A Revenue History of the Sundarbans From 1870 To 1920 9780367893415, 9781003018667

Frank David Ascoli’s Revenue History of Sundarbans during the Period 1870- 1920 looks at the area bounded on the north b

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans From 1870 To 1920
 9780367893415, 9781003018667

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Dedication
Table of Contents
Preface to the Second Edition
Introduction
A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870 to 1920
Preface to the First Edition
Chapter I: Introductory
Part I Rules and Administrative System from 1870 to 1920
Chapter II: Forest Grant Rules from 1870 to 1879
Chapter III: Forest Grant Rules from 1879 to 1902
Chapter IV: Forest Grant Rules Period of Transition (1902 to 1905)
Chapter V: Forest Grant Rules from 1905 to 1920
Chapter VI: Abolition of the Offices of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans
Part II (A) Administration and Development from 1870 to 1903
Chapter VII: Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests
Chapter VIII: Development from 1870 to 1903
Part II (B) Administration and Development from 1903 to 1920
Chapter IX: The Bākarganj Sundarbans: Survey and Settlement Operations
Chapter X: The Bākarganj Sundarbans: The Colonization Scheme
Chapter XI: The Khulnā Sundarbans
Chapter XII: The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: General
Chapter XIII: The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Fraserganj
Chapter XIV: The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Sagar Islands
Chapter XV: The Problem of the Sundarbans
Appendix A
Index
Maps

Citation preview

A REVENUE HISTORY OF THE SUNDARBANS Frank David Ascoli’s Revenue History of Sundarbans during the Period 18701920 looks at the area bounded on the north by the limits of Permanent Settlement in 24-Parganas, Khulna and Bakarganj districts and on the south by the sea face stretching from the Hughli estuary to the mouth of the Meghna River. A quarter of this large area consisted of water out of 19,501 sq. km. For administrative purposes the Division was grouped in three circles known as the Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira. Revenue stations were established at all the principal points of egress from the Sundarbans, and purchasers proceed to the forests and take their requirements from any locality they choose. The process of land formation appears to have been followed by the growth of different vegetation and plants which turned into forest it left uncleared. The entire Sundarban tract is managed by the Forest Department, which has operated a yearly auction for cutting rights for many decades. In this way the Sundarbans emerged between the Bay of Bengal and the fringes of the Bengal delta. The revenue history of the Sundarbans is distinct from that of the rest of the district that presents several peculiar features, so that a separate account of it is necessary. It is apparent that some of the most forbidding remnants of Sundarbans jungle were transformed into fertile rice fields, schools, dispensaries, post offices, markets and cooperative societies. F.D. Ascoli was born in August 1888 and got his education from Exeter College, Oxford. He was the Managing Director, Dunlop Plantations Ltd.; Director, Dunlop Malayan Estates Ltd. and Semtex Ltd. He entered Indian Civil Service in 1907 and held the post of Secretary, Board of Revenue, Bengal, 1917-20. He was also the settlement officer of Dacca. He retired from Indian Civil Service in 1926. Ananda Bhattacharyya is Assistant Director of the West Bengal State Archives. His many publications include Sir William Wilson Hunter: Bengal MS Records – A Selected List of 14,136 Letters in the Board of Revenue, Calcutta, 1782-1807, with an Historical Dissertation and Analytical Index, 4 vols (2018); A History of the Dasnami Naga Sannyasis (2018); Adivasi Resistance in Early Colonial India (2017); Remembering Komagata Maru: Official Reports and Contemporary Accounts (2016); Notes on the Races, Castes and Trades of Eastern Bengal (2016); Sannyasi and Fakir Rebellion in Bengal: Jamini Mohan Ghosh Revisited (2014); F.D. Ascoli: Early Revenue History of of Bengal and the Fifth Report, 1812 (2019) and Frederick Eden Pargiter: A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1765 to 1870 (2019).

F.D. ASCOLI

A REVENUE HISTORY OF THE SUNDARBANS F RO M 1 8 7 0 TO 1 9 20

With an Introduction by A NANDA BHAT TACHARY YA

MANOHAR 2020

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 selection and editorial matter, Ananda Bhattacharyya; individual chapters, the contributors; and Manohar Publishers & Distributors The right of Ananda Bhattacharyya to be identified as the author of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Print edition not for sale in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Bhutan) British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-0-367-89341-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-01866-7 (ebk) Typeset in Adobe Garamond Pro 11/13 by Ravi Shanker, Delhi 110 095

To Anwesha Ghosh

Contents

Preface to the Second Edition

17

Introduction by Ananda Bhattacharyya

21

Preface to the First Edition

101

I. Introductory

103 PART I

Rules and Administrative System from 1870 to 1920 II. Forest Grant Rules from 1870 to 1879

115

III. Forest Grant Rules from 1879 to 1902

126

IV. Forest Grant Rules Period of Transition (1902 to 1905)

132

V. Forest Grant Rules from 1905 to 1920

140

VI. Abolition of the Offices of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans

150

PART II

(A) Administration and Development from 1870 to 1903 VII. Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests VIII. Development from 1870 to 1903

163 173

(B) Administration and Development from 1903 to 1920 IX. The Bākarganj Sundarbans: Survey and Settlement Operations X. The Bākarganj Sundarbans: The Colonization Scheme

193 213

Contents

8

XI. The Khulnā Sundarbans

227

XII. The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: General

236

XIII. The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Fraserganj

248

XIV. The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Sagar Islands

258

XV. The Problem of the Sundarbans

274

Appendix A

278

Index

303

Maps

at the end

Index to Paragraphs CHAPTER I

Introductory 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Prefatory Definition of the area included in the Sundarbans Administrative control until 1870 Defects of the system Different types of settlements Special settlements in the Sundarbans before 1870 Landmarks of the period 1870 to 1920 Arrangement of the history

103 105 106 106 107 110 110 111

CHAPTER II

Forest Grant Rules from 1870 to 1879 9. 10. 11. 12 13. 14. 15. 16.

Stagnant of existing reclamation rules Rules in force in 1870 Proposals of the Committee of 1871 Policy of Sir Richard Temple Mr. Gomes’ rules The large capitalist rules of 1879 The small capitalist rules of 1879 Comparison of the rules for large and small capitalists

115 116 117 119 120 121 123 124

CHAPTER III

Forest Grant Rules from 1879 to 1902 17. The period of quiescence 18. Alteration in condition of sale

126 126

10 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

Index to Paragraphs Effects of the alteration in the rules Condition prevalent in Sagar Island till 1894 Proposed revision of rules for Sagar Islands Comparison with the rules of 1879 Resume of the period

127 128 129 130 131

CHAPTER IV

Forest Grant Rules, Period of Transition (1902-1908) (a) The Introduction of the raiyatwari system of leases. 24. Defects of the system in force 25. Initial proposals for a raiyatwari settlement 26. Scheme of the Committee of 1903 27. Adoption of raiyatwari system 28. Real meaning of the new system 29. The scheme of 1905 (b) Determination of rights of leaseholders 30. Status of leaseholders

132 133 135 136 137 138 138

CHAPTER V

Forest Grant Rules from 1905 to 1920 (a) Bākarganj 31. Issue of the raiyatwari rules of 1907 32. Rights reserved by Government (rules 4-11) 33. Rights conferred on the raiyat (rules 12-16) 34. Duties of the raiyats (rules 17-22) 35. Administration, etc. (rules 23-37) 36. Effect of the rules of 1907 37. Revised rules of 1916 (b) Khulnā and the 24-Parganās 38. Operation of the rules of 1905

140 141 141 141 142 142 143 144

Index to Paragraphs 39. 40. 41. 42.

Reversion to the capitalist rules of 1879 All rules in practical abeyance (1910-1915) Introduction of raiyatwari rules (1915-1920) Resume

11 145 146 147 149

CHAPTER VI

Abolition of the Office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans 43. 44. 45. 46.

Early proposals for abolition Proposals for abolition in 1881 Proposals for abolition in 1891 Proposed abolition in connection with survey operations in Bākarganj 47. Abolition of the Commissionership 48. Subsequent administration 49. Resume of the system of control

150 151 153 154 155 157 158

CHAPTER VII

Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.

Reclamation policy originally opposed to conservation Investigations leading to creation of first forest reserves Development of forest area up to 1881 Development of forest area, 1881-1901 Development of forest area from 1901 Present administration Resume of forest policy and future

163 163 165 166 168 169 170

CHAPTER VIII

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903 (a) General 57. Features of the period

173

12

Index to Paragraphs

58. Lieutenant Hodges’ map of 1831 59. Ellison’s map of 1873 60. The Cyclone of 1876 (b) Bākarganj 61. Administration from 1870-1903 (c) Khulnā 62. Area available for lease 63. Existing leases in 1870 64. Leases under the rules of 1879 65. Miscellaneous (d) 24-Parganās 66. Area under lease in 1870 67. Application of the rules of 1879: 1882-1894 68. The rules of 1879; 1894-1904 69. Port Canning Government Estate: Tauzi No. 2692 (e) Sagar Island 70. Early history 71. Terms of the revenue free grants 72. Subsequent history of the revenue-free grants 73. Grants under the rules of 1897

173 174 175 176 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189

CHAPTER IX

The Bākarganj Sundarbans: Survey and Settlement Operations 74. Condition of the tract at the commencement of the period 75. Decision to prepare a survey and record of rights 76. Synopsis of the Survey and Settlement Operations 77. Character of the Sundarbans leases

193 195 196 197

Index to Paragraphs Forest grants 78. Inspection of clearance conditions 79. State of clearance in the grants of 1853 80. Grants in which resumption was barred 81. Resumption proceedings in Chhota Bogi 82. Proceedings in Kachupatra 83. Resume of the grants of 1853 84. Assessment of forest grants and grants under the small capitalist rules of 1879 Resumed Mahals 85. Nature of settlements in resumed mahals 86. The Northern group 87. Rabanabad Island and Eastern group 88. Central group 89. Western group Resume 90. Appreciation of the settlement operations

13

198 199 201 202 203 204 205 206 208 209 210 211 211

CHAPTER X

The Bākarganj Sundarbans: The Colonization Scheme 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100.

Creation of the post of Colonization Officer Area available for Colonization Initial settlements, 1904-1907 Features of the Bākarganj Sundarbans Development from 1907-1909 Development, 1909-1910; fixing rates of assessment Development, 1910-1912 Development, 1912-1920 Progress of Colonization by estates The success of the Colonization scheme

213 214 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 225

14

Index to Paragraphs CHAPTER XI

The Khulnā Sundarbans 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107.

History of the Khulnā area not complicated Physical characteristics; importance of recognition Synopsis of leases existing in 1904 Extent of resettlements Formation of mauzas The Khaikhali reclamation Future developments

227 227 229 230 232 234 234

CHAPTER XII

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: General 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116. 117. 118.

Pecularities of the area Synopsis of leases in 1904 Forest grants under the rules of 1858 and 1879 Guasaba Scope of activity Petty settlements Other areas the property of Government Restriction of area for colonization Extension of the Embankment Act to the Sundarbans Formation of villages Survey of the Sundarbans

236 237 238 239 240 240 243 244 246 246 247

CHAPTER XIII

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Fraserganj 119. 120. 121. 122. 123.

Description of the Island The original scheme of reclamation Progress of reclamation; 1904-1906 Progress, 1906-1908 Failure of the scheme

248 249 250 251 252

Index to Paragraphs 124. Progress in 1908-1910; proposals, to abandon the scheme 125. Abandonment of raiyatwari scheme 126. Criticism of the Fraserganj policy

15 252 254 255

CHAPTER XIV

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans: Sagar Island 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140.

Synopsis of the period Resumptions of 1904-1906 Investigations and proposals of 1915 Progress in 1915-16 Progress in 1916-17 Progress in 1917-18 Progress in 1918-19 Progress in 1919-20 History of Ramkarer char East, Tauzi No. 2931 History of Trowerland, “2nd portion,” Tauzi No. 2932 History of Mansadwip, “2nd portion,” Tauzi No. 3024 History of Shikarpur, “2nd portion,” Tauzi No. 2933 History of Shikarpur, 3rd portion, Tauzi No. 2967 History of Sagar Island, 1st, 2nd and 3rd portions, Tauzi No. 2928 and 2968

258 258 260 260 261 262 263 264 265 267 267 268 270 271

CHAPTER XV

The Problem of the Sundarbans 141. 142. 143. 144. 145.

Development now guided by fluvial laws The Bākarganj Sundarbans in 1920 The Khulnā Sundarbans in 1920 The 24-Parganās Sundarbans in 1920 The Policy of the Future

274 274 275 276 277

Preface to the Second Edition

The Sundarbans forest is a common property resource in need of longterm management at both national and the local level. The forest has come under increasing threat as population pressure against available resources on one side and economic pressure to earn foreign exchange on the other combine to force produce gatherers, timber cutters and shell-fish cultivators into the mangrove area. The Forest Department has done reasonably well at protecting specific species of biota. It was in a sense too successful in conserving the forest resources in some of its early management plans. The Sundarbans, while, has been expanding slowly to the south, it has been shrinking more rapidly from the north, as people have cleared the forests and cultivated crops, partly through the design of governments as in the East India Company’s efforts to colonize the area in the late eighteenth century, partly through natural migration over time and partly no doubt through the inability of the Forest Department to keep people out of its reserved areas, though in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries it has done remarkably well in preventing people from settling permanently in the forest tracts, particularly when one considers the population pressures at work. It has been shown that the forest area of the entire Sundarbans has been reduced by half in the last two or three centuries and by 150,000 hectares in the last 100 years. Population growth in the Sundarban area has been substantial, though it is difficult to tell from official statistics just how great it has been. It is clear that the increases in the Sundarbans area, while impressive, are really not much different from Bengal as a whole. Generally, growth was higher in the West Bengal than in the East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) in the first decade or so after the Partition in 1947. Colonial policies in regard to Sundarbans reclamation moved through several phases. At each phase the Bengal government become

Preface to the Second Edition

18

more aggressive and interventionist. In the course of this period the official policy gradually turned away from bestowing huge land grants on speculative entrepreneurs, favouring smaller grants to less wealthy applicants who would actually manage or even cultivate the lands themselves. These changes partly reflected wider currents in official policy and ideology; partly the increasing cost and difficulty of reclaiming the remote Sundarbans tracts. The details have been shown in the introductory note appended to the reprint edition of Frank David Ascoli’s The Revenue History of Sundarbans from 1870-1920. No changes have been made in text, especially, spellings as regard to names of places, persons, viz., Bakarganj (Backarganj), Ellission (Alisson), A.D.B. Gomees (Gomes), Gosabe and Soondurbuns (Sundarbans). Mr. Ascoli was born in August 1888 and got his education at Exeter College, Oxford. He was the Managing Director, Dunlop Plantations Ltd.; Director, Dunlop Malayan Estates Ltd. and Semtex Ltd. He entered Indian Civil Service in 1907 and held the post of Secretary, Board of Revenue, Bengal, 1917-20. He was the settlement officer of Dacca. He was the President, Boiler Laws Committee, India, 1920-1; Deputy Secretary, Government of India, Department of Industries and Labour, 1921-2; Controller, Printing Stationery and Stamps, India, 1923-5. He retired from Indian Civil Service in 1926. He was also Controller of Rubber, Ministry of Supply, 1942; Director of Rubber, Ministry of Supply, 1943-5; Chairman Rubber Growers and President, Institution of the Rubber Industry, 1948-9.1 In order to bring out the reprint edition of Ascoli’s Revenue History of Sundarbans I am highly indebted to Professor Rajat Kanta Ray, Professor Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri and late Professor Ratna Lekha Ray for providing me new insights in studying the agrarian history of Bengal. I am also indebted to West Bengal Secretariat Library, Writers’ Buildings, Government of West Bengal, The National Library, Calcutta and the staff of The National Archives, New Delhi and the India Office Library, London. Special acknowledgement is due to Smt Barnali Dutta for providing me the complete scanned version of Ascoli’s Revenue History of Sundarbans and the maps which 1

Who Was Who, vol. II: 1916-1928, Bloomsbury, 2014.

Preface to the Second Edition

19

are appended with the text. I am also thankful to Shri Saibal Dutta for providing me a complete scanned version of Asok Mitra’s District Census Handbook, 1951 without which it would have been difficult to write the introduction of the reprint edition of Frank David Ascoli’s volume during the period under review. I am also thankful to Shri Partha Sarathi Das, Assistant Librarian, National Library, for providing me valuable data for preparing the biographical details of Frank David Ascoli. Miss Ankana Ghatak helped me a lot to retrieve the archival resources from the West Bengal State Archives, Kolkata, for which I am also obliged to her. Finally, I am duly indebted to Shri Ramesh Jain of Manohar Publishers & Distributors, who kindly agreed to bring out the reprint edition. Ananda Bhattacharyya

Introduction Ananda Bhattacharyya

Sundarbans1 were identified as the area bounded on the north by the limits of Permanent Settlement in 24-Parganas, Khulna and Bakarganj districts and on the south by the sea face stretching from the Hughli estuary to the Meghna River mouth.2 The area of the Sundarbans appears to have been both expanding and contracting over the years. Alluvial silt washed down from the Himalayas by the Gangetic river system has built up land in the Bay of Bengal over the millennia, more so in the eastern Sundarbans than in the west during recent centuries, it appears, due to the westward shift of the Ganges. This process of land formation has probably been aided materially by various mangrove species, which, through natural succession, have facilitated production of the shoreline3 though the role of mangroves in building land seems to be somewhat controversial. 4Total area comprised 19,501 sq. km.5 A quarter of this large area consisted of 1 Most of the West Bengal Sundarbans falls in two thanas (Kultali and Gosabe), while in Bangladesh there are five upzilas involved (Shyamnagar in new Satkhira District, Koyra and Dacop in new Khulna District, and Mongla and Sarankhola in new Bagerhat District. 2 W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. I: Districts of the 24 Parganas & Sundarbans, London, Trubner and Company, 1875: 285. 3

Kumudranjan Naskar and D.N. Guha Bakshi, ‘Sundarbans – the World Famous Mangrove forest of the District 24-Parganas in West Bengal (India),’ Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany, Jodhpur, Scientific Publishers, 3 December 1982: 883-918. 4 Bruce G. Thom, ‘Coastal Landforms and Geomorphic Processes’, in Samuel C. Snedakar and Jane G. Snedakar, eds., The Mangrove Ecosystem: Research Methods, Paris, United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation, 1984 . 5 Accounts of the size of the Sundarbans vary, but 800,000 hectares seems a

22

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

water. Navigable rivers and creeks intersected the alluvial lands in a convoluted series of braided channels. For administrative purposes the Division was grouped in three circles known as the Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira. Revenue stations were established at all the principal points of egress from the Sundarbans, and purchasers proceed to the forests and take their requirements from any locality they choose. In addition to the revenue stations there were some patrol boats in charge of foresters in order to check illicit removals, which the local villagers could not abstain from attempting from time to time. Maps of the region drawn by A.D. Gastaddi, de Barros, van den Broecke and James Rennell respectively, including those drawn throughout the colonial period, testify to this continuous process of land formation. The process of land formation appears to have been followed by the growth of different vegetation and plants which turned into forest it left uncleared. The entire Sundarban tract is managed by the Forest Department, which has operated a yearly auction for cutting rights for many decades.6 In this way the Sundarbans emerged between the Bay of Bengal and the fringes of the Bengal delta. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Sundarbans covered an area of about 10,000reasonable estimate – roughly 200,000 hectares in the 24-Parganas District of West Bengal and 600,000 in the ‘greater’ Khulna District of Bangladesh (F. Blasco, ‘Outlines of Ecology, Botany and Forestry of the Mangals of the Indian Subcontinent’, in V. J. Chapman, ed., Wet Coastal Ecosystems, Ecosystems of the World 1, Amsterdam, Elsevier Scientific Publishing, 1977: 241; K.G.M. Latiful Bari, Bangladesh District Gazetteers: Khulna, Dacca, Bangladesh Government Press, 1978). 6 Harry W. Blair, ‘Local Government and Rural Development in the Bengal Sundarbans: An Inquiry in Managing Common Property Resources’ Agriculture and Human Values, Spring 1990: 41-51. Most of the abuses found in professional forestry management elsewhere have been observed here as well, such as excessive thinning in the auctioned area, connivance between purchasers and forestry staff to cut wider areas than sanctioned, etc. (Bari, op. cit. 141-2) Besides Gewa, Sundri, there are also a host of other products with significant commercial value (Jnanabrata Bhattacharyya, ‘Uses, Values and Use Values of the Sundarbans’ Agriculture and Human Values, vol. VII, issue no. 2: 34-9). It was in a sense too successful in conserving the forest resource in some of its early management plans. More recently, it has been able to control quite effectively the cutting of passur (D.R. Chaffey, F.R. Miller, and J.H. Sandom, A Forest Inventory of the Sundarbans, Bangladesh, Overseas Development Administration, Project Report 140 (Surrey, England: Land Resources Development Centre, 1985).

Introduction

23

12,000 sq. miles. The revenue history of the Sundarbans is distinct from that of the rest of the district that presents several peculiar features, so that a separate account of it is necessary.7 The total area of the Sundarbans was divided into four categories in the Commissioner’s Report of 1873 which is shown in Table 1. TABLE I: THE TOTAL AREA OF SUNDARBANS

Leased / Cultivated

2,792 sq. km.

14 per cent3

Leased Forests

1,562

8.0 per cent

10,274

52.7 per cent

4,881

25.0 per cent

19,508

100.0 per cent

Unleased Forests Water Total Area

Source: John F. Richards and Elizabeth P. Flint, ‘Long-Term Transformations in the Sundarbans Wetlands Forests of Bengal’, Agriculture and Human Values, Spring, 1990: 17- 33; W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. I: Districts of the 24 Parganas & Sundarbans, London, Trubner and Company, 1875: 330.

The erstwhile undivided district of the 24-Parganas extended between 22º57'32" and 21º51'20" North latitude, and 88º21'51" and 88º6'45" East longitude. It contained a total area, as recorded by the Surveyor General in 1871, of 2,536 sq. miles, excluding the Sundarbans, but including Calcutta, (7.80 sq. miles) and its suburbs (23.17 sq. miles). The population of the district, according to the Census of 1870, which takes the area at 2,788 sq. miles, was 2,210,047, excluding the town of Calcutta but including its suburbs. The administrative headquarters of the district was at Alipore.8 The 24-Parganas were: (1) Akbarpur, (2) Amirpur, (3) Azimabad, (4) Balia, (5) Baridhati, (6) Basandhair, (7) Calcutta, (8) Dokhin Sagar, (9) Garh, (10)Hathiagarh, (11) Ikhtiarpur, (12) Kharijuri, (13) Khaspur, (14) Maidan Mal, (15) Magura, (16) Manpur, 7

The summary of it has been mentioned in an article of Pargiter (F.E. Pargiter, ‘Cameos of Indian Districts: The Sundarbans’, The Calcutta Review, 89 (178, October), Calcutta, Thacker, Spink and Co, October 1889: 280-301. 8 Ibid: 1.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

24

(17) Mayda, (18) Muragacha, (19) Paikan, (20) Pechakuli, (21) Satal, (22) Shahnagar, (23) Shahpur and (24) Uttar Pargana.9 The 24-Parganas part of the greater Sundarbans comprised the land between the Hooghly (Hughli) and the Jamuna. Although, the region did not find mention in Todarmal’s assessment roll, which some parts of the forest land at least had once rich habitation which is amply proved by the archaeological evidence.10 When the English took possession of the zamindari of the 24-Parganas to the Calcutta in 1757, the mahals to the north of the city comprising the present Barrackpore and Bongaon subdivisions were within the fiscal divisions of Jessore and Nadia. The district of 24-Parganas underwent several changes in its physical form (1832, 1861, 1883, 1904, 1915) before it emerged in its present form in 1948. Meanwhile, the old zamindari cultivated areas of the upper delta had been permanently settled in 1793.The strategic location of the Sundarbans at the head of the Bay of Bengal has also made it a natural protective barrier for the densely populated city of Calcutta to its north: the mangrove barriers are the first to absorb and reduce the direct impact of the cyclonic storms and accompanying surges moving in from the Bay of Bengal. Though they protect Calcutta from the impact of these surges, the Sundarbans themselves are vulnerable to them. Till the fifteenth century, the Bhagirathi–Hooghly was the course followed by the Ganga flowing into the Bay of Bengal. Owing to geological reasons, the Ganga gradually shifted eastward, so that by the sixteenth century, the Bhagirathi–Hooghly became the first deltaic distributaries of the river. Although not significantly observed till the late nineteenth century, the effects of the subsequent reduction in the Gangetic flow through the Bhagirathi–Hooghly was a gradual silting up of the Bhagirathi at its take off point near Farakka and a loss of navigability of the Hooghly. The Sundarbans was a large forest region studded with swampy marshes here and there from the Hooghly in the west to the Meghna in the east. It lay to the 9

Asok Mitra, Census 1951, West Bengal: District Handbooks 24-Parganas, Calcutta, West Bengal Government Press, 1954: 4-26; ‘The Soondarbans’ (written by an anonymous writer), The Calcutta Review, 1858, vol. XXXI: 385-411. 10 For details, see F.E. Pargiter, The Revenue History of Sundarban 1765-1870, edited with an Introduction by Ananda Bhattacharyya, Manohar, New Delhi, 2019.

Introduction

25

South of the then cultivated zamindari lands of the districts of the 24-Parganas, Khulna and Bakarganj. During the period from 1795 to 1850, the East India Company Raj in India viewed forests chiefly ‘as limiting agriculture.’11 The Bakarganj district, in the southern part of the Dacca Division in East Bengal, was one of the deltaic districts fringing the Bay of Bengal.12 Forests in Bengal occupied government wastes, where villagers tended to have rights for wood, water and grazing; or they were part of permanently settled estates and were thus privately owned.13 It was separated on the north from Faridpur district by a series of streams and rivers; on the east from Noakhali district by the Meghna estuary; on the west from Khulna district by 11 K. Sivaramkrishnan, ‘A Limited Forest Conservancy in Southwest Bengal, 1864-1912’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 56, no. 1 (February 1997): 75-112. 12 J.C. Jack, a Bengal colonial administrator with pronounced analytical skills, estimated that in Bakarganj district alluvial action had increased since the 185965 Revenue Survey. Such new land was typically colonized by a sequence of plant communities, culminating in the establishment of sundri, the most economically desirable of the mangroves. (The process of ecological succession in the Sundarbans was described as early as 1913. By far the most valuable species is sundri, which is gregarious and occurs either pure or with an insignificant admixture of inferior trees, wherever conditions are suitable for its development. Its southern limit as a tree of any size may be said to be the sea at Tiger Point and thence a line running in a north-westerly direction to the junction of the Kalindi and Raimangal rivers (R.C. Bhattacharyya, ‘Natural Extension of Sundri Areas in the Sundarbans’, Indian Forester, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, 39: 486-88; L.S.S. O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers, Khulna, Calcutta, The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908: 82-3).Revenue officers in Bakarganj district identified a block of land consisting of some twenty estates resumed by Government after the storm of 1876. Four hundred fifty sq. km. of the total block were considered suitable for settlement and cultivation. In this area along the coast, the abode of Magh or Arakanese who engaged in salt smuggling and petty piracy, the colonization officer favoured settlement of members of this group under the scheme (Ascoli gives a full description; see F.D. Ascoli, A Revenue History of Sundarban, 1870-1920, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1921: 101-12). Some of the most forbidding remnants of Sundarbans jungle were transformed into fertile rice fields, schools, dispensaries, post offices, markets and cooperative societies (ibid: 109-23). 13 Letter from Rivers Thompson Offg. Secretary, Government of Bengal to Offg. Secretary, Government of India, Bengal Revenue Proceedings (Agriculture, Revenue and Commerce), May-August, A Progs 16 June 1871, no. 2640 dated Fort William 17 July 1871 (India Office Library Records, London).

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

26

the Baleswar River and on the south it was bounded by the Bay of Bengal. The three great rivers, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, contributed to the formation of the alluvial delta, Although the district consisted administratively of four subdivisions, Sadar, Pirojpur, Patuakhali and Bhola, geographically it could be divided into ‘two sharply defined parts’14 — the great mainland block of a stiff clay soil on the west, and the Sahabazpur island and a series of alluvial islands on the east in the Meghna estuary. The mainland block, on which Sadar, Pirojpur and Patuakhali subdivisions were situated, disappeared under the water from July to October every year. The Sahabazpur Island well protected and maintained and the largest among a number of islands, was large enough to form another subdivision, Bhola. Forests were found mainly in the southern part of the district, known as Sundarbans. At the time of the Permanent Settlement, however, they penetrated far into the heart of the district. The history of reclamation of forests, bils and chars (alluviated mud bank) which occurred along the Meghna estuary both in the mainland (chiefly in Mehendiganj) and the Sahabazpur Island had close relation with the development of the district. The revenue-roll of Bakarganj in 1910 contained 6,559 numbers, of which 2,964 should be excluded due to transfer to the other districts, amalgamation with other estates and removal for diluvion and other reasons. The real number of estates, 3,595; consisted of the estates (1) permanently settled at the time of the Permanent Settlement (2,187), (2) permanently settled subsequently (797), (3) temporarily settled private estates (234), (4) Government estates (393), (5) revenue-redeemed (15) and (6) fisheries and ferries (7 and 2 respectively).15 According to an 1873 report by the Commissioner of the Sundarbans, the entire area cultivated within its boundaries at that date (2,790 sq. km.) had been reclaimed in the eighty years since the permanent settlement of 1793. About 70 per cent of this land (2,000 sq. km.) had been cleared during the period between 1830 and 1873.16 In Bakarganj it was not until the 1850s 14

J.C. Jack, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Bakarganj District, 1900 to 1908 (Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1915): l (hereafter S.S.B.) 15 Jack, Ibid. 60, 62, 91. 16 The report was prepared for W. W. Hunter (op. cit.: 330-1). Hunter also used

Introduction

27

that most of the forest land was carefully surveyed and planted.17 All three districts had to wait until the early 1860s for the results of a detailed and comprehensive land survey organized by the Board of Revenue. After 1879 the settlers’ stream poured into the fertile lands of Bakarganj that led to the favourable condition for rice cultivation in comparing with the neighbouring districts. Embankments were required to prevent salt water from flowing into the new fields. As a result the district was over 90 per cent occupied and reclaimed in 1904.18 In parts of the eastern Sundarbans, clearings and cultivation extended almost to the sea face.19 On account of the embankments the beds of the rivers have risen all round and embankments have had to be made higher and higher, causing more water-logging, felling of trees and loss of fertility which had an adverse effect on importation of rice. Agriculture was carried on in the Sundarbans behind protective embankments. Agriculture was considered a vital element in the agricultural economy of the Sundarbans. Lotdars were responsible for two contemporary reports prepared by the district officers of the Sundarbans districts and other official Government of Bengal papers in compiling this statistical account. 17 S.S.B. op. cit.: 121. 18 J.C. Jack, writing in the Bakarganj settlement offers a summary: ‘The greater part of the land included within the Sundarbans was dense forest at the time of resumption and from the earliest time it has been the object of Government to bring the Bakarganj forest under cultivation. None of it was ever reserved and, as the land was high and fertile and expensive embankments were unnecessary, the Bakarganj forest offered a favourable field to the colonist’ (Jack, op. cit.: 121). Several recent studies have told the story of forest reservation and recognized its territorial basis (Ramchandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods: The Ecological Basis of Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1989; idem, ‘An Early Environmental Debate: The Making of the Indian Forest Act of 1878’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 17 (1), Sage, New Delhi: 49-76; Mahesh Rangarajan, ‘Imperial Agendas and India’s Forests: the Early History of Indian Forestry’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 31 (2), Sage, New Delhi: 147-67; Ajay Skaria, ‘Timber Conservancy, Dessicationism and Scientific Forestry: the Dangs, 1840-1920’, in Nature and the Orient: Essays on the Environmental History of South and South-East Asia, ed. Richard Grove, Vinita Damodaran, and Satpal Sangwan, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997; Richard Haeuber, ‘Indian Forest Policy in Two Eras: Continuity or Change?’ Environmental History Review 17 (1): 65- 84; Richards and Flint, op. cit. 19 D. Prain, ‘Flora of the Sundribuns’, Records of the Botanical Survey of India II, 1903, Calcutta, Office of the Supdt. of Printing, Bengal Secretariat Press: 235.

28

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

the maintenance of embankments. In the case of 1879 leases, there was an express injunction to maintain at least ¾ths of the land in a fit state for cultivation. In the case of these leases, an allowance was also made for repairs and maintenance of embankments in fixing the assessment of revenue at the time of each renewal. In practice, most of the lotdars maintained special guards called beldars to keep watch and initiate repairs against threatened breaches. Under the provisions of the Embankments Act of 1882, the Collector of 24-Parganas was also authorized to repair embankments. Attention of the Company’s government in Bengal then turned to the vast uncultured Sundarbans tract, which even the Moghuls, did not include in the revenue roll. The repeated efforts of the government to lease out forest lands for revenue purposes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were successfully foiled by the stubborn and concerted resistance of the zamindars while the east, west and southern sides of this forest-covered area were bounded by the river and the sea. Dispute, however, soon arose over the demarcation of its northern border with the permanently settled zamindari lands. Next comes the question of the people. The leaseholders or lotdars20 were generally traders and professionals of Calcutta. Many of them belonged to the European community, particularly the British. In fact, the Company’s government while granting forest lands to farm preferred Europeans to the Indians. In fact, as early as 1776, the Court of Directors preferred to grant lease of uncultivated jungle lands to the British subjects because of their ‘superior knowledge’.21 The British East India Company obtained the zamindari of the 24-Parganas as far as Kulpi, in 1757 and by this time the importance of income from the 20 In 1830, Lt. A. Hodges, surveyor to the Sundarban Commissioner, divided the greater Sundarban into 236 lots of which the 24-Parganas Sundarban had 01 to 169 lots. Later, the forest area south of Kulpi which was not covered by Hodges’ map was divided into 12 plots in 1897. The grantees of these lots and plots were locally called lotdars. The people who purchased the Sundarbans grants, better known as lotdars, were generally the men of mercantile profession or men working in the high offices of the revenue department. Many of them were Europeans, particularly English. 21 Letter from the Court of Directors, dated 24 December 1776, General Letters, Land Revenue (West Bengal State Archives, Kolkata); A.C. Lahiri, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the District of 24-Parganas, 1924-33, Calcutta, 1936: 122.

