In this article we will discuss about the revenue administration under the Sultans of India during medieval age.
During the Sultanate period the revenue administration was not that well organised. Even the fiscal resources of the state were very limited because the state’s authority extended over the limited territory in North and East of India, and the major parts of Central and Southern India remained beyond their influence.
But the early Sultans were quite intolerant and tried to squeeze maximum of money from the Hindus. Ala-ud-Din Khilji intentionally and deliberately followed the policy of reducing the Hindus to poverty.
As agriculture was the main occupation of the people the land revenue was the chief source of state income. But there was no fixed share which the cultivator had to pay to the state. This was determined by the different Sultans and ranged from 1/10 to 1/2. For example Ala-ud-Din Khilji charged 50 per cent of the agricultural produce as state share.
According to the Islamic law there were two types of land taxes:
i. Ushr and
Ushr was the Sand tax charged on the lands held by the Muslims. It was usually one-tenth of the total produce.
Kharaj was the tax charged on the lands owned by the Hindus and it varied from one-tenth to one-half.
The Jagirdari system was in existence and the jagirdars acted as middle-men between cultivators and the state. They collected the revenue on behalf of the state. In addition they also claimed a share for themselves. After payment of these taxes nothing substantial was left with the cultivator.
Ala-ud-Din Khilji paid some attention to improve the revenue administration and introduced a number of vital changes. His primary objective in introducing the changes was to collect the maximum revenue for the state so that he could maintain a strong army, which was needed both to combat the Mongol danger and to effect fresh conquests, ln the first instance he ordered the resumption of all landed grants which the nobles held as Inam (reward) or waqf (gifts) and turned them into crown lands.
All the lands were measured and after ascertaining their produce the government’s share was fixed at 53 per cent. The share of the state was rather high and was unprecedented. The agriculturists had, in addition, to pay certain ether taxes and they were virtually reduced to sore straits.
Barni tells us how the Hindus, who had the monopoly of agriculture, were greatly impoverished so much so that there was no sign of gold or silver left in their houses and the wives of muqaddams used to seek jobs in the houses of Mussalmans, work there and receive wages.
Apart from increasing state’s share in land revenue Ala-ud-Din Khilji took drastic steps to eradicate corruption prevailing in the revenue department. He increased the salaries of the Patwaris, but inflicted heavy punishment on them if they resorted to corrupt practices.
He also ensured that the Patwaris properly assessed land revenue and did net show favour to any one. According to Dr. R. P. Tripathi, ”Ala-ud-Din was apparently the first Muslim ruler whose hands reached as far as Patwaris who were the best source of information in all matters pertaining to the land and its revenue.”
The Revenue Administration set by Ala-ud-Din Khilji continued to work under his successors, but it lost much of efficiency. It was Ghias-ud-Din Tughlaq who softened the rigours of Ala-ul-Din’s revenue/ policy and administration.
He found the state share of 50 per cent of the land revenue rather harsh and inconvenient, fie fixed the state share at one-tenth of the total produce. During his times many barren and ruined lands were brought under cultivation and paid much attention to the welfare of the peasants.
He disallowed the system of farming. According to Prof. S. R. Sharma, “We do not come across such tender consideration for the country until the days of Sher Shah Suri two centuries later.”
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, successor of Ghias-ud-Din also introduced important reforms in the revenue administration. He got prepared a comprehensive register of the income and expenditure of the Sultanate in order to introduce a uniform standard of land revenue and to bring every village under assessment.
Another great experiment of Mohammad Tughalaq, which brought much odium upon him, was the increase of taxation in the Doab. Muhammad Tughlaq required lot of money for his conquests and administration and decided to raise the same by increasing land revenue in the Doab, an area known for its fertile lands.
There is no unanimity amongst the scholars regarding the exact increase. According to Ferishta the tax was increased three or four times. However, Barani holds that it was raised ten or twenty-times. The view of Barani certainly seems to be rather exaggerated.
The people could not have afforded such heavy taxes. Barni has severely criticised the tax increase in Doab and observed “it operated to the ruin of the country and decacy of the people… the backs of the ryot were broken. Those who were rich became rebels… the lands were ruined and cultivation was arrested. Grains became dear, the rains were deficient, so famine became general and widespread. It lasted for years and thousands upon thousands of people perished”.
But it appears that Barani, who himself belonged to Doab, has greatly exaggerated the sufferings of the people.
The Sultan had cogent and convincing reasons to justify the increase in taxation. Earlier, Ala-ud-Din Khilji had also been charging 50 per cent of the gross produce. Furthermore Doab was a rich and fertile land and the king could expect better income with least labour and inconvenience to the people of the land.
The only misfortune was that he carried out this measure at a time when a severe famine was stalking the Doab and the distress of the people was greatly aggravated by its disastrous effect.
One of the commendable things done by Mohammad Tughlaq was the establishment of the department of agriculture Diwan-i Kohi. This department made efforts to bring more and more lands under cultivation. Firoz Tughlaq, who succeeded Muhammad Tughlaq, found the revenue system in complete chaos, people suffering due to extortion and famine.
He paid attention to the improvement of the revenue administration. An enquiry was held into the titles and tenures. Those who were illegally deprived of their lands, were asked to file their claims in the courts of law. He reduced state’s share of land revenue.
He provided ‘taqavi’ loans to the cultivators and provided greater facilities for irrigation. He is credited with having got dug four canals which were source of perennial irrigation. He increased the salaries of the revenue officers so that they may no exploit the poor peasants.
Firoz Shah did away with the variety of taxes which were charged from the people. Instead he levied only four taxes which are sanctioned by Quran viz. the Khiraj, the Zakat, the Jaziya and the Khamo. Khiraj was the land tax. Khams meant one-fifth of the booty captured during wars.
Jaziya was a tax levied on the Hindus and Zakat was the tax realised from the Muslims for religious purposes. In addition to these four types of taxes later on Feroz Tughlaq added irrigation tax on those agriculturists who made use of the water from the canals.
It was charged at the rate of one-tenth of the produce of the irrigated area. It may be noted that for the imposition of this tax Feroz sought the approval of the Ulemas. The Revenue system adopted by Feroz Tughlaq continued to operate under the later Sultans.