Major significance of the Permanent Settlement of 1793

Sansar LochanHistory of IndiaLeave a Comment

Ques.  Critically analyse the major significance of the Permanent Settlement of 1793. Comment on the ideological influences that played  important role in its introduction.

The colonial state in India aimed to extend its  administrative control and tap maximum revenue as possible.After the  Battle of Buxar( 1764)the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II had granted the Company the “Diwani”  rights over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in 1765. However, this new dual form of government  resulted in a massive ruin of Bengal’s economy. The province had suffered  a series of fatal famines and droughts, reoccurring between 1767 to 1770.  Also, the Company was facing extreme difficulties in the sector of trade like decline in handicraft, silk and cotton production because of the decline in agriculture. Thus, in the year 1772, the Company appointed Warren Hastings as the new Governor of Bengal in a hope that he will be able to take control of the decaying social and economic conditions in the region.

Hasting’s farming system

Hastings introduced a “farming system”, wherein revenue collecting right was farmed out to the highest bidders. Regarding the periodicity of the settlements, a number of experiments were made, but the farming system ultimately failed to improve the situation as the framers tried to extract as much as possible without the concern for the production process. All these random experiments were led to the ruination of the agriculture as well as of cultivators. After a series of failed land revenue experiments, Lord Cornwallis was sent to India in 1784 to settle and set an order to the revenue administration.

Cornwallis and Land Revenue

Cornwallis, therefore, arrived in India and attempted to bring changes in the revenue administration. He focused on colonial land revenue policy between 1789-1790 and undertook surveys. Before Cornwallis arrived in India, the system of land revenue which was in prevalence was that the farmer paid the tax to the Zamindar. The Zamindar collected the revenue and paid 9/10th to the state keeping l/10th for himself. Thus, he used his surveys and undertook two measures of which the first one was to asses land revenue and the capability of land to produce. and secondly, to asses the land ownership pattern. He,  initially , on the basis of these two measures, introduced a 10-year settlement which was known as the  “Decennial Settlement” which recognised Zamindars as the rightful owners of the land. It lasted for a few years and later on March 22nd ,1793 it was converted into Permanent Settlement.

Permanent Settlement Rules

According to the Permanent Settlement, the Zamindars were recoginised as the permanent owners of land. The settlement had three main articles. The first article referred tot he amount of revenue i.e. jama . This article stated that the jama was to remain unaltered and subject to the approval of Court of Directors of English East India Company. The second article focused on the nature of the landowning class, with whom this initial contractual relationship was to be taken. According to Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, being a member of the landed aristocracy of Britain and imbued with the idea of improving landlordism, Cornwallis’s natural preference was for the zamindars. They were expected to invest for the improvement of agriculture if their property rights were secured. Therefore, there was no scope in the Permanent Settlement for any contractual arrangement with tenant farmers. The third article stated that the Zamindars, their heirs and successors were to be allowed to hold their estates at a fixed assessment forever.

Scholars like Ranajit Guha have opined that there is a need to revisit the origin of Permanent Settlement. He is of the view that the Settlement did not develop  solely due to the earlier failed policies and highlighted the role of ideological influences also. He emphasised on the role of political advisers who were influenced by the  English Traditions and French Physiocrats like Philip Francis and Henri Patullo and also the opinions of Alexander Dow and Thomas Law. These European observers, even before Cornwallis arrived in India, recommended for a permanent land tax.

Alexander Dow promoted a mercantilist view. He stressed on the idea of private ownership and opined that through Permanent Settlement and the zamindars as strong supporters Company could aspire for a total control over the region and promote public prosperity . Earlier in Bengal due to the unfair practices of Company and later the forceful confistication of revenue system led to a deterioration in agricultural and production sectors leading to economic decline. It is suggested that Philip Francis derived his opinion on the topic from Dow’s work.

Both the Physiocrats and English traditions believed in the veneration of private property and due to this kind amalgamation of two thoughts Guha in his writings pointed out that –

“the distance between the two countries and the inadvisability of colonization made it necessary that the property should be entrusted to the care of a class of native entrepreneurs who had solid interest in the land and were politically reliable. This alone could establish ‘the permanence of dominion”.

Thus, both Patullo and Francis believed that zamindars were a perfect fit for the role as they were both private proprietors and politically reliable. They located the source of agrarian development laid in Permanent Settlement and  for this, they showed the necessity of having a permanent class of intermediaries who will pay a fixed amount of  rent and are willing to take risk in  the agricultural arena.

