Sunday, January 20, 2013

Agriculture and the rulers of India

Further benefits of British rule (the points 93, 94, and 95 are so Republican that they have contemporary relevance - i.e., by the custom of the government promoting agriculture and manufacture, the people have become poor, indolent and ignorant, and thus libertarian policies are, alas, not feasible.).
(from) Readings in the Constitutional History of India 1757-1947, edited by S.V. Desika Char

Revenue Letter to the Government of Bengal, Selections of Papers from the Records of the East India House relating to the Revenue, Police and Civil and Criminal Justice, London, 1820, pp. 65-6.

The Court of Directors on the duty of the Government to undertake works of public utility, 15 January 1812.

93. In a highly improved state of society, and for a people wealthy, prosperous and far advanced in useful science, to provide the means of defence and protection is almost the sole duty of the Government.   The grandest and most expensive undertakings may then with safety be left to individual enterprize or the excitement of public spirit; and the wisest policy of the sovereign is to allow his subjects to pursue their own interests in their own way,  and according to their own judgment.

94. A different, and in some respects an opposite duty, belongs to the sovereign of a people, poor, indolent, and ignorant.   Besides providing for their external and internal security, by arms, negociation, and salutary laws, it is necessary that his government, for the purpose of producing a happy change in the character and fortunes of the nation, shall occasionally aid individuals with advances of capital, and take upon itself the construction and maintenance of works of great public utility.

95. We find that the sovereigns of India have long been in the practice, not only of advancing money to the cultivators and weavers, with the view of promoting the agriculture and manufacture of the country, but of fencing the country against sudden and destructive inundations, and of supplying the land in the dry season with the means of artificial irrigation.  The task of banking the rivers, of constructing and upholding tanks and reservoirs, has thus, by established usage, become a duty of the Government.

96. The advantages which must result to agriculture from such constructions are too obvious to require development, and as long as the revenue of Government consisted in a fixed proportion of the produce of the soil, it was clearly in its interest to continue and extend the system of active vigilance and precaution, by which the productive powers of the land could be best protected and secured.

97.  Under the permanent settlement, we have fixed to perpetuity our demand on the land, without renouncing the obligation of continuing our care of what in Bengal is called the poolbundy, and in the southern parts of India, of the tanks and watercourses.  The consequence of this arrangement is, either that the whole advantage of these mounds, reservoirs and canals, is ceded to the Zamindars, while all the trouble and expense of upholding them and keeping them in repair is defrayed by the Government, or that Government is exposed to the temptation of relaxing its zeal, and moderating its disbursements on account of works of great public utility, but in the preservation and extension of which it has no direct nor immediate interest.

98.  If, as has been shewn, a duty of this nature be imposed upon the Government of India, by ancient usage as well as by the total inability of the people to perform it with their own scanty means, it will, we think, be difficult to reject the conclusion, that the sovereign has a right to indemnity for the expense incurred in the undertaking, that the certainty of obtaining such indemnity can alone furnish security for the duty being performed as it ought to be; and therefore that a settlement of the land, under which this indemnity would always be within the reach of Government, is preferable to one under which all prospect of compensation is excluded.

99.  To a Government taking an interest in the improvement of the country, with a view to the increase of its own revenue, it might be a further subject of consideration, whether more could not be done than has hitherto been attempted towards bettering the system of Indian agriculture.