Mountstuart Elphinstone.

Selections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir online

. (page 22 of 41)
Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 22 of 41)
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rup(!es a year, and placed under a Mamlatdar. The
numerous partitions of revenue (Cliouth, Babti, etc.),
bein^' thrown into the hands of one agent, were


virtualty abolisliecl. The assessments were much
lighter than formerly, and much more uniform and
clearly defined. The powers of the Mamlatdars were
limited, and the system of fixed pay and no perquisites
was decidedly introduced in principle, though of course
it may be still secretly departed from in practice. The
improvements in the administration of the revenue
department are greater than in the rulers. Faith is
kept with the Eaj^at, more liberal assistance is given him
in advance, he is not harassed by false accusations as
pretexts to extort money, and his complaints find a
readier hearing and redress. Some of our alterations
are less agreeable to all, or to particular classes. We
have more forms and more strictness than our pre-
decessors ; the power of the Patil is weakened by the
greater interference of our Mamlatdars. His emolu-
ments are injured by our reductions of the Saudir
Warrid ; and even the Eayats, who were taxed for his
profit, are made to feel the want of some of their
charities and amusements, while they confound the
consequent reductions of their payments with the
general diminution in the assessment. The character
of our Mamlatdars is not entirely what we could wish;
as the country was occupied before the Peshwa's cause
was desperate, few of his adherents would venture to
join us, and we were obliged to employ such persons as
we could procure, without much regard to their merit.
In Puna and Satara the Mamlatdars are, nevertheless,
respectable servants of the old Government ; I have
more doubts regarding those in Khandesh, being chiefly
either from the Nizam's country (which is notorious for
bad government) or from Hindustan. I have strongly
recommended to all the collectors to take ever}' oppor-
tunity to introduce servants of the former Government,
but much time m,ust elapse before this can be entirely
accomplished. An important change is made by the


iiitrocliiction of some men from the Madras provinces ;
though ver}^ anxious to employ the revenue officers of
the Mahratta Government in general, I thought it de-
sirable to have a very few of our oldest subjects, as well
from general policy in a new conquest, as to introduce
some models of system and regularity. As each collector
was to have two principal officers to check each other, I
thought it would contribute to that object and answer
other ends to have one of them from the Madras
provinces. General Munro was also obliged to bring
a very great proportion of persons of this description
into the country under his charge. They are more
active, more obedient to orders, more exact and
methodical than the Mahrattas, but they introduce
forms of respect for their immediate superiors quite
unknown here, while they show much less consideration
for the great men of the country, and are more rough,
harsh, and insolent in their general demeanour. It
might be worth while to consider how much of these
characteristics they owe to us, and how much to the

The duties of the Mamlatdars are to superintend the
A detailed ex- collcctiou of tlic revcnuc, to manage the police,

plaiiatioii of the . • •^ -t • • i ^ • l

operations of to rcccivc civil aud crnnmal complamts, re-
'im?un'! f^i'i^ii^g the former to Panchayats, and send-
ing up the latter to the collector. They have
in'''iiis^"ieE a Sirashtedar, who keeps their records, an
letter! dated accouutant, and some other assistants. The
ii!tt'c?'^d'{'ted P^y ^^ ^ Mamlatdar is from 70 to 150 rupees
capiain"'' ^H 0-' ^ mouth, audtluitof a Sirashtedar from 35
!r'i" •5'8ti;^ to 50. The systems adopted by all the
^ottinger•8^'u- collcctors wcic fouudcd on the Mahratta
>ir. wiikins in practicc, tliou^li varynig Irom it and irom

lii.s letter of ^ ' ^ J &

A.iguHt .iotii. each other in some particulars, ilie founda-
tion for the assessment in all this was the amount paid

the collectors
will be
in Mr. CI
instructions to
his salj-collec-


by each village in times wlieu the people consideretl
themselves to have been well goveriicd. Deductions
were made from this in proportion to the diminution of
the cultivation, and afterwards further allowances were
made on any specific grounds alleged by the Rayats.
The amount to be paid was partitioned among the
Rayats by the village officers, and if all were satisfied,
Patas were given, and the settlement was ended.

All the collectors abolished Jasti Patis (or arbi-
trarj^ taxes having no reference to the land or trade),
and all regulated the Saudir Warrid, doing away all
exactions on that account, more than were necessary
for the village expenses. Captain Briggs even abolished
the Saudir Warrid Pati altogether, and defrayed the
village expenses from the Government revenue, limiting
the amount to 4 per cent, on the gross Jama. The
expediencj^ of this arrangement is, however, doubtful,
both as to the close restriction of the expense and the
laying it on Government ; all paid great attention to
the circumstances of the Piayats, and made their assess-
ment studiously light. There were, however, some
points of difference in their proceedings. Mr. Chaplin
and Captain Grant contented themselves with ascertain-
ing the extent of the land under cultivation, b}' the
information of neighbours, and of rival village officers,
aided by the observation of their own servants. Captain
Pottinger and Captain Piobertson had the lands of some
villages measured, but only in cases where they sus-
pected frauds ; and Captain Briggs began by a measure-
ment of the whole cultivation either of Gangtari alone,
or of both that and Khandesh. All the collectors kept
up the principle of the Eayatwari settlement, and some
carried it to a greater extent than had been usual with
the Mahrattas. Mr. Chaplin and Captain Pottinger,
after settling with the Patil for the whole village,


settled with each Raj'at, and gave him a Pata for his
field. Captain Grant and Captain Robertson settled
with the Patil and gave him a Pata, but first ascer-
tained the amount assessed on each Piayat, and inquired
if he was satisfied with it ; and Captain Briggs, though
he settled for each field, did it all with the Patil,
taking an engagement from him to explain at the end
of the 5'ear how much he had levied on each Rayat.

This refers to the settlement with the villages. The
customs have been farmed on account of the difficulty
of preparing a tariff, and of superintending the intro-
duction of a new system, wdiile the collectors were so
fully occupied in other matters. No complaints are
made, from which it may be inferred that the present
system, if not profitable to Government, is not op-
pressive to the people. The exemptions of our camp
dealers have been done away, the original motive of
them (to prevent disputes between our people and the
Peshwa's) being no longer in force. The exemption
made no difference in the price of articles to the troops,
though it afi'orded a pretence for great frauds in the
customs. The only good effect it had was to attach
dealers to the camp bazaars ; but the exemption from
taxes while in cantonments, and from the customs also
when on service, may be expected to be sufficient to
retain them.

The sheep-pastures are still a distinct farm, but the
arrangement is so inconvenient, from the want of authority
in the hands of collectors over shepherds entering their
districts, that I propose to alter it.

None of the taxes called Kotwali are now levied,
they having either been done away or suspended by
Baji Pu'iv. If they should prove only to be sus-
pended, the unexceptionable ones ought, if possible, to
be restored.


The Abkari I would recoiiiineiul keeping iu its
present low state, by prohibitions or by very heavy

The mint is still farmed, but this should be changed
as soon as a system regarding the coinage has been
resolved on.

The other taxes require no particular remark. The
tax on adoptions ought to be kept up as one that is
little felt, and is attended with advanta^fes in recording:


The Mahratta system of police is that common in
the Deccan, which has already been too fully ^^^,^^^^4^^^ ^ j,.
described to require a minute account. **-'"' ''^ i'°^'^'=-

The Patil is responsible for the police of his village.
He is aided by his Kulkarni and Chaugulla, and
when the occasion requires it, by all the in-
habitants. His great and responsible assistant
in matters of police is the village watchman, who is
called the Talarri in the Karnatik, the Mhar in the
Mahratta country, and the Jagla in Khandesh ; in the
first-named district he is by caste a Beder, in the
second a Dher, and in the third a Bliil. Though there
is only an allowance for one watchman in a village, the
family has generally branched out into several numbers,
wdio relieve and aid each other in their duties. The
duties are to keep watch at night, to find out all
arrivals and departures, observe all strangers, and
report all suspicious persons to the Patil. The
watchman is likewise bound to know the character of
each man in the village, and in the event of a theft
committed within the village bounds, it is his business
to detect the thief. He is enabled to do this by his



