« AnteriorContinuar »
ignorant, until the situation forces itself on their notice, of the breakdown of the people and the stoppage of rent-paying. We must excuse these officials, therefore, if they present us with any romances instead of facts. They know no better. When one reads the pleasantlooking statistics of assessment, increase of population, number of acres, kinds of soil, irrigation rent, and so on, one is apt to imagine that all our revenue administration in India is conducted with the same exactitude as the collection of the income tax at home. There could be no greater mistake. The few English officials in each district have something more important to do than to attend to the details of the tax-gathering, so as to know how the people live, and even were they so disposed, they have not the time. The work is done by native underlings, who are told that this village or that district must produce so many rupees. How these rupees are obtained, and who is ruined in the process, we neither know nor care, till a famine or the complete collapse of a district wakes us up to a vague consciousness that something must be wrong. At all other times we count our rupees and ask no questions, or if troublesome questions do crop up, soothe ourselves with the glorious fact that though over-population may breed hunger and death beneath our beneficent rule, the railways yield ever-increasing revenues.
An excellent description of our method of dealing with the land tax in India is to be found in a little pamphlet issued some years ago by Mr. W. S. Halsey, of the Bengal Civil Service. It is called, 'A Report on the Question of Temporary and Permanent Settlement as applied to the District of Cawnpore;' and, among other things, gives a history of our dealings with that district since we took it over at the beginning of the century. The province had in 1801 a rentroll of 2,256,156 rupees. We immediately raised the amount to 2,359,361 rupees, in the belief that our beneficent rule would ensure the extra rent and although the district was then in great poverty. A famine followed, and we had to remit over half a million of the rent in the second year of the new assessment. No less than 405 estates were sold over their owners' heads in default of payment. The number would have been larger had not the authorities failed to find purchasers. The native underlings of the East India Company, in fact, worked the revenue law so as to get the land into their own hands, and so great was the mischief done that the Supreme Government interposed in 1821, and revised the sales of 185 villages. The assessments were several times lowered but the mischief went on, and in 1842 the then superior officer, a Mr. Rose, reported that no district in the North-west Provinces could show an equal extent of country paying such high revenues as are prevalent in seven out of the nine subdivisions of the district,' and that at least three-fourths of the landed property of the district had changed hands in the preceding thirty years.' This man's settlement had to be reduced within five years of its imposition. Since 1840, in fact down to the end of the thirty years for which the settlement of Mr. Rose ran, 'no less than
1,598 villages or portions of them,' again changed hands in the district. The proprietors have been in a chronic state of transfer ever since the commencement of the century,' Mr. Halsey says in another part of his report. And this is no exceptional story. All over India, except in the one province of Bengal, protected by the permanent settlement so much grieved over by many Anglo-Indians, the same thing has gone on-is going on to-day. The tales of poverty one comes across in all reports upon the condition of particular districts are perfectly harrowing-in many it is not poverty in any sense conceivable by us, it is living death. This magazine might be filled many times over with the history of this abiding agony of hunger laid upon at least 100,000,000 of fellow-human beings by our blundering, ignorant, costly laissez-faire administration; but I will ask the reader to give his attention to the following sentences only. They are taken from Sir Jas. Caird's separate report upon Indian Famines, and nothing in the replies to that report furnished by the Government of India in the least weakens their force :
The right (he says) of the cultivator to mortgage the public land has made him the slave of the money-lender. Government rent must be paid on the day it becomes due, it is rigorously exacted by the officials, and as the Bunyia is the only capitalist within reach, the cultivator gives a charge on the land, and hands over all his crop to the Bunyia as a security for the cash advances. An account is opened, the cultivator is credited with the value of his crop at the low price prevailing after harvest, and from week to week, as he requires food or seed, it is doled out to him, and he is charged at the retail price fixed by the seller, with interest at a rate proportioned to the risk. Difficulties and disputes arise, the courts are appealed to, litigation begins, the pleaders find employment, and the time and attention of the civil officers, European and native, is occupied in adjusting questions which otherwise would not have arisen. The law necessarily enforces contracts, and in all parts of India the courts are crowded with litigants, the losing parties being generally the cultivators, who, when reduced to extremities, sometimes resort to riot and bloodshed, as in Sonthal and the Deccan.
Here is a prosperity' picture with a vengeance. A whole population of cultivators in chains to the money-lenders through the rent exactions of the Supreme Government, and that Government the active rivetter of these chains through its courts of law. Of what use is it to discuss whether the land revenue be a rent or a tax; whether assessments are larger or smaller, in face of a fact like that?
In simple truth the land system of India as established by the Supreme Government is threatening the entire population with ruin, and our extensive and costly system of public works' is hastening that disastrous consummation. The crops, reared with increasing difficulty, have to be rushed into the market either to meet the Government rent or the usurers' demands, and are mostly taken by the usurers at their own valuation, by whom they are in turn sold cheap to the European merchant or his agent. When that is not the case, the English capitalist himself controls cultivator, crops, and everything -is in fact the usurer. Once sold, the crops are hurried out of the
country by the railways, and when scarcity arises the people have no stores of food to fall back upon nor money to buy with. Why is it that the brothers Strachey did not dwell on this side of the land question in India, and instead of hair-splitting about the applicability of this or that economic term give people a little help towards devising a remedy for a condition of things which, if left unremedied, will as certainly cause our Indian Government to collapse in bankruptcy one of these days as it now causes ever-recurring famines. The hard-and-fast money rent of shifting amount, and liable to be increased all over India outside Bengal every thirty years or oftener, is possibly an excellent stimulus to the foreign trade of the Empire, and it is death to the natives. A return to the old tithe system, however, would make India hopelessly bankrupt in two or three years. In dealing with budgets,' most Indian financiers take refuge in 'ifs' and might have beens,' to an extent which makes it difficult to pin them to the actual truth. They are always manufacturing surpluses out of fanciful arrangements of the figures, and the worse the deficit, the greater as a rule the energy with which this is done. At page 56 of the book I find, from Sir John's hand without doubt, a tolerably able performance of this kind, which I must quote:—
The total net revenues derived not only from the taxes, but from land tributes, forests, opium, and miscellaneous sources amounted in 1869-70 to 42,375,1767., and in 1880-81 to 49,431,000l., showing an increase of 7,055,824. In the four years from 1869-70 to 1872-73 the average annual net revenues were 43,316,740l., and in the next four years, from 1873-74 to 1876-77 they were 43,251,038., and in the last four years, from 1877-78 to 1880-81 they were 47,760,8281. Thus the great increase has taken place in the last four years. Before 1878-79 the net revenues never reached 44,250,000l.
Making a similar comparison on the other side of the account, the total net expenditure, exclusive of the charges on account of famine and war, and omitting certain exceptional credits of the assets of the military funds, was 42,418,230l. in 1869-70, and in 1880-81 it was 44,335,000l., an increase of 1,916,770l. In the four years from 1869-70 to 1872-73 the average annual net expenditure was 41,996,644.; in the second four years, from 1873-74 to 1876-77, it was 41,891,180l.; in the last four years, from 1877-78 to 1880-81, it was 44,230,9241. Thus, as with the net revenue, the greater part of the increase of net expenditure has occurred in the last four years. It reached its maximum in 1878-79, when it amounted to 45,820,1981.
I need not prolong the agony of the reader by forcing him to stumble over more of these figures. What Sir John seeks to prove is, that the income has grown faster than the expenditure, and he goes on to demonstrate, entirely to his own satisfaction, that the twelve years would 'show an aggregate surplus' of 24,839,4331. but for the famine and war expenditure. The whole of the pretty fabric thus laboriously put together stands on an 'if' and an 'exception.' There is no more valid reason for excluding war and famine from the account, if a true statement of Indian revenue and expenditure was to be placed before the country, than there was for excluding the
Governor-General's salary. Nothing is gained in clearness by this fanciful way of dealing with figures, it only contributes to that state of self-delusion which appears to be the Anglo-Indian's Nirwana. 'If one had eaten nothing last year what a "surplus" one would have had!' might be just as sensibly said. To get at the truth, then, about these twelve years we must include war and famine; not only so, we must include public works,' and that, too, without regard to the Anglo-Indian distinction of reproductive' and ordinary. Only by a rigorous simplicity which includes everything of this kind, can one get at anything like a just appreciation of Indian finance. It cannot be too much insisted upon-iterated and reiterated-that the financial separation of one part or outcome of our Indian supremacy from another, must lead to confusion. To be absolutely accurate the net revenues drawn from India ought to include the net gains of all the railways guaranteed or not, just as the net expenditure. should embrace every item paid upon capital, whether it takes the form of State-guaranteed interest or of dividends' earned over and above that interest. It would, however, be almost, if not wholly, impossible to get at the net revenue in this way as the accounts are now presented, for the railways earn, especially in famine times, a good deal of money in carrying Government freight. The flight of the higher Calcutta officials to Simla costs a large sum every year, which is paid for out of the taxation; stores and officials have to be moved, and so on. There would thus be a duplication of accounts, which would create as much confusion as we should escape. But that does not affect the questions of capital outlay, or of the increasing dead weight imposed by interest and dividend charges. I propose to exhibit the Indian budget and other figures for the past twelve years from this point of view.
