Land Revenue and Land Policy 1858-1947 - III
Selection by Amir Ali Kadri


Naeem Deswaly

Agricultural problems and policies, 1858-1947


Three different hypotheses are put forward to account for the present state of indebtedness among the Jhansi landowners. The first, to which great weight is attached by the Government of India, is that it is due to the error made by the North-West Provinces Government at the time of settlement, when ryotwari tenures were transformed into zamindari; and the remedy proposed is to undo this mistake. The second, to Which Mr. Cunningham seems to attach the chief importance, is that the cause has been the rigidity of the system of collecting the land revenue; and the remedy proposed is to introduce greater elasticity in this respect. The third hypothesis, and the one which is, on the whole, adopted by the North-West Provinces Government, is that the cause lies in the one-sided and usurious terms on which the money-lenders advance loans, and the dishonest advantage they take of the ignorance and necessities of the zamindars’; and the remedy proposed is an Encumbered Estates Act, under which these estates should be managed or nursed by Government officers.

12. The extraordinary unfairness of these contracts does not seem to have been dwelt on as fully as one would have expected, either in the letter of the Local or the Supreme Government, although the facts are clearly set forth in Mr. La Touche’s Garotha report. I will recapitulate some of them, because they seem to me totally at variance with an opinion that has gained ground lately-that the bania is not a bad creature after all, and does not take more than he is entitled to by the risks he runs,-whereas-, in many’ cases in Jhansi, lie has run absolutely no risk at all, and yet has lent money on terms which bring him in a profit altogether beyond the ordinary profits of his profession, and terms which the proprietors would never have agreed to had they not been infants in their dealings with their creditors. We have seen how light the assessment is, and how large and secure a margin of profit it leaves. Yet in one case a man borrows money at 36 per cent. pledging his landed property for the amount; in another he not only pledges his property, but agrees that the mortgage shall become an absolute transfer if he does not repay the principal of his debt, with interest at the rate of 24 per cent, in a year. In a third case, the proprietor, owing a debt of Rs. 500, agrees to give over his estate to the creditor for to years, lie, meanwhile, paying rent as a cultivator (that is, double the land revenue), with a drawback of Rs. 60; and unless at the end of 10- years he repays the principal and interest at 6 per cent. the land is to become the creditor’s. If the man had been capable of making a contract, he would have seen that lie could never hope to repay principal and interest when lie had handed over all the proprietary profits of his land except the sum of Rs. 6o per annum. But the Garha case, of which full details are given, is a still more flagrant instance of the incompetence of the zamindars to enter into a contract with the money-lender on equal terms. They owned an excellent property, a village which had to pay (including all expenses) about Rs. I7340, and the full rent roll of which was about Rs. 2,500, leaving a clear profit of Rs. 1,160, and they owed Rs. 3,600. They agreed to pay their creditor, in 12 years, Rs. 12,680, or nearly four times the principal; they secured him from all risk by making over to him the collection of the rents, and they consented, if ever the surplus fell short of the installments required to make up the Rs. 12,680 to pay 24 per cent. on the deficit. On these terms the money-lenders in ten years cleared Rs. 7,000, and yet the debt run up to Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 11,000. If dealings so extortionate as these are sanctioned by the Civil Courts, it is impossible for the zamindars ever to escape from the clutches of their creditors. And here it may be observed that the accounts of this village, which Mr. La Touche gives for each of the ten years, may be cited in answer to the arguments of those who assert that it is the rigid exaction of the Government revenue and not the oppression of the money-lenders that impoverishes the people.

I submit that the first thing that should be done is to establish a Court which shall annul these iniquitous contracts, and decree to the money-lenders a fair and equitable return for their money, and no more.



394. The smallness of the holdings occupied by cultivators constitutes a limit to the possibility of improvement. The average size of a holding is probably below five acres, and each man’s first concern is to provide food rain for himself and his family. Consequently it often happens that land which might grow highly remunerative crops is given up to the growing of ,rain crops, and the best use of it is accordingly not made.

Mr. Nicholson says of Coimbatore:

’The land is often handed over to poor ten ants 7,-ho cannot wait for rich crops like sugar-cane and plantains, but must grow food grains. Sugar cane and plantains, worth 15o rupees per acre, would grow splendidly on tens of thousands of acres of wet land, but, instead of this, 2o rupees are spent to grow a crop worth 40 rupees.’

The smallness of the area also limits the obtaining or the laying out of capital, as well as the benefits of superior implements, and the employment of better cattle. It has been rightly said that ’what is wanted is not increase in the number of five acre farms, but more capital put into the existing ones’. It is not as if we were dealing with farmers occupying some two or three hundred acres each, and where capital, education, and enterprise are present; but it is the absence of these, and the subdivision of the land into small patches, that make the problem of improvement so hard a one.



…I should like, before this motion is put to the Council by your Excellency, to say a few words in reply to the criticisms which have been made in several quarters on the general principles of our scheme. It is not necessary for me at this stage to make out a case for doing something, if possible, towards checking the transfer of land from the agricultural to the money-lending classes in the Punjab. I have shown on former occasions that of late years, as land has increased in value and become more attractive as a profitable investment, the number of transfers has increased correspondingly, and the conclusion which was come to by the Government of India, after most careful consideration of the subject, that this ever-growing expropriation of the yeoman and peasant proprietors of the Punjab constitutes a grave political danger which needs a prompt and decisive remedy, has been fully accepted by the Secretary of State. the question, therefore, to which I will now confine myself is whether our scheme is calculated to attain the object we have in view. Those who have opposed and criticized the measure put forward have done so mainly on two grounds: namely, that firstly, the restrictions which we are imposing on alienations will have the effect of diminishing the credit of the small proprietors to such an extent-some even go so far as to say that it will be extinguished altogether,-that they will be forced into parting with their lands at a more rapid rate than is taking place at present. The contention of the opponents of the Bill is, as my Hon’able friend, Sir Harnam Singh, has graphically put it in his Minute of Dissent from the Report of the Select Committee, that the monster fishes in the agricultural community will swallow the smaller fishes. If I thought that this result was really to be apprehended, I would be the first to admit that our scheme was essentially a faulty one; for its main object is the preservation, not the extinction, of the small proprietor. But I have no hesitation in challenging the view thus taken as being an altogether erroneous one, for it is obviously based on the assumption that the present borrowing power of the Punjabi landowner, under his existing unrestricted right of alienation, is essential in order to enable him to procure money for his agricultural and domestic necessities. Our case, however, for the Bill before the Council is that the unlimited power of alienation at present possessed by landowners in the Punjab is a direct incentive to extravagance, and that in a large majority of cases they misuse this power and raise money for various purposes which are quite beyond the limits of necessary or reasonable expenditure. As I have already said, the object we are aiming at is not to extinguish or injuriously affect the agriculturalist’s credit, but to restrict it to a reasonable extent, to discourage him from raising money recklessly on his land for extravagant purposes, but to leave him ample facilities for doing so for all necessary purposes. It has been said in some quarters that the effect of our scheme will be to reduce sales perhaps, but certainly to largely stimulate mortgages. I am not at all prepared to admit that this result will follow. The proportion of mortgages to sales will probably be a good deal larger than it is at present, and I hope that this will be the case, for one of the main objects of our scheme is to encourage temporary in preference to permanent alienations; but I do not for a moment believe that the aggregate amount of alienations, permanent and temporary will exceed the-present-amount; on the contrary, I confidently anticipate a material decrease not only in sales, but also in mortgages......

The second general criticism which has been made on our scheme by some persons is this. They say ’your plan looks pretty enough on paper, but in practice is will prove ineffectual. The money-lender will get round your restrictions somehow or other, and grab the land as much as ever’. Well, time will show whether this prediction comes true or not. I am far from claiming perfection or finality for our scheme. It is a novel and bold experiment, and it is very possible that flaws at present unforeseen will be found in it for a time when it comes to be worked, and that these flaws will have to be remedied by amending the enactment before us. But, my Lord, those who never risk anything never win anything. Even if our scheme should prove altogether unsuccessful and ineffectual, I, for my part, should still think that the attempt we had made to grapple with an undoubted and ever-growing source of political danger was well worth the venture. But I fear no such failure. I make bold to say that our scheme is framed on the proper lines, and that it will achieve the object we have in view of reducing land transfers and of diverting such transfers in future from the money-lending to the agricultural classes. It will require much patience, tact and judgment on the part of those who will have to work it in its initial stages, but all this it will receive from the zealous and capable officers who will be concerned in putting it into operation, and I feel, assured that in future years the measure now before us will be regarded as among not the least successful and beneficial acts of Your Excellency’s administration.



