Land Surveys

Land Surveys are conducted for determination of the location of lands and their standard measurement and ownership for collection of revenue at a certain rate. Its importance in the subcontinent came into focus first at the time of Sultan sher shah (1540-45). He introduced measurement of lands and a regular system of assessment and collection of revenue. But the first real step towards accurate assessment based on a comprehensive survey of land and the establishment of one uniform standard of measurement was, however, achieved by Emperor akbar's revenue and finance Minister, Todar Mall (1571-82). Because of his assessment policy, the land revenue representing of the suba (province) of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa increased substantially. An important administrative development at this time was the emergence of Diwan as the head of the financial administration.

Todar Mall's system of assessment was in practice until 1765 when the English east india company assumed control of the revenues of Bengal. In theory, the assessment was based on measurement of the cultivated area and classification of the soil. But no survey was actually carried out in Bengal and other outlying provinces and large areas were let out in farms to amils or revenue collectors, who were apparently left to make their own arrangement regarding assessment and collections. No change was made in the existing system till 1769, when supervisors were appointed to monitor the collection of revenue by the Bengali officers of the former regime. In 1772, the former supervisors were converted into collector of revenue in districts.

When warren hastings took over as Governor General of India, he introduced a system in which the estates were offered to farmers making the highest bid for five years. This was known as the quinquenial settlement. However, the new system proved an utter failure. The accumulation of arrears and decrease in revenue collections so alarmed the authorities in India and the company directors in UK that steps had to be taken to evolve a more satisfactory system. In 1784, pitt's india act was passed in British Parliament. The Act required the government of India to enquire into the condition of landlords and establish permanent rules for collection of revenue founded on local laws and usages of the country.

In 1786, lord cornwallis came to India with a letter from the East India Company directors, recommending “a permanent settlement of a reasonable and fair revenue to be the best, for the payment of which the hereditary tenure of the possession is to be the only necessary security”. At first, a decennial settlement was made for ten years in 1789-90 with the actual collectors of rent of all denominations, viz zamindars, independent talukdars, and other lessees. However, in 1793, the terms of the decennial settlement were made permanent by Regulation 1 of 1793, which were unalterable and fixed forever. The permanently settled areas were about 91% of the total area (56,977 sq mile) of present day Bangladesh.

The need for a regular survey of all lands in the province of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa arose as a direct sequel to the above action. The information collected up to 1789 regarding the limits and areas of existing estates was incomplete and, probably at times, very inaccurate. Not surprisingly, in the early 19th century, collectors of districts, affected by the permanent settlement found themselves unsure about what lands had been actually included in that settlement. The true limits of these lands were ill defined in the papers in the hands of the collectors. The tillers of the soil very often pushed their cultivation into jungle tracts beyond the limits of their settlements.

As the cultivation expanded, rents were collected by zamindars for lands, which were often not actually covered by the permanent settlement. Rapid disintegration of original estates complicated the situation. Estates sold out for arrears of revenue, or for other reasons, were bought by the government or by private persons. Very often, the estates could not be located on the ground. For these and other reasons, it was becoming increasingly difficult to efficiently administer permanently settled areas. As a result, the help of the revenue surveyors was sought to settle, once and for all, the limits of the estates, and to make such maps and collect such information about them as would eliminate the possibility of future disputes.

In the temporarily settled estates, the situation was different since in these areas the government had generally fixed the rent for a limited term of years, or else had farmed out the estates to suitable persons who had settled tenants on them and had collected the rents. In either case, the government was responsible for ensuring that cultivators (tillers of the soil) were properly treated. A settlement, therefore, usually necessitated what is known as a field-by-field (raiyatwari) settlement. In the case of permanently settled areas, the unit was the estate as it existed in 1793 (the year of the permanent settlement), whereas in the case of temporarily settled areas, the unit was the cultivator';s holding at the time of resettlement.

Whether the area dealt with was permanently settled or not, it was generally found convenient to adopt the village recognised locally as the real unit of survey. This was convenient not only for administrative purposes, but also for collection of empirical data. Moreover, a village was always a small land unit, which did not greatly fluctuate. The so-called parganas, were ancient land divisions, tendering to disappear as recognised administrative land unit. However, pargana is of great importance from the point of view of revenue survey, because records of that survey were mainly collected pargana-wise.

Major survey operations conducted in Bangladesh territory are the Thakbast Survey, revenue survey, the Khasra Operations, Diara Survey and Cadastral Survey.

Thakbast Survey (1845-1877) The revenue survey of 1846-78 was preceded by a thakbast or demarcation survey, the object of which was to demarcate finally on the ground the boundaries of all villages and estates in the area taken up for survey. About a year ahead of the actual commencement of the revenue survey, authorised officers proceeded to demarcate on the ground the actual boundaries of villages and estates, so that when the revenue surveyor took to the field, he found all boundary disputes settled and was able to carry out his work without delay. As the real unit of thak survey was a village, a rough map was compiled showing all the villages in one pargana and a list containing the names and numbers assigned to different villages.

This map was called the thak muzmili. It contained the names of villages as accepted by the demarcation officer and also showed the thak numbers of villages. Eventually, the revenue surveyor gave revenue survey numbers to villages. All the results of the thak survey in respect of each pargana were handed over to the revenue surveyor for his use. The officer entrusted with thak survey was usually a covenanted civilian with all the powers of a collector of revenue. The vast majority of thak maps made before 1852 were eye sketches while some of the maps made thereafter were only a little better. However, some of the maps drawn later were considered to be reasonably accurate. They were not intended to provide more than rough guidance to the revenue surveyor. The scales of thak maps varied: eye sketches did not pretend to be on scale, and the other maps varied from 4 inches to 24 inches to a mile.

