Ijara means farming of revenue. The Ijara was a well-known practice in the land-revenue administration under the sultans of Delhi. But it fell into disrepute under sher-shah and akbar. It was revived again during the reign of jahangir, and became quite widespread in the course of seventeenth century. Under shahjahan, the Portuguese obtained certain mahals in Bengal on ijara. During his reign the practice of ijara was widespread and in fact brought ruin to large parts of the Empire.
A farman was issued in the 8th regnal year of aurangzeb and the farman contained a number of instructions for preparing the revenue records. One of these enjoins the local administration to note the number of revenue farmers and cultivators in every village. This leads to the inference that the Ijaradars were to be found in every Pargana, if not in every village of the empire. This was also the first general statement of the land-revenue policy of the Emperor.
The practice of ijara has been defined in some detail in a revenue glossary compiled in the later half of the eighteenth century. Ijara constituted a sort of contract and implied the farming out of the revenues of a mahal or more that one mahal and the Ijaradar was required to pay the fixed amount as stipulated in the agreement. One form of ijara was known as 'rasad afzud'. This arrangement was made for a village for which the jama had decreased on account of natural calamities, and it implied an agreement on the part of the ijaradar for the collection and payment of a sum lower that the original Jama. Another form of ijara was mutaahidi. The main difference between ijara and mutaahidi lay in fact that the former agreement was generally made without any conditions except the payment of the full amount as agreed upon between the parties. Ijaradar was an intermediary for collecting land-revenue and a mutaahhid was treated later as a government servant.
An Ijara arrangement implied the right of collecting land-revenue on behalf of the state or the Jagirdar for a fixed period and paying a fixed amount to the Jagirdar or the government officer as stipulated in the agreement. An Ijaradar had no proprietary right in land and in this he differed from the zamindar as an intermediary.
The practice of ijara affected the working of the land-revenue administration and weakened its stability. It gave rise to a class of bankers who invested their money in the business of revenue farming. The new class generally came from the cities and proved to be a constant source of danger to the interest of the zamindars. The effects of the system on the peasantry were even worse. The burden of the increased land revenue demand was distributed among the peasants. Whatever settlement was made with the ijaradar or with the zamindar, the condition created by artificial competition invariably tended to increase the land-revenue and ultimately the burden fell on the peasantry. Eventually the oppressed peasantry took refuge in the nearby zamindaris, which were owned by powerful zamindars that openly defied the authority by the state, neglected the payment of land-revenue. Khalisa land- the bulk of the imperial territory consisted of the mahals and parganas assigned to mansabdars in lieu of their salaries for services rendered to the state. The remaining mahals and parganas in almost all the provinces were earmarked as khalisa or khalisa sharifa and the income from them was remitted to the imperial treasuries.
Nawab murshid quli khan made more effective system by establishing a new land revenue settlement in 1722. During his time a new Zaminder class emerged and usually the Hindus got preferences to be the new Zaminders. Nawab took a twofold plan to increase the land revenue in his territory. First, he made all the jagirs who were responsible for the khalisa, under direct supervision of the revenue collectors. Secondly, he made a contractual revenue system through the Ijara system. Though he collected security bond from the new contractors of the revenue collection. This new designation was defined as Ijaradar. He termed the system as mal-damini or ml-jamini. With these new contractors Murshid Quli Khan formed a new landed aristocracy who were confirmed by Lord cornwallis in the permanent settlement (1793). During the British period, settlement was also made with the Ijaradars regarding the government controlled market, jalmahal etc. [Nasrin Akkter]