Introduction

29

territorial possession and its use for the provision of the investment had already been recognized by the local servants of the Company.22 Although the 24-Parganas was acquired in 1757, the vast tracts of the Sundarbans, uncultured and unsettled, were left unnoticed for a long time. A Collector was appointed at first for the management of the zamindari of the 24-Parganas.23 Later, the supreme control of the revenue management was vested with a committee, called the Committee of New Land, in 1758. In 1759 Robert Clive was given a sanad or deed granting him the 24-Parganas as jagir or military fief. The deed gave absolute validity to the original jagir granted in favour of Clive for 10 years but, after which the 24-Parganas were to be transferred to the Company as a perpetual property. The sum of Rs. 2,22,958, which was the amount of annual land revenue assessed upon them when they were made over to the Company in 1757, was paid to Clive from 1765 until his death in 1774, when the full proprietary rights reverted to the Company.24 In 1765 by the grant of diwani settlement the collection of revenue and the control of economy became established in Bengal including 24-Parganas25 and were entrusted to the Collector-General, who was appointed for the 22

Mazharul Huq, The East India Company’s Land Policy and Commerce in Bengal 1698-1784, Asiatic Society of Pakistan, Dacca, 1964: 1-39. 23 L.S.S. O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers, 24-Parganas, Calcutta,The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot,1916: 225. 24 District Hand Books 24-Parganas: 27. 25 Sundarbans division was first introduced by the British rulers before the partition of Bengal and Khulna was the headquarters of that division. After the independence of India, Radcliff Award recommended the western portion of Sundarbans division as its Indian part in the year 1947 and Alipore became the headquarters of the Indian Sundarbans. Part of the Indian Sundarbans comprising of 2,585 sq. kms. of mangrove forests is announced as Tiger Project area for the first time in 1973 keeping with the objectives of protection and conservation of flora and fauna. Sundarbans is declared National Park in 1984 and gradually as World Heritage Site and Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve respectively in the year 1989 (Gautam Kumar Das, ‘System of Reclamation and Salt Preparation in Sundarbans’, Frontier, July 2018: 1-4; Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri, ‘Political History of Bengal, 1757-1772’, in N.K. Sinha, ed., History of Bengal, 1757-1905, University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1968: 22; Romesh Chandra Dutt, The Economic History of India, vol. I, Under Early British Rule: Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi (rpt), 2006: 3.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

30

supervision of revenue collection of all the lands under the direct management of the Company. 26 In 1772, Warren Hastings made a settlement for five years of the land revenues of the zamindaris in Bengal. The 24-Parganas, like other deltaic districts, is studded with large marshes and swamps (bils) situated between the elevated tracts which mark the courses of the rivers. Their presence is the natural result of the configuration of the country. The river banks silt up till they become the highest levels, from which the ground gradually slopes downwards, forming a depressed tract between each set of two rivers. The depressed portions so constituted are natural basins, in which water collects and form which it has no exit. A brief account of the 24-Parganas Forest Division is necessary. The area of the 24-Parganas district is 5,292.8 sq. miles of which 1,629.4 sq. miles are reserved forests of the Basirhat subdivision cover 997.9 sq. miles and form a compact block in the extreme east adjoining Eastern Pakistan. Those in the Sadar subdivision are 401.7 sq. miles and form another compact block in the middle. The reserved forests of the Diamond Harbour subdivision are 229.8 sq. miles and lie in the extreme west and consist of odd peninsulas and islands in the large rivers and near the sea coast. The Forest Division is divided into two ranges and 20 blocks as shown in Table 2. Revenue surveys were made in 24-Parganas in 1851-5, in the old Jessore district (including the present Khulna district) in 1855-9, and in Bakarganj in 1860-3. The data from these various surveys were collected together by James Ellisson, who published a complete map of the Sundarbans in 1873. During the year 1905-6, 1906-7 and 1907-8, the forests were surveyed in detail by the Bengal Provincial Survey Department. The whole forest area in the 24-Parganas district was first declared as protected forests on 1878. With the spread of population, much of the original area was subsequently deforested and leased out by the Government for the purpose of cultivation; and the boundaries of the remaining protected forests were fixed on 1926. In 1871 the area of 24-Parganas was 24,365 sq. miles. The distribution of the area is shown in Table 3. 26

Huq, op. cit.: 264.

TABLE 2: DIVISION OF 24-PARGANAS FOREST

Range

Blocks

Basirhat

Arbesi Jhilla Harinbhanga Khatuajhuri Chamta Chandkhali Baghmara Gona

37,270 30,427 28,878 32,719 54,531 38,524 72,630 34, 355

Mayadwip Chhota-hardi Gosaahaba (Gosabe) Matla Netidhopani Panchamukhani Pirkhali Range total (15 blocks) Herobhanga Ajmalmari Dulibhasani

67,547 43,407 42,434 43,563 22,980 43, 652 45,901 638,718

Thakuran Saptamukhi

61,528 1,47,034

Range total (5 blocks) Total area of reserved forests in the Division

4,04,097

Namkhana

Area in acres

47,258 66,618 81,659

Remarks

Civil Subdivision Basirhat

Civil Subdivision Sadar Civil Subdivision Diamond Harbour

1,04,815

Source: A. Mitra, District Handbooks 24-Parganas, 1951, Superintendent Government Printing, West Bengal Government Press, Calcutta, 1954: xii.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

32

TABLE 3: AREA DISTRIBUTION OF 24-PARGANAS

Description Total area Cultivated area Fallow and cultivable area Area not available for cultivation The distribution of the area in 1871 is as follows: Total area Area under rice

Area 2,246 sq. miles 878,528 acres or 1,373 sq. miles 200,512 acres or 313 sq. miles 358,400 acres or 560 sq. miles

2,536 sq. miles 8,84,119 acres or 1,381 sq. miles

Source: A. Mitra, ‘An Account of Land Management in the 24-Parganas District, 1870-1945’, in Mitra, op. cit.: cx. But Hunter (op. cit.) did not agree the statistics as it was ‘proceed on a loose basis . . . and show that more than half the area of the district is under actual crops’.

The Commissioner of the Sundarbans classified 24-Parganas into three great divisions: (i) The area set apart for reclamation purposes, and leased out, amounts to 1,076,030 acres or 1,681 sq. miles, of which the approximate area under cultivation is 689,983 acres or 1,078 sq. miles, the remaining 386,046 acres or 603 sq. miles being cultivated and under jungle. (ii) The forest land not leased out comprises an area of 2,538,871 acres or 3,967 sq. miles. (iii) The navigable rivers and creeks, 1,205,942 acres or 1,884 sq. miles. The re-distribution is therefore shown in Table 4. TABLE 4: RE-DISTRIBUTION OF 24-PARGANAS

Description

Area

Total area of the Sundarbans

4,820,843 acres or 7,533 sq. miles

Area under cultivation

689,983 acres or 1,078 sq. miles

Uncultivable and jungle area

386,046 acres or 603 sq. miles

Forest area

2,538,871 acres or 3,967 sq. miles

Area under navigable rivers and creeks

1,205,942 acres or 1,884 sq. miles

Source: Mitra, op. cit: cx.

Introduction

33

The first comprehensive set of rules for the grant of leases of land in 24-Parganas Sundarbans was issued in 1853. In the Sundarbans, and estates bordering on them, chak (chak is a plot of land situated between well-defined boundaries) was often leased out for reclamation. The conditions were similar to those imposed by Government. The lease granted was of a permanent character, with a rent-free period and then a rent fixed at progressive rates. Leases were sold to the highest bidder when there was more than one applicant; and it was stipulated that one-fourth of the area was exempted from assessment, so as to allow for sites for houses, water channels, embankments, etc.27 The remaining three-fourths were kept free from assessment for twenty years and only half an anna a bigha was charged at first and the maximum rate (from the 51st to the 99th) was only two annas a year. After the 99th year, the grant was to be liable to survey and reassessment at such rate as government might think fit, the grantee, his heirs and assigns having such rights as to talking settlements which were applicable to temporarily settled estates. The rules further provided that one-eighth of the grant should be cleared and rendered fit for cultivation by the end of the fifth year, one- fourth by the end of the tenth year, one-half by the end of the twentieth year, and three-fourths by the end of the thirtieth year. Failure to carry out this clearance entailed forfeiture of the grant. The number of leases granted under these rules in the 24-Parganas and Khulna Sundarbans was 131; the rent payable was Rs. 1,33,447, which rose eventually to Rs. 1,35,802. After the Mutiny (1857), two proposals were brought forward for the disposal of waste lands28 generally. One was to sell them outright, exempt from their existing land revenue by paying it off once for all by one capitalized sum. There was also another motive to include Assam and of course the Sundarbans under the Lieutenant Governor George Campbell. These measures were advocated with the object of promoting the 27

O’Malley: 172-3. The imperial sense of justice was employed to justify clearing the forestsofficially ‘designated as Wasteland’ (Hunter, op. cit., rpt. 1976). This proved yet another legitimization to scour off native claims to the vast local forests, the terminology of ‘waste’ legitimizing their exploitation (Ramchandra Guha, An Early Environmental Debate: The Making of the 1878 Forest Act, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Sage, New Delhi, 27 (1): 65-84, 1990). 28

34

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

settlement of Europeans in India; and after much discussion, rules, called the Waste Land Rules, which embodied these views, were issued in 1863. The motive behind the land reclamation of the Sundarbans, was not only as means of augmenting the rice supply of Bengal, but also to provide available lands for the rapidly increasing population of the lower provinces. Some thirteen lots were sold under these rules in 1865 and 1866, but many of the purchasers were indifferent, or were unable to complete the purchase money during the ten years allowed for the payment by installments, and eight of those lots came back to Government in subsequent years. Even these concessions were not attractive enough, and soon after the allocations, between 1853 and 1863, about 709 grants (lots) were forfeited. A new set of rules in 1862 faced a similar prospect of failure. More concessions were needed to induce lotdars to settle in the geographically and ecologically hostile areas. There was also plenty of ungranted forest still left over in southern 24-Parganas after the reserved and protected forest was delimited in 1877. Finally, in 1879, the Government of Bengal promulgated new waste land rules aimed at the Sundarbans.29 Blocks of 200 acres or more leased for forty years to large capitalists who are prepared to spend time and money in developing them; and plots not exceeding 200 acres leased to small capitalists for clearance by cultivators. Under these rules one-fourth of the entire area leased was held free of assessment for ten years. On the expiry of the term of the original lease, the lot was open to resettlement [reassessment] for a period of thirty years. It was stipulated that one-eighth of the entire grant should be rendered fit for cultivation at the end of the fifth year, and this condition was on coming to the question of development paradigms operating in the Sundarbans during the colonial era one can see that there were two distinct paradigms which had differing effects on both the ecosystem and the socioeconomic ways of the Sundarbans. These two paradigms brought out two different interpretations of ‘waste’ which in turn was used to justify the application of the development process in the two periods. For nearly a century till the 1870s the dominant development paradigm 29 W.W. Hunter, The Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol. 23, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1908: 145.

Introduction

35

was to clear the forests, establish secure tenures and replace them with paddy fields which would bring in a steady supply of revenue to the colonial coffers. This meant the same fate awaited the forest of Sundarbans for that period. However being dense mangrove forests they were uninhabited and hence to clear these forests the colonial rulers had to first create a labor force. Bulk of the small farmers, share croppers and landless laborers migrated from the drought and famine prone areas of the eastern plateau region. They came from Jhargram area, western Midnapore, Bankura, Singhbhum and Santal Parganas. Most of the immigrants were tribal people, such as, the Santals, Mundas, Oraons, Kurmis and Koras. There were also some depressed Hindu caste groups comprising mainly of Paundra Kshatriyas and Namasudras who are believed to be the original settlers on the fringes of Sundarbans.30 During this century of reclamation the colonial idea was to convert the ‘waste’ lands of Sundarbans into paddy fields and then bring these paddy fields under a structured revenue regime which would ensure a continuous flow of colonial revenue. However socioeconomic milieu changed after the early1870s as the development paradigm of forest conservation gained traction gradually from the mid-1860s and by the late-1870s had replaced the previous development paradigm as the dominant one. Now the development focus shifted to conserving the forests so that it could provide a sustainable supply of timber and NTFPs which would in turn be commercially exploited for generation of revenue. It is interesting to note that what was considered as ‘waste’ land for over a century got radically transformed into its binary opposite ‘value’ as the ‘waste’ jungles which were to be cleared at any cost suddenly became ‘valuable’ jungles which were to be conserved and commercially exploited. It can be argued that this ‘syngamy’ of ‘waste’ and ‘value’ originates from the discourse of modernism in seventeenth century Europe which conceptualized land as the ultimate source of wealth, private property as the instrument which would ‘unlock’ the ‘value’ of both land and labor and finally the ‘capitalist’ as the agent of socioeconomic emancipation. This was a not so obvious but classic example of ‘utopia 30 Sutapa Chatterjee Sarkar, The Sundarbans Folk Deities, Monsters and Mortals, Social Science Press, New Delhi, 2010.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

36

and wasteland turn out to be the same place’.31 Yet the concept of wasteland also contains a moral dimension. Locke posited that property is a natural right bestowed by God: to waste land is thus immoral.32 Such reasoning permeates Indian colonial records, which portray Indians as inferior to their British colonizers on account of their lack of private property rights. The same concept was used to divide Indians during the progress of establishing colonial forest policy.33 It must be said that the concept of ‘waste’ originated in England the late thirteenth century and its specific purpose was to curb the rights to use (of land) enjoyed by tenants.34 This concept that underwent subtle but important changes in meaning over time: pre-Enlightenment ‘waste’ referred to ecological spaces which were subject to lower or no feudal dues whereas post-Enlightenment notion of ‘waste’ was a mix of Lockean, Physiocratic and Benthamian doctrines and was ultimately referred to as ‘neglected utility’, i.e. something which can be improved upon using the discourse of modernism. It can be argued that the interpretation of ’ waste’ had such innate fluidity that it not only represented different notions in different development paradigms, rather it had different layers of meaning operating at different levels of the world economy vis-à-vis the Sundarbans. 35 At the global level ‘waste’ represented the ‘uncolonized’ lands whose native inhabitants didn’t possess the requisite skill and knowledge along with the industriousness to ‘exploit’ the land (and other natural resources) to further their own economic development. In other words, the interpretation of ‘waste’ at the global level provided the rationale, ideology and impetus for colonial 31

Vinay Krishin Gidwani, ‘Waste and the Permanent Settlement in Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 27, Issue 4, 25 January 1992: 39-46. 32 Ibid. 33 Jennifer Baka, ‘The Political Construction of Wasteland: Governmentality, Land Acquisition and Social Inequality in South India’, in Wendy Wolford, Saturmino M. Borras, Jr. Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Ban White, eds., Governing Global Land Deals: The Role of the State in the Rush for Land, The Institute of Social Studies, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2013. 34 Gidwani, op. cit. 35 Jyotirmoy Sircar, ‘Development, “Waste” and the People of Sundarbans’ (unpublished paper), Centre for Development Studies, Occasional Paper, Trivandrum under Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Introduction

37

conquest as the colonists had what it takes to realize the locked in ‘value’ of lands. At the national/state level, in India’s case, the interpretation of ‘waste’ when it arrived with the British in 1757 (in Bengal) was in the context of ‘waste lands’ which primarily meant a category in the land revenue records not contributing to government revenue through crop cultivation.36 This provided the logical basis for clearing of forests for nearly a century in the Bengal initially and then the whole of India. The value loaded term seamlessly transcended from ‘waste’ as simply a category of land-use to ‘waste’ as a representation of the cultural inferiority and physical infirmity of Indians.37 Thus the focus of colonial improvement shifted to the ‘ryot’ who was now portrayed as ‘the individual cultivator oppressed [sic] for centuries (not by the colonists of course but by the ‘idle’ and indolent’ Indian landlords) ‘fervently awaiting socioeconomic emancipation at the hands of the value extracting (and realizing) benevolent colonial rulers and thereafter would unleash his innate innovative capacities with the help of private property rights and commercialization gifted to him by the colonial authorities. However with the advent of the second development paradigm the forces of forest conservation gained much more prominence throughout India and a new ‘interpretation’ of waste was born to justify/rationalize this particular development project. This interpretation as Whitehead (2010) points out categorized the scheduled castes as the ones inhabiting a ‘structured semi-civilized agrarian society’ whereas the tribes were ‘savages’. This was nothing but a political project to strip the ancient rights of the tribes to the forests which suddenly had become a source of unimaginable value to the colonial rulers and not ‘waste’ lands. Thus in a nutshell the expansion of the railways in India along with the demand for high quality teak from the Imperial Navy resulted in the ushering of a different development paradigm which accorded greater importance to conservation of forests rather than reclaiming them for cultivation. Corresponding to this the interpretation ‘waste’ transcended from the forest itself to the forest dwellers that were the new ‘waste’ from whom value (forest) had to 36 37

Bandana Shiva, ‘Ecology Movements in India’, Alternatives XI (1986): 255-73. Gidwani, op. cit.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

38

be reclaimed. If one takes into consideration the local level as well we have what can be termed as what Gidwani (1992) calls ‘a catalogue of negatives’. In more precise terms, ‘waste’ has both ecological as well as socioeconomic interpretations at three levels namely global, national/state and local. The local level (in this case Sundarbans) interpretation of waste is even more complex. Here after 1870s both the development paradigms were in application albeit at varying degrees of effectiveness. However, since there were no indigenous people of the forest the application of socioeconomic interpretation of ‘waste’ was in a way much more legitimized than in other parts of the country. But the similar story of gradual stripping of rights to access to the forest and forest products was carried out in the Sundarbans as well. Thus in a nutshell after a century of portraying the Sundarbans as ‘waste’ it turned valuable and conservation kicked in with great force especially in Bakarganj. Thus unlike the forests inhabited by tribes in other regions, where the conflict was between utilization of an existing habitat cum-common- property resource and historically novel statist claims to conservation and management, the remaining (and shrinking) mangrove forests became an object of conflict between social forces seeking an extension of livelihoods on the one hand and a state that sought to limit that process on the other.38 Thus ironically the very group of people who were assembled in the Sundarbans to convert the ‘waste’ jungles into ‘value’ producing paddy fields became ‘waste themselves as the development paradigm changed. But there is indeed a final twist in the narrative. If one were to closely analyse the labour force of Sundarbans during the first two phases of land reclamation it can be clearly seen that the labour force comprised of a majority of scheduled castes and a few groups of immigrant scheduled tribes. Among the scheduled castes the majority were Paundra Kshatriyas and Namashudras both of whom are the lowest of the low in the Hindu caste hierarchy. In other word these were the people located at the margin of their respective societies. In other words they were ‘waste’ as well in the socioeconomic context of their regional Indian society. Thus in a way the story of land reclamation in Sundarbans is the story of a labour force of ‘waste (in 38

Richards and Flint, op. cit.

Introduction

39

Indian context)’ people who cleared ‘waste’ lands of Sundarbans so that the colonial rulers could unlock, extract and realize the value of land via the instrument of private property. However this labour force of ‘Indian waste’ got converted into ‘waste’ in the socioeconomic context of the dominant imperial paradigm and was further reduced to the margin. In 1861 a new policy was introduced by Lord Canning, viz., that of disposing of waste lands in fee-simple, or, in other words, selling them revenue-free. Three main principles were laid down in Lord Canning’s minute on the subject. (1) That ‘in any case of application for such lands they shall be granted in perpetuity as a heritable and transferable property, subject to no enhancement of land revenue assessment’, (2) That ‘all prospective land revenue will be redeemable at the grantee’s option, a sum may be paid as earnest, @ 10 per cent, leaving the unpaid portion of the price of the grant, which will then be under hypothecation, until the price is paid in full’ (3) That ‘there shall be no condition obliging the grantee to cultivate or clear any specific portion within any specific time’. The minimum price of the fee-simple was fixed at Rs. 2-8 an acre, so that by paying 10 per cent of this or 4 annas an acre, a title was obtained. Subsequently the Secretary of State issued a dispatch, which laid down that grants should be surveyed before sale, and that all sales should be by auction to the highest bidders above a fixed upset price. The fee-simple rules superseded those of 1853 and remained in force until 1879, when they were withdrawn and a fresh set of rules issued. The third period of land reclamation turns out to be the most interesting and much more importantly most significant from the point of view of the inhabitants of Sundarbans. Following the failure of the ambitious scheme of F. Schiller and others to float a company for the specific purpose of land reclamation in the Sundarbans, the colonial authorities approached the problem of land reclamation with a two pronged strategy. The Rules of 1879 came out with two sets of land grants: one for the smaller landlords and the other for the rich landlords. There were quite naturally two different sets of regulations for both classes. The rules of 1879 provided for two kinds of grants, viz., (1) blocks of land not exceeding 200 acres, leased to small settlers, and (2) blocks of 200 acres or more, leased to large capitalists who were prepared to

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

40

spend time and money in developing them. These grants are known as lots, their holders being called lotdars. The Rules of 1879 were therefore brought in to give more concessions on a 40-year lease. Under this new set of Grant Rules, described as the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, many of the ungranted lots, including the Kakdwip area, were surveyed and subdivided. Some of the unnumbered lots on the extreme south of Kakdwip were newly numbered alphabetically as plots A to L with various subdivisions. The grants were of two classes: (i) the large farms with areas between 200 and 5,000 bighas were leased to those who were prepared to invest money. Leased at one rupee per acre the land was given generally for 40 years to the sole applicant or to the highest bidder: (i) plot of land less than 200 bighas were given to small investors or settlers for clearance by cultivation. The important features of this allotment, which granted all Kakdwip leases with the single exception of Frasergunge island within it, are given in Table 5.39 TABLE 5: IMPORTANT FEATURE OF LAND GRANT IN 24-PARGANAS

Period of settlement

40 years

Revenue-free period

10 years

Maximum area of lease

5,000 bighas (one bigha being 1,600 sq. yards)

Areas excluded from

one-fourth of the total

Government assessment

area, i.e. some 1,200 bighas

Maximum rate of revenue

4 to 8 annas per bigha

Clearance condition

one-eighth to be cleared at the end of the fifth year

Nature of tenure

Temporary tenure subject to only one renewal after the period of settlement.

Source: Mitra, op. cit.

Between 1879 and 1904, when the rules were suspended, grants or leases were made of 1,223 sq. miles, out of an available area of 2,310 sq. miles. The small settlers were guaranteed a lease for 30 years if the lands were brought under cultivation within two years. They were 39

Lahiri, op. cit.: 114.

Introduction

41

allowed a rent-free term of two years, after which progressive rates of rent were fixed on the cultivated area, with reference to the rates paid in the neighborhood, by ryots to landlords, for similar lands. After 30 years renewed leases could be given for 30 years periods, the rates of assessment being adjusted at each renewal with reference to the rates prevailing in the neighborhood. No charge was made for wood and timber on the grant, nor for any cut or burnt in making clearances or used on the land, but a duty was to be levied on any exported for sale. The holders of the Sundarbans grants were proprietors or tenureholders. These leases (lotdars) used to sub-let their lands to people known as chakdars, of which the total number was 8,226 in the year 1951. The chakdars also would sub-let to raiyats and consecutively raiyats to under-raiyats. The above structure of landed interest in the Sundarbans does not take into account bargadars, also known as bhagchasis, who were share-croppers and the class of landless labourers. These were the mainstay of agricultural operations but did not possess any legally recognized rights in the lands on which they worked. Under the rules for large capitalists in 24-Parganas Sundarbans the maximum area of grants was restricted to 5,000 bighas, the minimum being 200 bighas. The lands granted in the 24-Parganas were surrounded by small creeks supplying freshwater during half the year and obtained enough ryots, but the lands near the sea did not have those advantages and were liable to inundation. On the whole, the reclamation advanced, stood still or receded much according to the individual nature of the grant and the circumstances under which the grantee carried out reclamation and cultivation. The term of the original lease was fixed at 40 years, maximum rates being laid down for each resettlement. One-fourth of the area was exempted from assessment in perpetuity, and the remainder was held free of assessment for ten years. It was stipulated that one-eighth of the entire area must be rendered fit for cultivation by the end of the fifth year, and this condition was enforced either by forfeiture of the lease or by the issue of a fresh lease. The rules also provided increasing rates of rent after the expiration of the rent-free period and for varying rates within different tracts according to the capabilities of the land. The limits within which lands might be leased in consultation with the Forest Department, and rights of way and water and other easements

42

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

were reserved. The right of using all navigable streams, and the use of a tow-path not less than 25 feet wide on each side of every such stream, were also reserved to the public. No charge was made for timber on the land at the time it was leased, nor for any cut or burnt to effect clearances or used on the land, but a duty was levied on any exported for sale. Leases were sold at an upset price of Re. 1 an acre when there was only one applicant, and to the highest bidder when there was more than one. Altogether 188 leases were granted under the ‘large capitalist rules’ the rent payable being Rs. 70,329, which eventually rose to Rs. 2,35,111. This system was liable to abuse, and that the actual cultivators were oppressed and rack-rented. Land-jobbers and speculators obtained leases for the purpose of re-selling them at a profit. In order to recoup their outlay on reclamation, the original leases were often sublet to smaller lessees in return for cash payments, and the same process was carried down lower in the chain, with the result that the land was actually reclaimed and cultivated by peasant cultivators paying rack rents. Some of the lessees were in the habit of inducing tenants to take up land for reclamation on easy terms under invalid documents, and of ousting, or attempting to oust them, in favour of a new set of tenants as soon as the land had been brought under cultivation. Others neglected to repair embankments which they were bound to maintain under the leases granted to them, and which alone protect the lands of their tenants from the ingress of salt water. Others again enhanced the rents by consolidating abwabs with them and refused to give pattas, or rent receipts, except under illegal and oppressive conditions. The liberal terms of the Grant Rules thus allowed the lotdars the right to sublet along with many other privileges. The rules were intended to attract the capitalists of Calcutta, but the capitalists did not take the bait. It was the zamindars of neighbouring Midnapore who took most of the leases, thereby becoming the lotdars of Kakdwip.40 The people who sought the lease lands were mostly the newly emerging better off sections like the traders, Indian agents of the East India Company, lawyers or businessmen, with a few old 40 A few examples: P. Dinda, a barrister, A.O. Sasmal, a pleader, H. Chatterjee, a munsiff of Contai, Midnapore.

Introduction

43

zamindars like the Nandis of Kasimbazar. This largely neo-rich class sought social respectability by owning land and invested money in land development. While the interest of the British was well served in that the liberal concessions induced entrepreneurs to resort to largescale deforestation and land reclamation caused absentee landlordism, subinfeudation, and rack-renting of poor peasants.41 The rules of 1879 were only a limited success. They caused a heavy loss of revenue and afforded inadequate control over landlords. They also encouraged a system of sub-infeudation by which middlemen were introduced between original grantees and cultivators.42 Thus it was decided in 1904 to abandon the system of grants to large capitalists and to introduce raiyatwari settlements as an experimental measure, small areas (maximum 75 bighas and minimum 10 bighas) being let out to actual cultivators, whom Government assisted by means of advances, by constructing tanks and embankments, and by clearing jungle. The experiment proved a success in Bakarganj, where the cultivators as a rule clear the jungle themselves, but was a failure in the 24-Parganas, where the areas available for settlement present greater difficulties in the way of reclamation. Direct reclamation and raiyatwari settlement were tried on a large scale in Fraserganj, but the reclamation proved unexpectedly expensive, and cultivators could not be induced to settle on the island on remunerative terms. The presence of so many intermediaries led to rack renting and conscious of the increasing exploitation the rayatwari system was tried in Fraserganj, an island south of the 24-Parganas as late as in 1903-04. Fraserganj island, the exception to the Kakdwip grant rules, covered about 60,000 bighas. Perched at the southern tip of Kakdwip, it is washed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal. Formerly Narrayantala, the British renamed the island after Sir Andrew Fraser, the then Governor of Bengal. In 1905, Sundar, the Commissioner of Sundarbans, made an attempt 41 Another side effect was the break down of the landholders who were deeply involved with the business activities. See N.K. Sinha, The Economic History of Bengal: From Plassey to the Permanent Settlement, vol. II, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta, 1962, vol. III: 124-7. F.D Ascoli, Revenue History of Sundarban from 1870-1920; J.M. Viswas, Sundarban Settlement in the District of 24-Pargana, Bakarganj and Khulna, Calcutta, Bengal Wasteland Manual, 1936. 42 Lahiri, op. cit.: 120.

44

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

to reclaim this island in order to provide the population of Calcutta with a seaside resort and to make ryoti settlement. By 1907, a very small quantity of land was reclaimed and about 4 miles embanked. But the enterprise proving too costly, the Government abandoned the scheme and in 1908 decided to leave the island. Under a special form of lease, Manindra Chandra Nandi, the Maharaja of Kasimbazar was granted the lease in 1910 for 40 years. In other resumed estates the results of direct reclamation and raiyatwari settlement were equally discouraging, and in 1910 it was decided that the experiment must be abandoned and the old system of leases to large capitalists revert to. A new set of rules for settlement with large capitalists were under consideration. In 1911, Fraserganj came to appear as a vlllage. The Maharaja subleased the island to different types of subleases like talukdars, malgujary forest grant, revenue free, etc. These subleases of various sizes became known as lotdars and were comparable to the big jotedars of Dinajpur.43 The greater Sundarbans being a part of three adjoining districts in the north, viz., 24-Parganas, Khulna and Bakarganj – the Collectors of these districts supervised the farming and collection of revenue of their parts of the forest area. The present introductory note will focus the land reclamation policy that was followed in the districts of 24-Parganas, Khulna, Jessore and Bakarganj during 1870-1920. The Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833 entitled the Europeans including the British to purchase land and settle in India. Sometimes, however, the zamindars of permanently settled adjoining districts purchased holdings in the Sundarbans. Sometimes the process of reclamation and development of estates differed due to the differences of attitude of the lotdars belonging to various social strata. But profit was perhaps the single common factor of these farmers’ motives. The reclamation and cultivation of swamp ridden jungles involved costly, sustained and vigorous efforts of the first few years without any gains. So, the responsibility of clearance, cultivation and induction of tenants for

43 Romesh Chandra Sen, Final Report of Survey Settlement of Tushkhali in District Khagchia, 1894-1898 (for sub-infeudation); F.E. Pargitar, Revenue History of Sundarban, Superintendent, Government Printing, Bengal Govt. Press, Alipore, 1934.

Introduction

45

these purposes was shifted by leaseholders on to the middlemen.44 In the first half of the nineteenth century, when the Sundarbans area of the southern part of Diamond Harbour, Alipore Sadar and Basirhat subdivisions were being deforested and brought under cultivation, landless labourers and fishermen from the neighbouring areas of Jessore, Khulna and Nadiya were coming over and setting down in large numbers.45 To these men were parceled out certain portions of original grant on one-time lump sum payment or yearly fixed payments. This subinfeudation of land was limited in the 24-Parganas Sundarbans to only two grades above the cultivators compared to 20 or more in Bakarganj district.46 Some people of landed interests in the neighbouring districts also purchased grants on lucrative terms.47 Initially, Sundarbans was no man’s land. Hindus, Muslims, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people came to inhabit the area later. Mainly the tribals of Sundarbans were brought from different parts of India for clearing the forest. These inhabitants at Sundarbans fulfil their mode of production or their sustenance from forest or forest based resources. But the people who shouldered the actual responsibility of clearing and cultivation were mostly the backwardcaste poor from the neighbouring districts of Jessore, Khulna, Nadia and Midnapore. A good number of them were aboriginals migrating from the Chhotanagpur region. They were known as bunos (forest dwellers) in the adopted land.48 But the earliest migration was from the far off province of Orissa. These Oriya people were engaged by the local zamindars in the manufacture of salt in the khanris of the Sundarbans. They were known as molungees. The social composition of the immigrant labour in the western districts of Bengal was 44 From the Court of Directors, dated 24 December 1776, General Letters, Land Revenue, Item No. 42. 45 Krisna Basu, ‘Ecology and Adaptation – A Study in the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve’, in In the Lagoons of the Gangetic Delta, ed. Gautam Kumar Bera and Vijoy S. Sahay, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2010: 65-82. 46 Lahiri, op. cit.: 70. 47 B.H. Baden Powell, The Land Systems of British India: Being a Manual of the Land-Tenures and of the Systems of Land-Revenue Administration Prevalent in the Several Provinces, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1892, vol. 1: 548. 48 Imperial Gazetteer of India, Provincial Series, New Delhi, 1984: 360.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

46

distinctive. It was predominantly ‘tribal’, adivasi labour. Adivasi labour had, gradually at least, a considerable role in the new cultivation in the Sundarbans. Over the years skilled agriculturists recruited from neighbouring areas increasingly outnumbered the adivasis. There were two types of organization of land reclamation: mandali in the Western Bengal districts of Midnapore and Bankura and hoaladari in the Sundarbans.49 There is also reference to the Maghs of the Arakans who migrated to and settled in the difficult terrains of the Sundarbans. Since the abolition of the government salt monopoly, many of these people had settled down as cultivators in various parts of the 24-Parganas Sundarbans.50 Chakraborty claims that one of the major challenges came from the local tigers, branded as ‘man-eaters’ in the official papers. The tiger often attacked the defenceless forest clearers and wrought such fearful havoc that the authorities had to temporarily postponed the work. The coolies (workers) thus had to be accompanied by shikaris (hunters) who would fire their guns at intervals to frighten away the tigers which abounded in the forest. On many occasions the work would have to be given up entirely and the reclaimed land would eventually revert to jungle.51 In 1853 the Government announced revised rules for land grants in the Sundarbans. The rules continued to favour prosperous Bengali and British land developers. The areas surveyed and made available for reclamation were generally very large, and the grantees continued to meet all expenses of clearing and embankment on their tracts. The most important revision lay in reduced land revenue rates which did make the venture more attractive. For the next decades clearance and settlement proceeded steadily, if not as quickly as the state would

49

Henry Beveridge, The District of Bakarganj: Its History and Statistics, London, Trübner & Co., 1876.: 175-6. 50 Balai Barui, The Salt Industry of Bengal 1757-1800: A Study in the Interaction of British Monopoly Control and Indigenous Enterprise, Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi and Co., 1985: 18. 51 Ranjan Chakrabarthy, ‘ Local People and the Global Tiger: An Environmental History of the Sundarbans, Global Environment: A Journal of History and Social Sciences, National Council of Research, Naples, The White Horse Press, Cambridgeshire: 72-95.

