A Peasant Friendly Revenue Collection: Sher Shah Suri’s Reforms

Sher Shah’s reign was very short, yet he packed his governance with endeavours that registered historical acclaim. Among his relentless ventures for the safety, stability and prosperity of raiyat or common people, the land-revenue reform in the traditional system was one of the most notable ones.
The map of Sher Shah’s Empire , Source: Wikimedia

The map of Sher Shah’s Empire , Source: Wikimedia

Sher Shah had a first-hand and ground-level experience while he managed his father’s Jagir, also the virtual ruler of Bihar for a decade. This experience helped him understand the fact put in his own words –

“I know that the humble raiyat is the pivot of agriculture. If they are happy the cultivation will thrive. If the raiyat is in a bad condition, the agricultural output will diminish.”

Turning his words into reality, he firmly implemented the traditional Zabt system of collecting land revenue from the farmers or cultivators, but with a more humanitarian perspective. According to the old or traditional system, the estimation of land revenue was based on the sample crop harvested in a particular cultivated area.

The traditional system of estimation prevailed in India even before the Turks arrived and later was revived by Allaudin Khilji. But, Sher Shah did not believe that the estimation of land revenue should be based on crop-sharing. He reformed this old system by dividing cultivating lands into categories based on the quality of the land in which the crops are sown or cultivated. The categories were Good, Middling or Average and Bad type of lands.

He charged one-third of the harvest yield payable to the state instead of the local heads. Due to this reformed system, the estimation could be calculated as soon as the lands were sown. This amount is referred to as Ray. The revenue amount was notified to the farmers in advance. The preferred mode of payment was in cash though there is evidence of payment in equivalent kind in some cases.

Despite the best intentions, the huge expanse made it impossible for Sher Shah to monitor each province within his kingdom. So, he could not completely stop the flouting of his regulations of not collecting or charging revenue beyond the permitted reforms of estimation.

Yet, we must acknowledge the reforms which were the most peasant-oriented among all the other revenue systems in the kingdoms of his time. We must thus acknowledge that the reformed revenue system also known as the Ryotwari system adopted even by the British was pioneered by Sher Shah but is wrongly credited to Akbar.

The preferred cash was the silver coin Rupiya first minted by Sher Shah weighing 178 gms and a precursor to the Rupee we know today. The currency he introduced was a three-metal coinage system of particular values of descending order, the highest being the Rupiya.

The measurement of lands of different categories was conducted every year. A cess amount was also collected as insurance against famine which was a recurring calamity they frequently faced. The cess amount was two and a half seers of harvest per bigha land.

Sher Shah tried to see that the muqaddams or zamindars did not exploit or overburden the weaker sections. Another feature of his reforms was the transparency in maintaining accurate records. The revenue amount was written on a Patta in the presence of the muqaddams and the farmers involved.

This was a measure to discourage or prevent any extra charges levied or any other form of extortion. But, to what extent the reforms were implemented could not be assured. The zamindars were still, handling both the estimation and the collection of the revenue. They even enjoyed remuneration for these services.

Sher Shah seemed very judicious in the context of the welfare of the peasantry because he gave firm orders to the army against trampling on any farm or cultivating lands during their transit on any mission. He even appointed horsemen meant to prevent the marching soldiers from entering the agricultural lands and violating the orders.

If some turn of events or some unavoidable situation called for trampling over the cultivator's lands, then there were strict orders to measure the damaged area and pay the compensation accordingly to the concerned raiyat.

Though such thoughtful gestures were a relief for the peasantry, only a few could enjoy the benevolence. Those loyal to the Sher Shah and paid their dues without violating any regulations received privileged protection. But, just like in the old system, any muqaddams and their supporters who failed to attend the office of amils or avoided paying the due revenues were punished without mercy. The villages or lands and properties under such zamindars and the farmers were confiscated and replaced by other loyal subjects.

According to the hierarchy of the administrative system under Sher Shah, each village. headed by a Muqaddam. He was responsible for the law and order of the village. The Patwari helped the muqaddam as an accountant to maintain the records. They were not state officials yet could share the produce of the harvest. A group of villages was known as Pargana. A Shiqdar was the local administrative head responsible for collecting the land revenues within the pargana.

The pargana also has an amil or munsif concerned with the measurements of cultivating lands. Two clerks referred to as Hindavi in the Persian language, help the shiqdar in the accounts. The Khazanadar or Poddar is the treasurer of the collected cash from the peasantry. As the amils enjoyed were exposed to lucrative cash flow, Sharshah tried to avoid the risk of corruption by changing the amils every two years.

Sher Shah Suri Source: observervoice.com

Sher Shah Suri Source: observervoice.com

Silver coins of Sher Shah , Source: The Coin Galleries

Silver coins of Sher Shah , Source: The Coin Galleries


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