The history of tax collection in Kashmir is not just thought-provoking; it is a symbolic account of an immoral, brutal and corrupt revenue collection system which was built hundreds of years ago, and is still functioning in various forms.
The princely state of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in March 1846 with the signing of the Treaty of Amritsar between the East India Company and the Dogra Raja of Jammu. The British established their control over the political and economic administration of the state by posting their officials. In fact, after setting up the residency in 1885, the British directly intervened in the running of the tax and revenue affairs of the princely state.
Before the arrival of the Dogra’s, the people of Kashmir had witnessed various rulers and dynasties as well as undergone numerous phases of state formation and revenue generation. The practice of land grants to a few families in exchange for loyalty and support continued through the centuries. The rulers generated resources by levying several taxes beside collecting land revenue from cultivators. Details about the volume of land revenue collected are not available for the early medieval period.
The current revenue collection system in Kashmir evolved as early as the Mughal period in Kashmir.To maintain economic and political stability in the state, Emperor Akbar sent a five-member team in 1589 to formulate the pattern of land revenue assessment and to determine the nature and volume of collection. Thus, a detailed report about the nature of land, its classification, production and appropriation was prepared.
Several revenue collection departments, officials and agencies established by Mughal emperors about 300 years ago still exist in all parts of modern Kashmir.
For instance, this was the Mughal era when revenue administration was thoroughly reorganized by with the creation of positions such as patwari, tahsildar, amil, fotedar, musif, qanungo, chaudhri, dewan and others.
In today’s revenue collection systems, patwaris and tehsildars work amicably with the database administrators, and there exists no conflict of interest. The interest of all official revenue collection agencies in Kashmir was linked with the state exchequer in times of Maharaja and it continues to serve the state governments on both sides of the Line of Control today.
Hundreds of years ago, the revenue generation in Kashmir was based on activities related to agriculture, village manufacturing and wood carving, weaving of woollen cloth, basket making, papier machie, silver and copper work, shawl and carpet making, leather furs. Land taxes, both in kind and cash, formed a vital component of the revenue.
After the Mughal period, the Afghan, Sikh and Dogra rulers retained with minor variations, the practice of land grants and old system of revenue generation. Jagirdars imposed various levies and taxes on the farmers as several corrupt practices entered the administration of revenue collection.
The Sikh rulers time, the land was considered the property of the ruler called Khalisa, which was partly given out as grants jagirs and partly assigned to cultivators every year in proportion to the strength of the family.
In times of Maharajas, Pandits, Sayyids and Pirzadas charged taxes to people on behalf of the rulers.
During the British rule, the advocacy of grain trade and the shift towards payment of land taxes in cash led to far reaching changes in the economy.
Waltraud Ernst and Biswamoy Pati, Ed. Routledge Studies in the Modern History of Asia, India’s Princely States. People, princes and colonialism, Routledge, 2007
Siddiqi, Norman Ahmad. Land revenue administration under the Mughals, 1700-1750. Published for the Centre of Advanced Study, Dept. of History, Aligarh Muslim University [by] Asia Pub. House, 1970.