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A large remedial measure is needed. The measure which would have suggested itself in the age of Canning and Lawrence would have been to enlarge and define the tenant-right, to limit enhancements to specific and definite grounds, and to provide Land "Courts to assure the peasantry in half the nett produce of their fields. But the measure which suggested itself in 1901 is in keeping with those adopted in the Central Provinces and in the Punjab. A Bill was introduced to empower the Government to take away the right of transfer attached to the soil, in case of default in the payment of the Revenue. The right of transfer was inherent in Mirasi holdings since the Mahratta times. It gave a marketable value to the holdings, and increased the resources of the Peasant Proprietors. It was recognised by the British Government from the commencement of British Rule in the Deccan. It was expressly confirmed by the Land Revenue Act of 1879, which provided that, even when a holding was sold for default, the right of transfer inherent in the holding would vest in the purchaser. The Bombay Peasant Proprietors had exercised this right during eighty years of British Rule. They had enjoyed a legal sanction to the right for over twenty years. The Government now sought the power to take away this right in cases of default. The Bill did not mention any backward tracts, or backward hill tribes, to which its operation would be limited. It sought to empower the Government with respect to the entire Province, and to all Peasant Proprietors.
Never did the people of Bombay protest more emphatically against any Government measure than against this Act of Confiscation as they regarded it. All parts of Bombay shared in the protest. The mass of Peasant Proprietors felt that it was a blow struck at their recognised rights. The elected members of the Bombay Legislative Council argued against the measure forcibly, loyally, emphatically. They left the Council Hall in a body when their protest was disregarded. The Bill was passed into law. The Bombay Land Revenue Act of 1879 was amended so as to empower the Government to resettle fields without the right of transfer when they were sold for default.
Measures like this do not add to the strength and the staying power of a nation of cultivators. They do not add to the value of their property or improve their economic condition. The Peasant Proprietors of Bombay still look forward to more liberal measures, assuring them in their rights, limiting the State-demand to half the nett produce, and limiting enhancements to specific, definite, and equitable grounds.
It has been stated in a preceding chapter that a regular Survey Settlement was commenced in Madras in 1861. The Settlement was made for thirty years; and as District, after District was taken up, the work continued for a long number of years. In fact, Settlement Work is thus going on continually in Madras as in Bombay; for before the last District or Taluka has been settled or revised, the time has come for a fresh revision of the first tract settled thirty years ago. This arrangment is convenient to Settlement Officers; and the people do not object to it so long as a place, settled once, is left in peace for thirty years. What they do ask for is that enhancements, made in Revised Settlements, should be made on specific and definite grounds; and that the new demand should be limited to one-half the nett produce of their fields. The results of Settlements, down to 1875, were exhibited in figures in a preceding chapter. Similar figures for the subsequent eighteen years, down to 1898, are given below from an official report :
Resolution of the Madras Board of Revenue, No. 542, dated December 6, 1900, Appendix I. £i is taken as equivalent to 10 rupees. Malabar and South Canara are omitted.
Land Revenue in Madras, excluding Malabar and South Canara.
1876 | 19, 200,000
3,240,000 1877 | 19, 200,000 3,250,000 1878 19,100,000 3,260,000 1879 | 18,400,000 3,200,000 1880 18,100,000 3,180,000 1881 | 18,000,000 3,170,000 1882 | 18,300,000 3,210,000 1883 18,500,000 3,230,000 1884 | 18,700,000 3,240,000 1885 i 19,100,000 3,270,000 1886 19,500,000
3,310,000 1887 19,700,000
3,550,000? 1888 19,800,000
3,570,000 1889 20,100,000 3,610,000 1890 20, 200,000 3,630,000 1891 20,200,000 3,650,000 1892 20,700,000 3,710,000 1893 21,000,000 3,880,000 1894 21,300,000 3,950,000 1895 | 21,500,000 3,930,000 1896 21,500,000 4,000,000 1897 | 21,600,000 4,030,000 1898 21,600,000 | 4,050,000
380,000 3,150,000 400,000
3,990,000 410,000 4, 130,000 410,000
4,050,000 410,000 3,980,000 440,000
4,210,000 460,000 4,320,000 590,000 4,490,000 570,000
4,490,000 650,000 4,610,000 640,000 4,540,000 660,000 4, 340,000 680,000 4,710,000 380,000 4,770,000 570,00031
5,270,000 560,000 4,960,000 540,000 5,280,000 550.000 5,400,000
It will appear from these figures that a million of acres went out of cultivation after the famine year of 1877; and the loss continued for no less than seven years. It was not till 1885 that the cultivated area again came up to the figure for 1877.