early habits of inqiusitiveuess and observation, as well
as by the nature of his allowance, which being partly a
'S^ small share of the grain and similar property belonging
to each house, he is kept always on the watch to
**^ ascertain his fees, and always in motion to collect
^^tliem. When a theft or robbery happens, the watch-
.•^man commences his inquiries and researches : it is very
common for him to track a thief by his footsteps ; and
if he does this to another village, so as to satisfy the
watchman there, or if he otherwise traces the property
to an adjoining village, his responsibility ends, and it is
the duty of the watchman of the new village to take up
the pursuit. The last village to which the thief has
been clearly traced becomes answerable for the pro-
perty stolen, which would otherwise fall on the village
where the robbery was committed. The watchman is
obliged to make up this amount as far as his means go,
and the remainder is levied on the whole village. The
exaction of this indemnity is evidently unjust, since the
village might neither be able to prevent the theft nor
to make up the loss ; and it was only in particular
cases that it was insisted on to its full extent, but
some fine was generally levied ; and neglect or con-
nivance was punished by transferring the Inam of the
Patil, or watchman, to his nearest relation, by fine, by
imprisonment in irons, or by severe corporeal punish-
ment. This responsibility was necessary ; as, besides
the usual temptation to neglect^ the watchman is often
himself a thief, and the Patil disposed to harbour
thieves with a view to share their profits. This
peculiar temptation in case of theft has made that
ofi'cnce to be most noticed. In other crimes, the village
has less interest in connivance, and probably is suffi-
ciently active ; but gross negligence in these cases also
would have been punished by the Government. I


have mentioned that besides the regular village watch-
men others were often entertained from the plundering
tribes in the neighbourhood. Their business was to
assist in repelling open force, and to aid in the appre-
hension of all offenders, but chiefly to prevent depreda-
tions by their own tribes, and to hud out the perpetrators
when any did occur.

The Patil was under the same authority as a police
officer that he was as a revenue one — the Mamlatdar, who
employed the same agents in this department

m HT 1 T 1 District Police.

as in the other. The Mamlatdar saw that all
villagers acted in concert, and with proper activity ;
and when there w^as a Sarsubhedar, he kept the same
superhitendence over the Mamlatdars. These officers
had also considerable establishments to maintain the
tranquillity of their districts. These were the Seban-
dis or irregular infantry, and the small parties of horse
which were kept in every district ; they were, however,
employed to oppose violence, and to support the village
police, not to discover offenders. With the Mamlatdar
also rested all general arrangements with the chiefs of
Bhils or other predatory tribes, either for forbearing
from plunder themselves, or for assisting to check it in
others. The Mamlatdar had great discretionary powers,
and even a Patil would not hesitate to secure a sus-
pected person, or to take any measure that seemed
necessary to maintain the police of his village, for
which he was answerable.

This was the plan of the police up to the time of
Baji Pu'iv, during the reign of Madhav Pu'iv I., and
likewise during the administration of Nana Fadnavis ;
it is said to have succeeded in preserving great security
and order.

The confusions in the commencement of Baji Kiiv's



reign, the weakness of liis own government, the want
Alterations of employment for adventurers of all kinds,
Ra'^- and the effects of the famine, greatly deranged
the system of police ; and to remedy the disorders into
which it fell, an office was instituted, under the name
of Tapasnavis, the special duty of which
was to discover and seize offenders. The
Tapasnavises had districts of different extent, not
corresponding with the usual revenue divisions, and
only comprehending those portions of the country
where the services of such officers were thought to be
most required. They had a jurisdiction entirel}'
independent of the Mamlatdars, and had a body of
horse and foot which was the principal instrument of
their administration. They had also Eamoshis and
spies, whom they employed to give information ; and
on receiving it, they went with a body of horse to the
village where the theft happened, and proceeded to
seize the Patil and the watchmen, and to demand the
thief, or the amount of the property stolen, or the fine
which they thought proper to impose, if the offence
were any other than theft. The detection of the
offender they seem to have left in general to the
ordinary village police. It may be supposed that such
a violent proceeding, and one so foreign to the ordinary
system, could not fail to clash with the former institu-
tions ; and accordingly there were constant and loud
complaints by the Mamlatdars and villagers, that the
Tapasnavises were only active in extorting money
under false accusations, and that robbers rather flour-
ished under their protection. The Tapasnavises,
on the other hand, complained of indifference, con-
nivance, and counteraction on the part of the villagers
and revenue officers.

