Mountstuart Elphinstone.

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

. (page 36 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 36 of 41)
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greatest abuses may go on for a long series of years,
without the least sign that anything is wrong. This
applies more particularly where there is a long lease ;
but it is true, in a less degree, in all cases.

50. The principal advantage of the Eayatwar plan is
that there is no acknowledged sharer in the produce but
the Government and the Rayats. If a Kamavisdar
bring his whole collections to account, he has no temp-


tation of punishing them beyond justice ; and if he do
not, the mere comj^laints of the Eayats convict him
without further inquir}^ The collector also has more
responsibility for the conduct of his own officer, and
more control over his actions, than he could have
with any farmer, and the Patel (on this plan, as well as
on that of farming to a stranger) is sure to come for-
ward with complaints against the abuses of a mode of
management that excludes him from his natural conse-
quence and profit. It is objected to the Kayatwar plan,
that it involves so much detail that the collector and
his assistant cannot perform it all, while it cannot be
safely entrusted to natives ; but if the farming plans
give less trouble to the collector, it is only because
some of the most important parts of his duty are relin-
quished. The sj^stem can go on, well or ill, without
the interference of the collector ; but if that officer be
determined to prevent exactions he will have more
difficulty in detecting them on this plan than the
Eayatwar. It is true that the Eayatwar plan exposes
the dues of Government to more hazards than the
other ; but unless the loss be such as to derange the
public finances, it is better the Government should
suffer than the Eayat. The evil is felt immediately,
and is immediately repaired ; but over-exaction, even if it
were sure of early detection, leaves the Eayats in a state
from which they take a long time to recover. The
success of the Eaj^atwar system in the Madras ceded
districts, also, leads me to doubt whether the danger to
Government can be so great as is apprehended. It has,
however, one serious objection, that when combined
with our general revenue and judicial system, it has a
great tendency to annihilate the power of the Patel and
to dissolve the village government, the value of which
has of late been rated so highly.


51. The Narva plan, when the Patidars are numerous,
has many of the advantages of the Rayatwar phm,
without the risk of loss to Government as long as it is
partial, as at present the inferior Kayats can command
good treatment by their power of moving to Govern-
ment villages ; and if there be no restraint on one
Patidar's receiving another's assurance whenever he
chooses to quit his former landlord, tlie whole of the
people must be well protected from oppression. It is
an inconvenience in the Narva plan that as long as one
Patidar is ill off, the revenue cannot be raised on the
others, however their lands may have improved ; and,
on the other hand, no remission can be granted to one
man in distress, because all the rest have a right to
participate in whatever is given. This must have been
a valuable defence against over-assessment under a
rapacious Government ; but it is also a bar to the just
claims of the state. I understand, however, that these
restrictions have often been disregarded in the Kaira
Zilla, without any bad consequences resulting.

02. What has been said will enable me to give
my opinion regarding leases of a term of j'ears, which
have been so earnestly recommended by Mr. Dunlop,
and which, indeed, are warmly supported by all gentle-
men of experience on the spot.

53. I do not think they ought ever to be given
to strangers on the first plan mentioned, unless on
Istava leases, because it is not desirable to bind Govern-
ment to observe for a term of years a plan radically
objectionable. The second plan of granting them to
the Patels is that generally recommended ; and if
the terms of the lease were moderate, the payment
of each Eayat fixed with precision and simplicity, and
at a low rate, if the lease did not exceed five years,
and if good security were given for the paj'ment


