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Abolition of Zamindari System in Rajasthan

Written by: Ajay Gadhwal and Priyanka Lal - The authors are 4th Year students of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur
Medico-legal in India
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  • The Public policy making is an essential function of all forms of government. But this function acquires added significance in democracy because of the participation of the people in generating ideas, influencing public opinion and involving peoples' representatives in policy making through the medium of political institutions. In democracy voters have the power to confer or deny their support to a political representative/ party on public policy issues. Besides, citizens organize themselves into self-interest promoting groups based on occupation, income, language, region, political ideology, etc. These self-interest groups try to achieve their goals by seeking group identity.

    They form associations for achieving their goals, which their members cannot achieve individually, by reducing transaction costs, increasing the resources at their disposal including their voting strength. As a result, formulation of any public policy becomes a complex process in democracy. Further, change of any existing policy imposes varying amounts of costs and benefits on different sections of a society. Hence, it becomes very difficult for any government to change a well-entrenched policy. In recent times there has been a renewed interest in relationships between redistribution, growth, and welfare. Land reforms in developing countries are often aimed at improving the Poor's access to land, although their effectiveness has often been hindered by political constraints on implementation. Among the more spectacular achievements of the Indian Government during its first decade of independence were the extensive programs of land reform carried out almost in every state.

    B. The Zamindari System- Historical Background

    The term 'zamindar'[1] has passed into the historical vocabulary of medieval India to signify the superior landed interest. Zamindars during the Mughal period came to denote all rent receivers above the actual cultivators. They were merely possessors of proprietary right in the collection of rent but not in land. The holders of land on the other hand were the raiyats (peasants) in whose names jamabandis or rent-rolls were prepared. In this sense zamindars were mere farmers of revenue - intermediaries between the government and the inferior revenue farmers, excluding the huzuri (independent) talukdars who paid revenues straight to the khalsa (exchequer) and the peasants.

    The basic rights and duties of zamindars remained the same until the introduction of the permanent settlement (1793), some changes were occasionally brought in the structure of land control system to suit the needs of the ruling elite. Thus, the Todarmal Settlement (1582) which had initiated the zamindari system in the far-flung Subah of Bengal continued till 1658 when some vigor was put into it by the revenue settlement of Subahdar Shah Shuja (1657), followed by Subahdar Murshid Quli's mal-zamini (land revenue) system in 1722. To achieve the goal of maximization of public revenue and its punctual remittance, Murshid Quli divided the province into 13 chaklahs (administrative divisions) instead of the previous 34 sarkars and placed the smaller zamindars under the jurisdiction of chaklahdars who were none other than the larger zamindars. Chaklahdars, installed as stewards over their juniors were officials, not owners, to ensure an efficient collection of revenues. But the policy of making the principal zamindars immediately responsible to the khalsa for the imperial share of the revenue added to their traditional power and position. In addition, various government assignments offered to the promising zamindars provided wider scope to enhance their standing in the court and furtherance of their own cause. The process of change from revenue-managers to landlords was complete by the middle of the 18th century.

    Mughal Era

    In the Mughal Era, the Zamindari system was begun to ensure proper collection of taxes during a period when the power and influence of the Mughal emperors was in decline. With the Mughal conquest of Bengal, "zamindar" became a generic title embracing people with different kinds of landholdings, rights and responsibilities ranging from the autonomous or semi-independent chieftains to the peasant-proprietors. All categories of zamindars under the Mughals were required to perform certain police, judicial and military duties. Zamindars under the Mughals were, in fact, more the public functionaries than revenue collecting agents. Although zamindaris were allowed to be held hereditarily, the holders were not considered to be the proprietors of their estates.

    The territorial zamindars had judicial powers. Naturally, judge-magistracy, as an element of state authority conferred status with attendant power, which really made them the lords of their domains. They held regular courts, called zamindari adalat. The courts fetched them not only power and status but some income as well by way of fines, presents and perquisites. The petty zamindars also had some share in the dispensation of civil and criminal justice. The Chowdhurys, who were zamindars in most cases, had authority to deal with the complaints of debts, thefts and petty quarrels and to impose paltry fines.

    British Era

    Zamindar was the name of landlords in colonial India. The Zamindari system was a way of collecting taxes from peasants. The zamindar was considered a lord, and would collect all taxes on his lands and then hand over the collected taxes to the British authorities (keeping a portion for himself). The similarities to medieval feudalism are evident.

    Under the British, they resembled landed gentry (although they lived similarly privileged lives under the Mughals) and sometimes styled themselves as little kings, or rajas. Some new Zamindars were old Rajas. Many descended from eighteenth century revenue speculators and military adventurers. Several families are of very ancient lineage, like those claiming Gujjar ancestry and had always been independent rulers at earlier periods of Indian history. They frequently intermarried with the ruling families of the princely states. Their tenants numbered from dozens to many thousands, and under imperial law, had to pay rent to Zamindars to retain rights to their land. By the Zamindari system all the public lands were brought under the Zamindar's control.

    After partition in India

    The Zamindari system was mostly abolished in India soon after its independence. The term is usually associated with the aristocracy as zamindars are still considered to be of the landed gentry. Zamindars tend to marry into families of the same social class; however, there have been cases of impoverished nobles marrying into rich families with no titles (this is sometimes considered marrying into the same social class, even if the other family is not of the nobility).

