Akbar’s Revenue Administration

The revenue administration of the Mughal Empire under Akbar can be understood on the basis of the evidence mainly furnished by Abul Fazl in the Ain-i Akbari and the Akbarnama. The important documents reproduced by Abul Fazl have a bearing on this aspect are: (1) The ain dealing with the Sher Shahi rai; (2) the ain-i nuazdehsala; and (3) Ain-i dahsala (1580); all in the Ain-i Akbari. And then (4) Todar Mal’s report of the 27th RY (1582) and (5) Fathullah Shirazi’s report of the 30th RY (1585) given in the Akbarnama.

Akbar’s administration achieved a remarkable degree of standardization of the land-revenue system over a fairly large region. The region where it effectively functioned, comprised the larger portion of Northern India, the territory extending from the Salt Range to the river Son and contained within eight subas. The standard mode of revenue assessment followed here was known as zabt, which signified assessment of revenue by the application of standard rates, fixed in cash, to the area under each crop.

The rates annually fixed from the 6th to the 24th RY are recorded in the Ain in a set of tables entitled Ain-i Nauzdehsala (The Ain of 19 Years). In these tables the dasturs (cash rates) are given province wise, in single rates or pairs (lowest & highest). From the 6th to the 9th RY the crops are given a single rate throughout each province: in many cases same rate prevails in all eight provinces. From this one would infer that uniform productivity as well as uniform prices had been assumed. From 10th RY a change occurs: the rates are are much lower than those during the previous 3 years; and for most crops 2 rates, the max & min, are entered (excepte in suba Lahore & Malwa). The rates now vary from province to province.

The rates from the 15th (& in some cases 14th) to the 24th RY on which the final cash rates are supposedly based, were still lower than the rates of the previous years. The variation from province to province is quite pronounced.

The figure in this ain-i nauzdehsala are generally given in dams with complex fractions expressed in jitals (1d=25j): thus based on a very close calculation.

Under the heading Ain-i Dahsala, Abul Fazl sets out in detail the cash rates (dasturul ‘amal) in force in the eight provinces at the time the Ain was written (c. 1595). From this it appears that the crops were not normally rated uniformly within a province, but the province was divided into circles comprising groups of parganas, each circle having a separate schedule containing single cash rates for individual crops. The Ain provides separately for each province lists of parganas constituting the various dastur circles within the province. Usually these did not cross the boundaries of a sarkar. In a few cases these circles comprise groups of parganas drawn from more than one sarkar.

Akbar’s land-revenue reforms rested on the new system introduced by Todarmal which became popular by the name of Todarmal’s bandobast. The three main features of the bandobast or system were: (a) Survey and measurement of land, (b) Classification of land on the basis of its productivity and (c) The assessment of land-revenue.

The Mughal revenue system, evolved through experiments that continued till 1585. In the beginning, he adopted Sher Shah’s system in which the cultivated area was measured and a central schedule was drawn up fixing the dues of peasant’s crop wise on the basis of the productivity of the land.

From Abul Fazl’s formula for the calculation of the revenue rates on the basis of Sher Shah’s rai, it has been assumed (Moreland) that Akbar’s dasurs too were designed to represent one-third of the yield per bigha, and that the rates so fixed in kind were commuted not cash at prices prevailing in the rural localities.

Prices were lower in rural areas which were far away from the urban centres and the cultivators found it difficult to pay in cash at the official rate.

According to Moosvi, there is no plain direct statement to this effect by AF. Further according to Moosvi that there was a difference of atleast 10% between rural and urban prices and that if one makes allowance for that, we would have to assume that the dasturs represented about half of the average produce. It is then quite probable that one-half and not one-third was set as the share of produce for formulating the dasturs. Further, as the rai of Shershah was also inflated, and it had to be scaled down. One is therefore tempted to conclude that Akbar’s administration in framing its dasturs flatly laid claim to one-half of the total produce.

In the tenth year of his (Akbar’s) reign, prices of crops prevailing in dif­ferent regions were substituted for the uniform schedule and the emperor reverted to a system of annual assessment.

In 1573, the annual assessment was given up and karoris were appointed all over North India to collect a crore of dams as revenue and to check the facts and figures supplied by the qanungos regarding the actual produce, state of cultivation, local prices etc.

