarai so that the news-carriers could get fresh horses at short intervals to maintain speed.
The ratio of exchange between the Dam and rupee was fixed at 64 to 1. The same coin-rupee ratio served the basis of the currency during the Mughal and British periods. Earlier there was no fixed ratio among so many coins of various metal alloys. He abolished the old and mixed metal currency. He issued fine coins of gold, silver and copper of uniform standard.
Network of roads:
Sher Shah constructed a network of roads connecting important parts of his empire within his capital. He repaired old roads.
Sher Shah constructed the following four highways:
(i) Sadak-e-Azam (Grand Trunk Road) starting from Sonargaon in Eastern Bengal passing through Agra, Delhi and Lahore and terminating at Peshawar, covering a distance of about 3,000 km;
(ii) From Agra to Jodhpur and the Chittor fort;
(iii) From Agra to Burhanpur;
(iv) From Lahore to Multan.
Prosperous Trade and Commerce:
Law and order in the kingdom, protection of traders on roads, issue of new currency and the simplication of taxes helped in the promotion of trade and commerce. Trade tax was collected only at two places. One, where the goods entered the territory of his empire and the other where the goods were sold. All other internal trade taxes were abolished.
About 1700 sarais were constructed on both sides of the roads. Each sarai had separate rooms for the Hindus and the Muslims. Each sarai had a well and a mosque. These sarais also served as dak Chaukis. In view of the special significance of these sarais, they were called as veritable arteries of the empire.”
Sher Shah built the following buildings:
(i) Mausoleum of Sher Shah at Sasaram in Bihar
(ii) Fort of Rohtasgarh on the banks of the river Jhelum in the north-west.
(iii) Purana Qila at New Delhi,
(iv) Mosque in the Purana Qila.
The Mausoleum of Sher Shah built in the midst of a lake on a lofty plinth, ranks among the most beautiful buildings in India.
Promotion of education:
For the education of the Muslims, a Maktab was attached to every mosque for imparting elementary education and teaching Arabic and Persian. Madrasas were set up for higher education. Endowments and grants were given to educational institutions. Provision was also made for scholarships on the basis of merit.
Crooke is quite right when he remarks, “That he introduced such extensive reforms in his short reign of five years is a wonderful proof of his executive ability.”