    The Pre-independence Promises and the Zamindari Abolition Legislation

    The British rule in India introduced permanent land revenue system which, over time, became widely known as zamindari system. Under this system of land settlement, those who agreed to pay a fixed sum of land revenue regularly to the British government were made the owners of demarcated lands. They, in turn, collected whatever land revenue they wanted from the actual tillers who were their tenants. There was also a practice of sub-letting, which involved middle-level landlords in between the zamindars and the tenants. The zamindari system created one of the worst exploitative land relations in India and strengthened the feudal socio-economic system. Zamindars became staunch supporters of British rule in India.

    This annoyed the Congress party, which was mobilising the Indian masses against British rule. So the Congress party declared in one of its annual sessions that after independence it would support abolition of the zamindari system. In pursuance of this resolution, the Congress Agrarian Reforms Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of J.C. Kumarappa, which recommended a wide range of reforms in 1949. After independence the Congress government, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, abolished the zamindari system. But since the Constitution had guaranteed the right to property under Article 19, the zamindars approached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the policy of abolition of the zamindari system violated the right to property and was hence ultra vires of the Constitution. The Congress government amended the Constitution to limit the scope of the right to property. Thus, a major institutional /structural was achieved by abolishing the zamindari system of land relations. This policy helped the farming community in general and tenants of the zamindars in particular. Nobody shed tears over the demise of the zamindari system in India.

    There was a whole raft of measures, but importantly the tenant would get security of tenure for any field he had tilled for a certain number of years (usually twelve) and his rights would be more secure. It was hoped that a system, which had meant that a powerful minority held most of the power over most of the village land, was to be changed in favour of the majority who worked the land but had little power over it.

    The legislation was delayed by challenges in the courts[2] but was eventually enacted. However, it failed to make any significant improvement in the lives of the poorer farmers in the initial period of the enactment.

    The history books record many factors that lead to the failure of land reform in the years immediately following the Zamindari Abolition Act. The legislation was limited, concentrated on shoring up the rights of tenant farmers and did little to improve the lot of labourers who had no rights to land.

    The landlords also found ways to evade the legislation, by moving a tenant around so that he could not clock up the required number of years to gain occupancy rights, or by having the land records falsified. The Congress Party which had passed the legislation and which, in the states, also made up much of the executive was split on the issue of zamindari abolition. Much of the funding for the Congress Party came from the big landlords whom Congress could not afford to alienate and indeed many landlords joined the party.

    The people whose job it was to enforce the legislation often did not do so because it was against their own personal interest. All these shortcomings of the legislation are fictionalized in one or other way, many in both. The failure of land reform does not return the distribution of rights to land in the village to the status quo, instead, the peasants actually end up worse off after the Zamindari Abolition Act than they were before it. The difference does not lie in the content of the historical material on land reform that they make use of, because this is often similar, but rather in the way in which it is mediated in the world of the novel.
    To come up with the backdrop, the Congress Government came up with the First Amendment in the year 1951. The power of judicial review over these legislations was taken away from the courts and the fundamental right to the property was taken away. So, that the application of these Acts would be speedy and flawless[3] and further the First Five Year plan was being implemented with the object of agrarian reforms and the social security. After that the Fourth Amendment Act, 1954 was being passed with the objective of limiting the land holding by these Zamindars[4].

    The Abolition Legislation in Rajasthan and it's Impact

    To cope up with the said reforms and policies of the Central Government, the Rajasthan Government came up with the legislation named Rajasthan Zamindari and Biswedari Abolition Act, 1959 under Sec. 5 of the Act the Zamindari system was being abolished from the state.

    The Act came into force in year 1959, the delay in enactment of the Act was because of the dominance of the Zamindars and Rajas in the assembly and even after delay the Act was successfully implemented and the tenancy was also governed by this Act approx 0.18 lakh tenants were benefited by the Act till 2001.
    After Zamindari abolition the system of direct collection by government from bhumidhars, sirdars and assamis was introduced through the agency of the collection amins whose work is supervised by nayab-tahsildars, tahsildars and subdivisional officers. The ultimate responsibility for collection of main dues is that of the collector. On the eve of the abolition of zamindari in the state in 1959, the total demand of land revenue was Rs 36,08,452. Commencing after 1959, for some period the government had also appointed a district collection officer for doing this work exclusively but later on he was withdrawn w.e.f. 1963. But due to the droughts and unfavorable conditions for agriculture; the revenue imposition on all the agricultural lands are suspended till further notifications.

    The practice of Zamindari is totally abolished from Rajasthan but there is great scope for improvement of the existing land management techniques in the Rajasthan. Integration of cadastral surveys of various provinces would be a welcome step, but it requires critical consideration of the cartographic, legal and economic aspects of the problem. Preparation and storage of land records and data should be in digital form, and it is imperative that the Govt. chalk out a definite policy and program in this direction.

    [1] The term derived from the Persian word 'zamin' or land, and 'dar' which is an inflexion of the verb 'dashtan,' denoting to have, hold or possess
    [2] Surajpal Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh, A.I.R. 1952 S.C. 52; Visheshwar Rao v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 1952 S.C.R, 1020; State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh, A.I.R. 1952 S.C. 252, 262-63.
    [3] Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on 10th May, 1951 stating the objects and reasons of the Amendment Act, 1951.
    [4] Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru on 17th December, 1954 stating the objects and reasons of the Amendment Act, 1954.

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