Part 7 – Revenue Administration and Economic Policy of the British

  • Post category:History

British Agrarian Policy

  • Till the 18th century, there was a strong relation between agriculture and cottage industries in India.

  • The British destroyed handicraft industry

  • The British policies revolved around getting maximum income from land without caring much about Indian interests of the cultivators.

  • After their advent, the British principally adopted three types of land tenures.

  • Roughly 19 per cent of the total area under the British rule, i.e., Bengal, Bihar, Banaras, division of the Northern Western Provinces and northern Karnatak, were brought under the Zamindari System or the Permanent Settlement

  • The second revenue system, called the Mahalwari Settlement, was introduced in about 30 per cent of the total area under British rule i.e., in major parts of the North Western Provinces, Central Provinces and the Punjab with some variations

  • The Ryotwari System covered about 51 per cent of the area under British rule comprising part of the Bombay and Madras Presidencies, Assam and certain other parts of British India.

The Permanent Settlement

  • Lord Cornwallis’ most conspicuous administrative measure was the Permanent Land Revenue Settlement of Bengal

  • Which was extended to the provinces of Bihar and Orissa.

  • Warren Hastings introduced the annual lease system of auctioning the land to the highest bidder.

  • Cornwallis at the time of his appointment was instructed by the Directors

  • Find a satisfactory and permanent solution to the problems of the land revenue system in order to protect the interests of both the Company and the cultivators.

  • He decided to abolish the annual lease system

  • Introduce a decennial (Ten years) settlement which was subsequently declared to be continuous

  • The main features of the Permanent Settlement were as follows

  • His zamindars of Bengal were recognised as the owners of land as long as they paid the revenue to the East India Company regularly

  • The amount of revenue that the zamindars had to pay to the Company was firmly fixed and would not be raised under any circumstances. In other words the Government of the East India Company got 89% leaving the rest to the zamindars

  • The ryots became tenants since they were considered the tillers of the soil

  • This settlement took away the administrative and judicial functions of the zamindars

  • The flagrant defect of this arrangement was that no attempt was made ever either to survey the lands or to assess their value

  • . The effects of this system both on the zamindars and ryots were disastrous.

  • Many zamindars defaulted on payments.

  • Their property was seized and distress sales were conducted leading to their ruin.

  • The rich zamindars who led luxurious lives left their villages and migrated into towns.

  • They entrusted their rent collection to agents who exacted all kinds of illegal taxes besides the legal ones from the ryots

  • This had resulted in a great deal of misery amongst the peasants and farmers

  • Therefore Lord Cornwallis’ idea of building a system of benevolent land-lordism failed.

  • Nevertheless, this system proved to be a great boon to the zamindars and to the government of Bengal.

  • It formed a regular income and stabilised the government of the Company.

  • The zamindars prospered at the cost of the welfare of the tenants

Ryotwari Settlement

  • The Ryotwari settlement was introduced mainly in Madras, Berar, Bombay and Assam.

  • Sir Thomas Munro introduced this system in the Madras Presidency

  • Under this settlement, the peasant was recognised as the proprietor of land.

  • There was no intermediary like a Zamindar between the peasant and the government

  • So long as he paid the revenue in time, the peasant was not evicted from the land

  • Besides, the land revenue was fixed for a period from 20 to 40 years at a time

  • Every peasant was held personally responsible for direct payment of land revenue to the government.

  • This system also failed.

  • Under this settlement it was certainly not possible to collect revenue in a systematic manner.

Mahalwari Settlement

  • In 1833, the Mahalwari settlement was introduced in the Punjab, the Central Provinces and parts of North Western Provinces.

  • The basic unit of revenue settlement was the village or the Mahal.

  • As the village lands belonged jointly to the village community, the responsibility of paying the revenue rested with the entire Mahal or the village community.

  • So the entire land of the village was measured at the time of fixing the revenue.

  • Yet its benefit was largely enjoyed by the government.

British Policy towards Indian Handicrafts

  • The European companies began arriving on the Indian soil from 16th century.

  • As far as the traditional handicraft industry and the production of objects of art were concerned,

  • India was already far ahead of other countries in the world.

  • The textiles were the most important among the Indian industries.

  • Its cotton, silk and woollen products were sought after all over the world.

  • Particularly, the muslin of Dacca, carpets of Lahore, shawls of Kashmir, and the embroidery works of Banaras were very famous.

  • Ivory goods, wood works and jewellery were other widely sought after Indian commodities.

  • Dhotis and dupattas of Ahmedabad

  • Chikan of Lucknow, and silk borders of Nagpur had earned a worldwide fame.

  • For their silk products some small towns of Bengal besides, Malda and Murshidabad were very famous.

  • Similarly, Kashmir, Punjab and western Rajasthan were famous for their woollen garments.

  • Besides textiles, India was also known widely for its shipping, leather and metal industries.

  • Indian fame as an industrial economy rested on cutting and polishing of marble and other precious stones and carving of ivory and sandalwood.

  • Moradabad and Banaras were famous for brass, copper, bronze utensils.

  • Nasik, Poona, Hyderabad and Tanjore were famous for other metal works

  • Kutch, Sind and Punjab were known for manufacturing arms.

  • Kolhapur, Satara, Gorakhpur, Agra, Chittor and Palaghat had likewise earned a reputation for their glass industries.

  • The Indian handicraft industry had begun to decline by the beginning of the 18th century

  • There were many reasons for it.

  • First, the policies followed by the English East India Company proved to be highly detrimental to the Indian handicrafts industry.

  • The Indian market was flooded with the cheap finished goods from Britain.

  • It resulted in a steep decline in the sale of Indian products both within and outside of the country.

  • The Company encouraged the cultivation of raw silk in Bengal while imposing service restrictions on the sale of its finished products.

  • So, with the disappearance of the traditional dynasties, their nobility also passed into oblivion.

  • This led to a sharp decline in the demand for traditional luxury goods.

  • Besides, the Industrial revolution led to the invention of new machinery in Europe.

  • Power looms replaced handlooms

  • Finally, the new communication and transport facilities brought about a revolution in public life.

  • But now conditions were changed with the introduction of railways and steamer services.

  • Concrete roads were laid to connect the country’s agricultural hinterland.

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