But the most striking fact revealed by the foregoing table is increase in the gross demand within the eighteen years. The area under cultivation went up from 19 millions to 211 million acres, or less than 14 per cent.; but the gross demand increased from £3,150,000 to £ 5,400,000, or over 70 per cent. • Or if we take the increase in the assessment on the occupied area, the
1 Irrigation charges in Godavari and Krishna transferred to land assessments.
2 Village service was suspended for the year.
increase is from £3,240,000 to £4,050,000, or nearly 25 per cent. This large and disproportionate increase is mainly due to the irrigation of some of the Ryotwari land; and the Irrigation Cess has been consolidated with the Land Revenue, so that the cultivator cannot tell how much is demanded for the land and how much for the water supplied.
The question whether the water-rate should be a compulsory rate on all lands within reach of canals, or whether it should be an optional rate payable by those cultivators who choose to use the water, has been under consideration for many years. Lord Lawrence had declared before the House of Commons Committee in 1873: “I would almost rather not make a canal at all, however much I desired to do so, rather than make it obligatory on them (the cultivators] to take water.”! And the Duke of Argyll, as Secretary of State for India, had strongly and emphatically maintained this view three years before, i.e. in 1870. His reasons against levying a compulsory water-rate on cultivators were recorded clearly in his letter to Lord Mayo, from which we make the following extracts:
“The object of the provision in question is to enable Government to secure itself against pecuniary loss in the event of a canal proving a financial failure. Such failure might ensue from three causes. A canal might not be able to supply for irrigational purposes the expected quantity of water, or, the expected quantity being available, cultivators might decline to avail themselves to the expected extent, or excessive costliness of construction might, in order to render a canal remunerative, necessitate the imposition of higher rates than cultivators could afford or would voluntarily pay. In the first case, under the proposed enactment, the loss consequent on Government having engaged in an unsuccessful speculation, would fall, not upon itself, but upon
Report of 1873; question 4458. ? Letter dated January 11, 1870.
the cultivators, whom it had disappointed. In the second, cultivators would be forced to pay for water for which they had no use, or, at any rate, were not disposed to use, possibly, no doubt, from imperfect appreciation of the value of irrigation, but quite possibly also from a perfectly intelligible desire to have part of their land under dry crops, instead of all under wet. With regard to the third, none can require less than your Government to be reminded how prone to become excessive guaranteed expenditure always is; and under the provisions of the Bill all expenditure on Government canals would be guaranteed.”
“To force irrigation on the people would be not unlikely to make that unpopular which could otherwise scarcely fail to be regarded as a blessing, and which, as all experience shows, Indian agriculturists, if left to themselves, are sure duly to appreciate, sooner or later, and seldom later than the first season of drought that occurs after irrigation has been placed within their reach.” 1
In Bengal, accordingly, the irrigation rate is optional to this day; and cultivators use it largely and pay for it cheerfully. But the Government in Madras has always been less liberal, and more autocratic than in Bengal; partly because it is less under the control of the GovernorGeneral in Council, and partly also because there is less of influential and educated public opinion in the Ryot. wari tracts, to leaven the administration and bring it in touch with the wishes of the people. Accordingly, the
1 What was foreseen in the last sentence was precisely what happened in Orissa in 1896, when I was acting as Commissioner of that Division, The cultivators had neglected to take the canal water until the drought of 1896 came. Thousands of applications then poured in for the use of the canal water at the rates which had been fixed by tbe engineers. And cultivators bound themselves for five or six years to use the water and pay for it. Ignorant the Indian cultivators are, but nowhere in the world are the tillers more keenly alive to their own interests and their own profits than in India. The Ryots have come to consider canal water as a blessing, and are paying the water-rate voluntarily and cheerfully, where it is not unwisely forced on them as a compulsory tax.