Sayer denotes local customs duty on goods passing through a chowki during pre-British and early British Bengal. The Mughal revenue system had two main branches of taxation - land revenue and customs. In its wider meaning and application sayer meant various kinds of imposts upon trade and property within the country. The transit duties collected at important points of trade routes and commercial centres were called sayer. The articles that were required to pay duty together were conceptually called sayer mahal. For individual article of commerce, sayer duty was very small in amount but highly vexatious for traders who were subject to considerable harassment and delay while transporting goods from one mart to another. There were chowkis (customs houses) to collect sayer duty at crucial points in the inland communication system. The agency for collecting the sayer tax was, in most cases, local zamindars and sometimes state appointed ijaradars to whom the sayer mahal was farmed out.
Sayer collection was one of the major issues in the conflict between the English east india company and the Bengal nawabs. Since the time of Emperor shahjahan the company had been enjoying the privilege of exemption from paying sayer to the chowkidars. But after the death of aurangzeb the Bengal nawabs, who became virtually independent, refused to honour the imperial farman. However, a fresh imperial farman from Emperor farrukh siyar, required the Bengal subahdar not to collect inland customs from the company who would enjoy the privilege of an annual lump sum payment of 3000 sicca rupees. The imperial order was not always honoured locally and that led to the fresh conflict between the nawab and the company. The conflict was finally resolved by the battle of palashi (1757) first and then that of buxar (1764), which led to the establishment of British rule through the company's acquisition of Diwani of Bengal, Behar and Orissa in 1765.
The sayer duty was collected by the zamindars until 1773 when the inland customs duty system, except Town Duties, was entirely abolished. But the government proved to be too weak to implement the order in the interior of the country. In 1788 the government abolished the zamindari right to collect sayer again; thus, it seems, that the practice had persisted. lord cornwallis recorded in a minute (10 February 1790) expressing his concern that in spite of the abolition of sayer duty the practice of collecting it by zamindars was very general. Under the regulations of the permanent settlement the zamindars were compensated for the abolition of sayer and the district collectors were strongly enjoined not to allow the zamindars indulge in this illegal tax. But they retained the right to collect tolls from those hauts and bazaars, which they themselves had established and maintained after 1790 at their own cost. [Sirajul Islam]