‘Zamindar’ means a man of the land or a Landlord. Zamindars were a sort of micro-kings who ruled their small territory by collecting taxes, running a court to resolve disputes, maintaining a military and building palaces. In most cases, they had to share a big chunk of their taxes with the local king. Zamindari was a system of collecting taxes.
The Zamindary system was created by the Mughals who replaced the earlier tax collections systems and appointed their own collectors. These collectors were responsible for the local law and order. Unless things got worse they would not call the king and its troops to maintain the local order. In the name of maintaining order, they could kill, rape and plunder, like any other monarch in the world.
The East India Company and British Crown tried to keep the existing systems as much as possible. They did not remove the Mughal appointed Zamindary in the north, but rather made these Zamindars pay taxes to them. Since the Zamindars helped maintain law and order, the British Crown were able to rule without bringing a lot of Englishmen. Besides the Mughal era Zamindars, the Company and Crown also made many small kings downgraded as Zamindars.
Ryotwari settlements were introduced mainly in Madras, Berar, Bombay and Assam. Sir Thomas Munro introduced this system in the Madras Presidency.
Under this settlement, the peasant was recognised as the proprietor of land. There was no intermediary like a Zamindar. So long as he paid the revenue in time, the peasant was not evicted from the land. Besides, the land revenue was fixed for a period from 20 to 40 years at a time.
Every peasant was held personally responsible for direct payment of land revenue to the government. However, in the end, this system also failed.
Under this settlement, it was certainly not possible to collect revenue in a systematic manner. The revenue officials indulged in harsh measures for non-payment or delayed payment.
In 1833, the Mahalwari settlement was introduced in Punjab, the Central Provinces and parts of North-Western Provinces.
Under this system, the basic unit of revenue settlement was the village or the Mahal. As the village lands belonged jointly to the village community, the responsibility of paying the entire Mahal was on the village community. So the entire land of the village was measured at the time of fixing the revenue.
Though the Mahalwari system eliminated middlemen between the government and the village community and brought about improvement in irrigation facilities, its benefit was largely enjoyed by the government.