of a heavy penalty if the village were not in a
prosperous condition at the expiration of the lease,
I should not think the adoption of it ohjectionable.
But it would, in effect, he a Eayatwar settlement as
far as relates to ground already cultivated, and the
Patel's whole profit would he derived from the new
land he might bring into cultivation, in return for
which profit he would he answerable for any Eayats
who should be unable to pay their revenue. Unless
he had some capital beyond what was invested in
the new land, he would be unable to grant any
remission to such Raj-ats as had been unfortunate ;
because, if they failed to pay him, he could not pay
Government, and if Government granted remissions
to him it would lose all the benefit of the lease, without
having very favourable means of ascertaining whether
the remission was necessarj^ or whether it really went
to the benefit of the sufferers. The whole advantage
of this plan might therefore, perhaps, be gained by
making the settlement with each Eayat for the ground
now cultivated, and giving up the waste land for
five years to the Patel, or whoever chose to cultivate
it, at a quit-rent or on a favourable Istava lease. The
third plan of settling with the Eayats is not calculated
for long leases. So small a calamity deranges the
fortune of a single Eayat, that it is often impossible for
him to execute what he engaged to do with every
prospect of performance : he must, therefore, be allowed
to extend or diminish his cultivation annuallj^, accord-
ing to his means, and Government can only promise
to allow his rent to remain unchanged, without exact-
ing any corresponding engagement from him. To
Patidar villages long leases seem particularly adapted.
It is the nature of their association to break up as
soon as they fail to pay the Government's revenue, and


it seems reasonable that the demands of Government
should be as fixed towards them as possible. I would,
therefore, recommend (in certain circumstances to be
explained hereafter) that collectors be allowed to
grant leases for five years to Patidars in villages
where they are numerous, and to give assurances
to the Rayats that the rent of their lands will not
be increased for five years. With regard to single
Patels and Patidars when very few, I am not prepared
to give a decided opinion. The failure of the village
leases in the Madras ceded districts, where the pay-
ments of the Rayats had been fixed with the utmost
precision, is a strong argument against such an experi-
ment ; but something of the same kind appears to
have succeeded in Gujarat, and if this be the case,
the fact is conclusive. I should wish, therefore, that
Captain Robertson should be called on to report on
the number of leases for terms of years granted by
him in the Kaira Zilla, describing the conditions on
which they were granted, and the success which
attended them. But to whatever persons the leases
be granted, I am by no means of opinion that the time
is come for the general adoption of such a measure.
Before any engagement can be entered into, it is
necessary to determine whether there is to be a new
survey assessment. Before a w^hole village can be
farmed to a Patel or to Patidars, it is necessary to
determine whether the illegally alienated lands are
to be assessed or not ; and before even a promise can
be given to the Rayats that the rent of each man's
field is not to be raised, it is necessary that it should
first be known that each Bigha is fairly assessed, and
that there are none of the abuses by which Government
may be defrauded. The two first questions, therefore,
being previously disposed of, the collectors should



proceed to examine narrowly the state of each village,
and to regulate the Bighoti on equitable principles :
when satisfied that nothing more remains to be done,
they may then grant the leases and assurances above
alluded to. By this plan leases will be granted to but
a small number of villages at a time, which I consider
as a great advantage. It enables the collector to look
into each settlement when it is made, and to examine
each village when the lease expires, which he could
not do if all were to be made and to terminate at the
same period ; and it also affords an opportunity of
observing the success of the measure with the villages
first settled, by which Government can be determined to
limit or extend its operation.

54. I shall next discuss the questions just alluded
to, regarding a survey assessment and the resumption
of certain alienations. But I must first observe that
none of the objections I have urged extend to leases of
every improvable village at an increasing rent, such
as are called in the Deccan Istava leases : for as the
success of the undertaking depends entirely on getting
new Rayats, there is no chance of ill-treatment to that
class for the first years ; and in the last ones, even if
they are not, as is usual, fortified by written agree-
ments obtained before they began to cultivate the new
lands, they are not so likely to be oppressed by a
person who has for some years fostered them and par-
taken of their prosperity, as they w'ould be by a
farmer who bought them at an auction as an immediate
source of profit.

55. I now come to the survey and survey assess-
ment. There can be no doubt of the advantages of a
survey : it shows the real state of land, it prevents
concealed cultivation or encroachments of rent-free
fields on those belonging to Government, it gives


facility and precision to future assessment, and it
prevents disputes about boundaries either between
villages or individuals.

