Historical Review of JK Land Reform Laws: (From 1887-1976)………Part I

kashmir paddy fields

J&K in the past was predominantly agricultural State. Immediately before 1947, near to 90% of its population lived in villages & depended on agriculture. Under Dogra Rule, “in Kashmir the land [belonged] to the Ruler, the cultivators [were] his servants”. 1 In Jammu, proprietorship in lands was claimed by the Dogra monarchs as hereditary, in Ladakh & Batistan it was claimed by virtue of conquest of those territories & in Kashmir it was claimed on the ground that Kashmir was purchased by them through their founder, Maharaja Gulab Singh, from the British for 75 lakh rupees on 16th March, 1846 vide “disgraceful transaction” 2 of notorious Treaty of Amritsar, also called the Binama Amritsar . The peasants who cultivated lands had no proprietorship rights at all & so sale of lands by them was “null & void” in the eyes of the Darbar. They were working like “coolies under a management closely approximating to forced labour” with the Darbar as the “farmer”. 3. The proprietorship of jagirs could be only conferred by the Darbar by sanad /official document & the grantees were invariably the relatives, courtiers, & top officialdom of the Darbar. The last one included near to all Kashmiri Pandits. The grantees were called Jagirdars & mukarari-chakdars.

The appointment of a British Resident in Kashmir was a necessary preclude to the implementation of wide ranging reforms in the Dogra State. 4. Whatever the intrigues & politics played by the British  behind installing Pratap Singh as Ruler of the State, the British intervention proved blessing in disguise for the Muslim subjects of Kashmir. 5. With the establishment of permanent British Resident in Kashmir in 1885 during Pratap Singh’s reign, the British Resident constituted, controlled & headed the Council of Regency through which the British exercised their assertive control over the Dogra administration who felt compelled, thus, by the British to undertake reforms in land administration under the aegis of their two expert settlement officers, Andrew Wingate & Walter Roper Lawrence, one following the other in settlement process. The British intervention for reforms, which was claimed on behalf of the Muslim subjects of Kashmir ruled by Hindu monarchs, was stated to be “long delayed” or “so urgently needed” that were to be “no longer delayed” then. 6.

So, it was Andrew Wingate who for the first time in his report to the Darbar sensitised it that without support & sympathy of the land cultivators, no settlement policy of the Darbar could last long. He recommended that the peasants’ “assistance & sympathy can only be won by conferring upon them possession of the land they till”, that is, their hereditary occupancy rights (Morossi Mustakil Kashtkari) in the land against the ownership of the State/Ruler, 7 to be acknowledged which was endorsed by his successor-in-office, Walter Roper Lawrence 8, who , however, disagreed with Andrew Wingate as far as right of alienation of occupancy tenancy  [to bone fide cultivators even, as was recommended by Andrew Wingate] was concerned on the ground that powerful & greedy Lamberdars, Jagirdars & Chakdars through their middlemen, and corrupt [Pandit] revenue officials, would easily exploit the improvident & illiterate cultivators of Kashmir valley. So, Lawrence stated that their occupancy rights in the land shall be inalienable by sale, mortgage or lease, etc. 9.

Ultimately, under the persuasion of British Rulers and on the strong recommendations of their two experts, afore-named Principal Land Revenue Settlement Officers of the State, the Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1895-1896 formally & legally recognised the occupancy rights (Mustakil Kashtkari) of the peasants in the land. The cultivator who was recognised by the Darbar as lawful occupant was called the assami which was decided on the basis of his hereditary cultivation rights of the land which (rights/haq e assami) were called miras, the holders as mirasddar and in the settlement mirasddars were entered as assamis. The undisputed cultivators were entered without any hesitation as assamis, where their cultivation rights were disputed, the settlement officer was directed to enter their names as assamis after an inquiry only.

The cultivation right or miras was hereditary and permanent but inalienable by sale or mortgage or other modes of transfer, 10 except that the sales & mortgages were permitted in Srinagar city, some towns & frontier districts of Kashmir, 11, though, to be noted, the Darbar continued to be the proprietor. At the contrary, except in three Tehsils, almost in entire Jammu province the people were declared proprietors of the land that they would rent out to the tenants. This was a “glaring example of differential treatment that the people of Kashmir received under the Dogra Rule—a case of provincial prejudice”. 12

In Kashmir, before the said land settlements of 1887-1891 & 1889-1894, the landlords 13 had no proprietary rights in the land as ownership vested in the Maharaja only. Nor were they recognised as assimidars. But Wingate & Lawrence made them, those powerful and influential intermediary proprietors or landlords, 14 assimidars of the land which was legally accepted by the Darbar in 1900. The move was obviously against the interests of the peasants working in their estates as the latter were declared mere permanent tenants-at-will who held tenancy subject to the will of the landlords, who were jagirdars, chakdars and maufidars, and could be evicted by them at their will. To prevent easy ejectment of the tenants-at-will, the Maharaja had to pass the Tenancy Act, 1923. The Act categorized tenants-at-will into four categories, tenants of any category even if entered as occupancy tenants under the said settlements by mistake were formally recognised as occupancy tenants and all occupancy tenants were declared as protected tenants under the Act. The Act stated that their ejectment from the land could be filed before the court on certain specified grounds only, such as the land was unfit for cultivation or the tenant has failed to cultivate the land or pay the rent (lagan) to the landlord or the landlord required it for personal use. 15