Revenue Survey(1846-1878) The revenue surveyor commenced his work with the data available from the preceding thak survey and the marks on the ground. The objectives of the revenue survey were to make accurate maps of the village boundaries and, sometimes, of the estate boundaries, showing topographical details, compiling certain statistical data for general administrative purposes, and making maps (usual scale: 4 inches = 1 mile and 1 inch = 1 mile) of each village and pargana. The details of a village were shown and the origin upon which the whole work was based was, theoretically, a station of the Great Trigonometrical Survey (1840-1865). The details of the survey may be viewed under two heads: (a) boundaries and (b) topographical details. The interior details may be considered as accurately surveyed, because the traverse stations gave ample points and bases, from which details could be mapped. This is because the most correct work in revenue survey was the traverse work. It is only the traverse points, which should be accepted for relaying work, but only if they can be located. The revenue survey measured the whole surface of the country and allotted all lands to one village or another under a specific number. The results of the revenue survey were normally used for preparation of 1inch =1 mile pargana maps. These maps were used later by the surveyor general for making 1 inch to 1 mile-maps of a district and for compiling the atlas of India on the scale of 4 inches to 1 mile.

Khasra operations (1841-1854) It was customary for khasra operations to be carried out in temporarily settled tracts, and also in those permanently settled lands in which interests were so interfaced as to make it impossible or unduly expensive to show field details upon the thak maps or thakbast papers. The common scale used was 16 inches to 1 mile. The details collected were generally field (plot) number, tauzi number in the collector';s rent-roll, name of the estate, proprietor's name, cultivator's name, plot details and areas, crops grown, etc. Khasra maps were not often made and, where made, these were mostly inaccurate and incomplete. From a khasra survey, it was but a short step to the modern cadastral maps. The existing cadastral system was first employed in large scale in the seventies of the last century in the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh of India); then it spread to Bengal including Eastern Bengal (now Bangladesh). The system was first introduced in Bengal by Col JR Sandeman. The system employed in Eastern Bengal surveys was substantially that used by him as the first director of Bengal surveys, modified to existing conditions by Lt Col RT Critchton, who was director of surveys in West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

Diara surveys (1862-1883) Under the provisions of Act IX of 1847, diara surveys on the scale of 4 inch to 1 mile were carried on in the beds of the ganges and other large rivers of the province. These surveys were carried out to provide a basis of assessment of land, which had formed since the decennial settlement of 1789. The results of diara surveys are helpful in making accurate comparative maps, which can be made to show revenue, diara and modern boundaries geographically. The importance of this work cannot be overrated, because it is very often the true basis of settlement of riverbed disputes. As far as Bengal is concerned, the whole of the Ganges and some other rivers in northwest Bihar were surveyed professionally in 1862-65.

Modern cadastral surveys The modern cadastral survey is an improvement on the khasra survey. The cadastral system is divided into (i) traverse survey, (ii) cadastral work, and (iii) settlement work. The traverse is done by professional surveyors. This work is the counterpart of the traverse operations in the Revenue Surveys, but improvements have been introduced in the various phases of the work. The cadastral stage involves the breaking up of the traverse plots, on the ground, into a number of rough quadrilateral figures, each averaging some fifteen to twenty five acres, the sides of those quadrilaterals being based upon points on traverse lines. These quadrilaterals are then sub-divided into rough rectangles, averaging about two to four acres each, depending on the intricacies of the details to be surveyed. From the sides of the different quadrilaterals, all the interior details of a village are mapped by the use of optical squares and measuring chains.

The result of cadastral work is a map (almost always on the scale of 16 inches = 1 mile) of each village which shows in their proper positions the actual limit of each cultivation field. The cadastral survey work was formerly done by the survey department. The cadastral work may be looked upon as the counterpart of Khasra surveys of the past, but it differs from them in several important respects, e.g., true shape of fields are shown instead of approximate shapes; the areas of fields are extracted directly from the maps; the original maps made in the field can now be reproduced mechanically; and field boundaries can be accurately relaid from cadastral maps.

Aerial survey Bangladesh is apparently well suited for cadastral mapping by vertical air photographic techniques. The country';s primary advantage is its flatness and air visibility of plot boundaries. But no such mapping can obviously prove to be satisfactory, if areas covered by vegetation and homestead patches hide details and ground information. However, it may be very useful in more open countryside, provided the scale is large enough to identify the smallest plots. A scale of 1:12,000 is probably sufficient in most areas. But even in such areas, aerial photographs do not provide complete answers. Field surveys are required to complete details of bushy and homestead areas. Unfortunately, air photography is costly, and also not cost effective.

Remote sensing (satellite based survey) As in the case of air photography, the use of remotely sensed imagery in selected areas can be regarded as productive. After all, the diara survey of char lands has many shortfalls. The overview provided by the remotely sensed data can help identify the areas in the coastal regions which need urgent survey. Such data also provide quantitative measures of the landmass involved, and reduce the administrative problems of identifying the jurisdiction of new lands. Institutions, such as the Survey of Bangladesh (SOB) and SPARSO can assist in this process. [T Hussain]