Introduction

47

have liked.52The rules of 1853, in spite of their greater liberality of reclamation condition, did not succeed. Within the next few years, a large number of grants fell through because of the non-compliance of clearance conditions by the grantees.53 After the Mutiny, two proposals were brought forward for the disposal of waste lands. One was to sell them outright and the other was to allow the grantees to redeem their existing land revenue by paying it off once and for all by one capitalized sum. The rules of 1853 were virtually superseded by several sets of sale rules after 1862 in Khulna and thus a revised set of lease rules was published in 1879. Under those rules the grants made were of two classes, viz., (1) blocks of 200 acres or more leased to large capitalists who were prepared to spend time and money in developing them; and (2) plots not exceeding 200 acres leased to small capitalists for clearance by cultivators. The Fee Simple Rules of 1863, therefore, introduced a policy of outright sale of waste lands for onetime payment by the grantees of all the prospective revenues.54 This scheme was also not a total success. Many of the purchasers of grants were either indifferent or unable to complete the payment within the specified period.55 TEMPORARY SETTLEMENTS The Fee Simple Rules of 1861 were the last-ditch battle of the proponents of the Permanent Settlement in India. By the 1860s, the overall financial situation of the government permanently damaged their cause. Faced with the inflation and the steady depreciation of silver as currency medium, the Indian government found its financial situation endangered seriously.56 The revenue position in India had so deteriorated at the end of 1861 that Sir Charles Wood, the Secretary of State, could not conceal his anxiety. In a dispatch dated 23 March 52 F. E. Pargiter, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1765 to 1870, Bengal Government Press, 1885, edited with an Introduction by Ananda Bhattacharyya, Manohar, New Delhi, 2019. 53 O’Malley, 24-Parganas: 181-2. 54 Ibid.: 182. 55 Lahiri, op. cit.: 115. 56 O’Malley, 24-Parganas:183.

48

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

1867, he urged upon the Government of India not to commit itself to the policy of extension of Permanent Settlement anywhere in the country.57 The first attempt to realize any revenue from the forests appears to have been made in 1866, when government leased out the right to levy dues on forest produce to the Port Canning Company at a yearly rental of Rs. 8,000. The lease was resumed by Government in 1869, as it was found that the monopoly thus established resulted in considerable oppression and was contrary to the interests of the general public.58 As early as 1869, the nascent Forest Department first proposed a plan to regulate and tax the flow of timber and other forest produce coming from the Sundarbans tracts every year.59 In Bengal, forested lands, classified as wasteland, had been included in zamindari (landlord) estates.60 Forests in Bengal occupied government wastes, where villagers tended to have rights for wood, water, and grazing; or they were part of permanently settled estates and were thus privately owned.61 Provisions of the Indian Forest Act of 1865 and rules there, under were confined to areas classified as government forests. As forest conservancy in Bengal began with the 1865 Act, preparation of rules was soon taken up. The draft Bengal Forest Rules invited the ire of both local civil officers and the Inspector General of Forests in the Government of India, though for different reasons. District officers balked at placing all waste lands under the forest department, without the prior determination of villager rights.62 Colonial administrators of this period also tended to perceive forests as being inexhaustible. 57 Eric Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1959: 118. 58 L.S.S. O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers, Khulna, Calcutta, The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908: 88. 59 Ascoli, 1921, op. cit.: 55. 60 Bertholdt Ribbentrop, Forestry in British India, Calcutta, Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1900: 60. 61 Letter from Rivers Thompson, Offg. Secretary, Government of Bengal to Offg. Secretary, Government of India, Agriculture, Revenue and Commerce, Bengal Revenue Proceedings, May-August 1871, A Progs, 16 June 1871, no. 2640, dated 17 July 1871. 62 Letter from J.C. Houghton, Commissioner, Cooch Behar Division to Junior Secretary Government of Bengal, no. 2420, dated 16 September 1868, Bengal Revenue Proceedings, September-December 1869, A Progs, 2-16 October 1869.

Introduction

49

Much of the woody vegetation, however, was not timber quality, being the product of a landscape long under shifting cultivation. The East India Company continued the Indian rulers’ practice of selling blocks of forests or individual trees to timber merchants for a fixed down payment that encouraged great destruction and wastage in their extraction.63 In fact, large areas of forest lands had been alienated under the Bengal Wasteland Rules, 1853, for a variety of purposes not always connected with the exploitation of forest products. Sometimes these allotments were to encourage particular forms of cultivation. In other cases they farmed out the collection of banker (forest tolls), as had been done in the Sundarbans where banker blocks had been demarcated and sold on five-year leases.64 The introduction of forest conservancy in Bengal, as in other parts of India, Asia, and Europe at different times, came out of a wider concern that timber supply was being diminished by reckless felling at the very time that demands were increasing. The sporadic protection of regeneration by some major forest contractors was feared by the colonial government to be inadequate.65At this time an experiment was being tried for employing Sundri timber in the manufacture of railway sleepers, while other trees supplied firewood and fuel to Calcutta and many other towns, the needs of which could hardly be supplied otherwise than by the Sundarbans. Thus, the country at large had the strongest interest in the Sundarbans being preserved as a source of timber, wood, and fuel for the use of southern Bengal, so that wholesale reclamation was not wanted there. It was felt that in some parts of this tract the substitution of rice-fields or jungle might be desirable; but in most parts the ground already bore produce which was more valuable to Bengal than rice. Sir Richard Temple accordingly wished to restrict reclamation until it could be established by adequate enquiry whether 63

E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, London, John Lane, 1922: 35, 61. Letter from T.H. Lloyed Provisional Secretary to the Port Canning Land Investment Reclamation and Dock Company to the Secretary, Government of Bengal, File no. P/432/74, Bengal Revenue Proceedings, September-December 1868, A Progs, 19 November 1868. 65 Letter from Sir Charles Wood, Secretary of State for India to the GovernorGeneral in Council, File no. P/42/1862, Bengal Revenue Proceedings (Land Revenue), May 1862, A Progs. 52-3, no. 5. 64

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

50

the Sundarbans could meet these wants and still afford room for reclamation. They arranged for the reclamation of wasteland, but they were not, according to Chaudhuri, ‘agricultural capitalists’ as Richard Temple (Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, 1870-4) called the hoaladars of Bakarganj.66 They did provide part of the capital and enterprise, but they were not ‘agriculturists’ by any means. They invested the capital in taking the lease, but they seldom controlled the reclamation process. The responsibility was delegated to others, who also ‘sold’ their right in the lease to others. Even where they had a direct role, at least initially, in the organization of the reclamation, they increasingly preferred to dissociate them from the role. Their preference changed from income from grain trade to rental income. At least in the Sundarbans they had a strategic advantage in respect to their position as a landed group. The machinery of rural control of the zamindars owning the wasteland was understandably weak here. It was admitted that in every tract some portions must be cleared, in order to render the remainder accessible to man and available for his use; and in his opinion, whatever reclamation might be permitted or encouraged in the Sundarbans should be arranged solely with this view. The Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, George Campbell, squashed this initiative and a subsequent revision on the ground that such a system would unduly harass private enterprise. In 1871, as the Bengal Forest Rules came into force, the province remained a major importer of wood. Forest rules, as Bryant points out, ‘were a mechanism to transform the state’s nominal ownership… into an actively exercised proprietorial right’.67 Leeds, the Bengal Conservator of Forest, had proposed reserved and open forests with the distinction that the latter would contain only reserved trees, as opposed to entire reserved tracts, but in both categories of forests the Conservators would have full jurisdiction. The proposed scheme acknowledged the diversity of mixed forests where few valued trees were scattered among many that were considered valueless. It recognized both the impractibility of 66

B.B. Chaudhuri, Peasant History of late Pre-colonial and Colonial India, vol. 8, pt. 2, Pearson, Longman, New Delhi, 2008: 245. 67 Raymont L. Bryant, ‘From Laissez Faire to Scientific Forestry: Forest Management in Early Colonial Burma, 1826-1885’, Forest and Conservation History 38 (4): 160-70.

Introduction

51

detailed demarcations and the potential for admitting, and thus to some extent reconciling, a plurality of interests in these forests.68 After protracted discussion when they were published as the ‘rules for better management and preservation of Government forests in Lower Bengal’, in February 1871, the Bengal forest Rules made a distinction between reserved and open forests that has remained in place until the present.69 According to estimates prepared by Leeds, the new Conservator, annually 15,000 tons of teak from Burma, 18,000 tons of sal from Nepal, and 10,000 tons of other woods were imported, in addition to 83,000 tons of mixed woods for opium and indigo boxes.70 So, while appreciating the prospect of 30,000 sq. miles of forests coming under systematic preservation in Bengal within the first decade of conservancy, the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Richard Temple, remained severely critical of forest contractors and the unnecessary destruction they caused to timber resources.71 Sivaramkrishnan has rightly said that ‘Against this background, the measures outlined for conservancy in the following decades wrestled uneasily with the conflict between letting local governments feel their way to a regime of restrictions and insisting on some basic principles like the abolition of all individual proprietorship in forests.’72 By creating classes of forests, the same rules also modified this exercise in significant ways. In the former category, the entire administration, custody, and control of forests and their products was given to the Conservator, but in the later case the control of the Forest Department was to extend only to 68 Letter from H. Leeds to the Offg. Under Secretary, Government of Bengal, Bengal Revenue Proceedings, July-December 1870, A Progs., 4 September 1870, no. 142. 69 Later, when the distinction was incorporated by the Indian Forest Act of 1878 as reserved and protacted forests, Bengal was admittedly the inspiration. See Ribbentrop, 1900: 118. 70 Letter from Leeds to Secretary Government of Bengal, Revenue Department File no. P/232/1872, Bengal Revenue Progs, May- August 1872, A Progs 2, May 1872, no. 857. 71 Letter from Temple to the Marquis Salisbury in Richard Temple Papers (dated 27 June 1875). 72 Sivaramkrishnan, op. cit., letter from Government of India to Sir Charles Wood, Secretary of State, File no. P/66/57, Bengal Revenue Consultation, AugustDecember 1864, A Progs 1-19, no. 75, dated 1 November 1862.

52

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

specific reserved trees.73 In open forests the power of forest conservancy was abridged by a provision that the Commissioner could sell or lease lands out for other purposes.74 By creating two classes of state forests, the Government of India conceded the wisdom of Leeds’ balancing act, but in the same process the request of the Bengal government to obtain wide powers to restrict removal of forest produce other than trees, and curb timber transport and other lumbering operations, was not entertained.75 The rules actually required the Conservator to give prompt attention and consideration to any complaints of hardship imposed or rights infringed by the rules.76 Richard Temple, Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, visited the Sundarbans and struck by the value of the forest products of the wetlands said: The Sunbarbans include not only a mass of Sundri trees of comparatively higher growth, but also masses of trees and shrubs of lower growth. The former are used for carpentry and timber work; the latter for fuel. The area of both is very considerable. The relation of the tract to the surrounding district was not to be lost sight of. The Sundri forests supply wood for boat-building to the 24-Parganas, to Jessore, to Bakarganj, to Noakhali, and to other districts, and also furnish wood for many purposes of domestic architecture.77

Further efforts were made to bring the forest under management in 1872, and Dr. Schlich, then Conservator of Forests in Bengal, came to the conclusion that they were inexhaustible and that nothing more than purely fiscal measures was required. Temple took the position that southern Bengal was dependent upon the Sundarbans for timber and fuel and that this need was as critical as the need for rice. He opposed the prevailing notion that the entire Sundarbans ought to be reclaimed 73 Public Works Department, A Progs 62-8, notification no. 13F, dated 16 February 1871, National Archives of India, New Delhi. 74 Brandis Dietrich, Memorandum on the Forest Legislation Proposed for British India, Calcutta, Superintendent of Government Printing, 1875. 75 Public Works Department (Revenue – Forest), November 1870, A Progs 17-19, Letter dated 28 November 1870, Rivers Thompson, Offg. Secretary, Government of Bengal to the Secretary, Government of India, NAI. 76 Public Works Department, A Progs 62-8, notification no. 13F, dated 16 February 1871, National Archives of India, New Delhi. 77 C.E. Buckland, Bengal Under the Lieutenant Governors, vol. II, Calcutta, Kedarnath Bose, 1902: 613.

Introduction

53

and brought under cultivation. In 1874, Temple decided upon a more vigorous policy. Revised rules for the sale of waste lands had been issued in February of that year, but a question arose regarding leases of lands in the Sundarbans in order to prevent purchasers from coming forward. Temple visited the Sundarbans and examined the physical character and natural products of this tract, considered its relation to the surrounding districts and to the country at large. In his opinion, the public interest might be supposed to lie in the very opposite direction as regards a very large part of this tract. ‘The Sundarbans’, he wrote, include not only a mass of Sundri trees of comparatively higher growth, but also masses of trees and shrubs of lower growth. The former are used for carpentry and timber work; the latter for fuel. The area of both is very considerable. The relation of the tract to the surrounding districts also is not to be lost sight of. The Sundri forests supply wood for boat- building to the 24-Parganas, to Jessore, to Bakarganj, to Noakhali, and to other districts, and also furnish wood for many purposes of domestic architecture.78

At this time an experiment was being tried for employing Sundri timber in the manufacture of railway sleepers,79 while other trees supplied firewood and fuel to Calcutta and too many other towns, the needs of which could hardly be supplied otherwise than by the Sundarbans. Thus, the country at large had the strongest interest in the Sundarbans being preserved as a source of timber, wood, and fuel for the use of southern Bengal, so that wholesale reclamation was not wanted there. It was felt that in some parts of this tract the substitution of rice-fields or jungle might be desirable. Sir Richard Temple accordingly wished to restrict reclamation until it could be established by adequate enquiry whether the Sundarbans could meet these wants and still afford room for reclamation. Temple also thought that the time had come when the position is reconsidered. Complaints 78

O’Malley, op. cit.: 88. The Indian Forest Department owes its origin to the requirements of railway companies. The early years of the expansion of the railway network, i.e. 1853 onwards, led to tremendous deforestation in Peninsular India due to the railway’s requirements of fuel wood and construction timber. Huge quantities of durable timbers were also needed for use as sleepers across the newly laid tracks. (Ramchandra Guha, ‘An Early Environmental Debate:The Making of the 1878 Forest Act’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27, 1 (1990), Sage, New Delhi: 65-84. 79

54

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

were made to him in the Bakarganj district that Sundri logs of the best quality were more rarely seen in the market than formerly. There was not sufficient security against the best kind of Sundri trees being cut down in the same reckless and wasteful manner as that which was known to have prevailed in many parts of India before the institution of the forest system.80 He considered that the public interests required that no new negotiations of any kind should be opened for disposing of unclaimed land in the Sundarbans till it was decided by what rules Government could best maintain the principle that reclamation must be subordinate to forest conservation. Accordingly Dr. Schlich was deputed to proceed to the spot and make enquires. Dr. Schlich came to the conclusion that the forests were being overworked and the steps should be taken to prevent the exhaustion of the Sundri producing tracts. Temple’s view converged with that of William Schlich, the Conservator of Forests, who argued, on the basis of a detailed survey of the Sundarbans forests carried out in 1873-4, that Sundri and other timber were rapidly being exhausted and must be protected.81 Schlich’s arguments found a sympathetic audience. Under Temple’s vigorous direction, the 2,292 sq. km. of tidal forest lying within Khulna district were demarcated in 1875 as the Sundarbans forest division – one of five in Bengal.82 The next year, Schlich succeeded in adding an additional 1,802 sq. km. to the reserved area under the control of the Forest Department. However, the Conservator was unable to persuade Temple to transfer the entire unleased area of the Sundarbans to reserved forest status. The Sundarbans Forest Division was accordingly constituted in 1874-5, 885 sq. miles being notified as reserved in that year, while 314 sq. miles were added in 1875-6, thus 80 Inexperienced in forestry, the British called in German experts to commence systematic forest management. The Indian Forest Department was started in 1864, with Dietrich Brandis, formerly a Lecturer at Bonn, as the first Inspector General of Forests. The new department needed legislative backing to function effectively, and in the following year, 1865, the first Forest Act was passed (Ramchandra Guha, ‘Forestry in British and Post-British India: A Historical Analysis’, Economic and Political Weekly, in two parts, 29 October and 5 November 1983). Hurriedly drafted, the 1865 Act was passed to facilitate the acquisition of those forest areas earmarked most urgently for railway supplies. 81 Ascoli, op. cit.: 55; O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteer, Khulna: 88. 82 Ibid.: 56-7.

Introduction

55

making a total area of 1,119 sq. miles. It was laid down that in the Bagerhat forests, which lie to the east of the Passur River, no Sundri tree of less than 3 feet 9 inches in girth at a height of 4½ feet from the ground might be cut, but no other restriction was imposed on the removal of any kind of produce. The collection of dues on all forest produce exported was initiated, and the establishment of revenue stations commenced, the rates in force being very liberal, one anna per maund was charged for Sundri, timber and Sundri fuel. The system of management continued on these lines till the forests were visited by Mr. E.P. Dansey, Conservator of Forests, in 1891, when it became clear that the Sundri forests were being rapidly destroyed by excessive felling, and that the restriction placed on the cutting of Sundri in the Bagherhat forests had been ignored. The Forest Act of 1878 merely sought to establish the claims of the state to the forest land it immediately required, subject to the provision that existing rights not to be abridged. Introducing the Bill, the Law Member, Henry Maine, remarked that even if rules were to be made on all subjects covered by the Bill, and maximum penalties prescribed for its transgression, the forest code would be ‘infinitely milder and less stringent than that which is in force in most European countries’. A further comment by Maine is worth noting in the context of the debate over the 1878 Act which was to follow – namely that the rights of individuals, villages and ‘wandering tribes’ exhibited ‘such diversity of character that it is impossible to include them for purposes of reservation, in any one definition’.83 The 1865 Act exercised only a tenuous control over the forest estate, and the search commenced for a more stringent piece of legislation. The then Sundarban Commissioner Gomees divided the ungranted lands in the 24-Parganas and Jessore into suitable blocks and proposed to farm them out by public auction. The scheme was approved by the Board in 1864 subject to the proviso that the farms would be liable to cancellation after six months’ notice in the event of the necessity for reclamation arising. In January 1866 the ungranted forests of the 83 Henry Maine, ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’, dated 14 September 1864 in A Proceedings, nos. 1-6, October 1864, Legislative Department, The National Archives of India, New Delhi.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

56

district of 24-Parganas covering an approximate area of 1,116,844 bighas were divided into 26 blocks and farmed out for Rs. 7,342 per annum. The Port Canning Company having purchased most of the farms attempted to create a monopoly by harassing the people to which government expressed their strong disapproval. The farming leases were accordingly cancelled in 1868 and a considerable amount of revenue was lost. The next proposal for the conservation of the forests formulated in 1859-70 but did not mature due to the opposition of the then Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Grey. In 1872-3 a revised scheme was propounded by the Conservator of Forests Dr. Wm. Schlich, chiefly to augment the revenue by regulating the export of forest produce. Thus a conference of the forest officers, convened in 1874, went into the defects of the 1865 Act and details of a new one. As Brandis put it, ‘Act VIII of 1865 is incomplete in many respects – the most important omission being the absence of all provisions regarding the definition, regulation, commutation, and extinction of customary rights…’.84 Thus Brandis disapproved of any arrangement that did not originate in clear demarcation of forests from other lands. In his vision even forests designated to provide the needs of villagers would be demarcated and otherwise treated similar to state forests.85 The later memorandum, further worked on by Brandis and a senior civil servant, B.H. Baden-Powell, culminated in the Indian Forest Act of 1878. Between 1878 and 1915, further reclamation of the Sundarbans districts was promulgated, and blocks of 200 acres or more were leased for 40 years to large feudal masters for development. The government reserved for itself all rights to mineral resources. In 1903 a Committee was appointed by government to consider the whole question of the form of the lease to be adopted in future. This Committee decided to abolish the system of lease to capitalist, large or small, and to proceed by direct settlement with cultivating ryots. New raiyatwari settlement rules were then made in 1905, but they remained ineffective in the 24-Parganas, after an abortive and financially unsuccessful attempt to colonize the Fraserganj Island under their provisions. By 1903, because 84

Explanatory Memorundum on the Draft Forest Bill by Brandis, dated 3 August 1869 in B. Proceedings, nos. 37-47, December 1875, Revenue and Agriculture (Forests), National Archives of India, New Delhi. 85 Memorandum by D. Brandis, dated 31 October 1868, Bengal Revenue Proceedings, July-December 1870, A Progs 9-10, October 1869.

Introduction

57

of abandonment of land and large-scale fiscal losses to the government, the system of leasing to large-scale zamindars was abolished in favor of ryotwari leases and taxation systems whereby between 1.6 and 12 were allocated to peasants into the previously unsettled marshes and jungles of the Sundarbans. Thus the state was concerned with removing the existing ambiguity about the ‘absolute proprietary right of the state’. A vocal advocate of state monopoly deplored the ‘unfortunate but irrevocable action of government authorities in days past’ which had taken many forest areas wholly out of the category of state property. Guha has rightly said that ‘even forests where the state had in theory retained its ‘absolute’ proprietorship were ‘everywhere used by all classes to get what they wanted’.86 Villagers were ‘everywhere used by all classes to get what they wanted’. Villagers had got accustomed to graze cattle and cut wood wherever they wished, the writer complained, because ‘nobody cared whether they did or not’.87 Thus a description of the forests added has been shown in the table below. TABLE 6: DESCRIPTION OF THE ADDED FORESTS

Area in acres 5,174 (Notification no. 1833 dated 10 August) Lot No. 109 10,348 (Ditto) Ungranted portion of Lot No. 115 10,725 (Notification no. 1888 dated 12 April) Waterways added in 1892-3 245,545 (nil) Newly-formed char 28,779 (Notification no. 10523 dated 9 August 1929) Total 300,571 Grand Total 1,485,211 acres or 2,320 sq. miles Lot No. 16

Source: Anil Chandra Lahiri, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the District of 24-Parganas for the Period 1924-1933: 136. 86

Guha, IESHR, op. cit. B.H. Baden-Powell, ‘On the Defects of the Existing Forest Law (Act XIII of 1865) and Proposals for a New Forest Act’, in B.H. Baden-Powell and J.S. Gramble, eds., Report of the Proceedings of the forest Conference, 1873-74, Calcutta, 1875. 87

58

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

Guha has summed up the arguments centered on the Forest Act of India in this way: To accomplish the separation of rights three distinct positions emerged. The first, which we call annexationist held out for nothing less than total state control over all forest areas. The second, which one can call pragmatic, argued in favour of state management of ecologically sensitive and strategically valuable forests, allowing other areas to remain under communal systems of management. The third position (a mirror of the image), we can call populist.

The Forest Act was introduced at a time when the government was seriously contemplating the settlement of Sundarban grants with large and small capitalists in order to eradicate the defects of the existing rules. With the introduction of Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, the demand for Sundarban grants gradually began to increase and government considered grants that had been declared protected forests. The Forest Department then abandoned their project towards increasing the revenue, and diverted their attention towards prevention of the early exhaustion of the forest. A scheme was prepared for that purpose and was sanctioned by the government in their resolution in 1875: 885 sq. miles of forest in the district of Khulna were then declared to be ‘Resumed Forest’. Subsequently 314 sq. miles on the south of Khulna and 382 sq. miles in the Satkhira subdivision were declared to be reserved forest. In 1877-8 proposals were made by the Forest Department for declaring the balance of ungranted Sundarban forests as protected area with a view to empower the Forest Department to collect forest dues. Such protected areas were open to release for reclamation when occasion demanded. Act VII of 1878, the Indian Forests Act, was promulgated for this purpose. An area of 1,184,640 acres as detailed below was declared protected forest under government notification of 1878. The following areas of protected forests were subsequently added to this area as has already been shown in the Table 3. It was then decided to restrict the felling of Sundri to yearly coupes, of which each should contain one-tenth of the area of the real Sundri bearing tracts, viz., the forests of the Bagherhat and Khulna subdivisions; and in view of the extensive destruction of Sundri timber which had gone on, the minimum felling girth had to be reduced to

Introduction

59

3 feet. A working plan was drawn up in 1893 for ten years. On the expiry of this plan in 1903, a new system of management was initiated, by which the annual fellings were confined to one-fortieth of the Bagerhat and Khulna forest area and were properly supervised, while no permits for Sundri were issued for the remainder of the forests. The result was an enormously decreased supply and a sharp fall in revenue accompanied by a rise in the market value of Sundri. The following table (Tabel 7) gives the salient statistics of the working of the forests during 1895-6 and also 1906-7. The Sundarbans supplied immense quantities of forest produce to Khulna and the adjoining districts, especially the 24-Parganas, Jessore and Bakarganj. The forest in the 24-Parganas and Khulna was under the Forest Department; that in the former district is ‘protected’ and that in Khulna was ‘reserved’. Wood-cutters were allowed to ply their business in the protected forest under passes from the department, and careful watch was kept over them by toll-stations established at all the important water-passes into the forest. Everything in Bakarganj was free. They brought away timber and firewood, gol pata leaves for thatching, and reed for matting. Shells, canes and other articles were also obtained from the forest. Endless numbers of boats proceed throughout the year to the forests and return laden with timber, firewood, thatching materials, etc., to supply. There were 1,758 sq. miles of protected forests in the western part of the Sundarbans situated in the 24-Parganas district, but due to its saline character this tract does not produce a large quantity of the best timber and fuel trees. The forests had to meet the demand for forest produce throughout the Khulna and Jessore districts, and in a lesser degree that of the Bakarganj district. Calcutta was also a market for golpata, fuel and garan posts, and in addition to these products, Sundri timber goes to Dumria in the Khulna district, to many places in the Bakarganj district, to Telihati in the Faridpur district, and to Jessore. Sundri timber for boat-building was in great demand throughout the neighbouring districts. Few boats were built of Sundri in the Khulna district. The promulgation of the Forest Act in the 1870s brought about a change in the colonial approach to reclamation, as the Act presented wholesale leasing of the remaining wetland forests of the 24-Parganas and Khulna. The reclamation history after the 1870s

8,750,861

4,214,159

Average

1906-7

9,158,288

9,990,260

99,902,608 98,917

65,807

658,074

Rs.

Minor Produce

5,21,151

4,50,410

45,04,102

Rs.

Revenue

2,02,600

81,290

8,12,900

Rs.

Expenditure

Rs.

Surplus

8,18,551

8,69,120

86,91,202

Source: L.S.S. O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers, Khulna, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908: 87.

37,598,617

Cubic feet

Cubic feet

Total

Fuel

Timber

TABLE 7: STATISTICS OF THE WORKING OF THE FORESTS DURING 1895-6 TO 1904-5 AND ALSO DURING 1906-7

Introduction

61

was replete with frequent changes in the rules of land grant to attract entrepreneurs or industrious peasants to undertake reclamation on behalf of the government. By the 1890s the Conservator of Forests in Bengal was articulating the position that forest conservancy was best realized through detailed technical plans which were inured to interference from other civil departments.88 By turn of the century, it became apparent that reclamation in Bakarganj was more successful than that in Khulna and the 24-Parganas. In 1904, the Sundarbans Commission’s Report on the nature of lands leased in the 24-Parganas showed that only 40 per cent of wetlands had been reclaimed in the district.89 The factor that inhibited extensive reclamation was the 24Parganas’ proximity to the sea and espouse to abnormally high tides. Unlike Bakarganj and Khulna, the area of the delta that forms the 24-Parganas Sundarbans had depended for its development on tidal action alone. Therefore, the delta developed backwards from south to north and the seaward face was more elevated than the interior.90 As a result, big embankments needed to be built up protect the reclaimed parts, preventing the elevation of ground level by a natural process of silt deposits.91 Thus, landscapes had been engineered and inscribed by technical vision and political exigency.92 The Sundarbans’ landscape and hydrology were transformed and shaped by colonial regime of science and commerce. This had brought about significant ecological changes in the region. Thus, from the early stages of reclamation embankments became an issue of considerable significance. It has been shown by Mukhopadhyay how the question of premature land formation, settlement and embankment building in the 24-Parganas was a much discussed issue in the post-Independent development narrative of Indian Sundarbans and used by human ministers, administrators and developers as a pretext to justify present day human suffering. The reclamation history of the Sundarbans thus 88 Letter from E.P. Dansey, Offg. Conservator of Forests to the Secretary of Bengal File Number Bengal Revenue Progs, May- July 1891, A Progs 98-121, July 1891. 89 Mukhopadhyay, op. cit: 29; Ascoli, op. cit.: 122. 90 Ascoli, op. cit.: 158. 91 Ibid.: 121. 92 D. Moose, The Rules of Water: Statecraft, Ecology and Collective Action in South India, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2003: 1.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

62

moved through various phases, demonstrating endless negotiations between colonial officials on the one hand and landlords, investors and speculators on the other. The primary and abiding interests of the colonial government in the agriculture of Bengal, or for that matter anywhere else in India, was the extraction of a part of the surplus in the form of land revenue.93 It is equally true that the Bengal forest rules came into force as late as the 1870s, and in the period prior to that the East India Company in general viewed forests chiefly as limiting agriculture.94 However, exploitation and extortion were not the only ways in which the colonial authorities could engage with the landscape and resources of the colonized terrain. In the nineteenth century, most of this gradual increase in land was taking place in the eastern half of Bengal or what comprises most of part colonial Bangladesh. This was mainly the result of the gradual eastward movement of the Ganges, beginning in the sixteenth century, from the Hooghly-Bhagirathi channel towards the bed of a smaller stream, called the Padma. The eastward shift of the Ganges ended when it met the river Brahmaputra near Dacca in the early nineteenth century.95 One theory is that this eastward shift of the Ganges was caused by the gradual rise of the level of the land in the north-western Bengal Basin together with a gradual eastward tilting of its overlying crust.96 Another theory, dating from 1861, was that the Brahmaputra and other large rivers in the Delta rose and fell about a month sooner than the Ganges, with the result that when the floods in the Ganges were at their highest, the Brahmaputra had already started to fall. What historical sense can we make of this highly fluid and sea-faced frontier territory of Bengal characterized by an extensive span of silty 93

Partha Chatterjee, 1982: 114. Sivaramakrishnan, 1997: 75. 95 For notes on the geological changes in the region, see J.E. Webster, Eastern Bengal District Gazetteer; Noakhali, Allahabad, 1911: 41; W.H. Ardenwood, ‘Rivers and Man in the Indus-Ganges Alluvial Plain’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 40 (1) 1924: 10; J. Seidensticker and A. Hai, The Sundarbans Wildlife Management Plan: Conservation in the Bangladesh Coastal Zone (1983): 120; Sugata Bose, Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital: Rural Bengal Since 1770, Cambridge, 1993: 11-12. 96 Sidney Burrard, ‘Movements of the Ground Level in Bengal’, Royal Engineers Journal, XLVII (1933): 234. 94

Introduction

63

Sundarbans and alluvial landforms? Richard Eaton’s authoritative analysis of the social history of this agro-ecological zone covers the long medieval period, leaving the colonial period for separate treatment.97 In an attempt to examine the changing relationship between ecology and society Iqbal studies three broad issues: the progress of change in the region’s ecological regime itself; the ways in which changes affected the rural economy and society; and the pattern and impact of the ways in which ecological resources were appropriated by different social forces over a longer span of time. In charting the changing relationship between Bengal’s fluid and forested ecology and the well-being and poverty of the population, Iqbal argues that the deterioration of East Bengal’s ecology, in particular the decay of river and forest systems, which was largely the result of complex political interventions, intensified communal antagonisms which powerfully influenced the political course of the region in the twentieth century as well as the regional economy and society. Mahesh Rangarajan suggests that the ‘Ecological’ half of environmental history would only make sense if it is tied with the broader enterprise of the ‘new social history’.98 K. Sivaramakrishnan has recently argued that in the face of relative intractability and illegibility in the frontier forest tract of southwestern Bengal, known as Jungle Mahal, the East India Company acknowledged the limits of its authority among certain tribal groups. Gunnel Cederlof criticizes Sivaramakrishnan’s idea of ‘anomaly’ for its suggestion that things were ‘normal’ in non-forest areas. Accordingly, the government renounced the idea of Permanent Settlement in 1871 and the Secretary of State finally laid it to rest in 1882.99 In 1877, the Board of Revenue declared a ‘revolutionary’ policy with regard to reclamation and settlement of Indian wastelands, including the Sundarbans. Two years later in 1879, two types of rules, Large Capitalist and Small Capitalist, were announced for the settlement of wastelands in the Sundarbans.100 These rules were 97

R.M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam. Mahesh Rangarajan, Fencing the Forests: Conservation and Ecological Change in India’s Central Provinces, 1860-1914, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996: 206. 99 Amalesh Tripathi, ‘ The Financial Policy of British Raj, 1858-1865’, in Bengal Past and Present, Calcutta Historical Society, 89, July-December 1970: 211-46. 100 Eric Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India: 228 98

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

64

essentially formulations for temporary settlements and they finally set aside all speculations regarding the extension of the rules of Permanent Settlement over the Sundarbans wastelands. In 24-Parganas part of the Sundarbans, Large Capitalist Rules guided the land settlement in most cases,101 but in the eastern Sundarbans of Bakarganj district, the Small Capitalist Rules were most successful.102 Large Capitalist Rules provided for a grant of maximum 5,000 bighas of land for 40 years at a progressive rate of revenue starting with an initial upset price of Re. 1 after a rent-free period of 10 years. In case of more applicants, the upset price was determinable by auction. The entire grant was, however, subject to forfeiture and enhancement of rent if the condition of clearing at least one-eighth of the grant within the first five years was violated under the Small Capitalist Rules. Provision was made for a 30-year lease of maximum 200 bighas at a rate of rent prevalent in the adjoining areas and payable after the first two years of rent-free period. The grantee was entitled to additional 200 bighas of adjoining uncultivated land if he could bring his previous grant under cultivation within the stipulated two-year period. Large or small, these grant rules paved the way for exclusive subinfeudation of land, rack-renting and consequent oppression of the real cultivators.103 These rules therefore assumed all the evil features of the Permanent Settlement which the home authorities wanted so sincerely to avoid. There was again a debate in the government circles and at last in 1904 both the capitalist rules were suspended and raiyatwari rules of settlement were finally introduced in Bengal for granting lease of the remaining uncultivated jungle lands of the Sundarbans.104 In Khulna the ‘large capitalist rules’ differed from the rules of 1853 by providing a rent-free period of only ten years, and in laying down the clearance condition, viz., that one-eighth of the entire grant was rendered fit for cultivation at the end of the 5th year. This condition was enforced either by forfeiture of the grant or by the issue of a fresh lease and required payment of rent at enhanced rates during the term of the grant. The rules also provided for gradually increasing rates of assessment after the 101 102 103 104

Ascoli, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870-1920, op. cit. Lahiri, Final Report: 115. Ascoli, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870-1920: 20. Lahiri, Final Report: 27.

Introduction

65

expiration of the rent-free period. It was further provided that there would be constant renewals of the lease on resettlement. The term of the original lease was fixed at forty years, and resettlements were to be made after periods of thirty years, maximum rates were laid down for each settlement. The maximum area of a grant was restricted to 5,000 bighas, the minimum being 200 bighas. Cultivation was not scattered all over the area of the land. Leases were sold at an upset price of Re. 1 an acre, when there was only one applicant, and to the highest bidder, when there was more than one. The leases conferred an occupancy right, hereditary and transferable. Rights of way and water and other easements were reserved. The right of using all navigable streams and footpaths not less than 25 feet wide on each side of every such stream was also reserved to the public; while government reserved the right to all minerals in the land, together with rights of way and other reasonable facilities for working, getting at, and carrying away such minerals. No charge was made for timber on the land at the time when it was leased. Under the Small Capitalist Rules plots of land below 200 bighas were given to small settlers, guaranteeing them a formal lease for 30 years, if the land were brought under cultivation within two years. The 30 years’ lease allowed a rent-free term of two years, with progressive rates of rent on the cultivated area. The holding was liable to measurement every five years, and all cultivated land in excess of the area was assessed at the same rate. After 30 years’, renewed leases could be given for 30 years’ periods and rates of assessment was adjusted at each renewal with reference to rates then prevailing in the neighbourhood. The tenure was heritable and transferable, provided that notice of transfer was given within one month, and no holding was divided without permission. Experience has shown that the system followed has not been a success on the ground that it caused a heavy loss of revenue, afforded no adequate control over the landlords, and encouraged a system of sub-infeudation, by which middlemen were introduced between the original grantee and the cultivator. Land-jobbers and speculators obtained leases for the purpose of re-selling them. In order to recoup his initial outlay, the original lease was often sublet to smaller lessees in return for cash payments. The land was eventually reclaimed and cultivated by peasant cultivators paying rack-rents. It was accordingly

66

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

decided in 1904 to abandon this system and to introduce a system of ryotwari settlement as an experimental measure, it was decided that the small areas would be let out to actual cultivators, assistance being given them by government in the form of advances, as well as by constructing tanks and embankments and clearing the jungle for them. The existing rule for the lease of waste lands was suspended. In Khulna, almost the whole of the area available for settlement was leased to capitalists. In the year 1905 regulation IX of 1816 was repealed by Bengal Act of 1905, and the Sundarbans area was parceled out into three parts, one being amalgamated with the district of Bakarganj, one with the 24-Parganas, and the third with Khulna. The Collectors of these three districts managed all matters connected with the revenue administration of the tract lying in their respective jurisdictions; and their settlement-holders of the estates comprised in the Sundarbans used to pay the land revenue fixed at periodical settlements, in one or two installments, into the treasuries at Barisal, Alipore or Khulna, the headquarters stations of the three districts concerned. The district continued in the shape acquired in 1905 until the Partition of the country in August 1947. By the Radcliffe Award published on the eve of the Partition what is now called the Bongaon subdivision came to the share of the district. In the year 1882 there were 971 revenue-paying estates of which 770 were permanently settled, 179 temporarily settled and 22 held under the direct management of government; there were also 31 revenue-free estates. This increase was due to the Permanent Settlement, because a number of taluks were made separate estates. The large estates being thus parceled out into shares and sold to the highest bidders, a large number of small estates were created. For instance, the Yusufpur estate alone, which was held by Raja Srikanta Rai, was divided three years after the settlement into 100 large and 39 small estates, and sold to as many proprietors. Unlike the rest of the district Khulna, the Sundarbans tract was not permanently settled and included 171 estates, which were periodically settled. The proprietors of estates were known as zamindars or talukdars (petty landholders). The holders had rights, privileges and responsibilities in all respects similar to those of zamindars. The proprietors of estates exercised the power of alienation and had created a large number of tenures, viz., patnis, ijaras

Introduction

67

and ganthis. The process of sub-infeudation was not terminated with the patnidars, ijaradars and ganthidars. There were lower gradations of tenures under them called darpatnis, darijaras and darganthis, and even further subordinate tenures called sepatnis, seganthis, etc. Many of the under tenures were of petty size and were originally ryoti holdings. The present holders acquired the status of under-tenure-holders who collected rents from the ryots as middlemen and paid them over to the superior landlords. In the Sundarbans the term taluk had a different meaning from that in the north of the district Khulna, for the Sundarbans grants are themselves called taluks, and their possessors were talukdars. There were found reclamation tenures granted for the clearance of jungle, called jungleburi, abadkari or patitabadi. They were permanent tenures, held exempt from the payment of revenue for a period, subject to a specific jama (assessment) for lands brought under cultivation. In Basirhat subdivision they were designated as patni and ganthi while in the rest of the area, patni and maurassi and round about Jaynagar thicadar. This last word may be traced from the thicadars of the time of the Permanent Settlement who were rent contractors. Now they were tenure-holders with permanent, transferable and heritable rights. A large number of tenures styled patnis on examination were found not to be patni tenures within the meaning of Regulation VIII of 1819. The reason for this was that the landlord had not stated that the tenure was amenable to the provisions of the Regulation of 1819; that the proprietor had put the so-called patni to sale through the civil court and that the patni was not confined to one estate or a portion of one estate but had been created out of lands falling within two or three estates. In the Sundarban areas in Basirhat subdivision all the first-grade tenures are called gantis, but outside the Basirhat subdivision the word ‘chakdar’ is almost always in use as in the greater part of these areas tenants from Midnapore have settled. The following table (Table 8) shows the area already settled, with the amount of revenue payable, and the area remaining to be settled in the Khulna Sundarbans: Thus, there was a vacillation in the policy of the government vis-à-vis the settlement of the Sundarbans wastelands from permanent to temporary and from temporary capitalist to raiyatwari system. The region therefore witnessed a complicated conglomeration of various land systems, which is

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

68

perhaps unique in the land revenue history of India. Despite the proximity of Calcutta, Twenty-four Parganas was barely forty percent reclaimed.105 In Twenty-four Parganas, fears of damaging floods from breaks in the steep river embankments’ and tidal action inhibited settlement.106 Anxious to exploit the district’s lands to the fullest possible, the Bengal Government adopted a radically new approach to reclamation. In 1904 the Revenue Board shifted to TABLE 8: THE AREA ALREADY SETTLED AND THE AREA REMAINING TO BE SETTLED IN THE KHULNA SUNDARBANS

Description

Area in Acres

Present Revenue

Eventual Revenue

Rs. An. P.

Rs. An. P.

61,081.27

38,052–7–9

46,050–7–9

121,159

31,107–0–0

35,780–0–0

Estates settled under the large capitalist rules

86,696

9,532–0--0

22,209–0–0

Estates settled under the small capitalist rules

11,842

14,729–0–0

14,916–0–0

Estates settled under the Regulation and other Acts

82,152.25

90,008–7–4

90,144–7–4

Reclaimed Estates

12,801.98



...

8,852.54



...

Reserve Forest

1,090,727.54



...

Total

1,420,312.58

Permanently settled estates Estates settled under the rules of 1853

Waste lands reclaiming to be settled

1,84,823–15–1 2,09,099–15–1

Source: L.S.S. O’Malley, Bengal District Gazetteers, Khulna, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908: 143.

105

Ascoli, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870 to 1920, op. cit.: 122. Of the total 7,500 sq. km in the district, only 3,115 sq. km. were assigned in various forms of grants to individual proprietors. 106 Ibid.: 121.

Introduction

69

a system of leasing small plots to individual cultivators who would colonize tracts under government supervision. The new rules for ryotwari or peasantwise leases and taxation, permitted individual cultivators to pay revenue direct to the government instead of rent to a landlord. The government also chose to offer reclamation loans and to invest in construction of irrigation tanks and embankments.107

For this new experiment, the Bengal Government aimed at the last remaining tracts of undisturbed forest in the lower delta of Bakarganj and Twenty-four Parganas Districts. As a result in 1904 the colonial authorities decided to pursue further reclamation of land only via the Ryotwari Settlement Act. But the initiation of Ryotwari Settlements was an astounding success in Bakarganj and an abject failure in 24-Parganas.108 The failure of Ryotwari settlement in 24-Parganas lead to the resumption of 1879 reclamation rules (albeit with slight modifications) in 24-Parganas in 1909.109 This move was criticized by people within the colonial administration and in 1915, after much deliberation, the colonial government decided to proceed with further settlement in the Sundarbans only via the Ryotwari system. This third phase which saw a minimum of 2,300 sq. km. being reclaimed and cultivated in the Sundarbans was easily the best phase for the colonial rulers in terms of revenue generation. Now they had three sources of revenue namely reclaimed cultivable lands, forest lots and tariff on exports of forest produce. This phase also witnessed a flurry of regulationary and law making activities on the part of the colonial authorities as they first introduced both a two tiered Lots system, then introduced the Ryotwari system in its favour and then had different settlement systems in different districts and finally culminated with the Ryotwari system in the whole of Sundarbans. This had a dynamic impact on both the ecology and the socioeconomic of Sundarbans. In 1904, Sundar, commissioner in the Sundarbans, submitted a list showing the nature of the leases under which different portions of the 24-Parganas were held. The list may be summarized as follows:110 107

J.C. Jack, Bakarganj District Gazetteer, vol. 36 of the Bengal District Gazetteer series, ed. L.S.S. O’Malley, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1918: 54. 108 Richards and Flint, 1990 109 Sarkar, 2010 110

Bengal Government Notification No. 3261, Dated 19 September 1905;

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

70

TABLE 9: NATURE OF LEASES OF 24-PARGANAS SUNDERBANS

Serial No. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Nature of Lease Held under talukdari right Held under malguzari right Held under farming right Sagar Island leases under the rules of 1897 Held under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 Held under Forest Grant Rules of 1833 Held in perpetuity Redeemed estates Resumed for Canning Town Held under Free Simple Rules Held revenue-free in Sagar Island Total

No. of Estates 1 4 2

Area (acres) 330 2,733 1,957

8

23,304

182

3,25,671

93 3 24 2 3

2,62,937 3,842 1,17,113 6,311 4,867

6 328

20,966 7,70,031

Source: Mitra, op. cit.: cixii. In Bakarganj all the existing grants were commuted into grants under these rules and 25 new grants were immediately made, as there was great competition.111 The whole of the Bakarganj forest was leased under these rules. The exact terms were published in the Calcutta Gazette.112 Of the grants made in Bakarganj only 21 survive, of which cited in Gokul Chandra Das, ‘The Colonial Land System in the 24-Parganas: Sundarbans, 1825-1904,’ Bengal Past and Present, Calcutta Historical Society, 1996, vol. 115: 48-65. 111

It appears from the collectorate records that one of these (Tauzi no.) was not regularly made and is really a terminable ijara for 99 years .It is significant that although the Governor-General in Council directed that ‘resumed mahals’ were not to have the benefit of these rules, 90 years grants were actually made in respect of 9 ‘resumed mahals’, in 6 of which the entire area had already been reclaimed and in the other 4 of which reclamation was already considerable. 112 8 October 1853 and are known as the ‘Forest Grant Rules of 1853’. The terms were as follows: One-fourth of the whole grant to be forever exempt from assessment, (ii) The remaining three-fourths to be rent-free for 20 years, to pay half-an-anna per

Introduction

71

7 were grants under the old rules which had been commuted. Many of these grantees were European capitalists who found Bakarganj too distant a field for their attention. While the Bengali capitalists soon exhausted their capital some of the forest grants were thrown up and some were forfeited by failure to fulfil the clearance conditions. Of those which survived, a few escaped any inspection of the amount of clearance and others obtained a false certificate that the clearance conditions had been fulfilled. At the district survey fifty years after the grants were made, none of the surviving grants had cleared and rendered fit for cultivation the three-fourths which the terms provided; but that survey gave much a fillip to reclamation that some succeeded before the survey was concluded. Governments were prepared even to grant jagirs to induce capitalists to turn their attention to the Sundarbans. In April 1862 the issue of further grants under the rules of 1853 was stopped and the new policy of revenue- free grants was brought into force. The policy was originally mooted by the Government of India in 1858 with the object of promoting the settlement of Europeans in India. As regards the Sundarbans there were two proposals, the sale of waste-lands in perpetuity discharged from all prospective demand on account of land revenue and the redemption of land revenue in all existing revenue-paying estates by the payment of its capitalized value. The rules published in Calcutta Gazette had shown that two fee-simple grants were made in Bakarganj and there were no applications for redemption. Probably the grantees under the 99 years rules considered their existing terms more attractive than a lump payment of a large amount. The grant did not exceed 5,000 bighas, one-eighth must be cleared in five years on penalty of forfeiture, the revenue-free period was reduced to 10 years and the maximum revenue was reached in the 21st year and was from 6 to 12 annas a standard bigha. One-fourth of the grant was exempt from bigha from the 21st year, one anna from the 31st, one anna and a half from the 41st and two annas from the 51st year, (iii) After the 99th year grant to be re-assessed at a moderate assessment, but the proprietary right and the right of engagement to remain with the grantee, (iv) one-eighth to be cleared and rendered fit for cultivation at the end of the 5th year, one-fourth at the end of the 10th year, one-half at the end of the 20th, and three-fourths at the end of the 30th year. On failure of any one of these four conditions, the grantee to forfeit all right and interest in the lands.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

72

revenue. The lease was for 40 years and the grantee was entitled to re-engagement at an increased assessment. In Bakarganj eight leases were granted under these terms. As of 1873, outstanding leases for land reclamation totalled 4,355 sq. km. or 22 per cent of the entire Sundarbans. Of this total 2,792 sq. km. were reclaimed, and 1,562 sq. km. lay in forest still awaiting clearing and cultivation.113 From 1871, the Bengal Forest Rules came into force. Even so, parts of the forest continued to be leased out for cultivation. The geographical differences between east and west Bengal were, in turn, deepened by the separate political measures concerning these two regions. In Khulna (east), the forest was ‘Restricted’ and thus protected. In the 24-Parganas (west), the forest was merely ‘Protected’ and left open either for leasing and thus clearing, or for timber production. It was in the west that the rivers, much used by trading ships, began to silt up and become brackish, whereas the eastern soil and rivers proved to be very fertile: nearly 90 per cent of the land was reclaimed from forests in the district of Bakarganj – the eastern-most district of the Sundarbans. The British colonial government saw the Sundarbans as a resource to be developed in order to increase the productivity of the Bengal countryside. Thus land reclamation and settlement in the Sundarbans progressed each year as the wetlands proved to be generally fertile and productive. It can be seen quite clearly that the colonial authorities tried to bring about a synthesis of sorts as far as land reclamation was concerned by trying to incentivize it to both categories of landlords. This did bring some positive results as the amount of land grants made in this period of 25 years was around 3,168 sq. km. out of which 2,008 sq. km. was reclaimed for cultivation which means that the average rate of reclamation per year was around 80 sq. km. which was the highest rate in the entire reclamation history of Sundarbans. The chief reason for this high rate can be attributed to the fact that both small and big landlords were in action during this period. However, there were some serious problems as well with two pronged reclamation strategy especially so in the case of the big landlords. This scheme provided enough leeway for land jobbers and speculators to exploit the arbitrage 113

Hunter, op. cit.

Introduction

73

in the land market so created. Moreover the issue of rack renting also emerged wherein the original grant-holder would sublet his land to smaller lessees (in order to recover their investment expenditure rather quickly) and these lessees would in turn again sublet them and this process would go on till the land was actually cultivated by small peasants paying rack rents.114 By the early 1870s British officials, in what was probably a serious underestimate, believed that Bengali settlers had cleared and brought under rice cultivation 2,790 sq. km. of wetlands in the 80 years since the permanent settlement of 1793. This was nearly a fifth of the officially surveyed land area of 14,627 sq. km. (and 4,881 sq. km. in waterways) for the Sundarbans at that time. However, to complicate matters somewhat, silt deposition had probably added 800 sq. km. or more of new lands to the Sundarbans over the same period. Despite this increment, land reclamation far exceeded formation of new alluvial lands.115

After an extended period of investigation and debate, Act VII of 1878 constituted ‘Reserved’ and ‘Protected’ category. These were lands that could only be opened for reclamation by consent of the Forest Department.116 By 1890 there were 4,095 sq. km. of reserved Forests in Khulna District, and Protected Forests totalling 4,480 sq. km. in 24-Parganas. Khulna also possessed 65 sq. km. of Protected Forest.117 In turn of the century Bakarganj even the scattered ‘little blocks of jungle and waste’ lands had begun to disappear.118 In place of the dense growth of Sundri trees and associated vegetation laced with the waters of the winding estuaries, Bakarganj displayed the ‘timeless’ Bengal landscape of embanked rice paddies and farmsteads lining the 114

1/8th of the entire grant was rent free in perpetuity (Haraprasad Chattopadhyay, The Mystery of the Sundarbans, A. Mukherjee & Co., Calcutta, 1999). 115 J.C. Jack, 1915: Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operation in the Bakarganj District. 116 E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India, vol. II, London, Bodley Head, 1922: 47081. Protected forests fell under that designation because private owners already held substantial holdings and rights therein. 117 Annual Progress Report of Forest Administration in the Presidency of Bengal for the Year 1937-1938, Alipore, Superintendent Government Printing, Bengal Government Press, 1939: 58. 118 J.C. Jack, Bakarganj District Gazetteer, vol. 36 of the Bengal District Gazetteers series, ed. L.S.S. O’Malley, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1918: 54.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

74

water courses.119 It was also clear that that Bakarganj district, rather than 24-Parganas or Khulna district, was the area most favoured by settlers. In 1904, the majority of Khulna’s lands still lay in forest, most of which had been Government Reserve Forest since the 1870s. Despite the proximity of Calcutta, 24-Parganas was barely 40 per cent reclaimed.120 By 1904 the Reserved Forest area in Khulna stood at 5,390 sq. km. (78 per cennt of the total area of 6,962 sq. km. classed as Sundarbans in the district). By 1938, the total reserved forest area had reached 6,000 sq. km – essentially the same reserved forest area maintained by Bangladesh in 1971.121 The following table (Table 10) shows the condition of the various grants during 1900-8. It appears from the statistical data as reflected from Table 1 that it was a story of failure in the assessment of ‘resumed mahals’ and in the reclamation of forests. In both cases the failure was primarily due to the deficience of sadr malguzar. Direct relations with the cultivator were eschewed as a principle by the Board of Revenue. Reclamation was the supreme consideration, yet the sadr malguzar proved miserably unable to reclaim. It was not, however, until 1879 that the error was suspected and cultivators tentatively introduced and it was not until 1909 that the error was acknowledged and a stateaided colonization by cultivators directed in all of the forests which remained unleashed. There can be no doubt, however, that the error would have been acknowledged much earlier, had not the forests in Bakarganj been united with the forests of Khulna and the 24-Parganas under a common management. The common office was located near Calcutta, where speculators were numerous and the affairs of Khulna and the 24-Parganas monopolized attention. The Commissioner in the Sundarbans always neglected Bakarganj, whose forest was not even surveyed for twenty years. Above all ignorance of Bakarganj conditions 119

Richards and Flint, op. cit. Ascoli, op. cit.: 122. Of the total 7,500 sq. km. in the district, only 3,115 sq. km. were assigned in various forms of grants to individual proprietors. 121 The 1904 figure is cited in The Imperial Gazetteer, vol. 23: 143. The 1920 figure is from Government of India, Bengal Presidency, Forest Department, Annual Progress Report on Forest Administration, 1920-21, Form No. 7: 19. The 1938 figure for Khulna district is found in the 1937-8 Annual Report of the same series: 56. 120

2

8

383

Grants to large capitalists under the rules of 1879

Grants to small capitalists under the rules of 1879

1

4





Farmed

Settled with haoladars

Settled with cultivators

Total

174,862

4,53

8,698

135

677

23, 614

11,528

11,163

114,514

Area in Acres

37,633

200

423

nil

nil

3,415

7,899

nil

27, 698

Amount Unreclaimed Acres

1,53,270

7,780

27,817

563

817

67,106

8,215

nil

40,972

Revenue Rs.





39, 381

683

2,000



35, 850

32,633

1,51,665

Assets of Grantees Rs.

8,40,000

7,786

42,289

694

3, 763

84,933

64,519

67, 361

5,68,661

Rental Value Rs.

Source: J.C. Jack, Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Bakharganj District 1900-1908, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1915: 124.

1

Permanently-settled ...

Miscellaneous:

21

Fee- simple grants

Number

Grants under the rules of 1858

Nature of Grant

TABLE 10: CONDITION OF THE VARIOUS GRANTS DURING 1900-8

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

76

was abysmal and as a result terms and conditions which were suitable to Khulna and the 24-Parganas were forced upon Bakarganj, where they were not suitable at all. The most conspicuous examples of this are in the long rent-free period and in the long time allowed for clearance. In the purchased estates the revenue was Rs. 3,15,520 (of which Rs. 2,79,784 was settled in perpetuity) as compared with a revenue of Rs. 2,20,354 at the time of the Permanent Settlement. Of these three districts of Sundarbans namely Khulna, Bakarganj and 24-Parganas vary in land reclamation. It was most successful in Backarganj in Bangladesh and was the worst in Khulna while 24-Parganas fared moderately.122 By 1915 jungles in Bakarganj had been cleared nearly completely while in Khulna there was hardly any clearance. As far as 24-Parganas was concerned, only 40 per cent of it had been reclaimed.123 One main reason as to why Bakarganj performed so well was purely geographical in the sense that the positioning of the tectonic plates were such that there was a tilt towards the eastern part of Sundarbans from the western part. As a result most of the fresh water flowed from the western part where 24-Parganas is located to the eastern part where Bakarganj and Khulna are located which made the water less saline and agriculture more tenable in these parts.124 Moreover as land in Bakarganj was higher and better drained it meant that embankments of moderate size were only required as compared to 24-Parganas where steep embankments were the order of the day due to lower land levels and damaging tidal action.125 But this doesn’t give any explanation as to why there was hardly any reclamation in Khulna and can at best be one major factor in case of 24-Parganas. There was indeed another major force at work: the socioeconomic force of forest conservation. The process had actually started back in 1869 when the Forest Department lobbied for a tax on timber and other Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) which were being exported out of Sundarbans but to no avail.126 However in 1874 the scenario changed drastically as the duo of Richard Temple, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal 122 123 124 125 126

Richard and Flint, 1990. Sarkar, 2010. Chattopadhyay, 1990. Richards and Flint, 1998. Ascoli, 1921.

Introduction

77

and William Schlich, the Conservator of Forests were of the view that conservation of the forest was as important as reclaiming them for cultivation because the entire of Southern Bengal was dependent on the Sundarbans for fuel and timber.127 Between 1875 and 1876 a total area of 4,094 sq. km. of Khulna was converted into the Sundarbans Forest Division. The Forest Act of 1878 with the concepts of ‘reserved’ and ‘protected’ forests were applied in the Sundarbans too. In Khulna the entire area under the Forest Department was converted into reserved forests. Thus it appears that in Khulna the area of reserved forests increased over time at a rate of 46.52 per cent between 1890 and 1938. In 1938 nearly 86 per cent of the total area of Khulna was under the Reserved Forests which explains quite easily as to why there was hardly any land reclamation here for cultivation since 1870s. As far as 24-Parganas the area of protected forests remained more or less the same throughout the entire period. Bakarganj which had almost been completely reclaimed for cultivation naturally had a very low protected forest area and no reserved forests. It is important to understand that this creation of reserved and protected forests in Sundarbans brought about a huge amount of revenue for the colonial authorities as they managed a steady profit by selling of forest produce. The products had a huge market in Bengal most notably in Kolkata.128 It can be seen that the increase in gross revenues was phenomenal in the last period. The gross revenue earned in the last period was a staggering Rs. 1,17,69,007 while it was an impressive Rs. 10,59,754 in the preceding period. The first 17 years of forest conservation in the Sundarbans brought gross revenues of Rs. 3,03,498. The growth rate of forest revenue was an impressive 249 per cent in the second period and an astounding 1,010 per cent in the third period. This gives a clear impression of not only the correctness of the revenue logic behind the movement of forest conservation and quite clearly this must have been the greater source of revenue from Sundarbans when compared with that of land revenue at least in the third period. Looking at Gross Revenues from the forest Department at a more 127 128

Richards and Flint, 1990. Chattopadhyay, 1990.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

78

disaggregated level shows some fluctuations but the overall picture is one of tremendously accelerating revenue earnings. It also shows the yearly gross revenues for the period 1910-11 to 1929-30. The average yearly gross revenue during this period was Rs. 7,24,577.60. The highest gross revenue was collected in the year 1925-6 at Rs. 10,33,737 and the lowest was collected in 1915-16 at Rs. 4,50,763. The growth rate of gross revenues from the forest department in this period was nearly 50 per cent. So overall this decision to conserve certain part of Sundarbans paid rich dividends for the colonial authorities in terms of revenue generation for the state. As a result after 1915 not much land reclamation took place in the Sundarbans in eastern Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The case, however, was different in the 24-Parganas which is in India where extensive reclamation took place till 1939 as it was a protected forest and not reserved and hence the colonial authorities could clear it after obtaining necessary clearances from the Forest Department. SPECIAL GRANTS Now two special grants can be taken up for consideration, one is the Sagar Island at the confluence of the Hughli on the Bay of Bengal and the other Port Canning, 24 miles East of Calcutta on the head of the river Matla. As early as 1810, the government decided to clear and settle the Sagar Island for the benefit of navigation over the Hughli.129 The island was proposed to be a haven for the mariners of wrecked ships.130 However; it was not colonized until 1819, when the Sagar Island Society was formed by Trower, the Collector of the 24-Parganas.131 The society was an organization of Calcutta merchants and government officers, mostly English, with a capital of Rs 2.5 lakh. The government granted the island to the society in perpetuity at a rent of 4 annas per bigha. The chief estuaries from west to east are the Baratala or Channel Creek, the Saptamukhi, the Jamira, the Matla, the Gosabe and the Raimangal. These estuaries are interspersed and separated by several large islands, of which the 129 130 131

Ascoli, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870-1920: 122. O’Malley, 24-Parganas: 185. Correspondence Relating in the Settlement of Saugar Island for 1969.

Introduction

79

chief, from west to east, are as follows (1) Sagar Island between the Hughli and Channel Creek. This, the most and largest and most important of the islands, is itself cut up into many smaller islands by cross-streams; (2) Mecklenberg Island, recently renamed Fraserganj, west of the Saptamukhi; (3) Lothian Island in the mouth of the Saptamukhi; (4) Bulcherry (Balchari) Island between the Jamira and Matla; (5) Dalhousie Island between the Matla and Gosabe; and (7) Bangaduni Island at the mouth of the Gosabe. The rent was payable to the government at the expiry of a 30-year rent-free period. There were various stipulations as to the clearing, failure in which would entail forfeiture. As it failed to earn profits and was ruined due to a severe sea storm in 1833, the society sold its estates to four private Englishmen.132 They, too, suffered because of repeated storms and inundation during the 1850s. The government efforts to save the grantees by conferring on them the privilege of making salt and extending the rent-free period of 1863 ultimately failed.133 The severe cyclones of 1864 and 1867 virtually ruined all efforts of reclamation. After the cyclone of 1864, Dampier, the Presidency Commissioner, wrote to the Board of Revenue: ‘…1,488 people are left alive out of 5,625 and of these 802 only are men.’134 Again, after the cyclone of 1867, R.B. Chapman, the officiating commissioner of the presidency found that there were only 782 inhabitants.135 Great loss of life and damage were inflicted by the cyclone-wave of 1 November 1876 on the lands at the extreme east. These calamities forced the attention of the authorities to the necessity of taking safety measures. A new method of undertaking clearance and new protective measures were introduced in the Sagar Island.136 A special set of rules was promulgated in 1897 for settlement of land in the Sagar Island. These were revenue-free, subject to the construction 132

Satyajit Das (compiled), Selections from the Indian Journals, Calcutta Journal Prefatory Note by Susobhan Chandra Sarkar, Calcutta, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1983, vol. 1: 61. 133 O’Malley, 24-Parganas, p. 185. 134 Ibid. 135 Mr Dampier to the Board of Revenue, no. 365, 18 November 1864, quoted in Saugar Correspondence, p. 3. 136 Babu P.D. Datta to A.D.B. Comes, 2 September 1870, quoted in Saugar Correspondence, p. 65.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

80

and maintenance of protective works including special refugee tanks of large dimensions. These conditions were considered insufficient and new rules for the island in 1897 were based on the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879. The maximum area was fixed at 10,000 bighas, out of the consideration of the fact that extensive protective works had to be undertaken, and only men of means should be encouraged to take leases, the rent-free period was raised from 10 to 15 years and the rates of rent substantially liberalized; the period of settlement was fixed at 20 years; in addition, the rules contained certain important provisions for the maintenance of protective works. On condition of implementing these mandatory protective measures together with some minor obligations, the cultivated zones were again granted free of rent in perpetuity in 1875. The waste lands to which these rules apply include all the ungranted and unoccupied land not contained within the boundaries of six grants, viz., Mud Point, Ferintosh, Bamankhali, Trower Land, Shikarpur and Dhobelat or Ganga-Sagar which were assigned rent-free in perpetuity on condition that the grantees constructed protective works. The Sagar Island rules generally followed the rules for large capitalists in the Sundarbans, except that a rent-free period of 15 years was allowed, and that failure to clear one-eighth of the entire grant by the end of the fifth year rendered the lessee liable, at the discretion of government, to forfeiture of the lease or to a penalty of 4 annas per acre rendered fit for cultivation fell short of the area required to be cleared. The assessment was fixed at the rate of 2 annas per bigha from the 16th to the 20th year, and 4 annas per bigha from the 21st to the 40th year. After the expiration of 40 years, re-settlements were to be made for the periods of 20 years. The maximum area of a grant was fixed at 10,000 bighas. Leases were sold at an upset price of 8 annas an acre when there was one applicant, and to the highest bidder when there was more than one, the lessees being bound to construct protective works and to keep them in repair. Six leases were grants covering an area of 20,362 acres; the rent payable was Rs. 956, which eventually rose to Rs. 11, 391. Over the remaining uncultivated lands of the island, however, six grants were issued in 1897 under the Large Capitalist Rules.137 The second special grant 137

O’Malley, 24-Parganas, p. 178.