Now there is one objection that has been raised to our Bill which would equally apply to any Bill. It has been said that social customs and institutions cannot be changed by arbitrary dispositions, either of law or executive authority; that they should be allowed to work out their own salvation; and that, in the process of what is described as evolution, but is in reality only blind and irresponsible abnegation of control, the desired reform will some day come. With me this argument carries no weight; for it is the argument both of the optimist, in so far as it cheerily but thoughtlessly assures that things if left to themselves, will come right in the end, which I may observe in nine cases out of ten is not the case; and of the pessimist, in so far as it contends that Governments ought not to attempt to solve problems, because their solution is hard; while it is also in direct violation of historical facts. If successive British Governments had contentedly accepted the proposition that social and agrarian evils are not to be rectified by legislation, where, I wonder, would-the boasted advance of the nineteenth century have been? How would the men in our coalmines, the women and children in our factories, ever have secured the full protection which they now enjoy? Would labour have emancipated itself from the all-powerful control of capital? Had they not been guaranteed by legislative enactments, where would the valued privileges of compensation for improvements, compensation for accidents, compensation for disturbance, have been? Even in India itself how should we have built up the fabric of social and agrarian rights without the instrumentality of the law? Finally, as regards this particular case of land in the Punjab, I do not see how there can be anything immoral or revolutionary in taking away or modifying a privilege which it is proved beyond possibility of doubt was for the most part one of our own arbitrary creation. If it is an improper thing to diminish or destroy proprietary rights in land because it involves an interference with the course of nature, equally was it an improper thing to create them as we did fifty years ago, when they did not already exist. You cannot apply the argument at one end of the scale, without admitting it at the other. This is the answer to the plea of inviolable promises and inviolable rights that was put forward today by Sir Harnam Singh. The objections in principle to legislation of this description may, therefore, I think, be disregarded.

Will this measure really secure to the agricultural tribes of the province the full possession of their ancestral lands? Will it restrain them from reckless borrowing? Will it save them from the mesh of the usurer? Or, while protecting them from usurers of other castes, will it hand over the feebler and less thrifty units in the class to the richer and more powerful members of the tribe? Or, again, will it effectually divorce the money-bags of the province from the one form of investment which has always been clear to successful speculation? It would require a keener insight than mine to answer such questions with any certainty. It may be permissible, however, to anticipate that while all of these consequences will to some extent ensue, no one will follow to the exclusion of the others.

The moneyed classes, the nouveaux riches, will still have their opportunity of obtaining land, but not on such easy terms as in the past. The agricultural tribesmen will not all in a moment he converted to frugal or provident habits; but the opportunities and the temptations of borrowing will, it is hoped, be less. The weakling and the spendthrift will still go under and his possessions will pass to his stronger brethren. But the transfer will be more frequently to men of his own tribe or tribal group, and less frequently to outsiders who are not connected either with the traditions or with the traditional occupation of the province. The transition will not be abrupt or sensational It will be enough if, though gradual, it is sure.



I.     (1) This Act may be called the Punjab Alienation of Land Act, t00.

       (2) It extends to all the territories for the time being administered by the Lt. Governor of the Punjab; and

       (3) It shall come into force on such day as the Governor General in Council may, by notification in the Gazette of India, direct.

III.   (1) A person who desires to make a permanent alienation of his land shall be at liberty to make such alienation where: (a) the alienor is not a member of an agricultural tribe; or (b) the alienor is a member of an agricultural tribe and the alienee holds land as an agriculturist in the village where the land alienated is situated; or  (c) the alienor is a member of an agricultural tribe and the alienee is a member of the same tribe or of a tribe in the same group:

       Provided that, if an agriculturist desire to make a permanent alienation of land acquired under clause (b), he shall not be at liberty to make such permanent alienation under this sub-section unless the alienee is a member of an agricultural tribe or a person holding land as an agriculturist in the village.

       (2) Except in the cases provided for in sub-section (t) a permanent alienation of land shall not take effect as such-unless and until sanction is given thereto by a Deputy Commissioner:

       Provided that sanction may be given after the act of alien-:ion is otherwise completed.

       (3) The Deputy Commissioner shall enquire into the circumstances of the alienation and shall have discretion to grant or refuse the sanction required by sub-section (2).

IV.   The Local Government shall, by notification in the local official Gazette published with the previous sanction of the Governor General in Council, determine what bodies of persons in any district or group of districts are to be deemed to be agricultural tribes or groups of agricultural tribes for the purposes of this Act.

V.    When a Deputy Commissioner sanctions a permanent alienation of land, his order shall not be taken to decide or affect any question of title, or any question relating to any reversionary right or right of pre-emption.

VI.   (1) If a member of an agricultural tribe mortgages his land and the mortgagee is not a member of the same tribe, or of a tribe in the same group, the mortgage shall be made in one of the following forms: (a) in the form of a usufructuary mortgage, by which the mortgagor delivers possession of the land to the mortgagee and authorizes him to retain such possession and to receive the rents and profits of the land in lieu_ of interest and towards payment of the principal, on condition that after the expiry of the term agreed on, or (if no term is agreed on, or if the term agreed chi exceeds twenty years) after the expiry of twenty years, the land shall be re-delivered to the mortgagor; or (b) in the form of a mortgage without possession, subject to the condition that, if the mortgagor fails to pay principal and interest according to his_ _y contract, the mortgagee may apply to the Deputy Commissioner to place him in possession for such term, not exceeding twenty years, as the Deputy Commissioner may consider to be equitable, the mortgage to be treated as a usufructuary mortgage for the term of the mortgagee’s possession and for such sum as may be due to the mortgagee on account of the balance of principal due and of interest due not exceeding the amount claimable as simple interest at such rate and for such period as the Deputy Commissioner thinks reasonable: or (c) in the form of a written usufructuary mortgage by which the mortgagor recognises the mortgagee as a landlord and himself remains in cultivating occupancy of the land as a tenant subject to the payment of rent at such rate as may be agreed upon not exceeding sixteen annas per rupee of the amount of the land-revenue in addition to the amount of the landrevenue of the tenancy and the rates and cesses chargeable thereon and for such term as may be agreed on, the mortgagor having no right to alienate his right of cultivating occupancy and the mortgagee having no right to eject the mortgagor unless on the grounds mentioned in Section 39 of the Punjab Tenancy Act, 1887; or (d) in any form which the Local Government may, by general or special order, permit to be used.

       (2) If in the case of a mortgage in form (c) the mortgagor is ejected or relinquishes or abandons cultivating occupancy of the land, the mortgage shall take effect as a usufructuary mortgage in form. (a) for such term not exceeding twenty years from the date of ejectment, relinquishment or abandonment, and for such sum of money as the Deputy Commissioner considers to be reasonable.

VII.  In the case of mortgages made under section 6 -

       (1) no interest shall accrue during the period for which the mortgagee is in possession of the land or in receipt of rent;

       (2) if the mortgage is in form (a) or form (b), then at the end of such period of possession the mortgage-debt shall be extinguished.

       (3) the mortgagor may redeem his land at any time during the currency of the mortgage, on payment of the mortgage-debt or, in the case of a mortgage in form (a) or form (b), of such proportion of the mortgage-debt as :he Deputy Commissioner determines to-be-equitable; and

       (4) in the case of a usufructuary mortgage the mortgagor shall not be deemed to bind himself personally to repay the mortgage-money.

VIII. (1) In a mortgage made under section 6, the following conditions may be added by agreement between the parties: (a) a condition fixing the time of the agricultural year at which a mortgagor redeeming his land may resume possession thereof; (b) conditions limiting the right of a mortgagor or mortgagee is possession to cut, sell or mortgage trees or to do any act affecting the permanent value of the land; and (c) any condition which the Local Government by general or special order may declare to be admissible.

       (2) In mortgages made under section 6 any condition not permitted or under this Act shall be null and void.

IX.   (1) If a member of an agricultural tribe makes a mortgage of his land in any manner or form not permitted by or under this Act, the Deputy Commissioner shall have authority to revise and alter the terms of the mortgage so as to bring it into accordance with such form of mortgage permitted by or under this Act as the mortgagee appears to him to be equitably entitled to claim.

       (2) If a member of an agricultural tribe has before the commencement of this Act made a mortgage of his land in which there is a condition intended to operate by way of conditional sale, the Deputy Commissioner shall be empowered at any time during the currency of the mortgage to put he mortgagee to his election whether he will agree to he said condition being struck out, or to accept in lieu of the said mortgage a mortgage which may at the mortgagee’s option be either in form (a) or in form (b) as permitted by section 6 and which shall be made for such period not exceeding _ e period permitted by the said section and for such sum of money as the Deputy Commissioner considers to be reasonable.

       (3) If proceedings for the enforcement of a condition intended to operate by way of conditional sale are instituted or are pending at the commencement of this Act in any Civil Court or if a suit is instituted in any Civil Court on a mortgage to which sub-section (i) or sub-section (2) applies, the Court shall refer the case to the Deputy Commissioner with a view to the exercise of the power conferred by the sub-section applying thereto.

X.    In any mortgage of land made after the commencement of this Act any condition which is intended to operate by way of conditional sale shall be null and void.

XI.   Any member of an agricultural tribe may make a lease or farm of his land for any term not exceeding twenty years, and any lease or farm made by a member of an agricultural tribe for a longer term than twenty years shall, if the lessee or farmer is not a member of the same tribe or of a tribe in the same group, be deemed to be a lease or farm for the ten in permitted by this section.

XII.  (1) During the currency of a mortgage made under section 6 in form (a) or form (b) or of a lease or farm under this Act, the owner shall be at liberty to make a further temporary alienation of the same land for such term as together with the term of the current mortgage, lease or farm will make up a term not exceeding the full term of twenty years.

       (2) Any such further temporary alienation, if made for a longer term than is permitted by this section, shall be deemed to be a temporary alienation for the term permitted by this section.

XIII. If a mortgagee, lessee or farmer holding possession under a mortgage made tinder section 6 or under a lease or farm made under section II or under a mortgage, lease or farm made under section 12 remains in possession after the expiry of the term for which he is entitled to hold under his mortgage, lease or farm, the Deputy Commissioner may, of his own motion or on the application of the person entitled to possession, eject such mortgagee, lessee or farmer and place the person so entitled in possession.



349. The aspects of the famine problem, which, in the opinion of the Commission of 1880, called most urgently for attention, were the ascertainment of the actual facts regarding the agriculture of the country, and the circulation of the surplus stocks of food. To this end the policy of protective railways and of Agricultural Departments was recommended; and this policy has now, by the mere process of achievement, ceased to respond to the requirements of the present time.

350. To the policy of protective railways such ample effect has now been given that the final horror of famine-an actual dearth of food-need no longer be a source of apprehension. In inaccessible mountain country or in some remote valley the local officers may have upon occasion to bring food for the people, or to subsidize private trade to do so; but in the continent at large there is, for the future, no anxiety as to the ability of private trade to deliver food where it is needed. There is, indeed, necessity, as we have already pointed out, for improving the means of transport by an increase of the rolling stock; but generally railway construction has, in our opinion, played its part in the policy of famine insurance. To put the food-supply of the country in circulation was necessarily the first object of a wise famine policy; to protect and develop the supply itself should be its second object; and this is the function of agricultural development generally, and of irrigation in particular.

353. We are, indeed, far from thinking that the Indian cultivator is ignorant of agriculture; in the mere practice of cultivation Agricultural Departments have probably much to learn from the cultivator. But in the utilization of his hereditary -skill, in economy of the means-of-production, and in the practice of organized self-help the Indian cultivator is generally ignorant and backward. It is in correcting these deficiencies that Agricultural Departments Rill find their richest fields of labour. Without pretending to exhaust the number of subjects on which these departments may usefully employ themselves, we may mention the following; improved agricultural teaching to the better classes; the promotion of Mutual Associations; agricultural research-and-experiments; enquiries regarding tillage and manure; the investigation of crop diseases and their remedies; the provision of improved seed; the experimental introduction of new staples; the improvement of cattle breeding; the investigation of cattle diseases; and the development of the fodder supply. To some of these subjects more or less attention has, we know, been already given, but they all claim greater and more systematic attention. To this end the employment of a stronger expert staff in every province is necessary. The steady application to agricultural problems of expert research is the crying necessity of the time. 



This is a sixth part of the series of historical record pertaining since past political history. Prof. Amir Ali Kadri, an avid lover of collecting and collating archival record, will keep on contributing for these columns. We expect similar response from our esteemed readers and their contribution would also be accommodated in these columns.

- Editor