Both Thomas Law and Cornwallis believed in the ideology of laissez faire and believed that for a total economic improvement it is important to have a free  market in land, and Permanent Settlement provided the space for this which would lead to a capitalist agriculture.

Therefore, the opinions of the above 5 policy makers may be divergent but all if them agree and recognize property as the basic principle of governance.

Pro-Zamindari Program

We find that till 1793, Zamindars were mainly playing a role of revenue collector and it was the for the first time that they got a status of private proprietors through 1793 Settlement. Therefore, this Settlement was a pro- zamindari program. However, with this new program certain terms and conditions also came to be fixed.  The settlement placed  the amount of revenue at a very high  rate. It also showed certain degree of rigidity while collecting the revenue. The time for the revenue submission was fixed. Zamindars were supposed to pay the revenue towards the end of the agricultural. These terms and conditions came to beframed under the “ Sunset Laws” . Under this the zamindars were supposed to pay the fixed revenue before the sunset and failure to do so would immediately lead to the auctioning off their lands, which could be bought by anyone who could pay the revenue amount. This kind of law proved that although Permanent Settlement was a pro-zamindari settlement, it still had negative consequences for them on short time basis.

Thus, there was a sharp increase in the sale of lands, which promoted the idea of private ownership of land. However, due to this zamindars could not invest on lands to improve the agriculture as was thought by Cornwallis and Philip Francis.  They, as a result of this, began hiking up the amount of rent to be collected from small peasants and farmers.  They also engaged in sub letting their lands, leading tot he phenomenon of sun-infeudation. Therefore,  zamindars gave a rise to rack-renting and collected huge amount of money.   This made the Company to rethink their policy and hence, they did no extend it to other states except Benaras, as it proved to be disadvantageous to them on a long term basis.

Some of the scholars have presented their views on he impact of Permanent Settlement.  One of the scholars  was A.A. Abdullah, who was of the opinion that although there was an improvement in the status of zamindars in 1793, but it led them with very little scope for investments.  He also opined that due to the tough laws like British Sun-set laws, more and more lands were snatched away from zamindars and were bought by non- agaraian classes.

However, his argument was contradicted by Daniel and Alice Thorner. They observed that all the settlement programmes were extensively against the immediate cultivator. They said that the condition of the peasants was in a worse situation where their rights were completely ignored. The Settlement was not with them as well and they continued to face exploitation at the village level.  One of the major reason of this exploitation lay in the fact that the rent was never fixed in Permanent Settlement and they  were depended on rich peasants and zamindars who were who utilised this fact and earned exorbitant amount of money .

Even the rights of occupancy tenants were also ignored. The  “patta“  or document that mentioned the amount of the rent that tenants were legally bound to pay was paid no attention to  by the Zamindars. The Permanent Settlement  had a levelling effect on different kinds of peasants. All peasants and tenant farmers were now subjected to illegal cesses which they had to pay.  Not only this,  Zamindars had also acquired certain new rights also through the  Settlements of 1799 and 1812. One major right was the right to seize the property of any peasant or tenant who is unable to pay the rent on time. The new judiciary system introduces by Cornwallis and Wellesley prohibited  the evicted peasants to file case against the landlords.

Rajat and Ratnalekha Ray also opposed Abdullah’s viewpoint. They stated that Permanent Settlement uplifted the emergence of the “jotedaar class” These were the intermediate rich peasants who bought the auctioned land and were zamindars’ own men.  This gave rise tot he  Jotedaar Thesis. Thus, they refute Abdullah’s argument that the land was bought by non- agriculturalists and opined that jotedaars gained from the Settlement system. This argument was debated by  scholar Sugata Bose. He found that jotedaar domination was restricted only in the case of Northern Bengal and we find that Zamindars were still dominating in the east and west Bengal regions.


Thus, we find that although Permanent Settlement was introduced to expand company’s control over the region of Bengal so that it could maximize its revenue collection, it was the zamindari class which benefited the most from the Settlement. One of the major limitation of this system was that it did not realize the power of the local zamindars until the phenomenon of sub-infeduation came to be visible tot hem, which also gave rise to the jotedaars, another group of people who benefited  a lot from the program. The small farmers and peasants were the worst hit case due to the humongous amount of rent applied to them by the zamindars.

Tags : Major significance of the Permanent Settlement of 1793. Ideological influences that played  important role in its introduction. NCERT Notes.

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