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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also ryotwar), a system of land tenure and taxation in India. Introduced in 1792 in two districts of Madras, ry-otwari was instituted by the British colonial administration in the Madras Presidency between 1818 and 1823, in the Bombay Presidency between 1818 and 1828, and in Assam and Berar in the mid-19th century. In areas with ryotwari, where the feudal elite was eliminated as a class during the British conquest, ownership rights to land were assigned to various classes: communal mirasidar and pattidari with full rights (the majority of the ryots), including the feudalized upper strata of the communes, commune tenants, who paid rent in the form of a tax to the treasury, tenants of newly cultivated lands, and some of the artisans and servants of the communes. Ryotwari, with its assignment of land rights to various classes, contrasted with the za-mindari land-tax system.

The ryots had the right to freely transfer and bequeath lands, but legally they were considered to be permanently hereditary state tenants; the colonial government was the supreme landowner. Beginning in 1835, a cadastre was compiled and the land taxes were reduced and to be subject to review every 30 years rather than annually. The ryotwari reform was completed in the 1870’s with the adoption throughout the provinces of land-tax codes establishing the system of registration of land-holdings and tax obligations. In the second half of the 19th century, ryotwari was introduced for government lands in the large principalities.

In the regions with ryotwari, landholdings gradually became concentrated in the hands of landlords who often came from the elite of the communes, especially those who owned small and medium-sized estates, moneylenders, merchants, and other prosperous urban strata of the population. By the late 1940’s, these groups owned about 60 percent of the land in these areas. By the 1950’s, when the government of independent India began implementing land reforms, about 57 percent of the privately owned land was taxed according to the ryotwari system. After the zamindari system was abolished in the 1950’s, the ryotwari land-tax system was extended to all of India.

Although limits on private landownership were formally established throughout the Indian states in the 1950’s and 1960’s, a significant proportion of the cultivated land remains concentrated in the hands of landlords and rich peasants. In the early 1970’s the Indian government adopted a resolution to again lower the limit on landholdings. In 1972 an agrarian reform program to lower the limit on landownership was instituted in a number of states, including Kerala, West Bengal, and Assam.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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While in 1853 Marx had welcomed the zamindari and ryotwari systems of land settlement for introducing private property in land, as early as 1858 he described the "exclusive proprietary rights claimed by the talukdars and zamindars" as "an incubus on the real cultivators of the soil and the general improvement of the country." In 1881 he said: "To take the case of East India, for instance, no one with the exception of Sir H.
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