Jammu and Kashmir: A study of land management under Dogra regime

In the modern administrative systems when we hear of the land, we also hear of its various forms –the agricultural land, the forest land, the state land, the municipal land, and the private land and so on and so forth. The nature of land changes over the period with human progress and so is its management and legal regulation. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, which was a Princely State till 1947, a study in the land management system under the Dogra rule offers great insights into the nature of politics and economy, and more importantly, the relationship between State and the people.


Of the long-standing tradition being followed in the region, the entire land was considered as the property of the ruler in Kashmir. While, the land was the property of the ruler, some portions of the state land were granted to some officials as well as non-officials by the sovereigns. The cultivable land was allocated to the cultivators every year keeping in view the strength of the family or certain standards, by the official managing the cultivation. A Kashmiri cultivator had no right of ownership or even occupancy of the land tilled by him. In such a highly fertile valley to find the peasantry roving from the village was an explicit sign that the administration was malfunctioned. As in the rest of the country, in Kashmir also, the entire economy depended on the land revenue and agriculture for the major portion of Government income. The blinkered characters invested the government with the responsibility of providing cheap grains to the non-agricultural population.

Also Read: Road network in Jammu and Kashmir: A historical overview

Due to the faulty land tenure system, Kashmir was experiencing shortage of food grains every now and then. Being the solitary owner of the land and the master of the tenants, it was the responsibility of the ruler to take care of the non-agricultural population, comprising of government officials, armed forces, artisans and labourers and not let them to be left at the mercy of either the cultivators or corrupt dealers who were in the habit of cornering the grain. In earlier times, the economy of India was purely based on agriculture, thus the land revenue has been the prominent and pivotal source of state income. This led to the being of State Monopoly, and the establishment of rationing department for issuing ration cards to the non-agricultural population, keeping in mind the strength of the family. Kashmir has the distinction of being the first place where the rationing system came into being.

The system of land allotment being followed by Maharaja Gulab Singh had the distribution of cultivable land in terms of nafre. A nafre, comprising of a man, his wife and a grown-up child were allotted four acres of irrigated land. In the same proportions, two acres of irrigated land was allotted to a man, and his wife, considered as a half unit, called as nim nafre, and pao nafre was a quarter unit in which one and a half acres of irrigated land was allotted to a bachelor. Similarly, the dry as well as the swampy lands had different units and were allotted accordingly to the cultivators. After all of this annual settlement and allotment, the village was handed into the supervision of a person called as the shaqdar, whose duty was to watch the crops. In comparatively bigger villages, there were several shaqdars for each threshing floor and all of them worked under the supervision of sazawol. At the time of harvesting season, a regiment known as the Nizamat Paltan, comprising of sepoys from regular army, moved into the villages in order to enforce the state’s claim. During his reign, Maharaja Ranbir Singh performed several experiments to ameliorate the revenue assessment and to lighten the tax burden on the cultivators.  But he was failed at his attempt due to the lack of competence and devoted staff.

After the merger of many small hill states and the formation of the modern state of Jammu and Kashmir, the first temporary arrangement called Sarsari-Bandobast was made by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1870 AD followed by another Sarsari-Bandobast by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1896 AD and in 1916 AD in Jammu Division.

The first regular settlement was conducted in J&K, in between 1887 to 1905 AD, during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh. In 1887 the then Ruler of J&K State appointed Mr. Wingate to conduct first settlement in a few villages. It was in the year 1889 that Sir Walter Lawrence was appointed to carry settlement operations with full powers. He faced non-cooperation in the initial stage, which was at the behest of revenue officials involved in collection of land revenue. The lack of confidence from cultivators over the revenue officials was an additive factor in this non-cooperation. He in the first instance worked hard and motivated people making them understand the rationalization of land revenue on basis of fertility, irrigation facilities and measurement of land etc. and the wastelands were also allowed to be used by cultivators. The grievances in the form of litigation were referred to the Settlement Officer for his speedy disposal.

The settlement department was avowed as a permanent establishment, the confidence among the population was also built and they were involved in settlement operations. Very simple food (shali or paddy) was taken as land revenue and maximum portion of shali crop was allowed to be retained by them. The result was that it helped the absentee cultivators, who had previously run away because of fear psychosis of work or payment of land revenue, to return. The cultivators who were previously reluctant to cultivate the waste land started filling fresh application for allotment. The occupancy cultivators were given protection under the law. The motivational involvement followed sense of belonging given to a common cultivator led to the successful measurement of land and subsequent construction of land records.

After the attainment of independence, the Govt of India contemplated bringing the peasants and the state into direct contact. Where the Zamindari system, prevailed, it was abolished and where the Ryotwari system prevailed, the laws were formed for the protection of the tenants to give the rights to the tillers of the land. The changes made in the land record system entailed the maintenance of village registers with full details of land. A methodical system of revenue administration was established and the maintenance of land record registers was made obligatory.


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