These karoris were also known as amiIs or amalguzars. On the basis of the above facts and figures, a new system was developed in 1580 called the dahsala system. This system was an improved version of the zabti system which was the standard system of revenue assessment during the greater part of the Mughal empire. The credit for developing this system goes to Todarmal who became the head of the wizarat or revenue ministry.

During the reign of Akbar and his successors four main systems of revenue assessment were prevalent: (a) zabti or dahsala system; (b) batai, ghallabakshi or bhaoli; (c) kankut and (d) nasaq.

As stated earlier the dahsala was an improvement on the zabti system. For the purpose of assessment the land was classified in Akbar’s reign in four categories: polaj (land which was cultivated every year and never left fallow);parauti (land which had to be left fallow for a time to enable it to recover fertility); chachar (land which had to be left fallow for three or four years); and banjar (land which remained uncultivated for five years or more) Polaj and parauti lands were classified into three categories-good, middling and bad-and the average produce per bigha of these three categories was taken as the normal produce of a bigha. Parauti land, when cultivated, paid the same revenue as polaj land.

The chachar and banjar lands were charged a concessional rate which was progressively increased to full or polaj rate (i.e. one- third of the produce) by the fifth or the eighth year. Under the dahsala system an attempt was made to work out the revenue rates. The state demand was given in maunds but for the conversion of the state demand from kind to cash, a separate schedule of cash revenue rates (dasturu’l amals) for various crops was fixed.

For a period of the past ten years, 1570-71 to 1579-80, information on yields, prices, and area cultivated was collected for each locality. On the basis of the average prices of different crops in each locality over the past ten years the state demand was fixed in rupees per bigha.

Each revenue circle had a separate schedule of cash revenue rates (dasturu’l amal) for various crops. Thus the peasant was required to pay on the basis of local produce as well as local prices. The dahsala was neither a ten-year nor a permanent settlement, and the state had the right to modify it.

Since this system was associated with Raja Todarmal, it is also known as Todarmal’s bandobust or settlement. This system prevailed from Lahore to Allahabad and in the provinces of Malwa and Gujarat. A major exten­sion of it occurred in the later years of Shah Jahan’s reign, when it was introduced in the Deccan by Murshid Quli Khan.

This system greatly simplified the process of assessment. The cash rates (dasturu’lamals) were not fixed by a “rule of thumb”, but were based on enquiries into the yields and prices of each crop in different localities.

(b) Batai, ghalla-bakhshi or bhaoli. This was a very old system which continued during the Mughal period. This was a simple method of crop- sharing in which the produce was arranged into heaps and divided into three shares, one of which was taken by the state. Under this system the peasant had the choice to pay in cash or kind, but in the case of cash crops the state demand was mostly in cash.

(c) Kankut. This system was already in use in the fourteenth century. Under this method, in­stead of actually dividing the grain (kan), an es­timate {kut) was made on the basis of an actual inspection on the spot.

One-third of the estimated produce was fixed as the state demand. In simple terms, it was a rough estimate of produce on the basis of actual inspection and past experience.

(d) Nasaq. This was widely prevalent in the Mughal Empire, particularly in Bengal. In this system a rough calculation was made on the basis of the past revenue receipts of the peasants. It required no actual measurement, but the area was ascertained from the records.

The zabti system was the standard system, but other methods of assessment were prevalent in different parts of the empire. In the subahs of Ajmer, Kashmir and southern Sind, crop-sharing and in Bengal nasaq were prevalent. There was, however, a contradiction in the Mughal revenue system.

Although the assessment was made by the state of the individual cultivator, the collection of revenue was made through intermediaries like zamindars, talluqdars, muqaddams, patils etc.

Reading List:

1. Akbar’s Land-Revenue System as Described in the “Ain-i-Akbari”

W. H. Moreland and A. Yusuf Ali

The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
(Jan., 1918), pp. 1-42


2. Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India, pp. 82-92


3. R.P Tripathi, some Aspects of Muslim Administration, 308-38


4. Irfan Habib, Agrarian System


5. Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire, c. 1595 A Statistical Study

• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi