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fore, and the one with which his name will always be associated, was the settlement of land revenue on a definite basis. We have had a good many personal confessions of blundering and mismanagement up to this time, but here we have an admission comprehensive and candid, by Parliament itself, solemnly uttered when giving legislative judgment in appeal, that thirty years of domineering power had been spent in doing the things that ought not to have been done, and in not doing the things that ought to have been done. After turning the country upside down, rack-renting Ryots, beggaring Rajahs, goading Tehsildars into rigour, and alternately bribing and threatening collectors, some of a white, and some of an olive skin, into higher exaction, Parliament was compelled to admit that the system worked ill, and that it had become necessary to reform it altogether. Bengal was going back to jungle, and the Chairman of the Company was asking loans from the Exchequer to square the dividend account.
Early in 1787 the Board of Revenue at Calcutta was directed to collect information for a new assessment; but an undertaking so vast as a survey of the extent and boundaries of the several estates, together with the interests, rights, and titles of their owners and occupiers, could not be completed in a few months; and it was not till 1789 that any action could be practically taken on the results, such as they were, which had been thus obtained. The basis said to be laid was soon found to be imperfect and untrustworthy. "It was evident," says one writer, "on consideration of the answers made to official inquiries, that although when the Company succeeded to the Dewanny gross abuses prevailed, yet in the best times of the Mogul Government, the rights and privileges of the people were secured by institutions mainly derived from the original
Hindu possessors of the country." By some it was thought advisable to continue and develop that system; but the Viceroy, with Mr Shore, Mr Duncan, and Mr Barlow, deemed it better to establish the Zemindar as the landowner, whether he had previously occupied such a position or not. Lord Cornwallis was mainly actuated by a desire to place this most important source of the Company's income on a sure footing, as well as by a laudable wish to relieve the actual cultivators of the soil from the evils inseparable from the habit of farming the land-tax which then prevailed. The settlements from year to year, and for other short periods, had not answered expectation. "Desperate adventurers," said the Governor-General," without fortune or character, would undoubtedly be found, as has already been too often experienced, to rent the different districts of the country at the highest rates that could be put upon them; but the delusion would be of short duration, and the impolicy and inhumanity of the plan would perhaps, when too late for effectual remedy, become apparent by the complaints of the people and the disappointment at the treasury in the payments of revenue, and would probably terminate in the ruin and depopulation of the unfortunate country." Again he wrote, "Experience has fully shown that the farming system is ill-calculated to improve a country, and it is contrary to principles which we wish to establish, of availing ourselves as much as possible of the service of the proprietors of the lands."
Though there was a concurrence of opinion among the majority of the Council as to making settlements only with the Zemindars, there was greater divergence as to the term and amount of taxation to be levied. Mr Shore objected to the permanent assessment, on the ground that "we had
1 Letter to Court of Directors, 3d November 1788.
not a sufficient knowledge of the actual collections made from the several districts to enable us to distribute the assessment upon them with the requisite equality; that the demands of the Zemindars upon the Talookdars and Ryots were undefined; and that even if we possessed a competent knowledge of these points, there were peculiar circumstances attending the country, which must render it bad policy in the Government to fix their demands upon the land.”1 He had no good opinion of the Zemindars, whom he accused of ignorance of their own interests, irregularity and confusion in the details of business, and collecting their rents by rules which were numerous, arbitrary, and indefinite;" that we had
not sufficient information to enable us to decide all cases with justice and policy; and that erroneous decisions would be followed either by "a diminution of the revenues, or a confirmation of oppressive exaction." For these and a variety of collateral reasons which he embodied in an able minute on the subject, he deprecated a perpetual and unalterable assessment, and recommended a decennial settlement, when the experience acquired in the interval would suggest improvements and correct mistakes. On the other hand, the Viceroy argued that many years had already been had already been spent in collecting information, and that the various tentative and experimental measures tried during that period had not benefited either the people or the Government. "I am clearly of opinion," he said, "that this Government will never be better qualified, at any given period whatever, to make an equitable settlement of the land revenue of these provinces," and that further delay would compromise the happiness of the people and the prosperity of the country. The idea uppermost in the mind of Lord Cornwallis was indeed the formation of a powerful body of landowners with perpetual tenure. He
1 Minute of the Governor-General, 10th February 1790.
sought in the re-establishment of such a class a guarantee for stability, founded on the sense of interest which its members would naturally feel in the perpetuation of a system that might insure them for ever against fitful and periodical enhancements of taxation. "In case of a foreign invasion," he said, "it is a matter of the last importance, considering the means by which we keep possession of this country, that the proprietors of the lands should be attached to us from motives of self-interest. A landholder who is secured in the quiet enjoyment of a profitable estate can have no motive in wishing for a change. On the contrary, if the rents of his lands are raised in proportion to their improvement, if he is liable to be dispossessed, or if threatened with imprisonment or confiscation of his property on account of balance due to Government, he will readily listen to any offers which are likely to bring about a change that cannot place him in a worse situation, but which hold out to him hopes of a better.1
The Board of Control and the Ministry at home concurred in these views; and in March 1793 final regulations were issued, declaring that all lands held by Zemindars, independent Talookdars, and others, the actual proprietors of land, and their heirs and lawful successors, were to be thenceforth subject to a perpetual and unalterable amount of tax therein stated. Land not then under cultivation, and consequently not assessable, if afterwards brought in, was to be the subject of special arrangement, as the estate escheated by failure of issue was to revert to the Government, who would become owners on the same terms as the last possessor. The proportion which the tax should bear to the rateable value of the land was to be moderate; but there were differences of opinion as to the rateable value itself. 1 Minute of Governor-General, 10th February 1790.
Mr James Grant, who was at the head of the Khalsa or Exchequer, and who had had great experience in the financial department, was of opinion that Government had been defrauded to a very great extent in the previous temporary assessments, and the estates were capable of sustaining a much larger impost. This view was successfully combated by Mr Shore, and the assessment was finally decided on an average of the receipts from land-tax during several preceding years. These had amounted in 1790-91 to £3,109,000 for Bengal, Behar, and Orissa; and to £400,000 for the district of Benares, equal to nine-tenths of the nominal productive value. The views of those who favoured a large augmentation of revenue from this source were partially met by fixing the perpetual rate at ten-elevenths of the rateable value; though, from the complication and confusion that prevailed, it was, or was thought, impossible to define that amount with precision.
But the operation of the permanent settlement in Bengal ultimately justified the protests of Mr Shore. Its chief fault was found to be, as he had foretold, that, in its hasty promulgation, the interests of the subordinate ranks of the community had been overlooked, or left to be dealt with only when injury had accrued, and hardships had accumulated.
The provisions of the land settlement were deficient, and its execution was defective. If we are to trust the evidence of one who has had the fullest opportunities of accurately estimating its nature and effects, the assessments for the purpose of fixing the land revenue in 1789 were made carelessly and recklessly, and even, in some cases, corruptly. In many cases, persons were confirmed in proprietary rights who had been merely farmers or collectors of revenue under the native Government, and who had not a