Introduction

81

was over Port Canning, now known as Canning Town. In 1853, the Bengal Chamber of Commerce drew the government’s attention to the continuous and serious deterioration of navigability of the Hughli and also argued for the establishment of a harbor at the head of the river Malta as a substitute for Calcutta.138 The government purchased lot no. 54 from its original grantee for Rs 11,000 for constructing a shipping canal and a railway to connect the river with the Hooghly.139 A town along with roads, tanks and other facilities was planned along the partially cleared river frontage in lot 54 and also in 51, which had lapsed to the government by then. In 1862, the Port Canning Municipality was created to develop the infrastructure of the port town in these lots which were handed over to it by the government for the purpose. The Port Canning Land Investment Reclamation and Dock Company Limited were formed in 1865 for the reclamation and management of the agricultural portions of these lots and also for the purchase and reclamation of some adjoining lots. A railway was constructed and wharves were built in connection with the project. But, by 1868, the entire scheme failed as the port failed to attract enough maritime trade along the Matla.140 The municipality also suffered from the paucity of funds. Sums collected from the public and the Port Canning Company and the liberal loans provided by the government were not enough to complete the ongoing works. The company and the municipality soon became involved in litigation.141 The government attached the property of the municipality and placed it under the Collector of the 24-Parganas as a government estate.142 The Port Canning L.I.R.&D. Company went into liquidation in 1870 and was reconstructed as the Port Canning Land Company. The new company under its Parsi management with its headquarters at Bombay engaged itself in subleasing the lands held by it for reclamation and new settlement.143 138 Bengal Chamber of Commerce to Govt. of Bengal, dt 27 May 1853, Papers Relating to the Formation of Port Canning. 139 140 141 142 143

Govt. of Bengal to Govt. of India, Home, no. 231, dt 16 April 1856. Imperial Gazetteer of India, op. cit., p. 34. Ascoli, A Revenue History of the Sundarbans from 1870-1920: 4. O’Malley, 24-Parganas: 225. Ibid.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

82

THE REVENUE ADMINISTRATION In 1857, the task of resettling the entire Sundarbans was rested in the Commissioner. Again, the following year, the Presidency Commissioner was empowered to hear the complaints against the Commissioner’s orders regarding settlement and resumption.144 By the 1870s, the colonial state was anxious to pick up the pace of settlement. New revenues were needed. Moreover, the sight of potentially fertile land lying wild and idle was an affront to the progressive-minded revenue officers of the Bengal Civil Service. The centralized but separate system of revenue administration for the Sundarbans region continued till the end of the nineteenth century. Between 1873 (the date of the Sundarbans Commissioner’s report) and 1904, a new spurt of clearing and settlement ensued. The officially recognized area of the Sundarbans diminished by 2,608 sq. km. (13.3 per cent), from 19,510 in 1873 to 16,902 sq. km. in 1904.145 This shrinkage reflected successful conversion of wetlands to cultivation and settlement in the area declassified. In the same year, 2,401 sq. km. of reclaimed cultivated land area within the Sundarbans was recorded. The latter represented new lands leased, cleared and cultivated over the ensuing three decades. But the 1876 cyclone and storm wave with its enormous destruction and loss of life killed off or discouraged many peasantry farmers and grant holders. Despite setbacks, the agricultural economy of lower Bengal displayed remarkable strength and resilience in this period.146 The office of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans was finally abolished in 1905.147Since then, the 24-Parganas district and its part of the Sundarbans began to be administered as a single unit under the authority of the district collector and magistrate. The speculative land rush that followed the 1879 rules retained some of the older undesirable social and economic effects – at least in the official view. Revenue officers of the Bengal government objected to ‘the growth 144

Ibid. The 1873 figure is from Hunter I: 330-1. The 1904 value is from The Imperial Gazetteer, vol. 23: 140. 146 Ibid.: 144-5. 147 Kumudranjan Naskar, Plant Wealth of the Lower Ganga Delta (An EcoTaxanomical Approach), vol. I, Delhi: Daya Publishing House, 1993: 13. 145

Introduction

83

of an undesirable class of land speculators and middlemen and to the grinding down of the actual cultivators by excessive rents’.148 Investors and landlords rapidly sublet their leases in a chain of subinfeudation that forced excessive burdens on the actual cultivator. LAND RELATIONS The people who purchased the Sundarbans grants, better known as lotdars, were generally the men of mercantile profession or men working in the high offices of the revenue department. Many of them were Europeans, particularly English. In fact, as early as 1776, the Court of Directors preferred to grant lease of uncultivated jungle lands to the British subjects because of their ‘superior knowledge’.149The Charter Acts of 1813 and 1833 entitled the Europeans including the British to purchase land and settle in India. Sometimes, however, the zamindars of permanently settled adjoining districts purchased holdings in the Sundarbans. Sometimes the process of reclamation and development of estates differed due to the differences of attitude of the lotdars belonging to various social strata. But profit was perhaps the single common factor of these farmers’ motives. The reclamation and cultivation of swamp ridden jungles involved costly, sustained and vigorous efforts of the first few years without any gains. So, the responsibility of clearance, cultivation and induction of tenants for these purposes was shifted by leaseholders on to the middlemen.150 To these men were parceled out certain portions of original grant on onetime lump sum payment or yearly fixed payments. This subinfeudation of land was limited in the 24-Parganas Sundarbans to only two grades above the cultivators compared to 20 or more in Bakarganj district.151 The land jobbing and speculation had adverse effects naturally on the relation between landlords and tenants. Demand of rent in some areas of the North was much higher than in the South.152 Some of the lessees 148

Richards and Flint, op. cit. Lahiri, Final Report, p. 122 150 From the Court of Directors, dated 24 December 1776, General Letters, Land Revenue, item no. 42. 151 Lahiri, op. cit.: 70. 152 W.W. Hunter, A Statistical Account of the Districts of the 24-Parganas and 149

84

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

were in the habit of inducing tenants to take up loads of reclamation on easy terms under invalid documents and of ousting them to make room for new tenants willing to pay higher rent once the land had been cleared.153 The lessees were non-residents who administered their estates through kuchharis, managed by naib, gomosta and darwans– everyone exploiting the peasants.154 Although embankments were all important for cultivation in the Sundarbans and their erection and maintenance was obligatory on the part of the lessees under the capitalist rules, there were many cases of neglect on their part. It resulted in frequent inundation and loss of crops. The damage done by the disastrous cyclone of 1870 led to the extensive abandonment of holding in the Sundarbans.155 In Bakarganj the proprietors under the Permanent Settlement consisted of three groups different in origin; i.e., (1) the zamindars, (2) the ‘independent’ talukdars paying revenue directly to the government, and (3) the separated, talukdars having paid through some superior zamindar before 1793 but separated from the zamindaries and made ‘independent’ at the time of the Permanent Settlement. However, in their revenue-paying rolls, there was no difference among them.156 The smaller zamindars and talukdars resided not uncommonly within the district but not usually within their estates excluding the cases in the northern thanas. Most of them were Hindus of the higher caste (Brahmin, Baidya and Kayastha) and Muslims were comparatively few in this rank. Despite the pettiness of more than half the taluks in the north, there were also many taluks with an area of several hundred acres and a few as large as 20,000 acres. The revenue assessed on the smaller zamindars was lighter than that on the large ones, and the talukdars could drew more profit from their taluks than the zamindars from their zamindaries . In Bakarganj, many of the talukdars and smaller zamindars enjoyed the light assessment Sundarbans, vol. 1: 341; J.C. Jack, Bengal District Gazetteers, Buckargunge, Calcutta, 1918: 32. 153 Ibid. 154 O’Malley, 24-Parganas: 175. 155 Hunter, Statistical Account, vol. 1: 341 156 Tapan Raychaudhuri, ‘Permanent Settlement in Operations Bakarganj District, East Bengal’, in R.E. Frykenberg (ed.), Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1969: 165.

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of the revenue at the time of the Permanent Settlement and handed their lands down to their descendants for a century.157 This, however, does not mean that their estates were handed down quietly. A change in their size frequently occurred due to either encroachment on the wastes of another estate or the custom’ of limba. There had been the extraordinary fluctuation in the estate-size between the Thak Survey in 1856-60 and the District Survey in 1901-5.158 In the area where the Permanent Settlement functioned properly in the beginning of the twentieth century, the proprietors made a profit of Rs. 16 lakh, but the revenue was less than Rs. 6 lakhs and the rental value was not less than Rs. 60 lakhs. The balance between revenue and rent became remarkable, in not a few cases, to such an extent as in the taluk Sujat Khan (Tauzi roll no. 3572) which had revenue of Rs.187 and a rent-roll of Rs. 14,843.159 The tremendous margin, however, did not come to their hands in full. Pretty handsome amount of it was absorbed by the intermediate tenure-holder class of the total area of the private estates, 1,447,053 acres or 76 per cent were leased to the tenure-holders, and the area leased to raiyats formed only 258,414 acres or 14 per cent. Thus over five times as much land was leased to tenure-holders, whereas the rent paid by them amounted to only less than double than that paid by the raiyats to their proprietors. The proprietors, however, did not sacrifice all the expected profit by distributing it among the tenure-holders, because they themselves appeared as the tenure-holders either by creating nil tenure within their estates for themselves and their families, or by acquiring the tenures of the estates ‘belonging to other proprietors. The cultivators were protected to some extent from the occasional 157 Beveridge, op.cit.: 60. Recently the attention has begun to be directed more to the continuity of village than to its structural change. See Rajat and Ratna Ray, ‘The Dynamics of Continuity in Rural Bengal under the British Imperium: A Study of Quasi-stable Equilibrium in Underdeveloped Societies in a Changing World’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. X, no. 2, April 1973: 103-28; Ratna Ray, ‘Land Transfer and Social Change under the Permanent Settlements: A Study of Two Localities’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. XI, no. 1, January 1974: 1-45; B.B. Chaudhury, ‘Land Market in Eastern India, 1793-1940’, in IESHR 12 (1): 1-42. 158 S.R.B. Jack, para 218: 98. 159 Ibid., para 217: 97.

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enhancement of rent by the Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885, but the landlords multiplied their demand in the form of abwabs. The settlement officers of the 24-Parganas listed as many as 10 kinds of abwabs prevalent in the Sundarbans in their final report in 1940.160 To overcome the financial onslaughts, sometimes the men of moderate holding also look recourse to subletting their lands for higher rent in cash or produce in kind. A new grade of land tenure, i.e. the bargadari system, grew out of this impasse in the land market in the Sundarbans.161 During the years of scarcity owing to severe cyclone, inundation of the cultivated lands by salt water and the consequent loss of crops, the misery of the cultivators knew no bounds. During one such year of scarcity in 1866, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the great novelist of Bengal and Deputy Magistrate in Baruipur, took over charge of the Diamond Harbour subdivision temporarily and carried on relief work in the villages.162 As the landlords – both lessees and tenure holders – generally remained absent from their estates, their naibs were all powerful and the tenants had difficulty in getting their grievances redressed. In comparison the small landholders, particularly those who had brought with them the men of their own community from their old place of residence, had a little more direct interest in the cultivation of their new estates and the wellbeing of their tenants.163During a near famine situation in 1869, the talukdars rushed to the rescue of their hapless tenants and prevented the mass desertion of the reclaimed lands.164 Tarini Das Banerjee, however, cited one incident in which some large capitalist lessees like Digamber Mitra carried on relief work in 1873-4.165 The agent of the Port Canning Company, however, endeavoured to improve the lot of their tenants by introducing in their allotment finer qualities of rice which would attract a higher price in the market than the

160

Imperial Gazetteer of India: 372. Lahir, op. cit.: 74. 162 BLRCR, vol. VI, p. 145. 163 Kalinath Dutta, ‘Bankim Chandra’ in Pradip (in Bengali), Ashard, 1306 bs. 164 Hunter, Statistical Account, vol. 1: 341. 165 T.D. Banerjee, Zamindars and Raiyats in Bengal, Calcutta, W. Newman & Co, Ltd., Caxton Printing Works, 1883, p. 57. 161

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prevalent inferior variety.166 In 1903, a committee was appointed by the government to consider the question of the nature of the lessee to be appointed in future. The committee decided to abolish the system of categorizing leases into capitalist, large and small and to proceed by direct settlement with cultivating raiyats.167 New raiyatwari settlement rules were then made in 1905, but these rules remained ineffective in the 24-Parganas.168 The final step was taken in 1915, when it was decided to permit further reclamation of the Sundarbans under the raiyatwari system of settlement, which had already proved a success in the Bakarganj district. Accordingly, further lots were reclaimed under what are known as the Colonization Rules, the settlement being made direct with cultivating tenants under the khasmahal management of the government. These rules are still in force, raiyatwari settlement being now ordinarily the sole means of reclamation in the whole of the Sundarbans area.169 The holders of the Sundarbans grants are proprietors or tenure holders according to the different types of leases under which these grants have been made.170These lessees, who are known as lotdars, have in a number of cases sublet their lands to people known as chakdars. According to a recent work by Sugata Bose, similar to government controlled ‘lots’ were the ‘chaks’ in the 24-Parganas and the south-east of Midnapore leased out to chakdars for reclamation in the zamindari estates of the Sundarbans. The chakdars have further sublet land to raiyats and in some cases the latter have sublet their lands again to under-raiyats.171At the lowest level of this structure of landed interests in the Sundarbans were the bargadars, popularly known as bhagchasis, who were sharecroppers and the class of landless labourers. The lotdars 166

Hunter, Statistical Account, vol. 1: 326. Rabindra Nath Mandal, The Tebhaga Movement in Kakdwip, Kolkata, Ratna Prakashan, 2001:23. 168 O’Malley, 24-Parganas, p. 4. 169 Maitreya Ghatak, ‘Kakdwip 1946-1950’, in Bartika (Bengali journal), ed. Mahasveta Devi, 1986, Berhampore, Cygnus Printing Coop. Society Ltd., p. 13; K.K. Sengupta, ‘Violence in Rural Bengal: Zamindars and Peasants 1859-1947’, Bengal Past and Present, vol. CII, no. 195, Calcutta, Calcutta Historical Journal, July-Dec. 1983, pp. 19-22. 170 Sisir Das, Shrinkhalita Mrittika (in Bengali), Diamond Harbour, 1948, p. 190. 171 Mandal: 24. 167

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were charged with the responsibility for reclamation of their lots within a specified period, falling which they would stand to forego all rights and interests in their respective leased out lots. The process of deforestation was not so easy a task. So, the lotdars in their turn sublet some portions of their big lots to other individuals known as chakdars, who in their turn were responsible for initiating the creation of lot, ganj, gola and raiyati systems. It may be noted that although some chakdars used to live in the villages, most of the chakdars and all the lotdars were absentee landlords maintaining their rights and interests in absentia through their agents commonly known as naibs. These naibs turned to be the uncrowned kings of the area. In order to implement the deforestation programme within the stipulated periods of time, the naibs had to allure the landless cultivators of the adjoining areas, particularly from Midnapore and Bihar, with the offer of tenancy rights to the labourers. Various backward caste people from Midnapore, Barga kshatriya and Poundra Kshatriyas from other districts and tribals from Chhotanagpur came to settle in the Sundarbans in the hope of getting land. 172 Naturally, the peasants with the experience of cultivation worked heart and soul to reclaim the land by deforestation so that they could get tenancy right of the deforested land for cultivation. Thus, inspired by the idea of having land for cultivation under tenancy right, they did the uphill task of reclamation, fighting against the fierce tigers and venomous vipers that used to abound in the forests at that time, even at the cost of their lives. But when the land became arable, what did they get? These poor people who came in the hope of getting land for cultivation were indeed helpless without any resources to fall back upon, and they fell an easy prey to the naibs who did not keep their promises but compelled them to work as bhagchasis (sharecroppers) on reclaimed land without any tenancy right whatsoever.173 In this way, the sharecropping system of production was introduced in the area, creating the conditions of peasant unrest arising out of economic, social and political exploitation. 172

Ibid.: 24-25. A.R. Desai (ed), Peasant Struggles in India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1985: 470; Suprakash Ray, Bidrohee Bharat (in Bengali), Calcutta, Book World, 1983: 205. 173

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An ecological system creates both actual and perceived barriers via social, political, and economic dynamics to sustainable development to which human societies adapt in either planned or unplanned ways, or struggle with. In all cases, the capacities of small communities to conserve their local ecosystems for sustainable development become a bounded function of changes in population level. Unless the ecology can accommodate such population level changes, pressure on local norms of conservation increase gradually. As we move from conservation of usable resources to preservation of an ecosystem, the boundary conditions become even more stringent and if the ecosystem under consideration is fragile then the stringent boundary conditions can almost choke off any livelihood options deemed sustainable by both local and global authorities. This can lead to adverse socioeconomic and political results if the boundary conditions are not violated but if they are violated, which is indeed the case in most times, then there are adverse effects on the ecosystem itself. However the story doesn’t end here. If the boundary conditions are respected by both the local and the global community then positive feedback loops are created but whether these positive feedbacks are appropriated by the local or the global community remains eminently debatable. Logically though these positive feedbacks are more beneficial to the global community simply because they don’t have to make socioeconomic and sometimes political sacrifices of the same magnitude as that of the local community. On the other hand if the boundary conditions are violated (which used to be the case more often than not until the last two decades or so) adverse ecological effects are generated which in turn create a negative feedback loop which now hits back at the economy itself and ironically affects the socio-politico-economy of the local community at a much greater force. One must add that repercussions are also felt at the global level as well but not of the same magnitude when looked at in isolation. Rather in case of the global community, the combined effects of all such ‘boundary violations’ results in a negative feedback loop which in turn affects the global economy and the global ecosystem. This problem rears its ugly head all the more if the ecosystem in consideration is a fragile one. The fragility of the ecology of a region has a direct impact on its economy and vice versa. The reason as to why the economies of

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ecologically fragile regions are important is the fact that these regions which have a unique history, nature and landscape are more often than not home to a significant population of humans who in turn have deep social, cultural and economic ties with the complex and fragile ecosystems. It must be added that these significant population of humans are generally worse off socioeconomically when compared to their counterparts residing in relatively lesser fragile ecosystems.174 Though the poor are often seen as the greatest threat to fragile ecosystems, they are more importantly the first victims of ecosystem degradation. The contradiction between livelihoods and preservation remains as a function of market dynamics in the existing context of skewed distribution of assets and extreme pauperization. Though some environmentally progressive change is possible within that configuration, assuming significant alteration of political dynamics, substantial progress would require quite fundamental rethinking of the relative values of growth per se, social justice, and political democracy in the context of environmental crisis.175

174

Robert Costanza, Stephen C. Farber And Judith Maxwell, ‘Valuation and Management of Wetlands Ecosystems’, Ecological Economics, 1 (1989): 335-61, Elsevier Science Publishers, B.V. Amsterdam, Netherlands. 175 R. Herring, 1987, ‘The Commons and Its “Tragedy” as Analytical Framework: Understanding Environmental Degradation in South Asia,’ The Commons in South Asia: Societal Pressures and The Environmental Integrity in the Sundarbans, a workshop held at Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 20-1 November 1987 (website:www.smartoffice.com/Tiger/Herring.html).

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BIBLIOGRAPHY (a) India Office Library Records, London Agriculture, Revenue and Commerce 1870-1871 Bengal Revenue Consultation August-December 1864 Bengal Revenue Proceedings 1862-1872

(b) West Bengal State Archives, Kolkata Bengal Revenue Proceedings, May-July 1891. Letter from the Court of Directors, General Letters, Land Revenue, 1776.

(c) The National Archives of India, New Delhi Legislative Department, 1864. Public Works Department (Revenue – Forest), November 1870. Public Works Department, 1871. Revenue and Agriculture (Forests).

Secondary Sources Annual Progress Report of Forest Administration in the Presidency of Bengal for the Year 1937-1938, Alipore, Superintendent Government Printing, Bengal Government Press, 1939. Annual Progress Report on Forest Administration, 1920-21 Ascoli, F.D., A Revenue History of Sundarban, 1870-1920, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1921. Ardenwood, W.H., ‘Rivers and Man in the Indus-Ganges Alluvial Plain’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 40 (1) 1924. Baden-Powell, B.H., ‘On the Defects of the Existing Forest Law (Act XIII of 1865) and Proposals for a New Forest Act’, in B.H. Baden-Powell and J.S. Gramble, eds., Report of the Proceedings of the Forest Conference, 1873-74, Calcutta, 1875. , The Land Systems of British India: Being a Manual of the Land-Tenures and of the Systems of Land-Revenue Administration Prevalent in the Several Provinces, vol. 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1892. Baka, Jennifer, ‘The Political Construction of Wasteland: Governmentality,

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Land Acquisition and Social Inequality in South India’, in Wendy Wolford, Saturmino M. Borras, Jr. Ruth Hall, Ian Scoones and Ben White, eds., Governing Global Land Deals: The Role of the State in the Rush for Land, The Institute of Social Studies, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2013. Barui, Balai, The Salt Industry of Bengal 1757-1800: A Study in the Interaction of British Monopoly Control and Indigenous Enterprise, Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi and Co., 1985 Banerjee, T.D., Zamindars and Raiyats in Bengal, Calcutta, W. Newman & Co, Ltd, Caxton Printing Works, 1883. Basu, Krisna, ‘Ecology and Adaptation – A Study in the Sunderban Biosphere Reserve’, in In the Lagoons of the Gangetic Delta, ed. Gautam Kumar Bera and Vijoy S. Sahay, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2010. Beveridge, Henry, The District of Bakarganj: Its History and Statistics, London, Trübner & Co., 1876. Bhattacharyya, Jnanabrata, ‘Uses, Values and Use Values of the Sunderbans’, Agriculture and Human Values, vol. VII, issue no. 2, 1990. Bhattacharyya, R.C., ‘Natural Extension of Sundri Areas in the Sunderbans’, Indian Forester, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, 39. Blair, Harry W., ‘Local Government and Rural Development in the Bengal Sunderbans: An Inquiry in Managing Common Property Resources’, Agriculture and Human Values, Spring 1990. Blasco, F., ‘Outlines of Ecology, Botany and Forestry of the Mangals of the Indian Subcontinent’, in V.J. Chapman, ed., Wet Coastal Ecosystems, Ecosystems of the World 1, Amsterdam, Elsevier Scientific Publishing, 1977. Bose, Sugata, Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital: Rural Bengal Since 1770, The New Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993. Brandis, Dietrich, Memorandum on the Forest Legislation Proposed for British India, Calcutta, Superintendent of Government Printing, 1875. Bryant, Raymond L., ‘From Laissez Faire to Scientific Forestry: Forest Management in Early Colonial Burma, 1826-1885’, Forest and Conservation History 38 (4), 1994. Buckland, C.E., Bengal Under the Lieutenant Governors, vol. II, Calcutta, Kedarnath Bose, 1902. Burrard, Sidney, ‘Movements of the Ground Level in Bengal’, Royal Engineers Journal, XLVII (1933). Chaffey, D.R,. F.R. Miller and J.H. Sandom, A Forest Inventory of the Sunderbans, Bangladesh, Overseas Development Administration,

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Project Report 140 (Surrey, England: Land Resources Development Centre, 1985. Chakrabarty, Ranjan, ‘ Local People and the Global Tiger: An Environmental History of the Sundarbans’, Global Environment, 3, 2009: 72-95. http://encarta.msn.com/mapof_10216125/sundarbans.html Chattopadhyay, Haraprosad, The Mystery of the Sundarbans, A. Mukherjee & Co, Calcutta, 1990. Chaudhuri, Binay Bhushan, ‘Political History of Bengal, 1757-1772’, in N.K. Sinha, ed., History of Bengal, 1757-1905, University of Calcutta, Calcutta, 1968. , Peasant History of Late Pre-colonial and Colonial India, vol. 8, pt. 2, Pearson Education India, 2008. Chaudhury, Binoy, ‘Land Market in Eastern India, 1793-1940’, in IESHR 12 (1): 1-42. Correspondence Relating in the Settlement of Saugar Island for 1869, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta, 1869. Costanza, Robert, Stephen C. Farber and Judith Maxwell, ‘Valuation and Management of Wetlands Ecosystems’, Ecological Economics, 1 (1989): 335-61, Elsevier Science Publishers, B.V. Amsterdam, Netherlands. Das, Gautam Kumar, ‘System of Reclamation and Salt Preparation in Sun’, Frontier, 17 July 2018. Das, Gokul Chandra, ‘The Colonial Land System in the 24-Parganas: Sundarbans, 1825-1904’, Bengal Past and Present, vol. 115, Calcutta Historical Society, 1996. Das, Satyajit (compiled), Selections from the Indian Journals, vol. 1, Calcutta Journal, Prefatory Note by Susobhan Chandra Sarkar, Calcutta, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, 1983. Das, Sisir, Shrinkhalita Mrittika (in Bengali), Diamond Harbour, 1948. Desai, A.R. (ed.), Peasant Struggles in India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1985 . Dutt, Romesh Chandra, The Economic History of India, vol. I, Under Early British Rule, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi (rpt), 2006. Dutta, Kalinath, ‘Bankim Chandra’, in Pradip (in Bengali), Ashard 1306 bs. Eaton, R.M., The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1994. Ghatak, Maitreya, ‘Kakdwip 1946-1950’ in Bartika (Bengali journal), ed. Mahasveta Devi, Berhampore, Cygnus Printing Co-op Society Ltd., 1986. Gidwani, Vinay Krishin, ‘Waste and the Permanent Settlement in Bengal’,

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Economic and Political Weekly, vol 27, issue no. 4, 25 January 1992. Guha, Ramchandra, The Unquiet Woods: The Ecological Basis of Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1989. , ‘An Early Environmental Debate: The Making of the Indian Forest Act of 1878’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 27 (1), Sage, New Delhi, 1990. , ‘Forestry in British and post-British India: A Historical Analysis’, Economic and Political Weekly, in two parts, 29 October and 5 November 1983. , ‘An Early Environmental Debate: The Making of the 1878 Forest Act’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Sage, New Delhi, 27 (1): 65-84, 1990. Haeuber, Richard, ‘Indian Forest Policy in Two Eras: Continuity or Change?’ Environmental History Review 17 (1): Herring, R., ‘The Commons and Its “Tragedy” as Analytical Framework: Understanding Environmental Degradation in South Asia’, The Commons in South Asia: Societal Pressures and The Environmental Integrity in the Sundarbans, a workshop held at Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. 20-1 November 1987. Hunter, W.W., A Statistical Account of Bengal, vol. I: Districts of the 24 Parganas & Sundarbans, Trubner and Company, London, 1875. , The Imperial Gazetteer of India, vol. 23, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1908. Huq, Mazharul, The East India Company’s Land Policy and Commerce in Bengal 1698-1784, Asiatic Society of Pakistan, Dacca, 1964. Jack, J.C., Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the Bakarganj District, 1900 to 1908, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1915. , Bakarganj District Gazetteer, vol. 36 of the Bengal District Gazetteer Series, ed. L.S.S. O’Malley, Calcutta, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1918. , Bengal District Gazetteers, Buckargunge, Calcutta, 1918: Latiful, K.G.M. Bari, Bangladesh District Gazetteers: Khulna, Dacca, Bangladesh Government Press, 1978 Lahiri, A.C., Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operations in the District of 24-Parganas, 1924-33, Calcutta, 1936 Mandal, Rabindra Nath,The Tebhaga Movement in Kakdwip, Kolkata, Ratna Prakashan, 2001. Mitra, Asok, Census 1951, West Bengal: District Handbooks 24-Parganas, Calcutta, West Bengal Government Press, 1954. Naskar, Kumudranjan, Plant Wealth of the Lower Ganga Delta (An Eco-

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Taxanomical Approach), vol. 1, Daya Publishing House, Delhi, 1993. Naskar, Kumudranjan and D.N. Guha Bakshi, ‘Sundarbans – the World Famous Mangrove Forest of the District 24-Parganas in West Bengal (India)’, Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany, Jodhpur, Scientific Publishers, 3 December, 1982. O’Malley, L.S.S., Bengal District Gazetteers, Khulna, Calcutta, The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1908. , Bengal District Gazetteers, 24 Parganas, Calcutta, The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1916. Moose, D., The Rules of Water: Statecraft, Ecology and Collective Action in South India, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2003. Papers Relating to the Formation of Port Canning on the Mutlab River, 185365, Bengal Public Works Department, Calcutta, 1865. Pargiter, F.E., ‘Cameos of Indian Districts – The Sunderbans’, The Calcutta Review, 89 (178, October), Calcutta, Thacker, Spink and Co, October 1889. , Revenue History of Sunderban, Superintendent, Government Printing, Bengal Govt. Press, Alipore, 1934. , The Revenue History of Sundarban 1765-1870, edited with an Introduction by Ananda Bhattacharyya, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 2019. Prain, D., ‘Flora of the Sundribuns ’, Records of the Botanical Survey of India II, Calcutta, Office of the Supdt. of Printing, Bengal Secretariat Press, 1903. Rangarajan, Mahesh, ‘Imperial Agendas and India’s Forests: The Early History of Indian Forestry’, Indian Economic and Social History Review 31 (2), , Fencing the Forests: Conservation and Ecological Change in India’s Central Provinces, 1860-1914, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996. Ray, Rajat Kanta and Ratna Ray, ‘The Dynamics of Continuity in Rural Bengal under the British Imperium: A Study of Quasi-stable Equilibrium in Underdeveloped Societies in a Changing World’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. X, no. 2, April 1973: 103-28. Ray, Ratna, ‘Land Transfer and Social Change under the Permanent Settlements: A Study of Two Localities’, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, vol. XI, no. l, January 1974: 1-45. Raychaudhuri, Tapan, ‘Permanent Settlement in Operations Bakarganj District, East Bengal’, R.E. Frykenberg (ed.), Land Control and Social Structure in Indian History, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1969.

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Ray, Suprakash, Bidrohee Bharat (in Bengali), Calcutta, Book World, 1983. Ribbentrop, Bertholdt, Forestry in British India, Calcutta, Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, 1900. Richards, John F. and Elizabeth P. Flint, ‘Long-Term Transformations in the Sunderbans Wetlands Forests of Bengal’, Agriculture and Human Values, Spring, 1990. Sarkar, Sutapa Chatterjee, The Sunderbans Folk Deities, Monsters and Mortals, Social Science Press, New Delhi, 2010. Seidensticker, D.J. and A. Hai, The Sunderbans Wildlife Management Plan: Conservation in the Bangladesh Coastal Zone (1983), Delhi, 2010. Sen, Romesh Chandra, Final Report of Survey Settlement of Tushkhali in District Khagchia, 1894-1898, Dhaka, Elite Printing Works, 1899. Sengupta, K.K., ‘Violence in Rural Bengal: Zamindars and Peasants 18591947’, Bengal Past and Present, vol. CII, no. 195, Calcutta, Calcutta Historical Journal, July-Dec. 1983. Sircar, Jyotirmoy, ‘Development, “Waste” and the People of Sundarbans’ (unpublished paper), Centre for Development Studies, Occasional Paper, Trivandrum under Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Skaria, Ajay, ‘Timber Conservancy, Dessicationism and Scientific Forestry: the Dangs, 1840-1920’, in Nature and the Orient: Essays on the Environmental History of South and South-East Asia, ed. Richard Grove, Vinita Damodaran, and Satpal Sangwan, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997. Shiva, Bandana, ‘Ecology Movements in India’, Alternatives XI (1986): 255-73. Sinha, N.K., The Economic History of Bengal: From Plassey to the Permanent Settlement, vol. III, Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta, 1962. Sivaramkrishnan, K., ‘A Limited Forest Conservancy in Southwest Bengal, 1864-1912’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 56, no.1 (February 1997). Stebbing, E.P., The Forests of India, vol. I, London, John Lane, 1922. , The Forests of India, vol. II, London, Bodley Head, 1922. Stokes, Eric, The English Utilitarians and India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1959. ‘The Soondarbans’ (written by an anonymous writer), The Calcutta Review, vol. XXXI, 1858. Thom, Bruce G., ‘Coastal Landforms and Geomorphic Processes’, in Samuel C. Snedakar and Jane G. Snedakar, eds., The Mangrove Ecosystem: Research Methods, Paris, United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation, 1984.

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Tripathi, Amalesh, ‘ The Financial Policy of British Raj, 1858-1865’, in Bengal Past and Present, Calcutta Historical Society, 89, July-December 1970. Webster, J.E., Eastern Bengal District Gazetteer; Noakhali, Allahabad, 1911. Viswas, J.M., Sunderban Settlement in the District of 24-Pargana, Bakarganj and Khulna, Calcutta, Bengal Wasteland Manual, 1936.

A REVENUE HISTORY OF THE SUNDARBANS F RO M 1 8 7 0 TO 1 9 20 F.D. ASCOLI

Preface

The revenue history of the Sundarbans from 1765 to 1870 published by Mr. F.E. Pargiter, Commissioner in the Sundarbans, in 1885 constitutes a mine of information; excepting the invaluable account of the Bākarganj Sundarbans contained in the late Major Jack’s final report on the Survey and Settlement operations in that district, nothing has since been written to amplify the history of that period. The period dealt with by Mr. Pargiter was one of great complexity. Commencing with the original reclamation proposals, it covers a period of great experiments, largely failures, it is true, which culminated in the rules of 1853; these rules bequeathed to future revenue officers difficulties and intricacies, probably unknown in other parts of Bengal. With that period this volume does not attempt to deal except in so far as explanations are necessary to introduce the history of subsequent developments. The period from 1870 is one of development; unity of control in the hands of the Sundarbans Commissioner has been abandoned; the different requirements of each district, the 24-Parganās, Khulnā and Bākarganj have been recognised. Agricultural and revenue experiments have been tempered by a recognitions of physical and hydrographical problems. The lessons of the former period have been applied, and development is now proceeding upon foundations, well and truly laid. I cannot claim for the facts presented in this volume the intimate knowledge, which Mr. Pargiter acquired as Commissioner in the Sundarbans. My local knowledge of the Bākarganj area I gained under the tuition of the late Major Jack, whose papers I have had the privilege of consulting. My knowledge of the area, as a whole, is due to my position as Secretary to the Board of Revenue at a time when the development of the Sundarbans was a prominent feature of the Board’s administration. My special thanks are due to Mr.