56. But the question of a new assessment stands on
different grounds. It has been pronounced by the
highest authorities to be indispensable to any equitable
settlement, on the Rayatwar plan at least ; but it
would make so complete a change in the circumstances
of all the cultivators in Gujarat, that I feel disposed to
pause before I entertain the proposal. The extra-
ordinary prosperity of the Eayats of Gujarat on their
present footing takes away all hope of improving their
condition by a change, while it increases the doubt
"which would be felt in any case, whether they may not
be losers by the alteration suggested. The settlement
of what each Bigha is to pay hereafter must be con-
fided to numerous natives on low pay, and if they are
deficient either in honesty, diligence, or judgment, it
will be unjust ; even supposing those qualities united,
local experience would still be required. The rent of
each Bigha I understand to depend on many minute
particulars, which it is impossible to appreciate without
long knowledge on the spot. The distance of the field
from the village, of the village from a market town ;
the precise degree of fertility of the ground, which
cannot be accurately provided for in any classification —
all these particulars render an assessment difficult for a
stranger ; and if a Panchayat of the neighbours is had
recourse to, their partiality or envy, obsequiousness or
corruption, continually interpose to prevent a just
decision. On the other hand, what a field has long
paid, we are sure it may continue ; and the suitable-
ness of the rent to the land is probably the result of
many unsuccessful experiments which, if we commence
anew, we must expect to have to repeat. To be sure



of its not bearing hard on the people, it would be
necessary to make the new assessment very low ; and
this, though it would have a good effect in time, would
occasion an immediate loss of revenue. Even if the
new assessment were fair and accurate, it might still be
unadvisable, merely because it was new, as every
man's rate of payments, and consequently his circum-
stances, would be altered ; and the inconvenience
suffered by him whose income is reduced, is out of all
proportion to the advantage gained by him whose profit
has been augmented. A new assessment would also
require the new modelling, or more probably the break-
ing up, of all Narva villages ; since if each field is to
be assessed according to its actual value, it is almost
impossible that the proportion of the revenue now due
by each Patidar should not be altered. The tenure of
the Khata Kaubi would also be destroyed, as the un-
naturally high rent in his Khata must be reduced,
while that on his other land would perhaps be raised ;
but whether in the same proportion, or less, or more,
would be uncertain. All Veras that fall on land not
alienated must also be abolished, for when the land
paid all that was deemed equitable in direct rent, it
could not be taxed in any other form. I do not know
if this would be a loss to Government or to the Ra3'at,
nor will I pronounce that it would be in itself dis-
advantageous ; but it would certainly be a change, and
ought, therefore, to be examined on its own merits
before a system is adopted to which it is a necessary
consequence. For these reasons, I should wish it to
be considered whether a general new assessment be
actually necessary before it is undertaken. In some
Parganas, such as Petlad, where the present assess-
ment is unequal, I have no doubt it will be an im-
provement, and to such I would at once extend it ; in


other places, particular villages may require a new
Bighoti, which may bo fixed without unsettling the
whole countr3\ Even for these partial and gradual
changes in the assessment, I should wish a plan could
be adopted that should secure some supervision to the
assessment of the Panchayats, and which should bring
the whole of the grounds on which any change in the
rent of a field was made more fully under the eye of
the collector. The mention of the survey reminds me
of the proposed plan for the settlement of boundary
disputes between villages by the surveyors during the
progress of their work. The advantages of this plan
are obvious ; but I was before afraid that it would
prove a more difficult task than we expected, and
might stir up more disputes than we should afterwards
be able to settle. I have since conversed with the
surveyors and the collectors on the subject, and am
satisfied that the arrangement would be as easily ac-
complished as it would be beneficial. The collector
might be associated with the surveyor, but his attend-
ance ought not to be indispensable to the settlement.
An appeal might be made to the judge, if preferred
within a fixed period, at most three months, though I
scarcely see what means of deciding he could obtain to
equal those of the surveyor on the spot.

