Most people consider corruption to be a modern age problem and they blame it largely on the loopholes in legal system and lack of seriousness on government's part to control corruption. According to them,had the government taken strict measures and punished the corrupt officials severely, rampant corruption would have been controlled much earlier. 

But a little closer look at history shows us that corruption is so deeply ingrained in our Indian society that it is not that easy to control. This perception that an autocratic ruler can put a complete check over corrupt practices is not true. For eg. during Sultanate rule in Delhi,Corruption was  quite well grounded and prevalent as much as it is rampant today.
Even when strict and extremely stern rulers like Balban and Alauddin khilji were ruling, the government officials were openly involved in looting the common public and misuse of the power that was assigned to them by these same autocratic sultans due to which people suffered as much as they are suffering today. 

Corruption during the reign of Sultan Ghiyasuddin balban. 

Since the turkish rule started in Delhi , the turkish 
nobles and officials were assigned some lands as gifts, grants and rewards in lieu of salary. These grants were not hereditary, but after the death of official the descendents were not ever harassed and possessions were left under them.

Balban once took a campaign in north West India. The sultan was struck by the fact that many military grantees of land were unfit for service. They never went out on campaigns and yet had continued in positions of their land and its revenues.The Sultan instituted an immediate enquiry into such cases, the enquiry revealed that many of the grantees of land grants had become old and infirm, many others had died but their sons had taken possesions of the grants as an inheritance from their fathers, many of them were clever enough to get the assignment recorded in their own names in the books of Ariz-i-mumalik, obviously by bribing the officials. 

Some others who had no sons send their slaves as their representatives or the possessions of many were taken by their slaves after their demise. Some of them went leisurely to perform their military duty but the greater part stayed at home, making excuses, the acceptance of which they secured by presents and bribes which included gifts like wines ,goats, chickens, pigeons, butter and food supplies from their villages to the Deputy muster master and his officials. 

Steps taken by Balban to control corruption. 

Balban who was known as a stern ruler and who did not show any consideration even for his kith and kin in matter of state could hardly tolerate such a state of affairs but these corrupt practices had gone on for so long and many old veteran officers of great repute were involved that even he stayed his hands from taking any drastic step.

Though he didn't imposed any penalties on the culprits ,he did try to correct the administrative mistakes on his part. 

He divided such grantees into three categories
  1. First categoy was consisted of the old and infirm upon whom he fixed a pension of 40 to 50 tankas and took away their villages.
  2. Second category consisted of the young who were quite fit to render services they were confirmed in their post their villages were not taken from them the emoluments they were getting in the name of their forefathers was stopped and surplus revenue from their villages were to be collected by government officials.
  3. The third category was of orphans and widows who held villages and send deputies or slaves to perform military services, their land were to be taken away but allowance sufficient to cover their daily necessities was granted to them.
However these orders of the Sultan created panic among the grantees and they all reached to the Kotwal of Delhi , presented him with all sorts of gifts and requested him to plead their case with the emperor .The Kotwal, was a respected man and somehow he was able to convince the emperor to withdraw his orders so the corruption in the govt offices continued as earlier .

Ziyauudin Barni the historian of sultanate period says he saw these ineffective old veterans even serving in the court of jalaluddin khilji.

Balban was known for his anger and strong sense of administration who could tolerate no laxity in the functioning of government departments yet even he failed to put a check over the corrupt practices of government officials and soon these type of corrupt practices took the shape of a menace in sultanate era. 

Corruption during Sultan Alauddin khilji's rule and his efforts in controlling it. 

Post Balban, the most strict and ruthless sultan who sat on Delhi's throne was Alauddin khilji. 

According to historian Vincent Arthur Smith,

He was a savage tyrant with a very little regard for justice and his reign, which although had remarkable achievements like defeating mongols and conquering Gujarat & Rajasthan, was exceedingly disgraceful in many respects. 
Clearly Alauddin was known to be a ruthlessly and savage monarch who used to run his administration with Iron hands. Even then under such a tyrant the government officials were not afraid of committing  frauds in broad day light. Still many old soldiers and their descendants who were shown fit and fine in muster of army were enjoying the benefit of estates without providing any significant contribution to the royal army.

Alauddin khilji
Alauddin khilji

Alauddin Khilji knew the evils of system of granting land in lieu of service and determined to put an end to it although at the time of his accession, to secure the sympathy and support of the influential people he had to bestow lands on them, yet once he was firmly settled on the throne he turned their estates into crownlands.

He ordered that all villages estates and other lands which were held as milk(property), inam(reward) and waqf(gift) to be resumed and turned into khalisa or crown lands.