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Addams-Williams, C.I.E., Superintending Engineer, for valuable information on the drainage and irrigation problems of the area; to Khān Bahādur Qamaruddin Ahmad, Colonization Officer of the Bākarganj Sundarbans, for a careful resume of the work done in the area under his control; and to Babu Purna Chandra Chatterji, an Assistant in the office of the Board of Revenue, for his careful collation of the papers dealing with the subject. My apologies are due to the Collectors of Bākarganj, Khulnā and the 24-Parganās for the troublesome references that I have constantly made to them. Perhaps the trouble may be partly repaid, if this history may prove of assistance in the future administration of the Sundarbans. Calcutta The 10th August 1920

F.D. Ascoli Secretary, Board of Revenue, Bengal

CH A P T E R I

Introductory

Prefatory 1. The date at which Mr. Pargiter closed his history of the Sundarbans is an arbitrary one, and does not represent any definite mark in the development of the area. Mr. Pargiter was a member of the Indian Civil Service. He arrived in India in November 1875 and on the 27th April 1879 was appointed to officiate as Commissioner in the Sundarbans, an appointment in which he was confirmed on the 12th November following; excluding two brief periods from the 10th May 1882 until the 31st October 1882 and from the 22nd October 1883 until the 6th November 1883 he retained the office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans until the 5th April 1884; he was subsequently placed on special duty in connection with the Sundarbans from the 16th May 1885 until the 5th February 1886. He retired from the service on the 14th March 1906 as a Judge of the Calcutta High Court. His extended period of service in the Sundarbans at a time when new rules for the grant of waste lands were being introduced afforded him an unrivalled opportunity of examining old records and collecting materials for the earlier history of the tract. Mr. Pargiter deals with the period from 1765 to 1870 with a few references to occurrences in the succeeding years under the following heads: Chapter ” ” ” ”

I — Early History, 1765-1816. II — Establishment of the Sundarbans Commission and Preliminary operations, 1816-1821. III — Completion of the operations in the 24-Parganās, 1821-1828. IV — Final determination of the right of the State to the Sundarbans, 1827-1828. V — Definition of the boundary of the Sundarbans forest, 1828-1833.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

104 Chapter ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ”



VI — Jurisdiction and Summary of operations, 18261836. VII — Resumptions, 1828-1836. VIII — Grant Rules of 1830 and grants of forest lands, 1829-1836. IX — Settlement of resumed and other lands, 1828-1836. X — Resumptions and collateral enquiries,1834-1844. XI — Settlements, 1836-1844. XII — Forest grants, grant rules and boundary difficulties, 1836-1844. XIII — Abolition and re-establishment of the Sundarban Commissioner, 1844-1846. XIV — Inquiries, surveys, resumption and settlements in connection with lots 216-230, 1844-1857. XV — Settlements and rights of settlement, 1845-1857. XVI — Forest grants, 1844-1853. XVII — Resurvey and adjustment of Sundarban boundary in the 24-Parganās, 1844-1856. XVIII — Resumptions, enquiries, jurisdiction, etc., 18441857. XIX — Revised Sundarban grant rules of 24th September 1853. XX — Sundarban grants and the rules of 1853, 1853-1862. XXI — Resumed mahāls and the rules of 1853, 1853-1862. XXII — Jurisdiction, settlements and rights of settlement, 1854-1868. XXIII — Revenue and other surveys, boundary decisions and resumptions, 1852-1870. XXIV — Schemes of Sundarban improvement and miscellaneous matters, 1853-1868. XXV — Rules for the sale of waste lands free of land revenue and for the redemption of land revenue, 18581870. XXVI — History of Saugor Island, 1811-1877.

The above synopsis shows that Mr. Pargiter’s history contains an extraordinary mass of detail, but his attempt to include this immense amount of detail and to distribute it in strict chronological order has tended to obscure the principles involved and the causes that led to

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variations in policy. In continuing this history for the succeeding 50 years mass of detail has been sacrificed to explanations of administrative changes, but as a preliminary measure an explanation of the state of affairs at the arbitrary date 1870 is necessary. For by the year 1870, the threads of the administrative web had become entangled, and it is necessary to unravel the tangle before the further development of the area can be fully understood. This involves firstly an explanation of the area included in the Sundarbans and the administrative system adopted in that area, and, secondly a resumé of the methods and results of development up to the year 1870. Definition of the Area Included in the Sundarbans 2. Until the year 1828; the experiments in development had been carried on in an area described by indeterminate boundaries; it was recognized that ‘the uninhabited tract known by the name of the Sundarbans has ever been the property of the State, the same not having been alienated or assigned to zamindārs, or included in any way in the arrangements of the perpetual settlement’. This definition of 1828 was not, however, strictly correct; a portion of the area was already inhabited, and this again had in part, especially in the 24-Parganās, been included in the permanent settlement. The western, southern and eastern boundaries of ‘the pestilential tract near Calcutta, which afforded a home for wild animals and shelter to smugglers and pirates’ were admittedly the river Hughli, the Bay of Bengal and the river Meghna; the northern boundary was indeterminate. It is true that in the 24-Parganās area, a boundary had been laid down by Ensign Prinsep between 1822 and 1823; in 1814, a boundary had been surveyed by Lieutenant Morrieson, but this had not included the Bākarganj area, the northern boundary of which was undefined despite a rough delineation by bamboos, the bānsgāri, made by Henckell in 1786. By Regulation III of 1828, however, it was determined to fix the boundaries of the Sundarbans definitely on a legal basis by a detailed survey. In 1829 and 1830, during the Commissionership of Mr. Dampier, a map was prepared by Lieutenant Hodges, partly by fresh survey and partly by the aid of Morrieson’s and Prinsep’s surveys. On this map, the northern boundary was clearly defined by

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what is known as the Dampier-Hodges line, which with a few minor exceptions still constitutes the northern boundary of the Sundarbans, and it is generally with the area south of this line that this history deals. Administrative Control Until 1870 3. Coordination of control was first effected in the Sundarbans by the appointment of a Commissioner with all the duties, power and authority of a Collector of Land Revenue under the provisions of Regulation IX of 1816, the Commissionership was still in existence in 1870, though the duties of the office had been considerably restricted. In 1829 the duty of collecting the revenue of the area was transferred to the Collectors of the adjacent districts, though the Commissioner remained responsible for collections in estates under attachment or settlement; the duties of the Commissioner were accordingly confined to resumption, forest grants, survey and settlement. In 1844 the office of the Commissioner was abolished, and each Collector controlled the operations in the area attached to his district. This method of administration proved unworkable, and in 1846 the office of the Commissioner was restored on its former basis with the exception that the whole of parganā Buzrogumedpur remained under the control of the Collector of Bākarganj, while permanently settled mahāls were allocated to the respective Collectors. After some discussion between the years 1852 and 1857 it was decided that all resettlements of Sundarbans estates should be made by the Commissioner. In 1858 it was decided that all appeals against the Commissioner’s orders in the 24-Parganās and Jessore (Khulnā) Sundarbans should lie to the Presidency Commissioner; appeals in the Bākarganj area in the case of settlements were heard directly by the Board, in the case of resumptions, as ruled in 1862, by the Dacca Commissioner. Such was the status of the Sundarbans Commissioner in 1870. Defects of the System 4. This unity of administrative control over the whole of the Sundarbans area is a fact of great importance in the development of the tract. The unity implied that the same rules and practice were applied

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to all parts of the Sundarbans, however different in character. This implication was true in practice; a proposal to distinguish between the rates of settlement in Bākarganj and the remainder of the area in 1853—a distinction based on irrefutable grounds—was negative. The defects of the system are narrated with great lucidity, so far as the Bākarganj area is concerned, by the late Major J.C. Jack in the final report on the Survey and Settlement operations in the Bākarganj district, 1900-1908 (paragraphs 244 to 268). Published in the year 1915, the report gives a critical account of the administration of the Bākarganj Sundarbans, based on the unrivalled experience of a Settlement Officer, who had known the area intimately for 15 years, and had tackled its problems with an extraordinary degree of application and enthusiasm. ‘There can be no doubt, however,’ wrote Major Jack ‘that the error would have been acknowledged much earlier had not the forests in Bākarganj been united with the forests of Khulnā and the 24-Parganās under a common management. . . . Above all ignorance of Bākarganj conditions was abysmal, and as a result terms and conditions which may have been suitable to Khulnā and the 24-Parganās were forced upon Bākarganj, where they were not suitable at all.’ It is an undoubted fact that this fetish of unity of control retarded, even if it did not ruin the development of the tract. How great the differences in conditions are, will be recounted below. Different Types of Settlements 5. In addition to the lack of homogeneity between different tracts of the Sundarbans, the position was complicated by the different forms of leases and settlements in vogue over the whole area. It has already been stated that in 1846 permanently-settled tracts were excluded from the control of the Sundarban Commissioner. But the distinction is not merely one between a permanent and a temporary settlement; it is not merely the difficulty that while Henckell’s tāluks, before the creation of the office of the Sundarban commissioner, were treated in the 24-Parganās as permanently settled estates, in Jessore as temporarily settled and in Bākarganj as a mixture in which the idea of permanence finally predominated. The main distinction is based rather on the origin of the grant, a distinction which the administration

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prior to 1870 attempted to preserve rigidly with moderate success. The classification is a triple one. (a) Resumed mahāls—This class refers to areas that had been brought under cultivation before the permanent settlement ordinarily by the neighbouring zamindārs without the authority of Government. As a matter of fact, large areas of forest subsequently cleared were frequently included in these estates. Government did not avail itself of the right of dispossession but exercised the right of resumption; the claim of the zamindār was ordinarily ignored and settlement made with the ābādkār, ordinarily a substantial middleman, who usually acquired the rights of a permanent tenureholder holding at a variable rent. These resumptions were practically completed by Messrs. Dampier and Grant by 1836, settlements being made for a term of 20 years. During the Commissionership of Babu Umakanta Sen, the settlements were renewed ordinarily for a further period of 20 years; in some cases, however, a permanent settlement was made in error; while in others contrary to the orders of Government the settlement-holders were allowed to commute mainly in the 24-Parganās, under the forest grant rules of 1853 or purchase and redeem under the revised forest grant rules of 1863. As a result the problems of the resumed mahāls are now extremely complicated. The following statement of the resumed mahāls of Bākarganj in 1870 will serve as an illustration:1 Number 9 29 5 3 46

Nature of re-settlement Permanently settled Temporarily-settled with permanent right of renewal Temporary-settled with no right of renewal Held khas by Government …

Area (acres) 17,006 1,24,933 13,396

Revenue Rental Rs. Rs. 26,940 1,31,551 96,663 2,98,922 17,166

65,065

26,232 1,13,458 1,30,650 1,81,567 2,54,227 6,26,188

In the period now under review, the problem of the permanently 1 The figures of area and rental are obtained from the survey and settlement of the area, commencing in 1905. These figures do not show as under khas management estates of which Government has temporarily assumed management.

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settled areas disappears; in the remainder the problem is analogous to that of Government and temporarily-settled estates in ordinary areas, with due regard to any specific rights granted by the lease. The question of reclamation does not arise. (b) Forest Grants—These grants were based on leases specifically given by Government for the purpose of reclaiming forest and bringing it under cultivation. The important rules that governed these grants were those of 1817, 1830, 1853 and 1863. The great majority of the earlier grants were commuted under the rules of 1853, i.e. the grantees were allowed under certain conditions to avail themselves of the generous terms of the 1853 rules, which accordingly are of very great importance in the history of the Sundarbans. They originated the notorious 99 years leases, containing specific provisions regarding the area of and period for clearance. In 1863 these rules were cancelled; leaseholders were permitted to redeem the revenue of grants already made, while new grants were to be given on free simple tenure after sale by public auction. The rules of 1863 were not popular, and in 1864 the rules of 1853 were revived, as an alternative to those of 1863, permission to redeem at a subsequent time being given to the grantee. It is true that of these forest grants a considerable number lapsed owing to the inability of the grantees to fulfill the clearance conditions. On the other hand instances do occur where resumed mahāls (e.g. South Tiakhali in Bākarganj) were subsequently settled as forest grants. In the year 1870 the number of forest grants in the Bākarganj area was as follows: Number

Nature of grant

21

Grants under rules of 1853

2 23

Fee simple grants …

Area (acres) 1,42,210 11,163 1,53,373

Revenue Rs. 40,972 – 40,972

Rental Rs. 5,68,661 67,361 6,36,022

Of the 21 grants under the rules of 1853, 7 had been granted previously under former rules and commuted; in Bākarganj no advantage was taken of the permission to redeem, the terms of assessment being too favourable. The development of the forest grants is the backbone of the

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history of the Sundarbans subsequently to 1870, viz., the difficulties in ensuring the execution of the terms of the previous grants, and the different expedients adopted to develop the clearance of the forest subsequently. (c) Alluvial Accretions—It is difficult to distinguish this class of land from the remainder of the Sundarbans. In Bākarganj the area due to alluvion subsequently to 1793 has been estimated at 87 square miles. In Khulnā and the 24-Parganās where the seaward extension of the delta is less pronounced the excess area must be considerably less. The most noticeable alluvial, formations are Char Kukri-Mukri, Char Hare and Char Biswās in Bākarganj. A large portion of the alluvial area is still unsettled, portions have been included in resumed mahāls and forest grants, while other areas have been resumed in the course of diārā operations. This class calls for little separate mention. Special Settlements in the Sundarbans before 1870 6. It is only necessary at this stage to refer to two special schemes of development prior to 1870. In 1853 it was proposed, to develop a new port on the Matlā river in the 24-Parganās, known as Port Canning. It is unnecessary to refer in detail to the failure of the scheme. By the year 1870 a considerable number of lots in the neighbourhood had been resumed by Government and settled directly with cultivators; but the municipality which had been created was bankrupt and the idea of developing a port in the area had been abandoned. This scheme is referred to in Chapter VIII. The other scheme was a proposal by Mr. Ferdinand Schiller to float a company with a capital of £1,800,000 for the development of the unappropriated wastelands in the Sundarbans—an area of 1854 square miles. Government agreed to the scheme, but the attempt to float the company was finally abandoned in 1868. Landmarks of the Period 1870-1920 7. The period from 1870 to 1920 is divided into periods by two dates of great importance. In 1879 new rules for forest grants were passed which for the first time introduced into the sphere of practical politics

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the possibility of reclamation by small holdings. In 1905 the passing of Act I of 1905 finally abolished the office of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans; from that date development in each of the three districts commenced on lines presumed to be applicable to the special conditions of the area. A vigorous policy of rāiyatwāri colonization was adopted in Bākarganj; in Khulnā the claims of the Forest Department triumphed over the disciples of reclamation while in the 24-Parganās, a policy, vacillating from rāiyatwāri settlements to development through capitalists, has finally set its sails according to the success of the Bākarganj system. Arrangement of the History 8. For facility of reference this history is divided into two selfcontained parts. The first part, consisting of Chapters II to VI, describes the rules and regulations under which the Sundarbans were administered during the period. In the second part, namely, Chapters VII to XV, an attempt has been made to narrate the actual facts of the administration of the area and of its development under the rules in force from time to time.

PART I

RULES AND ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEM FROM 1870 TO 1920

CH A P T E R I I

Forest Grant Rules from 1870-1879

Stagnation of Existing Reclamation Rules 9. The period from 1870 to 1879, when new rules for the reclamation of waste lands in the Sundarbans were issued, synchronises with an important stage in the development of revenue policy in Bengal; and it is the change of policy then effected that largely conditioned the new reclamation rules. Up to the year 1870, the rules of 1853 and 1863 had resulted in little additional reclamation, though considerable advantage had been taken of the right to commute the terms of old leases; the rules remained unpopular, and the area leased up to 1870, namely, 946 square miles, with an ultimate revenue of Rs. 1,77,458, had by the year 1880 decreased to 787 square miles with an ultimate revenue of Rs.1,45,880. Only 5 fee-simple grants were in existence, covering an area of 27 square miles. If reclamation were to be extended, it would be necessary to adopt more suitable rules. The tenor of the rules, however, must depend mainly on the reformed revenue policy of Government. In the year 1859 it had been laid down by Government that the management by Government officers of estates held khās was more expensive and much less successful than the management of estates by private persons generally,1 and proposals were advanced for the sale of the proprietary right of Government in all estates, petty estates to be sold free of revenue, larger estates at a revenue fixed in perpetuity. The redemption rules of 1863 were largely the result of this policy. In 1871 however the policy of Government was completely altered. Permanent settlement of Government estates was forbidden and khās management was encouraged,2 whereever possible. In 1878 it was finally declared that it was generally the policy of Government to encourage khās management. These general principles were of a 1 2

Government Resolution No. 1174 of 12th May 1859. Government Resolution No. 3156 of 21st August 1871.

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character revolutionary to those formerly accepted as binding on the revenue administration of the province, and the revision of policy in the Sundarbans was based, not so much on the facts of past local experience, as on the revenue policy adopted for the province of Bengal as a whole. During the same period the policy to be adopted in the disposal of waste lands generally throughout the province was under reconsideration. The treatment of the Sundarbans was accordingly affected by problems of far wider extent than merely local interests. Rules in Force in 1870 10. The rules of 1863 had contained two separate principles; of these the first authorized the sale of waste lands up to an area of 3,000 acres in fee-simple, free of all revenue demands at an upset price of Rs. 2-8 per acre, the payment of which might be spread over a period of 10 years. Only 13 such allotments were sold, of which 8 had by 1878 reverted to Government on default of payment of the purchase price; this portion of the rules was practically inoperative. The second principle authorized the redemption of the land-revenue in all previous grants at 20 times the ultimate land-revenue demand, subject to a minimum of Rs. 2-8 per acre, the amount due being similarly distributable over a period of 10 years. So lenient, however, were the rules of 1853 as regards assessment that outside the 24-Parganās, where conditions were peculiar, advantage of redemption was taken only in two instances. The rules of 1863 were inoperative, and it was found necessary to revive the rules of 1853, permission to redeem at a later stage being given. Even these rules were now dead as a method of disposing of waste lands; no advantage was taken of their revival, and the number of grants remained at 113 as in 1863. It is, however, necessary to know the conditions laid down by these rules; for despite the small number of new grants, practically all previous grantees had taken advantage of the permission given to commute the terms of their original leases to the conditions laid down in the new rules. In fact the rules of 1853 govern the whole of the forest grant area, leased and not held free of revenue, previously to 1879. The leases were for a term of 99 years; one quarter of each grant was exempt from assessment for ever; the remainder was held revenue-free for

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20 years; at a revenue of 2 pice per standard bighā from the 21st year, 1 ānnā from the 31st, 1½ ānnās from the 41st and 2 ānnās from the 51st till the end of the term. The grantee was given a proprietary status with the right to renewal at a moderate assessment; the area of each grant was unlimited. At the end of the 5th, 10th, 20th and 30th years one-eight, one-fourth, one-half and three-quarters respectively of the area had to be cleared and rendered fit for cultivation; in default the grantee forfeited all his rights and interest in the land. ‘Short of granting jāgirs’ wrote Major Jack ‘the terms of 1853 were the most generaous possible’. By 1870, however, only 787 square miles had been cultivated out of an estimated total area available of 5,519 square miles. Over 1,000 square miles of forest had been leased but were still unreclaimed; the remainder was still available for lease. It may be noted, however, that the area still available for lease in Bākarganj was only 134 square miles or 22 per cent of the total Sundarbans area of the district: this might at the time have raised the preseumtion that difficulties of reclamation in the other tracts had as much influence on the tardiness of possible reclaimers as the drawbacks of the very generous rules of 1853. Proposals of the Committee of 1871 11. The sale rules of 1863 had given a complete check to applications for waste lands in the Sundarbans, and in 1871 the Board of Revenue prepared it draft of special lease rules, the submission of which was stopped by the appointment by Government of a Committee to consider the subject of waste lands generally.3 The Committee consisted of Messrs, Rivers Thompson, D.J. McNeile, C.E. Bernard and J.W. Edgar. It is not necessary to enter into the report of the Committee in detail;4 the draft rules were in 3 parts, covering (a) Sales, (b) Leases and (c) Redemption of existing grants; the Committee proposed that the upset price should be raised to Rs. 5 per acre, and laid great stress on the advisability and possibility of settling direct with the cultivator. In January 1872 a copy of these rules was forwarded 3 4

Letter No. 2198 of 13th June 1871. Report of Committee of 25th July 1871.

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to the Board. In December of that year the Board5 forwarded to Government a strong indictment of the proposed lease rules, framed by Mr. A.D.B. Gomess, Commissioner in the Sundarbans. He doubted the possibility of settlements direct with the cultivator and pointed out that reclamation under the new rules would be far less likely than under the more favourable moribund rules of 1853; the comparative attractiveness of the two sets of rules can be seen from the following table: Condition of lease

1853 rules

1871 rules

Term

99 years

30 years

Revenue free period

20 years

3 years

Maximum area

Unrestricted

3,000 acres

Area exempt from assessment

¼ of total area

Nil

Rate of revenue

21st 30th ½ ānnā. 31st 40th 1 ānnā 41st 50th 1½ ānnās 51st 99th 2 ānnās

4th-10th year 1½ 9 ānnās 11th-20th year, 4½-15 ānnās 21st-30th year 9 ānnās – Rs.1-8

Clearance conditions

year year year year

1-8th after 5 years 1-4th after 10 years ½ after 20 years ¾ after 30 years

Nil

The table speaks for itself; the new rules presented no attraction except the last clause—an attraction which is probably the biggest defect in the rules, the object of the committee having been to ensure clearance by assessing an extraordinarily high rate of revenue. The Board suggested that special rules should be framed for the Sundarbans. After a delay of 9 months the Board was informed6 that 5 6

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 483A of 12th May 1872. Government to Board, No. 2514 of 19th September 1873.

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no waste land sale or lease rules for the Sundarbans had been settled, but that Government would be prepared to consider any proposals that the Board might deem it advisable to make. By a notification, dated the 2nd February 1874 the Government of Bengal published the Waste Land Sale Rules, based on the 1871 Committee’s proposals. The Board7 objected strongly to the upset price of Rs. 5 per acre, and again enquired whether special waste land lease rules had been or should be framed for the Sundarbans; to this enquiry no reply was vouchsafed. As surmised by the Board, no advantage was taken of the Sale Rules, and the history of the Committee of 1871, so far as it affects the Sundarbans, comes to a close. Policy of Sir Richard Temple 12. A period of stagnation now ensued; for all practical purposes there were no rules in force in the Sundarbans; the stagnation was intensified in 1874 by a declaration of policy by Sir Richard Temple,8 the Lieutenant-Governor, after a tour through the Sundarbans. He decided that the tract should be preserved as a source for the supply of wood, timber and fuel for Southern Bengal. ‘Reclamation’ he wrote, ‘is not wanted there. In some places the substitution of rice fields for jungle may be desirable. But in this particular case the ground already bears produce, which is more valuable to Bengal than rice’. He merely supported reclamation to the extent required to make the forest tract accessible for human use. Sir Richard Temple’s policy resulted in the creation of the Reserved and protected Forest in Jessore (now Khulnā) and the 24-Parganās (vide Chapter VII), and not unnaturally the Board of Revenue suspended its endeavours to formulate suitable reclamation rules. By 1877, however, the limits of the forest reserve had been fixed, and as a considerable area of wasteland had been excluded and was still available for reclamation, the Board again applied itself to the task, and under their instructions a draft set of rules was submitted by Mr. Gomess, the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, on the 22nd

7 8

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 188A of 24th May 1874. Minute dated 12th Spetember 1874.

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September 1877. The rules of 1853 had been discarded, and the new rules were based on the draft rules of the Committee of 1871. They are the origin of the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879. Mr. Gomess’ Rules 13. With some modifications, Mr. Gomess’ rules were forwarded by the Board to Government9 in May 1878. It was pointed out that in view of the altered circumstances since 1853, the increase in population and the rise in the value of land, material alternations from the system of 1853, the increase in population and the rise in the value of land, material alterations from the system of 1853 had been proposed. These may be summarized as follows: (1) The revenue-free period was reduced from 20 to 10 years. (2) Only one clearance condition was proposed, namely, oneeighth of the area leased by the end of the fifth year. (3) A uniform rate of assessment was abandoned in favour of different areas, all showing an increase on the former standard. (4) The term of lease was reduced from 99 to 40 years, renewable for periods of 30 years. (5) The maximum area of a grant was to be fixed at 10,000 standard bighās, the minimum at 200. The Government of Bengal10 was not however prepared to accept the rules as drafted; as practically the whole of the available waste land had been declared ‘protected forest’ in this year, it insisted on a reference to the Conservator of Forests before leases were granted, in order to prevent sporadic reclamation; it was suggested that 5,000 bighās would be a more suitable maximum area. The most important point raised by Government however was the omission to provide for leases to cultivators, as recommended by the Committee of 1871. Thousands of acres had been reclaimed in Bākarganj and Jessore by rāiyats and Government desired, in accordance with the newly adopted 9 10

Government, Revenue Department, to Board, No. 833D of 12th July 1878. Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 349A of 20th May 1878.

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policy of rāiyatwāri settlements, to encourage direct relations between itself and the cultivator. In January 1879 the Board submitted revised rules to Government11 accompanied by new rules for settlement with cultivators, drafted by Mr. Gomees—the basis of the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879; these rules were with slight modifications accepted by Government and were finally published in the Calcutta Gazette on the 12th November 1879. By a circular order of January 1880 the Board published the approved forms of lease and a table showing the detailed rates of assessment. As these rules remained in force with a short period of suspension nominally throughout the greater part of the Sundarbans for 40 years, it is necessary to explain their terms in detail. The Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 14. The Large Capitalist introduced important new principles, gained in part from the experience of the obsolete rules of 1853; these important changes are noted before a detailed description of the new rules is given. The first important change was the limitation of the area of a grant to 5,000 bighās with a minimum of 200 bighās; the unlimited grants of 1853 had merely opened the way to the speculator, and rendered the fulfilment of any clearance conditions practically impossible. On the other hand the clearance conditions of 1853 had been admittedly very severe; in order to relax this severity a single clearance condition of one-eight of the area by the end of the fifth year of the lease was inserted, but to ensure early clearance the revenue-free period was reduced to 10 years, and the succeeding rates fixed at higher standards. Under such conditions a term of 99 years was clearly impracticable, if clearance were to be considered a matter of importance, and the term of lease was accordingly reduced to 40 years. Sales in fee-simple and redemption of the land revenue were definitely forbidden for the future. The detailed provisions of the rules were as follows:—the Rules were made applicable to the whole of the Sundarbans, excluding reserved but including protected forests, provided that the opinion of the Conservator of Forests should be 11

1879.

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 39A of the 11th Jaunary

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taken on all proposed leases, and that leases for the reclamation of protected forest should only be given, where the land was adjacent to other reclaimed blocks. Government reserved to itself all rights to minerals and its proprietary rights, giving to the grantee what was termed an ‘hereditary and transferable occupancy right’—in fact the rights of a permanent tenure holder. All lots applied for must be compact, and, if touching a navigable river the river frontage should not exceed half the depth of the land applied for. The necessity of a survey was left to the discretion of the Sundarban Commissioner; demarcation was insisted on—all costs of survey and demarcation being borne by the applicant. If there were only one applicant, the grant would be sold at an upset price of Re.1 per acre (compared with Rs.2-8 of the rules of 1853 and Rs.5 as proposed by the Committee of 1871). In the case of more than one applicant for the same land, the sale was decided by auction amongst the applicants. Twenty-five per cent of the purchase-money was required to be paid at once the balance within one month. One-fourth of the total area was forever exempted from assessment as an estimated allowance for unassessable land; the balance was leased free of assessment for 10 years, and thereafter at the following rates: Rate in ānnās per standard bighā Area

Year 11th-15th

16th-20th

21st-40th

24-Parganās, west of Kālindi River

1 to 2

2 to 4

4 to 8

24-Parganās, east of Kālindi River and Khulnā

½ to 1

1 to 2

2 to 4

Bākarganj

2 to 4

3 to 6

6 to 12

On failure of fulfilment of the clearance conditions (viz.. one-eighth of the total area by the end of the fifth year) Government retained the right of re-entry or of resettlement on special terms with the grantee. On expiry of the term of 40 years, the grantee was entitled to resettlement for 30 years, the rate not to be higher than the rates paid by cultivators in the neighbourhood, less 30 per cent for profit

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and collection charges, calculated on three-fourths of the total area. As Government did not confer any proprietary title, it follows that the grantee is not entitled to malikāna on refusal to accept the terms on resettlement. Provisions were also entered regarding rights of way, the right to timber, the erection, and maintenance of boundary pillars, etc. The Small Capitalist Rules of 1879 15. While the Large Capitalist Rules merely attempted to reconcile the rules of 1853 and the proposals of 1871 with the results of experience, the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879 were an attempt to plough virgin soil. It is true that the Committee of 1871 had strongly advised settlements direct with the cultivator, but their proposals had not been translated into practice; and, excepting Henckell’s plan of settlement with rāiyats in 1783, a plan which had in practice become a tālukdāri settlement, there was no precedent, and there could be no appeal to experience. It is accordingly not unnatural that the rules failed to be a complete success. It had been realised that it would be impracticable to institute rāiyatwāri settlements in areas, where expensive works were required for reclamation, and where embankments might be necessary over an extensive area; the rules were accordingly made applicable only to specific areas; in the 24-Parganās the area was vaguely referred to as ‘those parts of the Protected Forest area in which no embankments or other expensive works are required, provided that no lease will be given here without the consent of the Conservator of Forests’. As surmised by Mr. Gomees no leases have been granted in this area. In Khulnā the ungranted portion of lots 216 and 224 were made available, and in Bākarganj the area included Dhaluā, Bargunā, Karāibāriā, Kālāmeghā (part), Chhotā Nishānbāriā, Abuganj and Mithāganj, corresponding with some exceptions to the modern colonization area. Applications were limited to areas of 200 standard bighās or less; possession was given for 2 years, at the end of which the applicant was entitled to a lease for 30 years of the area brought under cultivation by him, the lessee being entitled to continuous renewals for periods of 30 years; rights were heritable, and, subject to notice to the Sundarban Commissioner, transferable. For the first two years of the lease no rent should be charged; thereafter and at all

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future settlements rate should be fixed with reference to rates paid by rāiyats to grantees in surrounding estates. The lease should ordinarily include an additional area equal to the amount brought under cultivation, and the grantee was entitled to bring under cultivation any adjacent unoccupied land. Measurement of the grant was permissible at periods of 5 years, when excess cultivation could be assessed. Two forms of lease were prescribed, the one a cultivation lease, the other a hāolādāri lease; the former would presumably give the status of a rāiyat, the latter that of a permanent tenureholder. The only actual difference in the terms of the leases was that the latter gave the power to sublet to cultivators though not to create undertenures, while the former gave no such right. There appears to be no reason why anyone entitled to the hāolādāri lease should have been content with the cultivating lease. The hāolādāri form was, however, essential to cover the case of a grantee, who had cultivated his 200 bighās within two years, and was accordingly entitled to an additional 200 bighās, and of lessees, who cleared and cultivated lands outside the area leased, as permitted by the rules. It is just these provisions that make the rules, as an experiment in rāiyatwāri settlements, defective; they open the way to extensive holdings, and accordingly must tend to become in fact tālukdāri grants. The great omission in the rules is the failure to realise, that even a rāiyatwāri settlement must require external financial assistance—a fact not realised for 25 years. Comparison of the Rules for Large and Small Capitalists 16. It is, however, a mistake to consider that the Small Capitalist Rules were really intended to introduce a rāiyatwāri system of reclamation. It is true that such was the intention of the 1871 Committee and of Government in directing the rules to be framed; it is equally true that Mr. Gomess, who drafted the rules and whose draft was accepted by the Board and by Government, contemplated that they should be what their name implies—viz., an attempt at reclamation through the smaller middleman—an attempt to open up what might eventually be an extensive clearance by gradual means, avoiding the necessity of frequent inspections and consequent resumption, cancellation or resettlement of grants already made. No rāiyatwāri system is

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possible under rules, which permit of the area of the grant being limited only by the ability of the grantee to clear without specifying the means employable. It does not appear that this fact was realised by Government, which did in fact accept the rules as rāiyatwāri in principle. In Bākarganj, where alone the rules could be expected to be operative, a large number of grants was taken up with no little measure of success to the extent of 40 square miles; but they were not rāiyatwāri in principle. Major Jack has criticised these rules as being less lenient than the rules applicable to large capitalists, but his criticism is based mainly on the hypothesis, that they were intended to apply solely to cultivators. This, however, was, as has been shown above, emphatically not the case; the rent-free period was in fact four years from the date of the āmalnāmā against ten years in the large capitalist grants; but the difference is justified by the extent of improvement works required in the larger grants; similarly a longer period of lease, namely 40 years, would be necessary for the larger grants, if clearance to a large extent were to be expected. As regards the rate of rent alone was the large capitalist unduly favoured, his rent being scarcely more than one-third of the rāiyati rate against the full rate payable by the smaller capitalist—a difference that could only be justified on the supposition that the small capitalist was the actual cultivator. And yet in Bākarganj, where alone both systems were applied to any extent, the small capitalist system was the more popular; the area taken up was twice that taken up under the Large Capitalist Rules; the revenue under the former rules was more than eight times that under the latter. Under the Small Capitalist Rules 86 per cent of the area leased has been cleared against 55 per cent. under the Large Capitalist Rules. The results certainly prove that the system of large leases was defunct, and it is surprising that 25 years elapsed before the lessons of the 1879 rules were learned. The great defect of the Large Capitalist Rules, however, was the fact that they made no provision for the maintenance of embankments, and thereby the tenants were placed entirely at the mercy of the grantees or lotdārs. It is very doubtful if, in the conditions then prevalent, such a clause could have been enforced, and it is this fundamental difficulty which ultimately turned the balance in favour of a rāiyatwāri system of reclamation.

CH A P T E R I I I

Forest Grant Rules from 1879-1902

The Period of Quiescence 17. The revenue revival of the seventies, which had resulted in the revision of the Sundarbans grant rules as a part of the new revenue policy, and which culminated shortly afterwards in the passing of the Bengal Tenancy Act, was followed by a period of quiescence in the Sundarbans. The actual effect of the rules of 1879 in practice is described in Chapters IX, XI and XII; they remained in force without alteration, except in one particular detail, which is illustrative of the development of the area, and in one particular tract, namely, Sāgar Island, until the whole system of Sundarbans development was revolutionised by the convening of a second Sundarbans Committee in 1903.