57. I have purposely reserved the question of re-
suming alienated lands for separate consideration, nor
will I now say anything definitive on a subject that is
likely still to be fully discussed. I shall, however, note
down what occurs to me regarding it. Though there
may be alienations under each of the denominations of
rent-free land, which may be resumable on account
of fraud or defects of title, yet the principal sorts of
which tlie resumption is to be considered are the
Veclian and Garania, or lands alienated by the Patels of


their own authority, for the purpose, real or pretended, of
meeting demands for revenue which the village could not
otherwise discharge. From all that I have heard, there
seems little doubt that these alienations were illegal,
and that the persons who accepted of them were well
aware of their illegality. The question seems, there-
fore, to be confined to two points : the claims acquired
by the possessors from the long forbearance of the
Government ; and the inexpediency of disturbing actual
possession, by whatever title it may have been acquired
or retained. To judge of the effect of the long forbear-
ance of the Government, it is necessary to review the
conduct both of the Mahratta and British authorities in
this respect. It is undisputed that the Mahrattas never
admitted sales or mortgages by Patels as a ground for
reducing the revenue of a village. Such a reduction,
probably, never was proposed to them. They continued
to make their old demand, without perhaps being aware
of the diminution that had taken place in the revenue
of the village. The Patel, whose faith was pledged to
the purchaser, endeavoured to screen him and to levy
the wdiole revenue on the Eayats ; but when he failed
in that, he laid a tax on the purchaser ; and if the sum
to be raised was very great, he even assessed the
alienated land in the same way with the unalienated.
In this manner villages have been seen with every
Bigha in them alienated, and yet assessed at the same
rate as formerly, and paying the amount without demur.
Such proceedings must have kept up in the purchasers
a constant sense of the weakness of their own title, for
as long as the country was under the Mahratta rule.
Our Government gave rather more encouragement to
the purchasers, but it still took some steps to prevent
tlieir feeling secure. It published a proclamation pro-
hibiting and rendering penal future alienations ; but the


language used (proclamation of* ) was such as

to promote the belief that past ones would not be
disputed. It continued, like the Mahrattas, to keep up
the revenue in spite of these alienations ; and at first it
knew no more than they did from what sources that
revenue was derived. When the system of farming was
disused, and our collectors began to look into the
interior management of villages, they still continued to
take from each individual the sum at which he had
formerly been assessed, however disproportioned to the
value of the land from which it was apparently derived.
When circumstances rendered it necessary to alter the
rates of assessment, which only occurred within the
last two or three years, the collector fixed the new rate
with reference to the value of the field on which it was
assessed, and as this operation reduced the whole
revenue payable by the Kayats, he threw the amount
of the deficiency on the alienated land, from which it
'lad in reality been all along derived. He was enabled
to do this consistently with the principles of our native
predecessors, by imposing a Swadea on the land pos-
sessed or cultivated by the owner of the field where the
deficiency occurred. The Swadea was a tax payable
by Government Rayats who cultivated alienated land ;
and as almost all the Rayats are Government's, it is a
tax from which few lands can escape. It had been
resorted to by the Mahrattas as a means of making up
deficiencies ; but it was rarely required, as they were
alwaj^s content to allow the whole revenue to be
assessed on the Talpad land, and never troubled them-
selves about the regularity of the assessment as long as
they got the full revenue. It consequently had, in some
measure, the appearance of an innovation when ren-
dered so general by us ; and if combined with our long
previous forbearance, it might be understood as an
* Blank in original.


acknowledgment of the title of the holders of alienated
lands. On the other hand, it certainly had weakened
their hopes of much benefit from the tenure ; for when
they see a sum levied from land nominally rent-free,
their former experience leads them to expect that it
will continually increase until it reaches the full amount
of the revenue. The frequent explanations of the col-
lectors regarding the right to these lands, and the
example of the resumptions at Broach, must have
warned all who were acquainted with the proceedings
of that Zilla of the doubts of Government as to their
tenure. These remarks refer to Kaira. In Ahmedabad
the collector at once imposed a Swadea of one-third on
all rent-free lands cultivated by Government Eayats,
which must not only have prevented any belief that the
occupant would be allowed entire exemption in that
Zilla, but must have added greatly to the distrust in
their titles already felt in that of Kaira.

