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ment decided to limit its claims to one-half the rental or the nett produce of the soil; and this limnit was gradually extended to all parts of India where the Land Revenue was not permanently settled. It was extended to the Central Provinces of India, and to Oudh and the Punjab, after the annexation of those provinces. And it was also formulated by the Secretary of State for India, in his despatch of 1864, for provinces like Madras and Bombay, where the revenue was generally paid by the cultivators direct, and not through intervening landlords.
LAND SETTLEMENTS IN BOMBAY
The British frontier in Western India rapidly advanced under the Marquis of Hastings, and the whole of the Deccan came under British rule in 1817, after the last Mahratta War. Valuable reports on the newly-acquired territories were submitted, first by Mountstuart Elphinstone in 1819, and then by Chaplin in 1821 and 1822. And these reports throw much light on the state of agriculture, and the condition of the peasantry, under the Mahratta rule.
The first and most important feature of the Mahratta Government in the Deccan, wrote Elphinstone, was the division of the country into townships or Village Communities. “These Communities contain in miniature all the materials of a State within themselves, and are almost sufficient to protect their members if all other governments are withdrawn.”] The Patel or head of the Village Community, wrote Captain Robertson of Poona, “was, and is still, a magistrate by the will of the community as well as by the appointment of Government; he enforces the observance of what in England would be termed the byelaws of the corporation; he formerly raised by contribution a sum of money for the expenses of the corporation as such, and for the support of his own dignity as its head; he suggested improvements for the benefit of the association, and marshalled the members to aid him in maintaining the public peace; he dispensed and still dispenses civil justice as a patriarch to those who choose to submit to his decision as referee or arbitrator; or he . . ? Elphinstone's Report, dated October 25, 1819.
presides over the proceedings of others whom either he himself or the parties might nominate as arbitrators of their disputes.”i
The next most important feature of society under the Mahratta rule was the cultivation of the land by peasant proprietors, called Mirasdars or hereditary owners of their fields. Elphinstone tells us that “a large portion of the Ryots are the proprietors of their estates, subject to the payment of a fixed land tax to Government; that their property is hereditary and saleable; and they are never dispossessed while they pay their tax.” “He is in no way . inferior," writes Captain Robertson, “in point of tenure on its original basis, as described in the quotation, to the holder of the most undisputed freehold estate in England.” The Mirasi tenure, says Chaplin, “is very general throughout the whole of that part of the conquered territory which extends from the Krishna to the range of Ghats.” And Mr. Chaplin adds that “the Collector [of Poona) is very properly an advocate for preserving the rights of Mirasdars, a line of policy which he strenuously recommends in several places; but as nobody, I trust, has ever thought of invading their rights, the discussion of the question at any length would be superfluous.”2
It is a lamentable fact that both these ancient institutions, the Village Community and the Mirasi tenure, virtually ceased to exist before the first generation of British administrators had closed their labours in the conquered territories. A fixed resolve to make direct arrangements with every separate cultivator, and to impose upon him a tax to be revised at each recurring settlement, necessarily weakened Village Communities and extinguished Mirasi.rights. No impartial historian compares the Mahratta rule with its interminable wars, with the British rule which has given peace and security to the people. At the same time no impartial historian
i Captain Robertson's Report, dated October 10, 1821. .. ? Cbaplin's Report, dated August 20, 1822.
notes without regret the decay of the old self-governing institutions, the extinction of the old tenant-rights, and the consequent increase of the burdens on the soil, which have been the results of British administration in India. It is an unwise policy to efface the indigenous selfgoverning institutions of any country; and the policy is specially unwise under an alien rule which can never be in touch with the people, except through the natural leaders and representatives of the people. Eighty-five years have elapsed since the British conquest of the Deccan, but the system of rural self-government, which the Village Communities represented, has never been replaced.
Land Settlements were made temporarily in different districts immediately after the conquest of the Deccan; and regular Survey Settlements were commenced by Pringle of the Bombay Civil Service in 1824-28, but ended in failure. His assessment was based on a measurement of fields and an estimate of the yield of various soils, and the Government demand was fixed at 55 per cent. of the produce. The measurement, however, was faulty; the estimates of produce were erroneous; the revenue demand was excessive; and the Settlement operations ended in oppression. “Every effort, lawful and unlawful, was made to get the utmost out of the wretched peasantry, who were subjected to torture, in some instances cruel and revolting beyond all description, if they would not or could not yield what was demanded. Numbers abandoned their homes and fled into the neighbouring Native States. Large tracts of land were thrown out of cultivation, and in some districts no more than a third of the cultivable area remained in occupation.”
A re-survey was commenced by Goldsmid and Lieutenant Wingate in 1835, and they founded the
. .Bombay Administration Report of 1872-73, p. 41.
system on which land revenue administration in Bombay is based up to the present time. This date marks, therefore, the commencement of the current land system of Bombay, as 1833 marks the commencement of the current land system of Northern India. And both in Bombay and in Northern India, Settlements have been made for long periods of thirty years from these dates.
The plan adopted by Goldsmid and Wingate was very simple. They classed all soils into nine different classes according to their quality; they fixed the assessment of a district after inquiries into its circumstances and previous history; and they distributed the district demand among the villages and fields contained in the district. The owner of each field was then called upon to cultivate his holding on payment of the Land Tax fixed for his field. "The assessment was fixed by the Superintendent of Survey without any reference to the cultivator; and when those rates were introduced, the holder of each field was summoned to the Collector and informed of the rate at which his land would be assessed in future; and if he choose to retain it on those terms, he did ; if he did not choose, he threw it up.” 1
It will be seen that this simple scheme entirely ignored the Village Communities of the Deccan, and extinguished the rights of Mirasi tenants to hold their hereditary lands at fixed rates. British administrators judged it wise to make a settlement directly with every individual tenant; and they imposed on each field a Land Tax according to their own judgment. The new assessment, too, was more or less guess-work, and was therefore subject to the same uncertainty which yitiated the system of Northern India. It was liable to vary as the Settlement Officer was moderate or severe. And moderation shown at one Settlement, during a time of distress, was liable to be followed by severity at
· Evidence of Goldfinch. Fourth Report of the Commons' Select Committee, 1853, p. 141.