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The Regulation of 1793 (No. XXVII of that year), by which transit and market dues were prohibited, was swept away at Simla in 1871 by one of the repealing Acts in charge of a Bengal Officer who considered it obsolete, and the matter can now only be regulated by a more modern enactment. The Lieutenant-Governor has submitted to the Government of India the necessity for such a law, and the subject is still under consideration, as also explained in Chapter I.
Meantime the unsettled questions between landholders and ryots have been brought into prominence by what are „ „, known as the Pubna rent dis
1 he Pubna rent disturbances. . , rr,, . i. , • , , .1
turbances. lnis district at the confluence of the Ganges and Berhampooter is one in which the ryots have some independence of character, and have of late acquired some knowledge of their rights. It appears that the zemindars had been in the habit of levying very heavy illegal cesses. More recently, probably alarmed by the inquiries into these cesses, and foreseeing the effect of the obligation to return a statement of rents by which they would be bound in case the road cess (already in operation in the neighbouring districts but not in Pubna) was extended to Pubna, the zemindars became anxious to consolidate the cesses with the rents, and to take the opportunity of obtaining at the same time a large increase of rent. But they had not served the legal notices of enhancement by which enhancement must be preceded, and legal means would be tedious, expensive, and difficult, in these days when the ryots of Eastern Bengal have learnt to unite for common action, and the courts have expounded the laws in a manner favourable to the ryots, for which the landholders were not prepared. In this dilemma they attempted to obtain their object by irregular and illegal pressure. Some of the more unscrupulous zemindars certainly put on much improper pressure of this kind, and attempted by this means to obtain very unfair, extortionate and illegal documents binding the ryots to pay largely increased rents, to pay all cesses imposed or to be imposed by Government, whether on the occupier or the owner, to surrender the right of occupancy in case of difference with the zemindar, and altogether to place themselves at the landlords' mercy. There can be no doubt that in thus attempting to overrule the law and obliterate the rights of the ryots, some of the zemindars acted very illegally, and that the first fault lay with them.
But trade unions are an old institution in India, and local ryots' unions are common enough in Eastern Bengal. The ryots who were hard pressed by the worst zemindars, and who had nearly yielded, obtained the support of their fellows, who knew that their turn would come next, and a very extensive ryots' union was formed and rapidly spread. Then, as is so apt to happen in such cases, some of the men of* the union committed themselves by breaking the peace and the law. There was a violent and threatening outbreak, of which of course many bad characters took advantage. The deeds of the rioters were enormously exaggerated ; in reality they did nothing of a very atrocious character, but there were serious breaches of the peace, a little plunder of property, and some old quarrels were worked off. There was no loss of life or very serious personal injury. But the landholder class was thoroughly alarmed, and terrible stories of the atrocities committed by an excited Jacquerie have been told all over Bengal and partly believed in.
The rioters never for a moment resisted the authority of Government; they never went further than to report that the zemindars were to be abolished, and they were to be the Queen's ryots. The peace was completely restored without military or other extraneous aid, and the rioters have been duly punished. The Lieutenant-Governor was immediately after the riots close to the scene of the disturbance, and after fully discussing the matter with the local officers, fie issued a proclamation which will be found in Chapter I, page 30. The object was to warn the ryots against illegal action, while legal rights were recognized.
The people showed extreme avidity to obtain copies of the proclamation, and they seem to have understood and acted on it to a wonderful degree. There has not since the date of its issue been, so far as is known to Government, a single breach of the peace of an agrarian character in the district. But the rent unions have been as active as ever. The ryots have met the demand of the zemindars for too much by offering too little. It has been asserted by the zemindars' party that the ryots combine to pay no rents; that in fact there is a dangerous spirit rising under the influence of which the ryots will refuse all payments to them, to the Government, or to any one else. There is nothing to show that there is truth in this suggestion. There have been no attempts to throw off all rents; where rents have been refused, it is clear enough that it is generally because the amount to be paid is in dispute.
No doubt, however, under present circumstances the zemindars have the worst of it. They are not in a position to sue for enhanced rent; the cesses they have levied are not recoverable by law; the levies of rent have been so irregular, and there has been so much variety and dispute in regard to the proper length of the measuring rods (in Bengal all these things depend on local custom, varying in every locality), that they may have much difficulty in showing what are their proper rents: and while they fail to come to terms with the ryots, the latter, by refusing to pay, may reduce to considerable straits those landholders who live from hand to mouth. The ryots well understand trades union tactics, and are far too wary to make compromises which give no security for the future, or to allow some of their number to make indifferent terms with weak landlords, leaving the others to be dealt with in detail by strong landlords.