Alterations in Conditions of Sale 18. The detail of the rules, which came under revision, did not affect the actual terms of settlement but only the conditions of sale; it is important not so much in its effects, but rather as an illustration of the increasing demand for land in the Sundarbans and of the excessive lenity of the terms of settlement under the Large Capitalist Rules. Under those rules the upset price of a grant of land had been fixed at Re. 1 per acre; auction-sale was only permissible where more than one application had been received for the same area before the survey and demarcation fees had been deposited—a necessary requirement before a sale notification could issue. It appears that this rule was not strictly observed in practice; but it clearly gave opportunities for carrying into practice the principle of ‘bounce’; a speculator who chanced upon a particularly favourable lot could by the early deposit of fees forestall competition, and obtain the grant below its real market value. In

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1893 these facts were reported by Mr. P. Ross,1 the Commissioner in the Sundarbans; he pointed out that where unrestricted auction had been allowed, the sale price had risen in lot 240 in Khulnā as high as Rs. 3-8-1 per acre; on the other hand, a grantee, who had purchased in another case at the upset price of Re. 1 per acre for Rs. 1,487-9-7, had immediately subleased the grant for a premium of Rs. 2,500, had reduced the rent-free period for his lessee from 10 to 6 years and had increased the rates of rent from ānnās 1, 2 and 4 to ānnās 3½, 4½ and 6½ per bighā. Government was clearly suffering a heavy loss; but if the facts as starts were typical, it is obvious that not only the conditions of sale but the terms of the lease also were defective. The Commissioner and the Board of Revenue2 both recommended that auction should be open to all who applied before the date fixed for sale, the Board further recommending that if the original applicant’s bid were highest, he should be granted a rebate of 10 per cent on the amount of his bid. The Government of India3 refused to agree to the rebate, but otherwise sanctioned the change proposed; amended rules were issued accordingly in 1894.4

Effects of the Alteration in the Rules 19. From the point of view of the development of the Sundarbans this change in the rules may not appear to be of much importance, but the effects of the change prove conclusively the inadequacy of the rules of 1879, the value of the land and the enormous competitive demand that existed then for the better lands available. In 18935 before the issue of the new rule , the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th portions of lot 225 of Khulnā, 24,900 bighās in area, had been sold provisionally under 1

Sundarban Commissioner to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 97 of 21st August 1893, and No. 114 of 7th September 1893. 2 Board of Revenue to Government, Revenue Department, No. 1102A of 12th October 1893. 3 Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, to Government of Bengal, Revenue Department, No. 178-370 of 18th January 1894. 4 Revenue Circular No. 2 of February 1894. 5 Sundarban Commissioner to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 219 of 10th March 1895.

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the restricted auction rules for Rs. 15,524 at the rate of Re. 1-14-2 per acre. The sale had been set aside by Government, and on resale under the revised rules had fetched the very high sum of Rs. 1,68,514, or an average of Rs. 20-7-6 per acre. It is unnecessary to point out that the rules of 1853 and the proposals of the 1871 Committee had prescribed rates of Rs. 2-8 and Rs. 5, respectively. It is clear that a purchase under the rules of 1879 was a profitable investment, and it is only surprising that Government did not realise at the time that it would have been a sounder course to raise the rates of rent and not to sacrifice its revenue for 40 years for the doubtful results of speculative auction, which at the best formed an imperfect method of capitalising the revenue demand.

Conditions Prevalent in Sāgar Island till 1894 20. The changes in the rules of 1879, so far as they affect Sāgar Island, are of great importance, as they illustrate the first definite realisation of the fact that different rules and different treatment are required for different portions of the Sundarbans. It must be remembered that Sāgar Island lies in an exposed position at the position at the mouth of the river Hughli, and that its original reclamation had been undertaken to afford a haven for ship-wrecked mariners. Up to the year 1895 six grants under special conditions had been made, namely, Mud Point, Ferintosh, Bāmankhāli Trowerland, Sikārpur and Dhobelat; these were held free of revenue demand, subject to the construction and maintance by the grantees of protective works, including tanks measuring 200 feet by 150 feet with banks at least 16 feet in height, as refuges for cultivators in case of storm waves. The area available for lease still amounted to 1,35,674 bighās or approximately 71 square miles; the area was excluded from the operation of the Small Capitalist Rules, and the Large Capitalist Rules had superseded the rules of 1863, under which fee simple grants had been possible. It was a recognised fact that, in addition to the refuges, extensive embankments were necessary to keep out the sea from the reclaimed lands, and that considering the position of the island these embankments must be stronger and involve more expenditure than in other parts of the area. Until 1894 the rules of 1879 had remained inoperative in Sāgar Island.

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Proposed Revision of Rules for Sāgar Island 21. In 1894, however, two applications were received for grants in Sāgar Island, and in accordance with the recommendation of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans the Board of Revenue proposed certain alterations in the terms of the rules of 1879, in consideration of the fact that the erection and maintenace of protective works must be insisted on;6 they suggested that the rent-free tearm should be extended from 10 to 15 years, and that the rate of rent should be ānnās 2 instead of ānnās 4 per bigha from the 16th to the 20th year, and ānnās 4 instead of ānnās 8 from the 21st to the 10th year. The proposals of the Board were not fully understood by Government,7 who failed to notice the distinction between the special protective works and protective embankments; as applications had already been received under the existing rules there appeared to be no actual necessity to reduce the rates, but if a case could be made out for reduction, Government was prepared to consider it. It was essential to include clauses for the erection and maintenance of protective works, including the penalty of forfeiture on failure, and accordingly a complete set of new rules should be framed. The Commissioner in the Sundarbans proceeded to explain the nature of the protective works,8 he pointed out that as the existing grantees were holding free of revenue, none would accept settlement under the same obligations, unless the conditions of the rules of 1879 were considerably relaxded. He accordingly proposed: (a) that the grant should confer a proprietary right, (b) that the lease should be granted without sale and (c) that failure to clear should be punishable by fine and not by forfeiture or resumption. The Board9 accepted the second concession only, but proposed a further concession, allowing to the grantees a profit of 50 per cent on 6

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 461A of April 1895. Government, Revenue Department to Board, No. 945T-R of 31st April 1895. 8 Sundarban Commissioner to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 89 of 3rd August 1898. 9 Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 945A of 12th September 1895. 7

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resettlement instead of the 30 per cent, permissible under the rules of 1879. The Government of Bengal,10 however, declined to accept the advice of the Board; they accepted Mr. Ross’ third condition substituting a fine instead of forfeiture in case of failure to clear, and met his second condition by reducing the upset sale price to ānnās 8. A draft set of rules was then prepared by Mr. Ross, and submitted to Government in June 1896,11 the only material alteration was the raising of the maximum area of a grant from 5,000 to 10,000 bighās in view of the expenditure involved in protective works. The rules were accepted by the Government of India subject to two important modifications, namely, the addition of the penalty of forfeiture to that of fine on failure to observe the clearance conditions, and the reduction of the periods of resettlement to 20 years in accordance with the general policy then in vogue. The revised rules were published in March 1897.12

Comparison with the Rules of 1879 22. The new rules were based on the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, and it is only necessary to indicate the important differences: Conditions

Rules of 1879

Rules of 1827

Maximum area Rent-free period Rates of rent 11th-15th year 16th-20th ” 21st-40th ” Period of settlement Upset sale price Protective works Penalty for failure to observe clearance conditions.

5,000 bighās 10 years

10,000 bighās 15 years

Annas 2 Annas 4 Annas 8 30 years Rupees 1 per acre Nil Forfeiture or re-entry on new settlement

Nil Annas 2 per bighā Annas 4 20 years. Annas 8 per acre Vide infra Forfeiture or penalty of Annas 4 per acre each year of default

10 11 12

Government Revenue Department, No. 819A, of 26th October 1895. Board to Government, Revenue Department No. 538, of 19th June 1898. Notification No. 1377L-R. of 29th March 1897.

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The provisions regarding protective works are important. Within four years of the execution of the lease the grantee was required to construct a tank 200 feet in length, 150 feet in width and 8 feet deep, surrounded by embankments 16½ feet high and 5 feet in breadth at the crest, as a refuge in case of a storm wave; the details of the works were further prescribed. The tank was to be connected; with ail habitations by embanked roads at least 5 feet in height, and no habitation was to be permitted at a distance greater than one mile from the protective work, unless constructed on a plinth 16½ feet above the level of the surrounding country. The site for the original protective work was to be shown on the map, and as cultivation and habitations increased, further protective works were to be constructed. The penalty for failure to erect such works or to maintain them in a satisfactory condition was forfeiture of the lease though in alternative the works could be constructed by Government at the cost of the grantee. It is interesting to note that, as in the rules of 1879, no conditions were laid down enforcing the construction and maintenance of outer embankments, on which the security of the cultivators must depend.

Resume of the Period 23. The period from the passing of the rules of 1879 until the meeting of the Committee of 1903, shows little development in the adoption of rules more suitable to the area. The alteration in the rules of 1879 merely saved Government from a certain amount of loss; it imposed no new conditions or liabilities, it conferred no new privileges. The Sāgar Island rules of 1897 conferred certain new privileges and concessions, which were barely counterbalanced by the new and peremptory obligations imposed; the failure of the rules is recounted in Chapters VIII and XIV. In the development of this period, however, there is nothing to suggest that new principles were in contemplation, that Government might treat the Sundarbans as a commercial asset worthy of development by means of its own capital. Strong indications existed that land values had greatly increased, and the demand for land in the area was more insistent. The rules of 1853 and 1863 had been more attractive to the grantee, and it was not the stiffening of the rules but a naturally increasing demand for land that resulted in the extension of grants during the period.

CH A P T E R I V

Forest Grant Rules Period of Transition (1902-1905)

(A) THE INTRODUCTION OF THE RĀIYATWĀRI SYSTEM OF LEASE

Defects of the System in Force 24. The history of Sundarbans development does not furnish an example of continuity of purpose in abolishing defective systems. It is true that the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879 had raised faint hopes of an attempt at reclamation directly by the cultivator; the attempt however had been faint-hearted and doubtful at the outset; for, as has been shown, the rules required possibly in the circumstances with some justification, a longer period of self-support from the cultivator than the sister rules demanded from the benevolent capitalist. By 1903, after 25 years of travail 165 acres in one estate had been leased under the rules in Khulnā, 1,187 acres in two estates in Bākarganj, and nothing in the 24-Parganās. Reclamation had reached the alarming momentum of 54 acres per year. Had the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 or the Sāgar Island Rules of 1897 proved effective, an excuse might be found for relegating the Small Capitalist Rules to the pigeonhole. This, however, was emphatically not the case. ‘It is stated’ wrote the Government of Bengal1 in 1903 ‘that in Bākarganj the system of auction has sometimes led to the land being let to men who are unable to spend much capital on experiments, and that this system is objectionable for two reasons. The first is that it opens a way to land-jobbers and mere speculators who purchase for the purpose of reselling; secondly, that it involves a heavy initial drain on the capital of the person to whom the lease is granted, with the result that the 1 Government Revenue Department, to Board No. 660, dated the 7th February 1903.

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grantee is left without capital to put into the land, and in order to recoup his outlay he has to sublet to smaller lessees in return for a cash payment. The same process is carried lower down the chain with still smaller men, and, in the end, as a matter of fact, the land is reclaimed and cultivated by small cultivators, just as if it had been leased under the rules for grants of class (b) (Small Capitalist) the only difference being that Government has to allow in perpetuity to several useless grades of middlemen a rebate of 20, 30 or 40 per cent, on the rental.’ It is surprising, however, that the inception of a system of reclamation through rāiyatwāri settlements should have been due not to direct recognition of the defects of the existing system but to the proposal to extend settlement operations into the Sundarbans area of Bākarganj and to abolish the office of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans.

Initials Proposals to a Rāiyatwāri Settlement 25. In March 1891, Mr. H. Le Mesurier, as Collector of Bākarganj had pointed out that the system of reclamation then in force was not successful; it was true that Government gained an immediate sale price and an immediate revenue, but it discounted the future; the whole system teemed with abuse. Mr. Le. Mesurier’s remarks achieved no result, but on the 6th September 1902 Mr. (now Sir Nicholas) Beatson Bell, in advocating as Settlement Officer of Bākarganj the extension of survey and settlement operations to the Sundarbans, again brought to the notice of Government the extraordinary defects and abuses of the existing system. Government considered2 that the system was ‘inconsistent with modern ideas as to the advantages of rāiyatwāri settlement’. The Board was accordingly requested to consider whether the time had not come for a change of the existing system of settling wastelands and especially for the abolition of the system of settling large blocks. These suggestions, it must be realized, were intimately connected with the proposals to abolish the office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans area of Bākarganj. In September 1903 the Board

2

Ibid.

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of Revenue forwarded its opinion;3 they pointed out that under the existing system 1,704 square miles had already been leased in Bākarganj and the 24-Parganās out of a total available area of 3,046 square miles. In the former district some advantage had been taken of the Small Capitalist Rules; in the latter where heavy embanking was essential, the small capitalist had done nothing, though 574 square miles had been leased under the Large Capitalist Rules. Raiyatwari settlements would be feasible in Bākarganj, if Government were prepared to incur the necessary cost-in the 24-Parganās the Board deprecated any change from the existing system. Except in Bākarganj, the Board does not appear to have accepted the advice of the local officers. The Collector of Khulnā had pointed out that ‘instances are not rare . . . where a Sundarbans ābād has become a bye-word for land disputes, riots and villainy of all sorts. Mr. (now Sir Charles) Stevenson-Moore, as Collector of the 24-Parganās, while insistent on the evils of both the Large and Small Capitalists rules then in force, pressed strongly for a revised form of rāiyatwāri lease. Mr. Sunder, the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, alone fought for the continuance of the existing system. ‘To Mr. Sunder’s report’ wrote4 Mr. Savage the Commissioner of the Dacca Division. ‘I think, I need make no further reply than that he mistakes what might be for what is. The administration of the Sundarbans in the past has, to say the least, not been a success, and unless there be a radical reform, there is no probability it will be a success in the future’. The suggestions made by the Board5 were indeterminate, and Government decided to appoint a Committee to consider the whole question of the form of leases to be adopted and the principles of settlement to be followed in future; the existing system, it was admitted, afforded very little protection to the actual cultivator, allowed of the introduction of numerous middlemen and made no provision for the maintenance of the embankments upon which the cultivator so largely depended. Principles according to which leases

3

Board to Government Revenue Department No.7899A., dated the 19th September 1903. 4 Commissioner, Dacca, to Board No. 1657 L-R., dated 11th September 1903. 5 Government Revenue Department, to Board No. 2877 T-R, dated 29th October 1903.

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should be given were to be formulated, and after the principles had been approved, the existing rules should be revised.

Scheme of the Committee of 1903 26. The committee consisted of the leading revenue officers of the province, Messrs. L. Hare, H. Savage, P.C. Lyon, C.J. StevensonMoore, S.L. Maddox, N.D. Beatson-Bell with Mr. Sunder, the Commissioner of the Sundarbans; their conclusions were recorded in the proceedings of a meeting held on the 11th December 1903. The Committee decided that it was essential to abolish the system of leases to capitalists, large or small, and to proceed by direct settlement with cultivating rāiyats; the capitalist system involved heavy loss to Government both during the period of the original lease and thereafter in perpetuity on renewal; it further involved all the evils of subinfeudation with the consequent danger of rack-renting; the existing leases were incurably faulty. The Conference accordingly recommended the following principles of settlement for all lands either unleased or which might revert to Government: (a) No further leases to be issued under the rules of 1879. (b) All future settlements to be made directly with cultivators on a rāiyatwāri basis, holdings to average 50 and not to exceed 75 bighās in area. (c) Government to undertake the cost of making exterior embankments, tanks and other necessary improvements and to make advances to rāiyats. (d) Raiyats to be encouraged to reside on their holdings with their families. The Conference further recommended that government should invest capital in schemes of reclamation by rāiyatwāri settlements in Bākarganj and the 24-Parganās. In the latter the cost to Government was estimated at Rs. 6 per bighā while the terms of settlement would be two years rent-free, two years on half rent, and thereafter at the rate of Rs. 2 per bighā. In Bākarganj a more elaborate estimate was prepared for a standard area of 4 square miles to contain 150 settlers as follows:

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136

Expenditure

Rs.

Four tanks at Rs. 1,000 each

4,000

Embankments

1,000

Miscellaneous improvements

2,500

Advances, first year at Rs. 100 per head

15,000

Advances, second year at Rs. 80 per head

12,000

Advances, third year at Rs. 20 per head Total

3,000 37,500

Loans were to be repayable in 10 years and the rent would rise by annual increments from two ānnās per bighā the first year to Re. 1 in the 10th year, when the rental would be Rs. 7,500, i.e. equivalent to the net initial outlay by government, excluding advances.

Adaptation of Raiyatwāri System 27. So convincing were the arguments of the committee that the Board of Revenue accepted its conclusion in toto; it was only by means of rāiyatwāri settlements that the existing evils could be counteracted and a contented and prosperous tenantry established in the area. For the 5,00,000 bighās available for lease in Bākarganj, the Board recommended an annual expenditure of Rs. 50,000 for fifty years to complete the work of reclamation; for the 24-Parganās, where it was admitted that much of the area was still unfit for reclamation, the Board recommended experimentally a grant of Rs. 50,000 or Rs. 75,000 for 4 or 5 years; in the area the cost of reclamation had been calculated by Mr. Stevenson-Moore at Rs. 23,044 per square mile, while the ultimate rental after 5 years would be Rs. 3,292 for the area. Government accepted the proposals of the Board and recommended6 to the Government of India that the Capitalist Rules of 1879 and the Sāgar Island Rules of 1897 should be suspended, and that the necessary grant for reclamation should be made. It was 6 Government of Bengal, Revenue Department, to Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, No. 1875, dated the 22nd march 1904.

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further pointed out that, if the experiment proved successful, it would be advisable considerably to increase the annual grant of Rs. 1,00,000 now asked for. In the meantime the Government of Bengal7 instructed the Board of Revenue to frame draft rules for the proposed rāiyatwāri settlement and subject to confirmation by the Government of India allotted Rs.50,000 a year from 1904-5 to each of the districts of Bākarganj and the 24-Parganās for reclamation work. The Government of India accepted the proposals and suggested8 that residence on or near the land should be made a condition of the grant, and that the rights conferred should be heritable but not transferable or liable to be burdened by any mortgage or other charge.

Real Meaning of the New System 28. The adoption of the Rāiyatwāri system was far more than a decision to deal directly with the cultivator instead of through middlemen or chains of middlemen. The elements of such a system were contained in the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879. The great innovation was the recognition by Government of the failure of private capital and enterprise and the decision to treat the area as a commercial asset suitable for the investment of Government capital. The Bākarganj estimate showed that the capital cost of reclamation and settlement would be fully repaid in 10 years, after which an annual profit of Rs.1,875 per square mile would accrue to Government; in the 24-Parganās the capital cost would similarly be repaid in 10 years, after which Government would receive an annual income of Rs.3,292 per square mile. An outlay of Rs.50,000 in each of the two districts would be recovered in full within 10 years, after which the rental would be approximately Rs.17,000 per annum. The scheme was sound financially; it prevented the intervention of the middleman, the speculator and land jobber, his lack of enterprise and the chains of uncontrolled, even if unrecognised, sublessees who followed in his 7

Government Revenue Department, to Board of Revenue No. 1605, dated the 14th March 1904. 8 Government of India, Dept. of Revenue and Agriculture, to Government of Bengal, Revenue Department No. 1040-194-1, dated the 26th July 1904.

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wake; and finally it laid on Government the full responsibility for securing the welfare and contentment of the peasantry. The innovation was revolutionary.

The Scheme of 1905 29. In accordance with the orders of Government a notification was issued in November 1904 suspending the operation of the Capitalist Rules of 1879 and the Sāgar Island Rules of 1897, and the work of drafting rules for the revised system commenced. The work of drafting detailed rules which could be applicable to areas so dissimilar as the Bākarganj and 24-Parganās Sundarbans proved to be labourious. In September 1905 after a draft set of rules had been circulated and subjected to varying criticism, in view of the impending partition of the province of Bengal, the Government of the parent province decided to ignore the criticism received from Bākarganj and to issue the rules for use in the Khulnā and the 24-Parganās Sundarbans. The rules were issued almost immediately. The Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam, however, proceeded with greater caution and it was not until February 1907, when a definite line of policy had been adopted, that rules were published. The history of the rules in each area is quite distinct and separate, largely affected by the line of policy adopted. The carefully thought-out policy of the Eastern Bengal and Assam administration has resulted in an almost complete continuity of the rules in force; the less thoughtful effort of the older Government has resulted in great changes in the rules, and it remained for the administrative changes of 1912 to impress on Bengal the value of the Bākarganj methods and a consequent reversion to that system. The history of the development of the rules in each area is separately recounted. (B) DETERMINATION OF RIGHTS OF LEASEHOLDERS

Status of Leaseholders 30. In addition to the question of introducing a system of reclamation by rāiyatwāri settlements, the Committee of 1903 considered the very

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important problem of the terms under which existing leases should be renewed. They advised that the Legal Remembrancer should be consulted with reference to each class of lease as to the power of Government to impose fresh conditions upon the renewal of the lease. The difficulties of the problem in practice are noticed in detail in the account of the settlement operations in Bākarganj (vide Chapter IX), but it is important to remember that not only had different forms of leases been adopted in resettling resumed estates but that the different rules in force for forest grants from time to time had conferred different rights on the grantees. It had been held by the Advocate-General9 (Mr. Woodroffe) in 1902, that the proprietary right in the Sundarbans belonged to Government, but that Government could transfer and under the rules of 1853 had actually transferred its proprietary right to the grantees and that section 6 of Art. V of Regulation 1 of 1793 was no bar to such action. On a further opinion10 obtained from the Advocate-General in March 1903 the Board held11 that the leases of 1853 did not confer a full proprietary right on the grantee and that the right conferred was not the same as the proprietary right conferred by Regulation I of 1793. They accordingly adopted a middle course and directed that the grantees should be described as lessees under the rules of 1825, 1829, 1853 or 1879, as the case might be. Each grant was, however, to be treated as a separate estate in the Collector’s registers. It had, however, been definitely decided that leases under the rules of 1825, 1829 and 1879 were only tenures. This opinion was substantially accepted by the Legal Remembrancer of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 190712 the details of the problem were left for decision at the time of resettlement of the estates, as the leases fell due.

9

Opinion dated the 26th November 1902. Opinion dated the 23rd March 1903. 11 Board to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 8892-A, dated the 15th May 1906. 12 Legal Remembrancer, to Board, Eastern Bengal and Assam, No. 1118, dated the 23rd July 1907. 10

CH A P T E R V

Forest Grant Rules from 1905-1920

(A) BAKARGANJ

Issue of the Rāiyatwāri Rules of 1907 31. From the birth of the province the reclamation of the Sundarbans occupied a prominent place in the administration of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The actual history of the inception of the colonization scheme is narrated in Chapter X, and it was not until the appointment of a Colonization Officer had been sanctioned in March 1907, that rules for rāiyatwāri settlements were issued. The Bengal rules of 1905 had been under examination and in April 1906 the Board had suggested1 their adoption with a few modifications; Government asked2 for certain explanations, and the rules were finally published3 ‘as an experimental measure’ on the 19th February 1907. They were applicable to ‘all lands ungranted and unoccupied at the disposal of Government, or those which, from any cause or under any circumstances whatever, revert to Government in the Sundarbans of the district of Bākarganj, and which have not been declared either a reserved or protected forest under the Forest Act, VII of 1878’. As these are the first rāiyatwāri rules, to which practical effect was given and as little change has subsequently been made in them, it is necessarily to explain their provisions in detail.

1

Board to Chief Secretary, Eastern Bengal and Assam, No. 32 W.L.G. dated 2nd April 1906. 2 Chief Secretary, Eastern Bengal and Assam, to Board No. 5295-C.D. dated 26th May 1906. 3 Notification No. 1919-C dated 19th February 1907.

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Rights Reserved by Government (Rules 4-11) 32. Government reserved to itself its full proprietary rights, rights to all minerals and rights of fishery with the control of channels and streams subject to the exercise by the settlers of the privilege of fishing for their own use. A tow-path 25 feet wide, was to be reserved on the banks of all navigable streams for the use of the public. Government retained the right to lay down conditions for the use of common lands and to resume free of cost any lands required for a public purpose, subject to payment of compensation for improvements and a proportionate reduction in the assessment. All leased lands were to be liable for the payment of all legal cesses in force in addition to the rent assessed. These rules do not call for any special remarks.

Rights Conferred on the Rāiyat (Rules 12-16) 33. The rules then proceeded to lay down the principle that the intervention of middlemen was to be avoided. Subject to the observance of this principle the rights conferred were declared to be heritable; transfer was permitted of holdings in whole or in part to resident cultivating rāiyats only, subject to the previous consent of the Collector and to limiting the area tenable in the estate by the transferee to 100 bighās; exchange of lands was permitted on similar conditions. The right to sub-let was refused and Government retained the right to resume any lands illegally sub-let. The drafting of this portion of the rules had been subject to considerable discussion regarding the question of transfers and sub-leases.

Duties of the Rāiyats (Rules 17-22) 34. Every rāiyat was required to reside permanently on or near his holding and to construction suitable residence within two years of the commencement of the lease. Government retained the right to resume any lands of the holding that had not been cultivated within five years. While Government erected and maintained the outer embankments of each estate, the rāiyat was required to maintain all inner embankments and boundary marks. The punctual repayment

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of loans was to be insisted on. No specific provision was laid down regarding the assistance that might be given by Government in jungle cuttings; as a matter of practice it has been left almost solely to the lessee.

Administration, etc. (Rules 23-37) 35. Detailed rules were prescribed for administering the work of colonization and reclamation. The area was to be blocked out into estates of convenient size, and a scheme and estimate prepared for necessary protective works; the number of holdings suitable for the estate was to be calculated, and a lay-out prepared for holdings, homesteads, tanks, markets, paths and common lands. The detailed lay-out should be shown on the estate map. Rules were laid down for selection of tenants and distribution of sites; the maximum area of a grant was laid down at 75 bighās, the minimum at 10 bighās. Allotments were to be properly demarcated and surveyed on the maps. Provision was made for the grant of loans free of interest, either in cash or in grain, to new settlers, subject to a maximum of Rs.200 per family, payable Rs.100 the first year, Rs. 80 the second year and Rs.20 the third year; repayment was to commence in the 5th year and to be completed by the 11th year of the lease. The rate of rent fixed generally under the rules was rent free for 3 years, 4th and 5th year 2 ānnās per bighā rising gradually to Rs.2 per bighā from the 21st year. General rules were laid down to cover the duties of the officer in charge of the colonization work.

Effect of the Rules of 1907 36. The rules of 1907 were a complete innovation; and it is difficult to compare them with the Small Capitalist rules of 1879. They were framed with the object of securing colonies of bona fide cultivators resident on their holdings; the clearance conditions were severe but Government had now determined to give practical help in the way of important works necessary for habitation and reclamation and of loans to ride over the clearance period of the lease. The actual effect of these rules is described in Chapter X.

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Revised Rules 1916 37. The rules of 1907 remained in force until 1916, but the revised rules4 then published contained no new principle, but merely perfected the details of the admittedly experimental rules of 1907; no surer proof could be had of the soundness of the 1907 system than the paucity of the changes required. The alterations may be briefly narrated. The rules were made applicable to protected forests, which were now considered liable to reclamation; the special provisions regarding the right of Government to acquire holdings free of cost were omitted. The right of transfer was restricted, the main alteration being that transfers by Maghs were restricted to Magh transferees, in order to safeguard the position of the successful new Magh colonies. More definite rules were prescribed regarding the erection of embankments and the making of other improvements by Government. The erection of marginal embankments was in all cases to be subject to the advice of the Public Works Department. The liability of tenants regarding the preservation of embankments was defined in greater detail. The rules regarding administration as redrafted contained no new provisions of importance. The maximum rates of rent were prescribed for the areas where colonization was already in progress, the principle of a fixed rate as laid down in the rules of 1907 being abandoned viz.: Re. Bogi Group

1 2 to 1 6 per bighā.

Central Group

1 2 to 1 4 per bighā.

Eastern Group

1 4 per bighā.

Southern Group

1 0 per bighā.

Kālāmeghā (Western) Group

1 8 per bighā.

The right to fix new rates for new areas and special rates for houses and shops was reserved. The draft form of lease was revised in accordance with the revised rules. These rules still remain in force, and,

4

Notification No. 861 T.R. dated the 29th May 1916.

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as will be seen, have been adopted as the basis of the rules applicable to the Khulnā and 24-Parganās areas. (B) KHULNĀ AND THE 24-PARGANĀS

Operation of the Rules of 1905 38. It has already been stated that rules for rāiyatwāri settlement were published5 in 1905, and that such publication had occurred before any definite policy had been adopted. These rules differ little from the Bākarganj rules of 1907 the alterations made in the latter rules being mainly verbal. The history of the 1905 rules is, however, brief and unfortunate. Even before the rules had been published the Government of Bengal had decided to initiate its experiment in rāiyatwāri settlement, on the advice of Mr. Sunder, in Fraserganj, otherwise known as Nārāyantolā or Mecklenberg Island—an island 15 square miles in area lying on the face of the Bay of Bengal at the mouth of the Sattaramukhi river. The history of this ill conceived scheme and its consequent failure is recounted in detail in Chapter XIII. The experiment was no test of the suitability of the rules of 1905; the island was by nature unfitted for an experiment in reclamation and the real stage of settlement was barely reached. Even had reclamation been the primary consideration, success might have been achieved, but the scheme of reclamation and ultimate colonization became subordinate to the creation of a sea-side resort for the citizens of Calcutta. The rāiyatwāri rules did not reach the stage of a practical test. By the year 1908, out of 28,555 bighās, only 1,900 bighās had been leased, and of this only 506 bighās held by 39 tenants were rentpaying, held on 25 year leases. In that year Mr. David Yule made an offer6 to take the lease of the estate under the rules of 1879 for 40 years at the rate of 4 ānnās per bighā.

5

Notification No. 3261, dated the 19th September 1905. Board to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 5436 A, dated the 30th December 1908. 6

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Reversion to the Capitalist Rules of 1879 39. The Government of Bengal agreed7 with the proposal to abandon the colonization of Fraserganj by means of a rāiyatwāri settlement and, pending the completion of proposals to revert to the rules of 1879, obtained the sanction of the Government of India8 to lease the estate under those rules, subject to two important modifications; the first modification abandoned the method of sale at competitive premia with rates of rent fixed under the rules, in favour of a system by which would-be lessees could bid a high premium with low rates of rent, or a low premium and high rates of rent—a principle which has in other places been condemned by Government as equivalent to capitalization of the revenue. The second modification was to safeguard the right of tenants already settled on the island. The general question of abandoning the rules of 1905 was then considered. The decisions of the conference of 1903 were set aside subject to agreement on the finding that the unrestricted exploitation of waste lands would result in serious evils. This finding was supported by a warning given by the Public Works Department that much evil had been done and was still being done by the restriction of spill areas in the Sundarbans from the erection of embankments for reclamation, in consequences of which the Board had issued orders9 prohibiting the erection of further embankments without the sanction of the Public Works Department. The area to which any rules might apply was accordingly largely curtailed. The Government of Bengal pointed out10 that in addition to Fraserganj, 18 estates in the 24-Parganās and 7 in Khulnā had been resumed by Government and retained under direct management; in 9 of these estates only had it been possible to continue reclamation, and the results even there had been unsatisfactory, as the financial position 7

Government of Bengal to the Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture No. 2134 T.R. dated the 22nd September 1909. 8 Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture to Government of Bengal No. 1200-429-2 dated 26th October 1909. 9 Board of Revenue to the Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 873 A.T., dated the 24th September 1909. 10 Government of Bengal to the Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, No. 543 T.R. dated the 24th May 1910.

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of Government was not such as to justify adequate expenditure on these schemes. It was maintained that reclamation to be effective must be on a very extensive scale, but it was ‘essential that operations on a large scale must be financed upon a definite scheme and on a generous scale; and it is impossible for them to join in the scramble with other claimants over an occasional surplus. At the present time there is no immediate prospect of the possibility of such provision’. The defects in the system were not. It is clear, due to the rules and principals of 1905, but to the financial situation of the province. Reversion to the Capitalist Rules of 1879 was accordingly recommended subject to a few minor modifications, viz.: (a) Avoidance of premature reclamation by consulting the Irrigation Department before the grant of new leases. (b) Safeguarding the position of cultivators as settled rāiyats by notifying all new grants as villages under the provisions of the Bengal Tenancy Act. (c) Insertion of a clause in the lease insisting on the maintenance of embankments to the satisfaction of the Collector. (d) Abolition of sale by auction and levy of premium in favour of leases at higher rates of rent. The Government of Bengal came to the somewhat surprising conclusion that subinfeudation in reclaimed Sundarbans estates was inevitable for financial reasons and was not wholly an evil, but they had not the advantage of the experience that had been acquired in the settlement operations in Bākarganj. The Government of India accepted11 the views of the government of Bengal but suggested that in redrafting the rules and form of lease an attempt should be made to restrict unlimited subinfeudation. The framing of the modified rules was left to the local Government.

All Rules in Practical Abeyance (1910-15) 40. When actually faced by the problem the Government of Bengal 11 Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture to Government of Bengal, No. 876273-2, dated the 5th August 1910.