Great abuses, it must be mentioned, are stated to



have at all times existed, even under the rejjiilar
system. Criminals found refuge in one dis-
trict when chased out of another ; some
Jahagirdars and Zamindars made a trade of harhouring
robbers ; and any offender, it is said, could purchase
his release, if he had money enough to pay for it.
False accusations were likewise made a cloak to
exaction from the innocent ; and villagers were obliged
to pay the amount of plundered property, in the loss of
which they had no share, and for which the losers
received no compensation. There cannot be a stronger
proof of the enormous abuses to which the former
police was liable than is furnished by an occurrence in
the city of Puna, under the eye of Government, in the
days of Nana Fadnavis. There was at that time a
Kotwall, called Ghasi Kam, a native of Hindustan,
who was much trusted, and rose to great eminence.
This man was convicted of having for many years
emploj^ed the powers of the police in murders and
oppressions, which the natives illustrate by stories far
beyond belief; his guilt was at length detected, and
excited such indignation, that though a Brahmin, it
was decided to punish him capitally ; he was therefore
led through the city on a camel, and then abandoned
to the fury of the populace whom this exposure had
assembled, and by them stoned to death.

In Baji Eav's time 9,000 rupees a month was
allowed to the officer who had charge of the police at
Puna : from this he had to maintain a very p^^.^^ ^^
large establishment of peons, some horse ^"°'*-
patrols, and a considerable number of Bamoshis ;
besides being answerable for the amount of property
plundered, whenever the Peshwa thought proper to
call on him. Still his appointment was reckoned
lucrative, as the pay of his establishment was very



low, and both lie and they derived much profit from
iniavowed exactions. The police, however, was good ;
on the whole, mm-ders or robberies, attended with
violence and alarm, were very rare ; and I have
never heard any complaints of the insecurity of pro-

Next to the prevention of crimes and the apprehen-
sion of criminals, comes the manner in which offences,
Criminal jus- etc., are tried and punished: in this are
ziiahrattas. luvolvcd tlic autlioritics competent to try, the
forms of trial, and the law by which guilt is defined,
and punishment awarded.

The power of administering criminal justice, under

the Mahratta Government, was vested in the revenue

„ ^ ^ officers, and varied with their rank, from the

By whom ad- ' '

ministered, p^til, wlio could Only put a man for a few
days in the village choki. to the Sarsubhedar, who in
latter days had the power of life and death. Formerly
this power was confined to persons invested with the
full powers of Government by being entrusted with the
Mutalliki seal, and to great military chiefs in their
own armies, or their own Jahagirs.

The right of inflicting punishment was, however,
extremely undefined, and was exercised bj^ each man,
more according to his power and influence than to his
office. One Patil would flog and fine, and put in the
stocks for many weeks ; and another would not even
venture to imprison. Most Mamlutdars would hang a
liamosi, Bhil, or Mang robber, without a reference ;
and those at a distance would exercise their j^ower
without scruple, while the highest civil officers, if at
Puna, would pay the Pesliwa the attention of applying
for his sanction in a capital case. A Chief was thought
to have authority over his own troops and servants,
wherever he was. Scindia, while he affected to act


under the Pcsliwa, put many of his Cliiefs and Ministers
(even Brahmins), who had been accused of plots, to
death. At Puna, Appa Desai, in 1813, while com-
pletely in the Peshwa's power, blew away one of his
Sardars from a gun, for conspiracy against him, and
was never questioned, though the execution took place
within a mile of Puna.

There was no prescribed form of trial. A principal
rebel, or a head of banditti, would be executed at once,
on the ground of notoriety ; any Bhil, caught
in a part of the country where the Bhils were
plundering the road, would be hanged immediately. In
doubtful cases the chief authority would order some of the
people about him to inquire into the affair. The prisoner
was examined, and if suspicions were strong he was
flogged to make him confess. Witnesses were examined,
and a summary of their evidence and of the statement
of the accused were always taken down in writing.
They were sometimes confronted with the accused, in
the hope of shaming or perplexing the party whose
statement was false ; but this was by no means necessary
to the regularity of the proceedings. The chief
authority would generally consult his officers, and
perhaps employ a committee of them to conduct an
inquiry ; but I should doubt whether Panchayats were
ever generally employed in criminal trials, though
mentioned by Captain Grant to have been so in the
Satara country.

