Revenue Farming Reconsidered: Tenurial Rights and Tenurial Duties in Early Modern India, ca. 1556-1818

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 61.5/6 (2018): 878–919, in a special issue, “Repossessing Property in South Asia: Land, Rights, and Law across the Early Modern/Modern Divide,” edited by Faisal Chaudry:

By Sudev Sheth, Harvard Business School

The meaning of land revenue farming in Indian history has eluded consensus. Some view it as an administrative aberration indicating weak state control, while others see it as a strategy for consolidating authority. This essay traces the historical development of iqṭāʻ and ijārah, two Perso-Arabic terms frequently translated from the sources as ‘revenue farming estate’. I then suggest that existing perspectives do not capture the broader structure and significance of various entitlements to land revenue. Instead, I suggest that entitlements be schematized according to how regularized the right was, whether it was permanent, and how duty-bound the right holder was. In this formulation, revenue farm refers to a complex of rights and duties secured by contract in which a sovereign transferred the temporary exploitation of a holding for rent in ad- vance. It was one of four tenurial complexes under which entitlements fell, the others being estates from bureaucratic assignment, hereditary occupation or possession by grant/gift, and tributary or chieftaincy.