Here, again, I am fairly nonplussed by Sir John Strachey's figures. Whether he has mixed up the State railway receipts with the rest or not I cannot guess-he certainly does not say so-but his totals are very far indeed from tallying with those of the return already quoted by me, or with the budgets in my possession. Yet these latter appear to include everything he mentions in his third chapter except the provincial rates, and they shows a net revenue for the first of the three periods of four years amounting to only 39,297,000l., or nearly 4,000,000l. less than the total set forth by Sir John Strachey; for the next four years, the four ending with 1876-77, the total in the London return is 38,605,000l., or 4,600,000l. less than John Strachey's figures; and for the last four years about 43,900,000l., as compared with the 47,760,8281. given above. Between the first year of this period, which shows a net income of 38,772,000l., and the last, whose net income was, according to the figures in Major Baring's budget just published, 45,900,000l., the revenue has increased to 7,000,000l. odd. But Major Baring's account includes 2,730,000l. of net provincial taxation, an item not in the parliamentary return for the earlier years. Deducting this
sum, the net increase of the Imperial revenue in the last year of this period over the first is 4,398,000l. Were we to include these rates in both years, and take Sir J. Strachey's figures of 1,235,496l. as their amount in 1869-70l., the increase would still be less than 6,000,000l. as against his 7,000,000l. This point, however, only illustrates once more the usual hopeless diversity of Indian presentments of facts, and it is much more important to note that this growth of revenue is not due to increased prosperity, but to augmented taxation. The authors of this book are ever and again insisting that taxes have not been increased in proportion to the increase of population, but taxes undoubtedly have. Not to mention the famine taxation and the heavy irrigation charges, it is stated in this book that it has everywhere been the policy of the Government to increase the rates of duty on spirits and drugs as far as possible consistently with avoiding the risk of illicit traffic.' (Page 30.) The license tax is a reimposed income tax, collected by native tax-gatherers in the usual summary way, and regardless of the nominal limits fixed by law for assessable incomes. Provincial rates increased by about 1,500,000l. in the twelve years, according to the figures given above, but Sir John says (page 31), About 500,000l. of this increase was caused by the new rates imposed for famine purposes in 1877-78. The remaining increase has partly arisen from the natural growth of the older local revenues, but it has been chiefly due to increased local taxation. between 1869 and 1871. These increases he enumerates province by province-500,000l. for Madras and Bombay, a slight increase in the North-west Provinces, 35,000l. increase in Oudh, 137,000l. in the Punjaub, and 340,000l. in Bengal, all upon people already half starved. Without increased taxes the revenue has not increased anywhere. Contrasting the first year of the period with the last, for example, we see a positive decrease of 500,000l. in the net Imperial land revenue, not an increase of 1,350,000l. as stated in the book. Salt, again, yielded 6,753,000l. in 1880-81, as compared with 5,497,000l. in 1869-70, thanks to the increase of the tax in Bombay and Madras, and its more efficient collection along the frontier, through agreement with the native States possessing the salt lakes and mines. In one part of the book a great deal of space is devoted to a justification of this adjustment of the salt tax, and it is elaborately argued that, the people of Madras and Bombay can easily bear the higher burden, as well as that salt is a proper object of taxation. The whole matter may be disposed of in a sentence. When arguing in favour of the license tax, it is declared by the authors of this book that the limit of income-mainly, for the reason given above, imaginary—below which the tax is not impossible, viz., 500 rupees, is equivalent to about so many pounds in this country. If that be the case, then the salt tax makes the natives of Madras and Bombay pay a price equivalent to more than a shilling a pound for all they or their cattle consume. A rupee, however, is a mere sixpence in the eyes of these same writers when the weight of