58. The third regulation of 1814 may be thought
to have confirmed the claim of the holders of land ;
but independent of the doubts entertained regarding
the meaning of that regulation, it does not appear to
have been ever acted on, as few or no proprietors
took advantage of the power given them of securing
their lands by registering them within a certain
time. On the other hand, the proceedings of the
collectors, who always prosecute for the recovery of
land alienated since the cession, and never question a
deed executed prior to that date, must have led to the
belief that the law recognised the permanency of such
alienations. It may therefore, I conceive, be pro-
nounced that, although the hopes left to the proprietors
of alienated lands of our long forbearance to proceed to
resumption may not form a perfect claim upon our
justice, they at least aflbrd a very strong title to our
indulgent consideration.



59. We have now, in the second place, to examine
how ftir it is expedient to disturb the present state of
possession, even by the resumption of lands acquired
unjustly, and retained under no legal title. The pre-
sent state of Gujarat, where our revenue has been
raised so much above its original amount, and where
the condition of the Rayats is nevertheless so flourish-
ing, creates a strong repugnance to any such innova-
tion. This repugnance is increased when we look into
particulars. We find the revenue levied on all the
-Veheta land unnaturally high; we know that part of
the excess is paid by alienated land, of which the
holder of the Veheta is either cultivator or proprietor ;
we have reason to think that other land may be in the
same predicament, and consequently that any great
resumption of alienated land will at once derange the
assessment of the most part of the land which remains
unalienated. A remedy for this may be suggested in a
new and equitable assessment of the land, by which
every Bigha will pay exactly according to its own
value, so as not to depend on alienated land for making
up its revenue ; but I have already stated the doubts
I entertain of the policy of such an experiment, and
that question must be determined before this agreement
can be used. A complete revision of the Veras, or
taxes, would also be necessary, even if not otherwise
required by the new assessment, as many, if not most
of them fall on the rent-free land. The resumption
would also break up all Narva villages, even if there
were no new assessment, for the sharers at present pay
a sum in the gross of their Pattis, without distinguish-
ing rent-free land from Talpad ; and consequently their
profits, both absolute and relative, would be entirely
changed by the removal of one of those portions.
While it retains the efi"ect on the public revenue, we


must not forget the individual distress that will be pro-
duced, if every man is to be stripped of the usurpations
of his ancestors ; the clamour that will be raised by
dispossessing Ehats and Brahmans ; and the disturb-
ances which may follow depriving of their subsistence a
body of Kolis and other plunderers, who are only kept
quiet by the easy means of subsistence now afforded
them. Great changes of property are seldom made
without disorders, and here they are peculiarly to be
apprehended from the turbulent and predatory charac-
ter of so large a proportion of the population, and from
the change being directly injurious to those most useful
in maintaining the police. On the other hand, there
are strong reasons why the possession of alienated lands
should not be hastily confirmed. We must not, in our
tenderness for the holder of that description of land,
forget the case of our less-favoured subjects. If the
public burthen were to be increased, equity would re-
quire that the new impost should fall on those who
already paid the least ; and this would be the case even
if their titles were undoubted, and if no opportunity
like the present were afforded of levying a tax on them
with little odium or appearance of injustice. If, there-
fore, it should be found practicable to draw a consider-
able revenue from rent-free lands, without pressing
on those who already pay their full share of taxation,

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 36 of 41)