Sunday, January 20, 2013

Syed Ahmed Khan on land revenue arrangements

From the 1873 translation (The Causes of the Indian Revolt) of Syed Ahmed Khan's work from 1858
(remember that he was a British loyalist in 1857), there is a lot we can learn about Niall Ferguson and the civilization that considers him a scholar, rather than Indian history. (emphasis added).

a. The taxation of previously revenue-free lands:
Sir T. Munro and the Duke of Wellington said truly enough that to resume lands granted revenue-free was to set the whole people against us, and to make beggars of the masses. I cannot describe the odium and the hatred which this act brought on Government, or the extent to which it beggared the people. Many lands which had been held revenue-free for centuries were suddenly resumed on the flimsiest pretexts. The people said that Government not only did nothing for them itself, but undid what former governments had done. This measure altogether lost for the government the confidence of its subjects.

It may be said that if revenue-free lands were not resumed, some other source of income would have to be sought or some new Tax imposed to meet the charges of Government: so that the people would have still to bear the burthen. This may be so: but the people do not see it. It is a remarkable fact that, wherever the rebels have issued proclamations to deceive and reduce the people, they have only mentioned two things: the one, interference in matters of religion; the other, the resumption of revenue-free lands. It seems fair to infer that these were the two chief causes of the public discontent. More especially was it the case with the Muhammadans, on whom this grievance fell far more heavily than on the Hindus.
b. The abolition of the old zamindari:
Under former rules, and in old times, the system of buying and selling rights in landed property, of mortgage, and of transfer by gift, undoubtedly prevailed. But there was little of it, and what little there was due to the consent and wishes of the parties concerned. To arbitrarily compel the sale of these rights in satisfaction of the arrears of revenue, or of debt, was a practice in those days unknown. Hindustanee landlords are particularly attached to this kind of property. The loss of their estates has been to them a source of the deepest annoyance. A landed estate in Hindustan is very like a little kingdom. It has always been the practice to elect one man as the head over all. By him, matters requiring discussion are brought forward, and every shareholder, in proportion to his holding, has the power of speaking out his mind on the point. The cultivators and the Chowdries of the villages attend on such an occasion, and say whatever they have to say. Any matter of unusual importance is settled by the head-men of some of the larger villages. You have here in fact in great perfection, a miniature Kingdom, and Parliament. These landlords were as indignant at the loss of their estate, as a king at the loss of his empire. But the Government acted in utter disregard of things formerly existing.

Dating from the commencement of English rule to the present time, there is probably not a single village in which there have not been more or less transfers. In the first days of British rule, sales of landed property were so numerous that the whole country was turned upside down. To remedy this, Government passed the law which is called Regulation I of 1821, and appointed a Commission of Enquiry. This Commission, however, gave rise to a thousand other evils. After all, the affair was not brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and at last, the Commission was abolished.

I shall not here enter into the question as to how Government could ensure the payment of the land revenue, if it gave up the practice of sales; or its right to enforce sales as arising from the fact of the land being pledged for the payment of revenue. All that I now say is, that whether this system of sales was the result of necessity or of ignorance, it has at all events had a hand in bringing on the rebellion. If anyone wishes to see what my views are on this question, he will find them in my work on the Government of Hindustan.  I will only mention here that it is open to grave doubt whether the land is pledged for the payment of revenue. The claim of the Government lies, I take it, upon the produce of the land, not upon the land itself.

So too the practice of sale in satisfaction of debt has been most objectionable. Bankers and money-lenders have availed themselves of it to advance money to landlords, resorting to every kind of trickery and roguery to rob them of their property. They have instituted suits without end in the Civil Courts, some fraudulent, some correct enough. The consequence has been that they have very generally ousted the old landlords and insinuated themselves into their properties. Troubles of this kind have ruined landlords throughout the length and breadth of the land.
c. The heavy assessment on land

The system of Revenue Settlements introduced by the English Government does it the greatest credit. But it is heavy compared with former Settlements. Formerly the revenue was realized by sharing the actual crop with the cultivator. Sher Shah claimed for Government one-third of the produce of the land, and though this plan had its difficulties and exposed the Government to some little risk, yet the cultivators felt secure and were little liable to loss. Akbar was the first regularly to adopt this plan of taking one-third of the produce. It was by him that the system was matured, as may be seen in Mr. Elphinstone's excellent work upon India, and in the Ain-i-Akbari.

Akbar divided the land into classes, and changed the payments in kind into money payments. The first class, which goes by the name of "Pulich," was cultivated yearly, and the produce of this he divided with the cultivators according to their respective shares. The second class was called "Paroti," and was not kept in constant cultivation, being occasionally allowed to lie fallow in order to strengthen it. The produce of this class of land he shared with the cultivators in such years as it was cultivated. The third class, which was called "Chachar," remained uncultivated for 3 or 4 years and required the expenditure of money in order to make it fertile. In the first year of cultivation, Akbar took two-fifths of the produce from this land, increasing his demand yearly, till in the fifth year he received his full share. The fourth class, which was called "Bunjar" and required to lie fallow for more than five years, was treated on still more lenient terms.

The way in which the money value of the crops was calculated was as follows. The crop of every beegah and of every different kind of land was reckoned according to the weight of an average amount of grain produced by such land. For example, the average crop of a beegah would be reckoned at 9 maunds of grain, a third of which, namely, 3 maunds, would represent the demand of Government on the Cultivator. The grain would then be valued at the average of the price current; and a money rate fixed on the beegah accordingly. The great advantage of this system was, that if the cultivators considered the price fixed by the price tables more than the value of the corn, they had the option of paying in kind. The assessments imposed by the English Government have been fixed without any regard to their various contingencies. Land lying fallow pays in the same proportion as other land. Such lands as are for a time left uncultivated in order that they may acquire strength, are not considered free from assessment.

From being cultivated to the same extent year after year, land becomes weak and unfruitful, and does not yield an equal amount. It ceases to have the same value as was put upon it at the time of the Settlement. In many districts, every Settlement that was made pressed heavily, and landlords and cultivators were alike reduced to straits. In course of time they were unable to provide themselves with proper implements. These accordingly became scarce. Land was not properly cultivated. The property became scanty. The cultivators were obliged to borrow money in order to pay the revenue. The interest on these loans ran up. Landlords, formerly men of substance, found themselves suddenly ruined. Villages in which there happened to be land already lying uncultivated, became more than ever neglected. Mr. Thomason, in Paragraph 64 of his directions to Settlement Officers, says that the settlements under Regulation IX of 1833 were light on good villages, but pressed heavily on poorer ones.

The landlords, I admit, can no longer extort rent illegally or: make illicit profits, but they were entitled to more consideration than has been shewn them. Both they and the cultivators have suffered, and hence it is that, notwithstanding the security of life and property which they now enjoy, the landlords look back with regret on the dynasties of former days.