The majority of people in medieval India lived in villages and depended directly or indirectly on agriculture. The fame of a ruler and the popularity of his government depended on the success of his land revenue policy. The Mughal land revenue policy owed its success to Akbar who made several experiments in this field, before introducing the Dahsala system with the help of Raja Todar Mai. Sher Shah Sur, however, was the forerunner of Akbar in establishing a sound revenue administration.
Babar, after the establishment of Mughal rule in India, divided his territories into two parts-khalisa or the crown land, and the jagirs. He parcelled out about two-thirds of the land under cultivation among his military generals who deposited a fixed amount of money as land revenue to the state treasury. Revenue from the crown lands was collected by government officials.
The state had no land revenue policy as such, and revenue was assessed and collected in various parts of the kingdom according to rudimentary practices as well as prevalent customs and traditions. Sher Shah Sur was the first to establish direct contact of the state with the cultivators, and carry out land revenue reforms at the grassroots level.
However, these reforms were not introduced on an extensive scale, and the revenue administration broke down following the death of Sher Shah’s son Islam Shah. Humayun revived the old jagirdari system, after recapturing his empire, it was only after Akbar took over the reins of government that serious thought was given to the evolving of a rational system of land revenue collection that would not only endure but also benefit the farmers and the state.
Land revenue figured highest among the direct taxes on income. In Mughal India several systems of assessment and collection of land revenue prevailed. All of them were based on the principle that the land revenue demanded by the state should not, as a rule, exceed one-third of the actual produce and should never be more than half of the produce. In certain states of Rajasthan as little as 1/7 or 1/8 of the produce was paid. (One-half of the produce was fixed by Aurangzeb as the maximum during his reign.)
Sharing of the produce between the cultivator and the state took several forms. Sometimes a share of the actual produce, when harvested, was claimed. In some parts of the country, the cultivator assigned one-third of his field to the state. The probable yield of the crop was estimated by appraisers appointed by the state, when the harvest was ripening.
One third of the estimated crop was then assigned to the state and when the crop was harvested, the state got its share. Sharing, however, provided several occasions for defrauding the state and was thus, not considered to be a satisfactory method of collecting coiled land revenue.
The state then sometimes resorted to an outright payment in cash irrespective of the crop area or the value of the crop. This was done by taking an average of the land revenue paid by a ( cultivator for all his lands during the last ten years. (Aurangzeb favoured this system, which was known as nasaq.)