In crimes against the State, the Prince made such
inquiries, or directed his Ministers to make such, as
seemed requisite for his own safety, and gave such
orders regarding the accused as their case seemed to
require. Torture was emploj^ed to compel confession
and disclosure of accomplices.

Trials of this sort were naturally considered in a



despotic Government as above all law ; but even in
common criminal trials, no law seems ever to

Criminal 1'^^- , ^ t . t • n

be referred to, except m cases connected with
religion, where Shastris were sometimes consulted.
The only rule seems to have been the custom of the
country, and the magistrate's notice of expediency.
The Hindu law was quite disused, probably owing to
its absurdity ; and although every man is tolerably
acquainted with its rules in civil cases, I do not believe
anyone but the very learned has the least notion of its
criminal enactments.

The following were the customary punishments.
Murder, unless attended with peculiar atrocity, appears
never to have been capital, and was usually
punished by fine. Highway robbery was
generally punished with death, because it was generally
committed by low people, for a greater distinction ■was
made in the punishment on account of the caste of the
criminal than the nature of the crime. A man of
tolerable caste was seldom put to death, except for
offences against the State. In such cases lurtli seems
to have been no protection. Vitoji, the full brother
to Yeshwant Eav Holkar, was trampled to death by an
elephant for rebellion, or rather for heading a gang of
predatory horse. Sayaji Atolc, a dispossessed Jahagir-
dar, was blown away from a gun for the same offence,
yet it is well observed by Mr. Chaplin that treason and
rebellion were thought less of than with us. This
originated in a want of steadiness, not of severity, in
the Government. When it suited a temporary con-
venience an accommodation was made with a rebel,
Avho was immediately restored, not only to safety, but
to favour. Balkrishn Gangadhar received a Jahagir for
the same insurrection for which Yitoji Holkar was
put to death. Viswas E.iv Gliatge, who headed a


large body of plundering horse and was cut up by the
Duke of Wellington at Mankaisur, was treated with
much favour by the Peshwa ; but Aljdulla Khan, a
relative of the Nabob of Savanore, who committed the
same offence at a subsequent period, was blown away
from a gun. The other punishments were hanging,
beheading, cutting to pieces with swords, and crushing
the head with a mallet. Punishments, though public,
were always executed with little ceremony or form.
Brahmin prisoners, who could not be executed, were
poisoned, or made away with by deleterious food ; bread
made of equal parts of flour and salt was one of these.
Women were never put to death ; long confinement,
and the cutting off the nose, ears, and breast, were the
severest punishments inflicted on them. Mutilation
was very common, and the person who had his hand,
foot, ears or nose cut oft", was turned loose as soon as
the sentence was executed and left to his fate.
Imprisonment in hill forts and in dungeons was common ;
and the prisoners, unless they were people of considera-
tion, were always neglected, and sometimes allowed to
starve. Prisoners for theft were often whipped at intervals
to make them discover where the stolen property was
hidden. Hard labour, in building fortifications especially,
was not unknown ; but, like most ignominious punish-
ments, was confined to the lower orders. Branding
with a hot iron was directed by the Hindu law, but I
do not know that it was practised. Flogging with a
martingale was very common in trifling oflences, such
as petty thefts, etc. But the commonest of all punish-
ments was fine and confiscation of goods, to which the
Mamlutdar was so much prompted by his avarice, that
it is often difficult to say whether it was inflicted as the
regular punishment, or merely made use of as a pretence
for gaining wealth. On the one hand, it seems to have


been the Maliratta practice to punish murder, especially
if committed by a man of good caste, by fine ; but on
the other, the Mamlutdars would frequently release Bhil
robbers contrary to the established custom, and even

Online LibraryMountstuart ElphinstoneSelections from the minutes and other official writings of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. With an introductory memoir → online text (page 22 of 41)