Having thoroughly established the peace and put the parties in a position in which they may assert or maintain their rights by legal means, the Lieutenant-Governor has much considered the question, What is the farther duty of the Government in the matter? He feels assured that a general resort to litigation must be very expensive and very ruinous to both parties. At the same time he has not seen his way to interfere by legislation without raising very great questions which cannot be settled without long dissensions and very difficult debates, if settled they can be. His course has been to attempt to promote compromise by influence and advice. He has addressed himself to the best of the zemindars, and desired the local officers to do so. The zemindars have been urged to offer reasonable terms of present settlement and future security to the ryots, and the ryots are strongly advised and urged to accept such terms as the Government officers think reasonable. Considerable success has attended these efforts, but the result is not fully known.
Meantime there has been a remarkable subsidence of unhealthy excitement.
The organs of the zemindars (whose position has been shown to be at present the worse) have urged direct Government interference by means of a Commission empowered to settle differences. The Government of India has also suggested this solution. On this subject the LieutenantGovernor has expressed himself in terms which will be found in Chapter I, pages 33 to 39.
It has been said that the Lieutenant-Governor has been Consolidation of the Revenue Law unwilling to interfere too much of Bengal. as regards illegal cesses, or to
settle formally the questions arising between landlords and tenants, till we are prepared to deal thoroughly with the very great questions involved in, or connected with, these subjects. The truth is that a considerable portion of the revenue law of Bengal is now somewhat old and rusty; some more of it that is modern is tinctured to some degree with those peculiar Bengal ideas which in the Lieutenant-Governor's judgment have failed in practice; and the whole is in a disjointed and little homogeneous form which seems to suggest codification. Not only, however, is this a great and difficult work, but the Lieutenant-Governor has been, as he has explained in writing on the subject, much debarred by the fear that many of the old land-marks of Bengal revenue law which are of the essence of the permanent settlement, but are now very distasteful to the zemindars and are called obsolete, may be lost or mutilated in the process. He much wishes to retain on the statute books the very letter of the Regulations of 1793, including the preamble. He cannot too strongly assert this, that almost all the reforms which he has sought to effect are in the direction of returning to the principles of 1793, not of departing from them. There is hardly any measure connected with the land which he could now desire which is not admirably set forth in those old enactments, so far as the general principles are concerned. The machinery for carrying them out only is antiquated, while the interests and prejudices which have since grown up are difficult to overcome. Sir George Campbell distrusts any version of the old laws which must be manipulated in the face of the strong interests arrayed against them. It was not long ago proposed to repeal the old laws for the maintenance of the public accountants of the early regulations, the Canoongoes and Patwaries, but happily this was not carried out. In fact it was found that the Patwaries had retained an unexpected vitality. In Behar they had fully survived, and they are now being properly reorganised. In many parts of Bengal they were rediscovered in the course of the Census operations, reduced to subordination to the zemindar, it is true, but still alive and in some sort effective. It has been explained that a necessary function has been found for the old office of Canoongoe in connection with the Road Cess returns Influenced by such facts as these and by the considerations abovementioned, the Lieutenant-Governor would not embark on any revision and codification of the revenue law of Bengal which should involve the loss of any of the essential parts of the old laws. But if this be duly secured, he believes that the time has come when some parts of the revenue law may be revised with advantage. Many improvements in regardf to the Sale law, the law of Partition, the law for registering Mutations, and other laws, might be effected. Whether there should be any revision or large amendment of the Rent-law is a great and difficult question in itself, into which it would not be desirable to enter here. But it may be stated that, seeing all that has passed in the North-Western Provinces and elsewhere, Sir George Campbell feels very averse to re-open the questions which are settled by the present rent law, which have been worked out by the Courts in a manner to which the people are accustomed, and any re-opening of which would certainly lead to much turmoil and difficulty. In Pubna it seems to be rather abuses outside the law than the law itself which have opened the door to disputes difficult to settle. There is not in Bengal any of that repugnance to or disposition to evade the main provisions of the law which is said to prevail in the North-Western Provinces.
Upon the whole Sir George Campbell would now recommend, as the result of his latest consideration of the matter, that a general consolidation of the land revenue and rent laws should not be attempted, but that some particular laws or groups of laws, such as the sale laws, should be carefully revised on the first convenient opportunity. A settlement and regular record of rights for all Bengal and Behar is an enormous work which may be at some time attempted, but the considerations affecting that subject need not be further discussed in this place.
Chapter IV recites the " Course of Legislation" during . the year. To what is there stated
'" it may be added that the Embank
ment and Drainage Bill and the Bill regulating Emigration to the Eastern tea districts have since been passed. All important business pending before the Bengal Legislative Council has thus been disposed of, except the Mahomedan Marriage Bill. The new law regarding Embankments and Drainage is one of very great importance. The excess of water and the gradual silting up of the water channels are the sources of very great evil in Bengal; and the establishment of a system by which floods may be restrained, and still more by which