In this article we will discuss about the revenue administration under the Mughals during medieval times.
The Revenue administration under the first two Mughal rulers—Babur and Humayun—continued to operate as it was under the Sultans of Delhi. Babur was so much engrossed in the various wars during his four years of rule that he could hardly get any time to devote to the revenue affairs.
Humayun, his successor, also found himself in trouble soon after his accession to the throne and had to spend most of his life in exile. Accordingly, he also did not get any chance to improve the revenue administration.
It was Sher Shah Suri, who intervened between Humayun and Akbar, who provided an excellent land revenue system. He has acquired good knowledge of the working of the revenue system as jagirdar of Sehsram, Khawaspur and Tanda. When he became the emperor of India he tried to introduce this system on a large scale. First of all he ordered the measurement of the lands according to a uniform standard.
The cultivable land was divided into three categories—good, middling and bad. The average of these three was taken to determine the produce of the land per bigha. State’s share was fixed at one-third of the gross produce. This could be paid both in cash and kind, although the former was preferred.
In addition to this each cultivator was to pay in kind 21/2 per cent of the revenue he paid to the state, in lieu of this he got grain at very cheap rates during the times of famine and other calamities. The revenue could be paid either through the Maoaddams or directly to the Pargana treasury.
Sher Shah paid great attention to the welfare of the peasants and therefore reduced or remitted the revenue in times of calamities. He had issued specific instructions to the revenue officers to be lenient at the time of the assessment but once the assessment had been made the tax was to be collected with severity.
The Sultan kept an eye on their conduct so that they may not exploit or tyrannies the peasants. Sher Shah gave severe punishments to the soldiers if they destroyed the crops. Thus the revenue system established by Sher Shah was efficient and elastic.
For some time following the death of Sher Shah there was complete disorder in the country and much of the valuable work done by him in the field of revenue administration was destroyed.
Akbar, who succeeded Humayun was only a child at the time of his accession. He first paid attention to the security and consolidation of the empire. After he had entrenched himself on the throne he paid attention to the revenue administration and made efforts to improve on the revenue system set up by Sher Shah. In this he got the assistance from experts like Muzaffar Khan, Itimad Khan and Raja Todar Mal.”
First of all Akbar collected complete information about land and reorganized the whole land revenue system. He introduced Zabti System in eight provinces of his empire. Under this system the cultivable lands were measured with the standard gaz known as Jarib which was an improvement over the measurement methods adopted by Sher Shah.
The officers were given strict instructions to, do the measuring work honestly and not to accept any bribe from the cultivators.
After getting the lands measured he tried to ascertain the produce of the land for the purpose of determining state’s share of land revenue. For this purpose the land was classified in four categories. Polaj was the first category of land which was always in cultivation.
Throughout the season it had some crop ready according to the season. The second category of land was Parauti, which had to be left fallow for one or two years to recoup the fertility. Chachar was the third category of land which had to be left out of cultivation for three or four years to gain the fertility.
The fourth category of land was known as Banjar or barren land. It had to be left fallow for five years or more. The first two categories of lands were further sub-divided into three types according to their fertility—good, middling and bad. The produce of three grades of land was calculated and their average was considered to be the actual produce of the land. The state’s share was fixed on the basis of this actual produce.
This share of the state was determined for the various categories of lands on ‘the basis of the fertility of the soil and the produce of the last ten years. The state share in respect of Polaj and Pinauti was fixed at one-third of the average produce of the three grades.
On the chachar land the state’s share was 1/15 of the produce in the first year, 2/15 in the second year, 1/5 in the third year,1/ 4 the fourth year and 1/3 in the fifth year. Similarly on the Banjar land the Government charged 1/26 of the produce in the first year, 1/13 in the second year, 2/13 in the third year, 3/13 in the fourth year and 1/3 in the fifth year.
Though the states share was fixed in kind, it was commuted into cash according to the current prices. This practice was not proper and caused much inconvenience to the cultivators. Therefore, later on Todar Mal fixed the cash ration the basis of the average of the last ten years.
In certain other parts of the empire certain other systems of land revenue also existed viz. Ghalla Baksha, Nasaq etc. Ghalla Baksha was the old system of assessment by crop division and it worked in Thatta and certain parts of Kabul and Kashmir.
According to this system the government took one-third of the total produce after the harvest as its share. Under the Nasaq system a general estimate of the expected yield of the standing crops was made and the state claimed one-third of the expected yield.
The land revenue system adopted by Akbar has been greatly admired by scholars. According to V.A.’ Smith the land revenue system of Akbar was based upon sound principles and state issued instructions to the officers from time to time to keep the system up-to- date. But one ‘cannot help feeling considerable skepticism concerning the conformity of practice with precept.”
He further opines that Todar Mal’s system was devised to prevent the State from being defrauded rather than to protect the interests of the ryot. In fact there is no specific instance cited by V.A. Smith to prove that the system operated to the detriment of the ryot.
On the other hand, on the testimony of Abul-Fazl in Ain-i-Akbari it can be said that the land revenue system of Akbar was highly efficient and the peasants were’quite happy. The state demand being fixed, there was very little scope for extracting more from the peasants than was due.
The officers were usually honest. Exactions and extortions, if brought to notice, were severely punished. In case of drought or excessive rains, the land revenue was often remitted; The needy peasants were given loans by the Government.
The land revenue system introduced by Akbar continued throughout the Mughal period with more or less no change. The system appears to have worked very satisfactorily. It is evident from the fact that the land revenue under Babur stood at Rs. 2.60 crores, in Akbar’s time it stood at Rs. 17.50 crores. In Jahangir’s time at 17.60 crores and under Shah Jahan it was 21.15 crores. Under Aurangzeb it rose to 29.77 crores.
Though the land revenue was the chief source of state revenue, it resorted to certain other taxes to supplement its income. These included toll tax, customs, mints, presents which the king received from the Governors and Ministers as well as Jagirdars on important occasions ; fines which the state levied on the criminals.
Another source of income was indemnity from vanquished or defeated ruler. This indemnity was paid either once or regularly as a token of subordination to the emperor.
It will thus be observed that the Revenue .administration during the medieval times underwent many improvements and the revenue of the state continued to grow. It may be noted that the fiscal resources of that state at that time were very limited. But as the state did not undertake any welfare activities, its expenditure was also very limited.
Most of the revenue collected by the state was spent on the wars and personal luxuries of the rulers. For example Aurangzeb, who inherited an overflowing treasury from his father, squandered huge amounts in his Deccan wars and ultimately left an almost depleted treasury for his successors. He even resorted to the much hated Jaziya on the Hir us to find additional funds for meeting the expenses of these wars.