Read this article to learn about the expansion and commercialization of agriculture during the British rule in India:

Under the British, the condition of the Indian peasants deteriorated steadily. After obtaining the diwani of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa the Englishmen introduced different land revenue policies.

Their ultimate aim was the appropriation of maximum revenue from the Indian Zamindars and peasants.

The exaction of exorbitant rents by the government oppressed the peasants heavily. In order to meet the high demand of revenue, the peasants perpetually remained indebted to the local money-lenders.


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Many of them lost their lands to these greedy moneylenders for the inability to pay back the borrowed amount.

The policy of commercialization of agriculture by the British encouraged market oriented produc­tion of cash crops such as opium, tea, coffee, sugar, jute and indigo. Indian peasants were forced to grow these cash crops that spoiled the fertility of the land and no other crop could be grown on it.

The growth of minimum of subsistence crops led to the deterioration and impoverishment of the Indian agriculture and the cultivators. The peasant was suppressed under triple burden of the government, landlord and the moneylender.


His subsistence base was completely ruined by the agrarian policies of the British government. The lack of attention in the development of agriculture and in use of new equipments and methods on the part of the British government also ruined Indian agriculture.

Land Rights and Land Settlements:

Broadly speaking, the English adopted three types of land tenures in India viz., the Zamindari tenure, the Mahalwari tenure and the Ryotwari tenure.

The Permanent Zamindari Settlements:

The Zamindari system was a creation of the British rule and many non-economic considerations entered into its acceptance. The system was known by different names like Jagirdari, Malguzari, Biswedari, etc. Under the Permanent Settlement system the state’s land revenue demand was settled once for, all while in other Zamindari tracts the land revenue was revised after a fixed number of years ranging from 10 to 40 years. This was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in 1793 on the recommendation of Sir John Shore, the President of the Board of Revenue.

Under the Zamindari system, the Zamindari was recognised as the owner who could mortgage, bequeath and sell the land. The state held the Zamindari responsible for the payment of land revenue and in default thereof the land could be confis­cated and sold out.


A snag in the Permanent Settlement of Bengal was that while the state’s land revenue demand was fixed (the stat demand was fixed at 89% of the rental, leaving only 11 % with the Zamindari), the rent to be realised by the landlord from the cultivator was left unsettled and unspecified.

This resulted in rack-renting and frequent ejections of tenants from their traditional holdings. The Bengal Rent Acts of 1859 and 1885 provided some relief to cultivators. Permanent Zamindari settlements were made in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Benaras Division of the U.P, Northern Carnatic and roughly covered 19% of the total area of British India.

The Ryotwari System:

Under this system every ‘registered’ holder of land was recognised as the proprietor of land and was held responsible for direct payment of land revenue to the state. He had the right to sub-let his land holdings, to transfer, mortgage or sell it. He was not evicted from his holdings by the Government so long as he paid the state demand of land revenue.

In Madras Presidency, the first land revenue settlements were made in the Baramahal district after its acquisition by the Company in 1792. Captain Read assisted by Thomas Munro fixed the state demand on the basis of 50% of the estimated produce of the fields, which worked out to be more than the whole economic rent.

Thomas Munro (Governor 1820-27) extended the Ryotwari systems to all parts of the province (except the permanently settled areas) on the basis of 1/3rd of the gross produce of the holdings which too absorbed nearly the whole of the economic rental.

The state demand was fixed in money and had no connection with the actual yield of the holding or the prevailing prices in the market. In 1855 an extensive survey and settlement plan was decided on the basis of 30% of the gross produce. Actual work began in 1861. In Bombay Presidency too the Company decided in favour of the Ryotwari system with a view to the elimination of landlords or village communities which could intercept their profits.

Thus the Ryotwari settlements were made in major portions of Bombay and Madras Presidencies, in Assam and some other parts of British India covering roughly 51% of the area.

The Mahalwari System:

Under this system, the unit for revenue settlement was the village or the Mahal (i.e., the estate). The village land belonged jointly to the village community technically the body of ‘co-sharers’ who were jointly responsible for payment of land revenue, though individual responsibility was also there.

The Mahalwari tenure was introduced in major portions of the UP, the Central Provinces the Punjab (with variations) and covered nearly 30% of the area. Regulation VII of 1822 gave legal sanction to the recommendation of Holt Mackenzie, who re­corded his Minute in 1819 emphasizing the existence of village communities in North India. He recom­mended a survey of land, preparation of record of rights in land, settlement of land revenue demand village by village or mahal by mahal and collection of land revenue through the village headman or Lambardar.

Thus the land revenue settlements were made on the basis of 80% of the rental value, payable by the Zamindars. In cases where estates were held by cultivators in common tenancy, the state demand was allowed to be fixed at 95% of the rental. The system broke down because of the excessive state demand and harshness in its working and collection of land revenue.

Regulation IX of 1833 provided for simplification of the procedure for preparing estimates of produce and of rents and introduction of the system of fixing average rents for different classes of soil. The new scheme worked under the supervision of Mertins Bird remembered as the Father of Land Settlements in Northern India.

The state demand was fixed at 66% of the rental value and the settlement was made for 30 years. The settlement work under the scheme began in 1833 and was completed under the administration of James Thomason. Under the revised Saharanpur Rules of 1855, the state demand was limited to 50% of the rental value.

Rural Indebtedness:

High revenue demands led to devastation, as it led to poverty and the deterioration of agriculture in the 19th century. It forced the peasant to fall into the clutches of the money-lender. If the peasant could not pay the money, his land was sold-off. Gradually more land passed into the hands of money­lenders, merchants, rich peasants and other moneyed classes.

The growing commercialization also helped the money-lender cum merchant to exploit the cultivator. The peasant was forced to sell his produce just after the harvest and at whatever price he could get as he had to meet in time the demands of the government, the landlord and the money-lender. Added to the above factors, was the increase of population pressure on agriculture weighted on the peasants heavily.

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