We have noticed above that except in the Srinagar city & major towns where sale & mortgage of land was already allowed, the peasants or zamindars of Kashmir in general did not have any proprietary rights in the land as ownership was directly vested in the State represented by Dogra monarchy. This position continued till 1931 when most significant event in the “freedom struggle” of Kashmir took place on 13th July, 1931. The martyrdom of 22 innocent Kashmiri souls gunned down by the Maharaja’s sepoys induced Kashmiris to hit the roads demanding for their basic rights & prompted joint leadership of Kashmir to mount pressure on the Maharaja, among others, for bestowment of proprietary rights on the suffering peasantry of Kashmir.

“Zamindars of Kashmir are deprived of proprietary rights over their lands whereas those of Jammu fully enjoy these rights. The people of Kashmir cannot sell or mortgage their lands of their own will. …..the Kashmir Zemindar is no better than a mere tenant. There is no reason to make a distinction between Kashmir and other parts of the State. The State cannot claim proprietary rights over Kashmir lands merely because Kashmir was purchased from the British……. There can be no justification whatever in depriving a person of his lawful rights with the alleged object of protecting him against danger of his land passing into the hands of the money lenders …….this danger can & should be effectively guarded against by the introduction of such measures as the Land Alienation & Pre-Emption Acts……Nothing should stand in the way of full proprietary rights being granted to the Kashmiri Zaminadras…”  16

Under the mounting pressure of the mass movement for basic rights of the people through joint leadership & strong recommendation of the British Resident in Kashmir, the Maharaja was ultimately compelled to order on 12-11-1931 constitution of a commission under the chairmanship of a British officer in Political Affairs Department of GOI, namely, B J Glancy. Glancy Commission did not touch the rights of the landlords but it made recommendation to the Maharaja for bestowal of proprietary rights in the land upon the peasantry where these rights vested in the State. It stated that these rights would be in the nature of “pure concessions” granted to the peasants & that “the  advantages to be expected there-from are sufficient to outweigh any of objections that can be raised provided that suitable steps are taken to prevent the concession from abuse. ” 17

The Maharaja conceded to the said recommendation of Glancy Commission by bestowing on all peasants of Kashmir, who till then had been having only occupancy rights, full proprietary rights in the land, the ownership whereof was till then vested in the State. In Jammu province too, the occupancy tenants wherever existed were granted proprietorship. 18 However, as suggested by the Glancy Commission, two major measures to prevent interests of agriculturalists were adopted by the State by passing the Land Alienation Act, 1933 & the Right of Prior Purchase Act, 1937. The first statute provided that a peasant can alienate land only upto 1/4th of the holding to an agriculturist only & the restriction was to remain for first 10 years of the conferment, while the second statute recognised prior right (pre-emption) of agriculturists of purchasing agricultural land.

To be continued & concluded

M J Aslam is Author, academic, story-teller & freelance columnist, presently AVP, J&K Bank.


  1. Gazetteer of Kashmir & Ladakh (1890) page 104, within brackets mine
  2. P N Bazaz, the history of freedom in Kashmir , Cultural & Political ( first edition, 1954) page 123
  3. Andrew Wingate[First Land Revenue Settlement Commissioner of the State (1887-1891)] Preliminary Report of Settlement Operations in J&K page 36, paragraph 52, also cited in the Valley of Kashmir (2014 second edition) page 430
  4. Prof Mridu Rai , Hindu Rulers , Muslim Subjects (2004) page 136
  5. P N Bazaz, the history of freedom in Kashmir , Cultural & Political ( first edition, 1954) page 133
  6. See letter dated 13-05-1884 of Lord Kimberly to the Viceroy of India; letter dated 07-04- 1884 by the GOI, Viceroy of India to the Secretary of State & letter dated 01-08-1884 by the Secretary of State to the Officer on special duty( who in 1885 became Permanent British Resident) in Kashmir
  7. Supra Andrew Wingate, page 94
  8. Supra, The Valley of Kashmir, page 428
  9. Supra Walter Roper Lawrence, pages 430-431 (Most of the lamberdars were themselves so called bone fide cultivators)
  10. Supra The Valley of Kashmir pages 428431
  11. Per P N Bazaz, Inside Kashmir (first edition–1941) page 72
  12. Ibid
  13. the term “landlord” included Jagirdars, Pattadars, Illagadars, Chakdars, Muafidars & Mukarraidars
  14. See J&K State Assembly Debates page 96
  15. The land revenue that was paid by the landlord to the State was called maleey
  16. Extracted from Memorial of Demands of People dated 19-10-1931 signed & submitted by joint leadership of Kashmir to the Maharaja Hari Singh; also cited in M Y Saraf, Kashmiris Fight For Freedom (2009) volume 1st, page 428; G H Khan, Freedom Movement in Kashmir (2009) page 448
  1. Glancy Commission report pages 26-28
  2. See the Maharajas’s Order of April 1933 conveyed vide Revenue Dept Notification 92 of 1933


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