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LAND ADMINISTRATION IN BOMBAY AND MADRAS
THE Land Systems of Bombay and Madras, like those of Northern India, were built up under the administration of the East India Company. The first Settlement for thirty years in Bombay was commenced by Wingate in 1836; and a Settlement of thirty years for Madras was ordered by the Court of Directors in 1855. And after the administration had passed to the Crown, it was laid down by Sir Charles Wood in 1864, that the demand of the State from the soil should be limited, as in Northern India, to one-half the nett produce or economic rent. The action which was taken in the two Provinces, down to the time of Lord Lytton's administration, to carry out these principles, has been narrated in a previous chapter. We shall now briefly continue the story to the end of the century.
The mistakes which were made in Bombay at the revision of the Settlement commenced in 1866 were among the reasons which led to the Poona Riot of 1875. Auckland Colvin, one of the Members of the Commission appointed to inquire into the causes of the disturbance, pointed out the sudden and enormous enhancements made in the Land Revenue demand. This evil was not removed. The Boinbay Government did not place clear and definite limits on its own claims upon the soil. The rule of Sir Charles Wood to limit the demand to one-half the rental was virtually ignored in Settlement Operations.
The Revenue Jurisdiction Act of 1876 took away the jurisdiction of Courts of Justice in matters of assessment, and made the Settlement Officers absolute. The Agricultural Relief Acts of 1879 sought to protect cultivators from their creditors, but gave no hint of limiting the Land Revenue. The Land Revenue Act of 1879 contained no adequate provisions to limit the State-demand. And yet it was this protection which Bombay cultivators needed more urgently than any other. As Sir William Hunter said, openly and strongly from his place in the Governor-General's Council in 1879: “ The fundamental difficulty of bringing relief to the Deccan Peasantry is that the Government Assessment does not leave enough food to the cultivator to support himself and his family throughout the year.”
The only rule which limited the discretion of the Settlement Officer was that he should not enhance the revenue of a Taluka or group of villages by more than 33 per cent., or that of a single village by more than 66 per cent., or that of an individual holding by more than 100 per cent. Such a rule was calculated to do more harm than good.
The Revision Settlement, commenced in 1866, went on slowly, and by 1899 (the year preceding the Bombay famine), only half the villages of the Province had been revised. Out of 27,781 villages in the Province, only 13,3691 had been resettled. And the figures showing the old demand, and the revised demand, indicate the enormous increase which had been secured.
The figures on the opposite page call for one or two remarks. The headings of columns 3 and 4 will show that. this increase of 30 per cent. was not the result of the slow extension in cultivation during thirty years; it was obtained in the year of the revision. As Auckland Colvin
i Bombay Administration Report for 1898-99; Appendix II. Er is taken as equivalent to 10 rupees. Fractions of £1 are taken as £1, or omitted.
had pointed out in 1876, a slow increase in the Land Revenue is obtained in Bombay during the term of a Settlement; and then a sudden and additional increase is obained at the Revision Settlement. It need hardly be repeated that this sudden increase in the Land Revenue is made without consulting the cultivator. Sir Bartle Frere had expressed a desire, in his evidence before the Select Committee of 1872, that the cultivators of Bombay should be consulted, and should have their say, when a new Settlement was proposed. As a fact, however, the cultivators are not consulted; they know the revised State-demand for the first time when it is announced to them. · A system of calculating and determining the revised demand, without consulting those on whom it is imposed, is convenient for expeditious work, but is not just to the Peasant Proprietors. They have not the right or the opportunity of restraining the demand within one-half the nett produce of their fields. They cannot limit the enhancement to a rate proportionate to the rise in prices
or the increase in cultivation. They have no chance of proving how far the increased demand trenches on improvements made by themselves. And they are not permitted to appeal against the new assessment to an independent tribunal, after the assessment has been proclaimed to them. The result is what might be expected. The Hon. Gokuldas Parekh, a Member of the Legislative Council of Bombay, has shown from the official figures, exhibiting the results of crop experiments made by Government Officials, that among the large class of cultivators in Gujrat, who own holdings of five acres and less and are unable to grow rich rice, the value of their out-turn is not sufficient even in ordinary years to enable them to meet the Government demand, the cost of tillage, and the maintenance expense of their families and cattle. And he also proves that, “ Even a large proportion of the cultivators, holding up to ten acres, are unable to get out-turns sufficient for the payment of the cost of cultivation and their maintenance."
But a higher authority than the Hon. Gokuldas furnishes us with figures for Gujrat which are painful to contemplate. The Famine Commission of 1900, of which Sir Antony Macdonnell was the President, has found that the Government Revenue in Gujrat represents one-fifth of the gross produce of the soil. This is nearly double that which private landlords in Bengal obtain as rent from their tenants ; and this virtually sweeps away the whole of the Economic Rent of Gujrat, instead of limiting the Government demand to one-half the rental as is laid down by the rule of 1864.
i Land Problems in India : published by Natesan & Co. of Madras, page 147.
2 I visited Gujrat in March 1903, and made inquiries in some villages in the districts of Kaira, Ahmedabad, Surat, and Broach. The condition of the Peasant Proprietors was wretched beyond description, and the worst of them lived in single rooms with all their family, and with hardly any articles of furniture. The cattle they used was often hired ; and any property they had was often mortgaged. Calculating the Land Revenue demand in proportion to the produce, in presence of villagers and of village officials, I found that the demand often came to 30 or 40
The famine of Bombay, like the famine in the Central Provinces, brought the redress which cultivators might have expected from a just and considerable land administration. The enhancements made in the Settlement commenced in 1866 could not be maintained. Half the Province might be sold up, but the Revenue-demand could not be realised. In 1902 and 1903, therefore, the Bombay Government was engaged in lowering assessments in Gujrat. No specific rules governing the reductions have been published. The people are ignorant what limits regulate the Government-demand beyond the varying discretion of the different officials. The people are ignorant to what limits that demand will rise again in some future year, or at the next settlement. The alternate raising and lowering of the State-demand, according to signs of distress or of prosperity, is a seesaw policy which is fatal to agricultural prosperity. A general feeling exists in the country that the Government desires to take as much as it can, leaving the population permanently poor and indebted. A sullen despair prevails among the peasantry which may lead to political danger in the future.
per cent. of what the cultivators actually reaped in average years. I also visited some villages in Satara and Poona in the Deccan, where the Government demand was somewhat less. Among the cultivators whom I examined was a retired soldier who had been to Malta in 1878, and who had now settled down as a cultivator. The Land Revenue in these villages came to 20 or 30 per cent. of what the cultivators actually reaped in average years. When Government Officers declare that the Land Revenue is 20 per cent, in Gujrat and under 10 per cent, in the Deccan, they base their calculations on what the fields can yield, and what they do yield. This mistake would be impossible if the revenue were paid in kind according to the old custom of India. If the harvest was good, the Government share would be high; if the harvest was poor, the Government demand would be less. The State would benefit by the prosperity of the people, and would suffer with their poverty ; and there would be a correspondence between the condition of the peasantry and the Land Revenue collection. But as the British Government has decided to demand its revenue in money, it is of the greatest importance to see that this inoney demand is based on a correct and careful calculation of what the cultivators do actually obtain from their fields in average years. 10 per cent. of that actual yield would probably represent half-rental; 30 or 40 per cent, represents more than the entire Economic Rent, and trenches on the cost of cultivation and wages of labour.