Zamindari System

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The Mughal Emperor granted the Diwani of Bengal and Orissa to the East Indian Company. The Diwani introduced the Zamindari System in which farmers need to pay a fixed sum in cash or kind to the Zamindars. The rate is at 1/3rd of the produce and was collected by the tax collectors of the British Government. The District Collector functioned as a tax collector. The Zamindars used to pay the Government, 9/10th of the collection.

Zamindar system continued as a hereditary right. British Government was happy with tax collections and used to impose a fine or even imprisonment if Zamindars failed. This made the Zamindars to be loyal servants of the British. Soon they became the collectors of taxes imposed by the provincial Government and later had to look at the 'public order'.

The Zamindars of Bengal soon formed a provincial autocracy and enjoyed special privileges and rights. Zamindars are always close to the peasants and maintained close rapport with the British administration.

By the Plan of 1772, Warren Hastings divided Bengal, Bihar and Orissa into districts, each of which is looked after by a district collector who is empowered for revenue collection and administration of civil and criminal justice. Regulating Act, 1773 separated revenue collection from judiciary. Plan of 1774 introduced six divisions called Provincial Council, each headed by Naib, to collect revenue. Hastings is said to have experimented many systems of land administration.

Lord Cornwallis changed the system by delegating the tax collection powers to the District Collectors. The Permanent Settlement of Land Revenue was introduced in 1793 that treated Zamindars as land owners and hence they are required to pay 9/10th of revenue to the Government. Smaller Zamindars are considered as Talukdars and performed as sub-ordinates to the sub-collectors. The new system of Zamindars-Talukdars received mixed response. Further, there was a hike in the tax rate. Partition of joint families made the land into smaller pieces. A system called Absentee landlordism came in which the landlord has huge lands that are allotted to tillers. The tillers could only retain a small portion. The defaulting Zamindars used to be imprisoned. They acted as a middle men between the Government and the tiller.

Soon, the tillers reduced to become agricultural laborers. The personal link between Zamindars and tillers vanished. Despite this defect, the Zamindari system was extended to Benaras and Orissa and later to the Northern Sarkars.

Related Cases / Recent Cases / Case Law

  • Administrative Discretion and Fundamental Rights: Bishwambhar vs State of Assam, AIR 1954 SC 139: In a case related to an Act allowing the State Government to take estate from Zamindars, the court held that all estates could not be taken over at once owing to financial difficulties and therefore, from the very nature of the things it was necessary to give 'certain amount of discretionary latitude to the State Government'.

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