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scheme which was rejected by the Duke of Argyll in 1870, and which was condemned by Lord Lawrence in 1873, was passed into law in Madras in 1900. Instead of leaving the cultivators the option of using and paying for canal water, a law was passed making the irrigation rate compulsory on all lands supposed to be benefited by canals, even by percolation! And no option was left to cultivators to appeal to Courts of Law to show that their lands were not benefited.
The Water Tax is consolidated with the Land Tax. The cultivator does not know what portion of the assessment is for his holding and what portion is for the water which is supposed to benefit him. But he does know that the total assessment is so excessive as not to leave him one-half the nett produce of his holding. In many places, the assessment leaves him nothing beyond the wages of his labour and the cost of cultivation. Irrigation protects him from famine; but it has not enabled him to save, or to improve his condition.
It also appears from the table given above that the cesses went up with a bound in 1887, when the irrigation charges were transferred to Land Assessments. So long as the water-rate was separate from the land-rate, cesses could be charged on the land-rate only. When irrigation charges were consolidated with land assessments, the cesses went up in one year from £460,000 to £590,000. Is it possible in Madras to separate the land-rate from the water-rate, so as to impose the cesses on the former and not on the latter ?
But the greatest complaint of Madras cultivators is about the uncertainty of the assessments. In 1882, as we shall see in the succeeding chapter, the Marquis of Ripon, then Viceroy of India, sought to remove this uncertainty. He laid down the rule that in districts which had been surveyed and settled, there should be no enhancement of the Land Revenue except on the clear ground of an increase in prices. The Madras Government accepted this rule. The principle was explained in Government publications. The Madras Revenue Settlement Manual, compiled in 1887, laid down :
1 I visited some villages in the irrigated Deltas of the Godavari and Krishna in January 1903. The crops were assured against the effects of drought; but the lands were highly assessed, and the cultivators were poor and generally in debt. Their holdings bad a very poor market value, because they brought little to the peasants after paying the consolidated tax. I had the advantage of discussing the matter with a high official in Godavari District. He could not understand why lands so rich sold at such a miserable price. The reason was that the rich lands left little to the tillers after payment of Government dues.
“ That the grain values, thus determined, should be declared unalterable."
“ That the Ryots' payments should vary with the rateable money value of the standard crop, fixed every thirty years."
“The revised settlements are to be permanent as regards grain values ; but to be reconsidered as regards commutation rates after thirty years.” 1
The Madras Agricultural Committee reported in 1889: “A revaluation of soils at each recurring revision would, it is said, and we think rightly said, be fatal to improvement. We believe that the present opinion of the Government is opposed to such a revaluation, and is inclined to make the settlements permanent, so far as the grain values of soils are concerned.” ?
The Government of Madras remarked on the above report: “Nor has the Government any intention of revising the classification of soils. This principle has been repeatedly laid down, and is very clearly stated in the Settlement Manual.” 3
These assurances were' as clear and emphatic as words could make them. “People had actually invested money in land,” writes the Hon. Vencataratnam, member of the Madras Legislative Council, “relying on these
1 Chapter II., sections 5 and 6; and Chapter III., section 8.
declarations. But when the time came for giving effect to them, the Government coolly cast them to the winds, and sought to obtain increases not warranted by a rise in prices. In the Revision Settlements of the Trichinopoly, Godavari, and Krishna Districts, the soils in the Deltaic tracts have been reclassified, and the Ryots' improvements deliberately taxed in such reclassification. The actual work of classification is practically done by a low paid agency. In the case of individual holdings, the enhancements went up to 200 or 300 per cent., and even more.” 1
As in Bombay, so in Madras, this uncertainty in the assessment militates against all improvements, and is a bar to all agricultural prosperity. What is wanted in Madras, as in Bombay, is some effective provision to limit the Land Tax to one-half the nett produce in every village and every field, and to limit enhancements of the tax to specific and definite grounds like increase in prices, or in cultivation.
The trend of land legislation in the Central Provinces and the Punjab, in Bombay and in Madras, has in recent years been sadly different from that of the earlier decades. In the early years of the Crown administration, and under the rule of Canning and of Lawrence, the one object which animated the Government was to assure the position of the cultivator, to make his tenant-right valuable, to inspire him with a feeling of self-reliance and strength, and to make him a substantial if not a prosperous member of the community in which he lived. The Bengal Rent Act of Lord Canning, the Oudh and · Punjab Rent Acts of Lord 'Lawrence, the Settlement of the Central Provinces made in 1863, all had this one common object: to make agriculture prosperous, and to identify the interests of the Government with the interests of the landed and cultivating classes.
But recent land administration seems to aim at a
different object, to secure for the State a firmer grip on the produce of the soil, to whittle away both landlord right and tenant right, and to make an agricultural nation more dependent on the unfettered will of the Executive Officer.
The power of the Revenue Officer and the Settlement Officer has been made more absolute by legislation. The period of Settlements has been cut down from thirty years to twenty years in the Punjab and the Central Provinces. Cultivators in the same Provinces have been restrained from alienating their own holdings. The Government has taken the power of withdrawing the right of transfer in Bombay. The Government settles rents between landlords and tenants in the Central Provinces. The rule of limiting the State-demand to half the nett rent is, in practice, disregarded in Bombay and in Madras. The rule of limiting State enhancements to the specific and definite ground of a rise in prices has been withdrawn. And a compulsory waterrate, which was condemned by Argyll and Lawrence, has been imposed in Madras, and is consolidated with the land assessment.
LAND RESOLUTIONS OF RIPON AND CURZON
The uncertainty of Land Assessments, and the harassment caused by the revaluation of lands in Settlement Operations, were evils which successive Viceroys endeavoured and desired to remedy. Lord Mayo was of opinion that, when the quality of the soil and the quantity of the produce were once ascertained, there should be no further alterations in assessment except on the ground of fluctuations in prices. Lord Northbrook was also in favour of a self-regulating system of assessments, and was not in favour of repeating valuations at each fresh Settlement. The question was finally taken up by Lord Ripon. In his despatch of October 17, 1882, he desired to eliminate from future settlements the elements of uncertainty and inquisitorial inquiry. His object was to give the agriculturist an assurance of permanence and security, whilst not depriving the State of the power of enhancement of the revenue on “ defined conditions.” The reader will perceive that this was a compromise between the two opposite principles which had been held for twenty years by Indian administrators.
Men like Canning and Lawrence had held that the Land Revenue should be fixed for ever, leaving to the . people of the country all future increase in the profits of agriculture. Other administrators had held that the State should claim an indefinite increase of revenue from the increasing profits from agriculture. Lord Ripon's masterly scheme met the views of both schools. He left the door open for a continuous increase of the Land Revenue with the increase of prices. At the same time,