Another important step he took to streamline the administration and remove causes of corruption was deprive the chief man Muqaddams and Zamindars(khuts) of their rights to collect land revenue. The Khuts and Muqaddams not only evaded to pay the prevalent taxes like kharaj the land tax , jejiyah (the tax on Hindus) ,House tax and grazing tax themselves but even charged in amount as remuneration(khuti) for collecting revenue from the peasants and whether called or not they never came to the deewan and paid no heed to the revenue officers.

The king took away all the privileges of the Khuts and muqaddams ordered the peasants to pay the land revenue directly to the government officials and promulgated a uniform law regarding payment of revenue for both landlords and tenants seperately so that the revenue due from the strong might not fall upon the weak.

But the revenue official whose number had considerably increased with increase in the area of crownlands prove to be by large corrupt and extortionate realising that the salaries of Amils (surveyors) karkuns (clerks) and patwaris (collectors) tempted them to accept or extort bribes, the sultan raised their salaries, but that did not improve matters and corruption among the lower officials continued.
As the revenue system was yet in the making and the machinery for assessment and collection was yet undeveloped there was a fairly wide scope for revenue officials to resort to corruption.

He also established a new department of investigation and inspection i.e Diwan-i-mustakhraj headed by an officer Mustakhraj to investigate the matters related to the revenue records that were maintained by Amils , Karkuns and Patwaris.

According to Sultanate era historian 
Ziyauudin Barni :-
the Mustakhraj freely punished the amils and karkuns and patwari to submit correct statements and to account for the unrealised balances with a view to putting a stop to corruption. In this way thousands of clerks and collectors, were punished severely and their flesh was made sore.Such a huge number of officials were involved in corruption that working in department of revenue became a matter of utter insult. Such that no body would marry his daughter with a revenue officials. Office of the superintendent (musrif, mustariff) was only accepted by one, who had no regard for his life, for the officials passed most of their days in jail frequently receiving blows and kicks.

Barni further states that

However these stern measures proved to be effective, and it was no longer possible for an official to take even a tanka from anyone by way of bribe or extortion.

But the Sultan's success was short lived. When Alauddin Khilji died most of these culprits was set free by his son and successor kutubuddin Mubarak Khilji, strict vigilance of the conduct of the officials was given up and regulations of Alauddin were no longer practiced. People once again begin to amass wealth, bribery and corruption were openly indulged in. This clearly shows that Alauddin success in stamping out corruption among the revenue official was ephemeral and punishments inflicted by him did put fear in the mind of officials but it couldn't transform their inherent corrupt nature which they resumed as soon as the tough monarch died.

Alauddin's efforts to stop the chain of middleman or brokers in mandis /markets also resulted in a shortlived success. However till he was alive things remained in control. Alauddin introduced market reforms like fixing the prices of commodities of daily use, introduction of rationing during emergency, issueing permits for purchase of valuable items and appointment of a responsible team of officers to enforce his orders to check the hoarding, and black marketing. Such was his strictness in seeing that prices of commodities of daily use remained stabilized in the market, that he punished as high officers as malik qabul, the superitendent of the grain market himself for suggesting a little rise in the prices of food grains and appointed a number of informers and Secret agents to keep check on the activities of the market people- whole sellers as well as retailers. 

But the brokers and middlemen were the most arrogant and rebellious class of People. They used to take commission from both buyers and sellers and so complicated was the business that no transactions could be effected without their mediation. 

The secondmost troublemakers were the retailers and shopkeepers. Sultanate times historian Ziyauddind barni gives a vivid account of all such law breakers and punishment given to them by alauddin's officials. He writes

They were shameless and cunning and tried to defraud the people by all means at their command. They would indulge in hoarding of articles and selling items by using faulty weights. They all did this despite of barbarous punishments inflicted upon them by malik yaqub, the diwan-i-riyasat or the inspector General of the markets in Delhi, who had earned the notoriety for his harsh and cruel nature. He coerced whipped and tyrannized over the market people for offences committed in contravention of the government regulations.The broker's were punished with life imprisonment in the case of shopkeepers who raise prices of commodities or give short weights, a quantity of flesh equal to the deficiency in weight was cut off from their hips.But in spite of such stern measures these evils could not be entirely wiped out similarly illicit-distillers who fermented wine secretly or smuggled into Delhi in leather bags hidden under bundles of grass of fuel and by other means were beaten with sticks, fettered and thrown into wells specially dug for the purpose in front of the badayun gate of Delhi. 

The Stern measures of Alauddin checked profiteering and black marketing but only for a short time. No sooner were his eyes closed than "the prices of grain and cloth rose high" and the merchants rejoiced at his death. Once again they began to sell articles at rates highly profitable to them and cheated the public in every way possible. 


Corruption under Muhammad bin Tughlaq

We are all aware about the token currency introduced by Muhammad Tughlaq when deficiency of silver arose in the world. This was a well intentioned scheme which failed due to the greed that prevailed among all the sections of people. 

Muhammad bin Tughlaq introduced copper coins to serve for gold and silver ones. They were made legal tender, equal in value to the ones of precious metals. But because of the greed of the people. The Sultan failed to make the issue of the new coins a state monopoly. The house of every gold Smith was turned into a mint and thousands and millions of copper coins were manufactured not only in Delhi but also in many other cities of his empire. 

The rich suppressed their gold and silver, and the people paid their taxes and made their purchases in the new coin. Consequently the state was defrauded while private individuals made enormous profits. 

Barani says 

Trade came to a standstill and all business was paralyzed. 

The problem of land revenue and the corrupt Practices in its realization also touched new dimensions in the reign of muhammad bin tughlaq, and again the people suffered due to the selfishness of the get-rich-soon type of officials. 

Mohammad bin Tughlaq
Mohammad bin tughlaq

To increase the state revenue muhammad bin Tughlaq raised the Taxation rates in do ab region but due to draught farmers couldn't pay the taxes at announced rates. Situationed worsened and resulted into constant recurrence of famines. 

The Sultan tried to improve the situation and reduce people's hardships. He devoted himself to measures to promote cultivation. 

He came up with a new scheme of investing into a large scale farming under State's guardianship by State's officials to deal with the deficiency of food grains during famine. 

An area of about 45 Square miles was set aside for intensive farming in which not a patch was to be left uncultivated at any time by changing crops constatntly. A hundred shiqdars were appointed to supervision the project. They promised to cultivation thousands of beegha of land and also to reclaim waste land. Each one of them received fifty thousands taankas in cash as advance from the state. But they turned out to be greedy, dishonest and thoughtless persons. They cheated the government and ate all the money , ignoring the cultivation work in the allotted areas. In this way the state lost not less tan 70,00,000 tankas in all. 

Of the "advance" not even a hundreth or a thousandth part could be realized and the greedy officials ate every penny of that noble mssion of Sultan. But the Sultan didn't survive long enough to punish the culprits and even his successor Firuz shah Tughlaq didn't pay much heed to such open loot which made these officials even bolder under his reign. 

Corruption under Firuzshah Tughlaq

Among the Delhi sultans it was the reign of Firoz shah tughlaq's when corruption in the state departments became a norm. It was prevalent in every department and Sultan despite of knowing about all such incidents of corruption never really tried to address it. 

Corruption in Army (Diwan-i-arj

  1. The profession of army became hereditary Military skills and fitness of a soldier didn't matter sons of veterans could replace them by bribing clerks in the army. 
  2. Many veterans never retired even in the old age and send their slaves instead. 
  3. Quality of army suffered badly. 
  4. Horses of little value were brought to the Divans and were passed as serviceable by paying bribes. 
  5. Unfit horses were never replaced. 
  6. Even Sultan went on granting extension of time for Review of their horses. 
The writer of Tarikh-i-firuzshahi, Shams Siraj afif narrated a story of corruption being norm in army and Sultan's misplaced kindness encouraging it further. 
Once the Sultan overheard a soldier a soldier Complaining to a friend that because he did not have the necessary money (for bribe) he had not been able to get a fitness Certificate for his Horse at the Divan-i-arz. The Sultan enquired how much was wanted, and the soldier said that if he had a gold tanka he could get a Certificate for his horse. The Sultan ordered his pursebearer to give a tanka to the soldier. The soldier went to Divan-i-arz with the ashrafi and paying it to the clerk concerned got the certificate. He then returned and thanked the sultan.

Encouragement to corruption from the head of the state was a matter of concern. But writer Afif only ignored it saying it was the kindness and large heartedness of Sultan. 

The Corruption in royal mint

Bribery corruption and embezzlement was not practiced only by clerks but sometimes the highest levels of the state also indulged in them. 
Firoz Shah Tughlaq had issued several varieties of new coins and shashgani (six-jital-piece)was one of them as the coin went into circulation it was reported to the Sultan by two courtiers that there was a deficiency of one grain of silver in the shashgani and they prayed for an investigation if what they said was proved to be true they pleaded the official responsible for the basement of the coin must take the consequences. The Sultan took the matter seriously and ordered the Vazir of diwan-i-vizarat (finance ministry) into the matter.  The vazir was equally keen about an enquiry because it was related to the matter of prestige of his department if the news of corruption in coins minting would spread the coinage would earn a bad name and no one would take it. But to begin with investigation he wanted it to keep it as secret as the authenticity of government officials was itself at stake. He secretly sent message to Khajar shah, the head of royal mint to enquire whether his officials were involved in debasement of coins. Khajar shah who himself was the main culprit knowing that his game was up revealed the truth to vizir. Sultan had ordered that the new coins must be weighed infront of him to check the claim of deficiency of required silver in them. But Vizir also did not wanted to bring bad name to his Ministry so he recommended to Khajar shah to arrange the matter over with the gold Smith and they so manage their performance before the king that the deficiency of silver in shashgani may not be known. The golsmiths said its impossible without some one bringing silver from outside and giving it to them. So the khazar shah arranged in such A manner in their tools hide the required amount of silver that it could not be known. Next day Firuzshah called the goldsmiths naked to check the amount of silver in shashgani coins. The goldsmiths started melting the coins, Sultan meanwhile indulged in talking to his officials, they secretly added the additional silver in the melting pot. After a while the crucible was taken off the fire and the conyents were weighed and when the weight of coin corresponded to the estimate, the shashgani was proved to be of full standard value. The informers were declared to be false accusers. Kajar Shah was presented with a rone of honour and other favours. Kazar shah was carried through the city in triumph, and the two accusers, having been proved false, were banished. 

Corruption in audit department

Another great nobleman, shamsuddin Abu Rija, the auditor general(mustaufi), had earned wide notoriety as a professional bribe-taker in the audit department. Shams Siraj afif dedicated 35 pages on exposing his misdeeds. 

The three years during which he held the office of the auditor-general his hand of greed extended to all officers Zamindars and amils. Those who gave him tribes were permitted to go scot-free others who did not were implicated by him on one charge or another and punished. Nobody dare to raise a voice against his criminal breach of trust or his atrocities because he was a hot favourite of the Sultan even before he was made the mustaufi he as a deputy governor of Gujarat had borrowed 90000 tankas from the provincial treasury for his own use but had not refunded the amount.To hide his improper games he had built a new mansion in Delhi and had buried underground thousands of gold ashrafis. Atlast the Sultan could not keep his eyes close to Shamsuddin's black deeds because a number of nobles including the Vizir's son insisted that he should be brought to book. Shamsuddin's mansion was searched and his reserves of gold dug out he was imprisoned and tortured so severely that he could never ride a horse again strangely enough when firozeshah died his son Mohammed ascended the throne he recalled Shamsuddin Abu riza and then stated him with all honours. 

Corruption by Sultan's favourite slave

Under Firozshah's reign almost everybody was amassing wealth. But the. Man who amassed the maximum wealth was his favourite slave Bashir. 

He was actually came as a part of the dowry of Firoz's mother. In course of time and through the favour of Sultan Firoz, he rose into prominence and got the title of imad-ul-mulk. His one passion was aquisition of wealth by any means. Soon he accumulated crores of tankas. Shams Siraj Afif writes that on one occasion gunny bags were required for containing the coin, and it was estimated that 2500 tankas would be expenses in the purchase of the material, the cost of each bag being four jitals but imadul mulk objected to this extravagant outlay for bags and directed that pits should be dug in the ground and the money placed therein like as corn is stored. He had amassed thirteen crore tankas but he was greedy about acquiring more. The total revenue of a year during Firuz's reign was six crore and seventy five lac tankas, and one individual slave of the Sultan had acquired wealth amounting to two year's total revenue of the country. Now imagine could corruption go any further? 

Thus during sultanate rule there was corruption everywhere whether in the army, civil-administration or in the minting of coinage. 

Hoarding, black marketing and bribery were commonly practiced. The involvement of higher and respected officials shows that it was not the poverty that made them do corruption.

The shiqdars or officers who amassed wealth were not poors but they kept doing it because they were opportunists. Thus self-interest, ingenuity and intelligence, opportunism, habit, the desire to amass wealth, etc. Kept the torch of corruption burning.

Even after giving severe punishments they could not give up their habit or change their attitude. With the brilliant espionage network of those days with hundreds of barids and munhiyans reporting the slightest irregularities to the kings should have stamped out corruption. But it didn't.

And yet corruption remained there, well grounded. The reason was that even for a Sultan in matters of governance there was one law above all laws, the law of practicality.  

Corruption in Delhi sultanate could not be stamped out because it was perhaps never meant to be stamped out, for after all "kingship is a combination of terror, strictness, and kindness, and it is only maintained by these contradictory principles. 

The Prime focus of Sultan's was on building empire and dealing with rebellions and as long as the nobles were contempt by amassing wealth through corruption, the Sultans really had not much to worry about them ,hatching a conspiracy for their assasination or removal. 



  1. Tarikh-i-firuzshahi by Shams i siraj afif
  2. Fatwa-i-jahandari by Ziauddin Barani
  3. Studies in medieval Indian History by Kishori sharan lal

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