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does not appear to have relished the prospect of applying to the Sundarbans tracts rules which had already been condemned by 25 years of bitter experience. They had rid themselves of the trouble and expense of undertaking rāiyatwāri settlements, but they had no desire to revert in practice to a system that was admittedly bad. The Government of Bengal took advantage of the complaint of the Irrigation Department regarding the damage caused to the drainage of the country by indiscriminate embanking. It was decided that in future the tidal spill should not be excluded from any land until it had been raised to the level of the mean of high water of the spring and neap tides. The Irrigation Department, however, declined to advise with confidence on schemes of embankment without a preliminary survey of levels. This survey has not as yet been undertaken and Government was relieved of the necessity of remodelling the rules of 1879. Reclamation work in the Sundarbans of Khulnā and the 24-Parganās entered upon its first period of utter stagnation since the days of Warren Hastings. In 1915, however, the passing of the Bengal Embankment (Sundarbans) Act (IV B.C. 1915) brought the Sundarbans under the ordinary embankment laws in force in Bengal.

Introduction of Raiyatwari Rules (1915-20) 41. The year 1915 formed the turning point in the history of the rules for reclamation in the 24-Paraganas; the change of policy was initially due to the administrative changes of 1912 which enabled the revenue authorities to apply the experience gained in Bākarganj to the western districts. In 1915, Mr. (now Sir) C.J. Stevenson-Moore, after an extensive tour through the Sundarbans, recorded a note12 on the development of the area. After describing the great success achieved in the colonization of the Bākarganj Sundarbans, he proceeded to show that the failure of the Fraserganj experiment had not been a sufficient justification for the abandonment of the rāiyatwāri system in Khulnā and the 24-Parganās. He further pointed out that no action whatsoever had been taken for the improvement of the 16 resumed estates in the 24-Parganās, managed directly by Government; less than 12

Note, dated the 13th February 1915.

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1/5th of the area was under cultivation, and since the year 1904, the total expenditure on embankments had amounted to Rs.649.8 only. Government, he remarked, was shirking its responsibilities, and in the interest of the rāiyats some action was essential. He objected to a revival of the system of leases to lotdārs, and propounded a scheme for rāiyatwāri colonization, commencing with an initial annual outlay of Rs.10,000 to Rs.15,000. The details of the scheme are dealt with in Chapter XIV. The scheme was at once adopted and in anticipation of the passing of definite rules, the system of reclamation by rāiyatwāri settlements was introduced in the resumed lots of Sāgar Island on the lines of the Bākarganj system. In 1917, a form of lease based on the Bākarganj model was prescribed, and in the following year, the Board of Revenue submitted, for the orders of Government, draft rules for the rāiyatwāri settlement of waste lands in the Sundarbans of the 24-Parganās and Khulnā. The rules are based on those adopted for Bākarganj in 1916, subject to the following important modifications. Compulsory residence on the holding was not insisted on, as many of the best lessees spent only a portion of the year on their holdings. The provisions regarding the construction and maintenance of marginal embankments were still further defined in the light of experience already gained—the embankments being of greater importance in the 24-Parganās area. The duty of constructing and maintaining interior embankments was placed definitely on the cultivator in accordance with local practice. The provisions regarding loans were omitted, as it was held that the provisions of the Land Improvement and Agriculturists’ Loans Act would suffice. The form of lease was remodelled on the basis of the revised rules. In forwarding13 the draft rules to the Government of India, it was proposed that, while rāiyatwāri settlements should be the ordinary method of reclamation, the Board of Revenue should be authorized to make settlements with capitalists in special cases; no such cases were then in contemplation, and if any did arise, the Capitalist Rules would be revised before any such settlements were made. The Government of India accepted14 13

Government of Bengal, Revenue Department, to Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, No. 9568 dated the 18th December 1918. 14 Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, to Government of Bengal, Revenue Department No.65-21-2, dated the 30th January 1919.

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these proposals, and on the 15th of February 1919 the new rules were published.15 These rules are still in force, and rāiyatwāri settlements are now ordinarily the sole means of reclamation in the whole of the Sundarbans tracts.

Resume 42. The history of the reclamation rules from 1905 might suggest that the abolition of the office of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans had been a mistake and that uniformity of administration is essential in the whole tract. This however, is hardly the case. The rāiyatwāri system had been introduced in 1905 in the teeth of the opposition of the Commissioner, and it was the former Commissioner of the Sundarbans who ensured the breakdown of the experiment in the 24-Parganās. In Bākarganj, the substitution of the Collector’s responsibility for the irresponsible control of the Sundarban Commissioner was undoubtedly the main factor in the successful introduction of the scheme. The mistaken reversion to the Capitalist rules in 1910 in the western province would not have been avoided by the existence of a joint office of control; it was due to the more general control of the Provincial Government, and financial difficulties with which the area was only indirectly connected. Even the ultimate adoption of the Bākarganj system cannot be treated as an argument for joint control. The differences in the rules, though few, are of importance, and the separation of control in the different areas has at last resulted in the recognition of the fact that there are radical differences in the areas for which separate treatment is essential.

15

Notification, No. 1601-L.R., dated the 15th February 1919.

CH A P T E R V I

Abolition of the Office of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans Early Proposals for Abolition 43. The office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans had been established by Regulation IX of 1816, and, though from time to time condemned to be abolished, arose from its own ashes and survived through the vicissitudes of Sundarbans developments until the opening years of the 20th century. As early as 1830, only 14 years after the creation of the office proposals had been made for its abolition; these proposals had been renewed in 1834, 1838, 1841 and 1842; the alternative suggested was to place each Collector in charge of the area belonging to his own district. It was recognised that the work accomplished had been trifling and that the field of work was too extensive and multifarious for a single officer. Even the appetizing bait of economy, however, failed to entice the Board. In 1843, however, Mr. Harvey, the Presidency Commissioner, again strongly advocated the abolition of the office on the ground of economy, convenience, efficiency and control. The Board now fell to the attraction of this four-fold bait; the Commissionership was abolished and two years of dire confusion ensued. Babu Uma Kanta Sen was appointed special officer for the 24-Parganās and Jessore under the two Collectors. Mr. Ross was placed in similar control over the Bakarganj area. Mr. Mullins, appointed surveyor to the entire area, appears to have disregarded the existence of Bākarganj. Disputes regarding jurisdiction ensued; the staff was found to be inadequate; the four-fold bait had proved illusory and in 1846 the office was restored. In 1866 a proposal to abolish the office was negative on the grounds of inexpediency and the improbability of effecting any real economy. Collectors would require additional staffs, or they would be unable to attend to the extra duties involved. The Board of Revenue was, however, directed to diminish the establishment of the Sundarbans Commissioner’s office as soon

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as practicable, and to bring forward the question of abolition again when it was satisfied that the measure could safely be carried out1.

Proposals for Abolition in 1881 44. In January 1877 the office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans had been rendered immediately subordinate to the Board of Revenue in order to maintain that unity of control which was at that time considered essential. The time was one of difficulty. In Bākarganj a large part of the reclaimed area had been swept bare by the disastrous cyclone and storm wave of 1876; new rules for the grant of waste lands were in contemplation. In 1879, however, the Board again called on Mr. Pargiter, then Commissioner in the Sundarbans, for a report on the abolition of his office.2 It was not until 1881 that the report was received3. Mr. Pargiter reported that there had been great pressure of work on account of the cyclone and the introduction of the new rules; the pressure had now relaxed and he anticipated little work in the near future. The main duties of the Commissioner comprised the following: (a) applications for demarcation of boundaries and survey under the rules of 1853, (b) resettlement of estates sold for arrears of revenue and purchased by Government, (c) collection of rent from rāiyats in estates included in (b), (d) lease of grants under the rules of 1879, (e) lease of plots to cultivators under the rules of 1879, (f ) decision of boundary disputes under (d) and (e), (g) management of civil suits brought against Government. Mr. Pargiter anticipated activity under heads (e) and (f ) only and it is interesting to note his opinion that the area remaining for grants under head (d) was not likely to be taken up. He placed three alternatives before the Board: 1

Government (Revenue Department) to Board No. 707, dated the 20th February 1866. 2 Board to Sundarbans Commissioner No. 43-A, dated the 13th January 1879. 3 Sundarbans Commissioner to Board No. 315, dated the 24th October 1881.

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(i) Abolition of the Commissionership, and distribution of the work amongst the three Collectors subordinate to the Divisional Commissioners. He did not recommend this course as it would be contrary to the orders of 1877 placing the area directly subordinate to the Board to avoid excess of Labour for the Divisional Commissioners! It is instructive, in view of the arguments brought forward at the time of the final abolition of the office, to note that Mr. Pargiter deprecated a breach in the continuity of policy and administration. (ii) Reduction of Establishment—On this no definite opinion was recorded, but it is obviously open to the objections advanced in the thirties and forties that with diminished work the area would be too expensive for a single officer. (iii) Absorption in the Proposed Khulnā Collectorate, directly subordinate to the Board. Mr. Pargiter favoured this latter alternative. The Commissioner of Dacca reported that the Collector of Bākarganj was prepared to take charge of the Bākarganj area without additional staff. The Collector of the 24-Parganās agreed to the proposed abolition; the Collector of Jessore, however, fought bravely for the fetish of uniformity of control. In submitting their proposals to the Government the Board4 for the first time contradicted the assumption that uniformity of control was necessary or desirable. ‘The features of the Bākarganj portion of the Sundarbans are very different from those of the 24-Parganās, reclamation being much further advanced and the heavy embanking which is the characteristic of the 24-Parganās is not required.’ The Board recommended abolition and the distribution of the work between the three districts affected; they did not, however, recommend the repeal of Regulation IX of 1816 owing to the possibility that necessity for reviving the office might still arise. The opinion of the Board, as subsequent events have proved, was undoubtedly correct, but was not accepted by

4 Board to Government (Revenue Department) No. 79A, dated the 8th February 1882.

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Government. Government again reverted5 to the argument of the desirability of uniform treatment for and continuity of administration in the area, and asked the Board to reconsider the question with the object of reducing establishment and transferring the headquarters of the office to the proposed new district headquarters at Khulnā. The reconsideration by the Board resulted in reduction of establishment effecting a total economy of Rs.1,108 per annum, and orders for the transference of the headquarters of the office from Alipur to Khulnā, the Commissioner still remaining directly subordinate to the Board. The economy effected was small, and it is doubtful if the proposed transfer to Khulnā, practically the whole Sundarbans area of which had already been declared ‘reserved forest,’ outside the Commissioner’s control, was any distinct improvement on Alipur; the transfer was, however never effected, though the proposals were renewed in 1895.

Proposals of Abolition in 1891 45. For nine years, the office remained undisturbed. In 1891, however, proposals were again advanced for its abolition; it was now recognized that the original necessity of the special office had been due to the fact that the area was extensive, wild, inaccessible and uninhabited and that it was considered necessary to establish cultivators therein with the object of clearing the tract as speedily as possible. A very large proportion of the tract had now been cleared and settled; though Regulation IX of 1816 conferred on the Commissioner in the Sundarbans all the powers of a Collector of revenue, still Collectors of the adjoining districts exercised some of their powers in the Sundarbans area. The position was anomalous and doubtless unstatutory, and the district officers resented the existence of an independent officer in a tract which was in fact a mere extension of their own districts. But Government was not prepared to depart from its placid enjoyment of a policy of uniformity of control; it was, however, prepared to adopt a compromise, which could be satisfactory to no one concerned with

5 Government (Revenue Department) to Board No. 672-235 L.–R., dated the 20th March 1882.

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the administration of the Sundarbans. Orders6 were issued that the Commissioner, though not directly subordinate to the Collectors, should in future, keep them fully informed of his proceedings, and treat their instructions and views with the utmost defence. The new system proved a failure; the Collectors had no responsibility for the administration of the Sundarbans; they found it impracticable to enforce their views or to exercise any adequate control over the proceedings of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans. The latter’s office became a sink of iniquity, into which it is not new necessary to delve; embezzlements were rife; the interests of Government were bandied about like shares upon a market. The system stood self-condemned, and in 1902, the problem was finally tackled.

Proposed Abolition in Connection with Survey Operations is Bākarganj 46. The resuscitation of the problem arose from a proposal made in 1901 by Mr. (now Sir) Nicholas Beatson-Bell, then Settlement Officer of Bākarganj, to extend his operations into the Sundarbans area of the district, and to take up the settlement of estates within that area. The proposal was not altogether novel, as in 1895 it had been suggested that the Collector should be entrusted within the settlement of all hāolās and other lands held under direct management. That proposal had been negatived by Government. The new proposal implied the abolition of the post of the Commissioner in the Bākarganj Sundarbans, at least temporarily. Despite the strong recommendations of the local officers, the Board was doubtful, but forwarded the proposals to Government with a strong bias against the proposed change.7 It will be noted that these proposals in origin suggested the abolition of the Commissionership in the Bākarganj area only. Government declined to accept the proposal,8 firstly and correctly on the ground that there 6 Government, Revenue Department, to Board, No. 3282-L.R., dated the 11th July 1895. 7 Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 966-A, dated the 26th November 1902. 8 Government, Revenue Department, to Board, No. 4829, dated the 24th December 1902.

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would not be sufficient work in Khulnā and the 24-Parganās alone, secondly and wrongly because the Commissioner possessed a trained establishment and was an expert in survey and settlement work, which presumably Mr. Beatson-Bell was not, and thirdly and conclusively because the Commissioner had ‘a steamer for the express purpose of this work. The orders of Government had been passed in haste, but repentance was not leisurely; within one month of the issue of orders, the matter was again under consideration, and Government proceeded to perform one of those surprising volte faces which have been so marked a feature of its policies, especially in the western area of the Sundarbans. Certain information was brought to the notice of Government regarding the defective methods of settlements in the Sundarbans. ‘It should seriously be considered’ wrote Sir. J. Bourdilon on the 24th January 1903 ‘whether the whole system should be changed and the appointment of the Sundarbans Commissioner should not he abandoned. Taken in connection with the revelations as to the extremely loose methods employed by Mr. Ross, when Commissioner of the Sundarbans, they seem to indicate that if we could always have in the districts bordering on the Sundarbans, officers so capable us those who have been Collectors of Bākarganj, we might do worse than abolish the appointment of Commissioner in the Sundarbans and make over the settlement and administration of that area in each district to the Collector.’ It must be remembered that the question of the abolition of the Commissionership was intimately connected with the system of settling waste lands and with the extension of survey and settlement operations to the Sundarbans area of the Bākarganj district. The theory of uniformity of control in the various parts of the Sundarbans had now been definitely abandoned. The Board was directed9 to obtain the opinions of the Commissioners of the Presidency and Dacca Divisions.

Abolition of the Commissionership 47. The Board was not, however, prepared to abandon the practice 9 Government, Revenue Department, to Board No. 660, dated the 7th February 1903.

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of uniformity of control a struggle, and in September 1903,10 they addressed Government, adhering to the time-honoured policy of a separate officer in charge of the whole of the Sundarbans; that officer should not be independent of the Collectors of the districts, but should be a Deputy Collector working in subordination to the three Collectors concerned, and termed Superintendent of the Sundarbans. This proposal was nothing more than a tightening up of the system adopted in 1891 and still in force. The views of the Board of Revenue appear to have impressed the Government of Bengal,11 which proceeded to divest itself of its proposals under consideration; it considered that even the compromise proposals of the Board were too radical; it accepted the suggestions that the post should not be abolished and that the officer should be termed ‘Superintendent of the Sundarbans;’ but the complete subordination of the post to the three Collectors, a position that would obviously have been unworkable, Government was not able to support. The Board were accordingly requested to reconsider their proposals with a view ‘to give effect to the orders of 1891.’ ‘The arguments’ ran the letter with delightful disregard of a recent expression of policy ‘in favour of uniformity of treatment in the Sundarbans and against overburdening the Collectors in question with extra work appear to be as strong as ever’. The quotation with which the discussion on the tile opens ‘Quot homines tot sententiae’ is not without its humorous application. The whole question of Sundarbans administration was now referred to a committee, the proceedings of which dated the 11th December 1903 form a notable landmark in the history of Sundarbans policy. Having decided on the advisability of initiating a system of rāiyatwāri settlement and the necessity of extending the survey and settlement operations over the Sundarbans area of Bākarganj under the control of the Settlement Officer, the Committee recorded the opinion that ‘not only for the successful working of the system of rāiyatwāri settlement now proposed but for all administrative purposes whatsoever, it is essential that the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, by whatever designation he may be 10

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 7899-A, dated the 19th September 1903. 11 Government, Revenue Department, to Board, No. 2877-T.R., dated the 29th October 1903.

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known in future, should be subordinate and should submit his reports to the Collector of the district in which he is for the time working. The existing rules already provide, that he should work in communication with the Collector of the district, but this in practice has not been done, and necessarily, since the very conditions of the work preclude it.’ In accordance with the recommendations of the Committee the Board proceeded to press upon the attention of Government12 ‘the necessity for making a change in the status of the Commissioner in the, Sundarbans and for the repeal of the Regulation that constitutes this area a special tract under a separate independent officer’. The objections on the ground of loss of uniformity had now lost much of their original weight. The Government of Bengal now agreed with the policy advocated by the Board and in March 1904 addressed13 the Government of India recommending the repeal of Regulation IX of 1816, and the appointment of a Deputy Collector in charge of the Sundarbans incomplete subordination to the Collectors of Bākarganj, Khulnā and the 24-Parganās. It was pointed out that the difficulties of divided control would be simplified by the fact that for a few years at least the Deputy Collector would be employed almost solely in the 24-Parganās; in Khulnā there was little work of reclamation to be done, while for some years the Settlement Officer of Bākarganj would be in control of operations in that district. These proposals were accepted by the Government of India. By Act I (B.C.) of 1905 Regulation IX of 1816 was repealed and ‘all the powers and functions heretofore vested in, and exercised by the Commissioner in the Sundarbans in any district’ were vested in the Collector of that district.

Subsequent Administration 48. The proposals of the Government of Bengal involved the appointment of a Deputy Collector subordinate to the Collectors of the districts of Bākarganj, Khulnā and the 24-Parganās for work in the Sundarbans. The partition of the province of Bengal in 1905 12

Board to Government, Revenue Department, No. 1143A, dated the 8th February 1904. 13 “Government of Bengal (Revenue Department) to Government of India, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, No. 1875, dated the 22nd March 1904.

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effectually separated the district of Bākarganj from the complexities of this joint control. In 1906 the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam, in view of the proposed extensive rāiyatwāri settlements in Bākarganj proposed the appointment of a special officer subordinate to the Collector in control of the colonization of the tract. The proposal was sanctioned and the first Colonisation Officer was appointed in 1907.14 It should be noted that his control was confined to the area under colonisation. On the reorganisation of the system of administration of Government Estates in the district in 1909, the Colonisation Officer was placed in control of all Sundarbans Estates under direct management lying in the Bargunā and Amtali Circles, each of which was placed under the charge of a Sub-Deputy Collector. By this arrangement the only important Sundarbans estate under direct management excluded from the control of the Colonisation Officer was Tushkhāli. In Khulnā and the 24-Parganās the joint control of a single Deputy Collector has never been of importance owing to the paucity of original settlement work in Khulnā. The work of the officer has been confined to the 24-Parganās. In 1916, however, in view of the extensive rāiyatwāri settlements in Sāgar Island, a special SubDeputy Collector was appointed as Colonisation Officer for the area in the 24-Parganās. In all three districts revision and resettlement of existing grants is done on the principles adopted for the resettlement of government and temporarily settled estates in Bengal generally.

Resume of the System of Control 49. The abolition of the office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans is a fact of extreme importance in the history of the tract. At the time of the original reclamations in the days of Warren Hastings, a special officer had been appointed to the tract; in 1816 when the necessity of resuming illegal encroachments within the Sundarbans boundary was pressing, the position of the special officer was explicitly defined. His status was not dissimilar to that of the Special Commissioners appointed in 1828 to resume lands illegally held free of revenue throughout Bengal. By 1836 however the work of resumption in the 14

Notification No. 5736c., dated the 9th May 1907.

Abolition of the Office of the Commissioner

159

Sundarbans had been practically completed by Messrs. Dampier and Grant. It was still thought however that a special officer was required to control forest grants throughout the tract, to watch the observance of the conditions attached to grants and to effect renewals of leases when they fell due. It is an undoubted fact that the uniformity of administration tended to stereotype the rules in force throughout the Sundarbans. Excepting the Commissioner himself there were few officials, if any, who understood or attempted to understand the conditions of the tract. After Mr. Pargiter’s term of office had expired the office was in the hands of subordinates; corruption and maladministration were rife, and it was left to the settlement operations in Bākarganj to raise the curtain and to prove that the continuance of the office had been due entirely to ignorance. Once the curtain had been raised, progress was apparent; each portion of the Sundarbans was subjected to rules considered apposite to the conditions prevalent; control by the Collector has been justified by its results; by degrees the leases of the past are being reduced to order, and development of the remaining waste lands has been undertaken with a vigour that holds out high hopes of ultimate success. Mistakes have been made, but they have not been concealed or multiplied as in the past; the results of the new policy will be apparent in the chapters on the development of the tract.

PART I I

(A) ADMINISTRATIVE AND DEVELOPMENT FROM 1870 TO 1903

CH A P T E R V I I

Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests

Reclamation Policy Originally Opposed to Conservation 50. It must be borne in mind that as late as 1853 Government had declared that the paramount object of its policy in the Sundarbans was the speedy reclamation of the forest in order to improve the health of the nieghbourhood of Calcutta and to deprive wild animals, smugglers and pirates of the shelter afforded by the jungle; the improvement of the revenue was of secondary and altogether subordinate importance. Not unnaturally, accordingly, no attempt had been made to conserve the forest nor to derive any revenue from forest produce. In 1862, however, the advisability of conserving the forests of Bengal was considered on the basis of a memorandum prepared by Dr. Brandis, Conservator of Forests in Burma. In 1864 the total area of forest in the Sundarbans at the absolute disposal of Government was returned at 3,403 square miles; of this a very small area lay in Bākarganj. Practically the whole area was leased out to the Port Canning Company, but in 1868 Government again decided to make the area available for reclamation, and the leases for the collection of dues on forest produce were cancelled.

Investigations Leading to the Creation of the First Forest Reserve 51. The decision to reallot the forest area for reclamation appears to have been largely influenced by the oppressive methods adopted by the Port Canning Company. The next proposals for conserving the forest were formulated by the Forest Department in 1869-70, but the scheme was negatived by the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Grey. In 18723 a revised scheme was prepared by Mr. Home, Deputy Conservator and Dr. Schlich, Conservator of Forests; this scheme aimed not so much at conservation of the forest, as at regulating exports of forest

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produce; it promised a net revenue of 1½ lakhs of rupees by the institution of a number of preventive stations and peripatetic patrol boats for the purpose of collecting a tax on the export of forest produce. Government was however chary, ‘Sir George Campbell’ ran the order ‘must now finally negative the scheme for raising a forest revenue from the Sundarbans in any such way as is now suggested. He believes that any such scheme would involve very great harassment of the people as in the days of the Canning Company’s monopoly; that it would cause great expense for establishment with very doubtful revenue results, and that there would be very great risk of corruption and oppression if we were to spread a low paid preventive establishment of this kind all over the Sundarbans rivers and channels.’ It is not improbable that the decision of Government was to some extent influenced by the new policy, then under discussion, regarding rāiyatwāri settlements. The Forest Department was, however, undaunted. In 1873-4 Mr. Home undertook a detailed survey of 1,100 square miles of forest in Jessore (now Khulnā). He laid stress on the extraordinary value of the forest and the immense quantities of firewood and timber that were constantly exported to the districts of Bākarganj, Jessore and the 24-Parganās from Government forests from which Government derived no income. ‘The forest’, wrote Dr. Schlich ‘must be called extremely rich, in fact inexhaustible.’ The Forest Department was, however, probably ill-advised in pursuing the quest of profit. The mistake was promptly realized and in the following year Dr. Schlich made a personal examination of the area; he now reported that the supply was not inexhaustible, the western parts of the forest were already exhausted, and year by year the woodcutters were proceeding further east. ‘Even in the soonder tracts one sees, for long distances from the river banks, nothing but dead soonder trees and seedlings.’ He further pointed out that the interior being marshy transport was impossible, and accordingly cutting was practically confined to the banks. The most valuable sundri wood was accordingly rapidly being destroyed. Dr. Schlich had abandoned the revenue tack, and based his advice on the necessity of saving from exhaustion what he had previously reported to be an inexhaustible forest. No alternative remained to Government but to agree and at the commencement of 1875 the sundri forests in the Bāgerhāt sub-division (500 square

Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests

165

miles in area) and those in the north of the Khulnā subdivision (385 square miles) of the Jessore district, as then constituted, were declared reserved forest. ‘The object of Government in forming the reserve’ ran the resolution ‘has not been so much the realisation of profit as the preservation for the public benefit of a valuable property which was being recklessly destroyed, and which ministered to needs which could not well be supplied from any other quarter.’ The rules for the cutting of timber in the reserved blocks limited the felling of sundri trees to those 3 cubits in girth; the royalty for sundri wood was fixed at ½ an ānnā and for firewood at ¼ ānnā per maund. Four collection stations were established, and an Assistant Conservator was placed in charge.

Development of the Forest Area upto 1881 52. Emboldened by his success in establishing the first reserve, Dr. Schlich recommended in the following year that the whole of the unleased area in the Sundarbans should be placed under the Forest Department. In this he was less successful. Government agreed to include in the reserved area a further 314 square miles in south Khulnā and 382 square miles in the Sātkhirā subdivision (then in the 24-Parganās, but absorbed by Khulnā in 1882). This extension appears to have been made with the object of securing well defined natural boundaries for the reserve as a whole and to facilitate control, rather than for any special value that might attach to the forest of the Sātkhirā and south Khulnā areas. ‘But’ ran the Government resolution ‘the public convenience requires that the reserved tract should be limited to the smallest area compatible with the effectual preservation of the valuable sundri timber, and he (the Lieutenant-Governor) would be unwilling to enforce any restrictions which are not shown to be necessary to the accomplishment of this object. It is therefore probable that no further additions will be made to the reserved area in the Sundarbans’. Having obtained as much as he could Dr. Schlich proceeded to perform another volte face; he abandoned his reformed view that the forests of the area were not inexhaustible and proceeded in 1876 to apply rules which limited the felling only of sundri trees in the Bagerhat block alone. In the Bagerhat block felling of sundri

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166

trees was limited to dry trees not less than 3´9˝ in girth, 4½´ from the ground, the royalty being 1 ānnā per maund; the right to fell other timber in that block and timber of all kinds in the remainder of the area was unlimited, subject to the payment of royalty varying from 3 to 6 pies per cubic foot. In 1877 and 1878 proposals were made for declaring the remainder of the unleased forest a protected area; this would empower the Forest Department to collect forest dues, but would not bar the leasing of lots in the area for purposes of reclamation—an important consideration, as new rules for reclamation were then under issue. In 1879, an area of 1,851 square miles in the Bāsirhāt, Diamond Harbour and Baruipur subdivisions of the 24-Parganās, 24 square miles (lot 165) in the Sātkhirā subdivision, and 50 square miles (lots 216, 224 and 225) in Khulnā were declared protected forest. By the year 1880-1 the annual revenue derived from the reserved and protected forests amounted to Rs.2,79,408 at an expenditure of Rs. 65,251.

Development of the Forest Area 1881-1901 53. In the next decade there is little change to note. The same methods of management remained in force; the revenue which in 1889-90 had reached the record of Rs.4,85,458 fell in 1890-1 to Rs.4,10,483, working expenses being Rs.77,711. In 1890 an area of 6 square miles of reserved forest in the Bāgherhāt subdivision was disafforested,1 while the area of protected forest fell to 1881 square miles, by the reclamation of lots 216, 224 and 225 in Khulnā and of 5 square miles in Diamond Harbour and Bāsirhāt. The following table shows the distribution of the forest area: District

Subdivision

24-Parganās

Diamond Harbour Bāruipur Bāsirhāt Sātkhirā

Khulnā

Total: 1

Class of Forest

Protected

Protected

Notification dated the August 15th 1890.

Area Square miles 530 321 1,006 24 1,881

Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests Khulnā

167

Sātkhirā Khulnā Bāgherhāt

Reserved

382 699 494

Total:

Reserved

1,5752

Grand Total

All Forests

3,456

In 1891 lot 240 of the Khulnā reserved forest was released for reclamation. In 1891-2 the first definite working plan for the reserved forests, as prepared by Mr. Heinig, Deputy Conservator, on the basis of proposals made by Mr. Dansey, Conservator of Forests, was adopted. The main change from the former system was the strict conservation within both the Bāgherhāt and Khulnā blocks of all valuable timber viz., sundri, pussur, amur and keorā trees, and a general raising of the rates of royalty. Owing to the rapid extension of cultivation under the Waste Lands Rules of 1879, Mr. Ross, the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, proposed the disafforestation of lot No. 7 (KhulnāBarisāl) on the Haringhātā river in Khulnā in 1892. In 1893 the protected portion of lot 165 in the Sātkhirā forest was again released for reclamation. In 1895 more drastic proposals were made for the disafforestation of 19 lots (200 square miles in area) included in the reserved sundri bearing forest of Khulnā.3 These proposals were negatived by Government4 on the grounds that vast areas of protected forest of less value still existed, to the reclamation of which there was no objection, and lot 165 still remained unreclaimed. In the year 1895 a portion of the boundary of the reserved forest was demarcated by Mr. Ross, Sundarbans Commissioner, under the provisions of the Bengal Survey Act, mainly on account of a dispute with the boundaries of lot 172.5 By the year 1900-1 the total area of reserved forest, all in the 2

Exclusive of water area. The total area amounted to 2,092 square miles. These lots were Nos. 214, 215, 223-28, 241-51, 7 and 2 unnumbered lots, situated to the North-East of the reserved area and bounded on the south and west by the Kaira, Sipsa, Arpangasia and Pangasia Rivers. 4 Government (Revenue Department) to Board No. 3241, dated the 9th July 1895. 5 Vide No. 1097F, dated the 27th February 1894 and letter No. 69 R.L., dated the 9th April 1895 from Commissioner, Presidency Division, to Secretary, Board of Revenue. 3

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

District of Khulnā, was retuned at 2,092 square miles, an increase of 517, due entirely, however, to the inclusion of water area; the area of protected forest, always a fluctuating figure, had increased, despite the extension of reclamation to 1,923 square miles, the whole of which lay in the 24-Parganās. The annual revenue amounted to Rs. 6,30,808 against expenditure of Rs. 1,01,555. It should be noted that by the end of this decade no steps had been taken to reserve or protect any forest in the district of Bākarganj.

Development of the Forest Area from 1901 54. In 1904 a new working plan was adopted for 3 years on the proposals of Mr. Lloyd, Deputy Conservator; the plan was merely technical and aimed at the better conservation of the sundri reserve. In 1906 a forest working plan was prepared by Sir Henry Farrington Bart, Deputy Conservator; it is interesting to note the areas referred to in the plan: Class of Forest Reserved

District Khulnā

Subdivision Bāgherhāt Sadar Sātkhirā

Land 566 606 376 1,110

Total

2,658

Protected 24-Parganās

Area (Square Miles) Water Total Sundri 132 698 285 240 846 333 161 537 … 642 1,752 … 1,175

3,833

618

While the methods of management were thus being systematised, attention was being paid to the smaller area of forest available in the Bākarganj Sundarbans and exclude from the Colonisation scheme. In 1908 Mr. Hughes-Buller, Collector of Bākarganj, proposed that a portion of the Colonisation area should be protected with the idea of conserving the valuable timber and obtaining revenue from tracts that were too low for immediate reclamation. In 1909 a definite plan was drawn up by Mr. Heinig Deputy Conservator, and proposals were submitted to Government; the main objects of the scheme were the prevention of reckless cutting and the collection of revenue, but it was

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Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests

stipulated that the protection of the forest should not stand in the way of reclamation, when the scheme had sufficiently advanced. In 1910 the area, as proposed, was declared a protected forest;6 rules as drafted by the Forest Department were adopted, and control and collection placed in the hands of the Colonisation Officer. The protected area lies in the south-west of Amtali thānā astride the Andarmānik river and includes: Tengagirichak (the whole)

9.7 square miles

Bara Nishānbāriā Chak (southern portion)

5.8

,,

Bara Bogi (southern portion)

4.6

,,

12.5

,,

5.6

,,

Khaprabhāngā (western portion)

11.3

,,

Total area

49.5

,,

Sonātālā (the whole) Dalbuganj (the whole)

By the year 1910-11 the following was the state of the Sundarbans forest: District Khulnā 24-Parganās Bākarganj

Class of Forest Reserved Protected Ditto

Area square miles 2,089 1,711 50

Annual Revenue

Expenditure

Rs. 5,44,252

Rs. 1,70,565

The area of reserved forest had remained almost stationary, while that of protected forest showed a slight decrease due to the extension of reclamation.

Present Administration 55. Subsequently to 1911 there is little of interest to report in the development of the Sundarbans forest. The forests of Khulnā and the 24-Parganās are under the control of the Deputy Conservator stationed at Khulnā. Apart from the sundri area in the Khulnā reserve, the most 6

Notification No. 2589 R. dated the 12th November 1910.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

important species of trees are the gorān geoā; and keorā minor products consist of the wild date palm (hental) golpatā, shells, honey and bees wax, from all the which revenue is obtained. The reserved forest is still divided in to the original three circles, Bāgherhāt, Khulnā and Sātkhirā, and collection stations have been established throughout the area. The area of protected forest has not changed, while that of the reserved forest is now returned at 2,297 square miles.7 The gross revenue has risen to 6 lākhs, producing a net income to the state of more than 4 lākhs of rupees. The small protected area in Bākarganj has continued to develop but the success of the colonization scheme has brought its natural consequences. A small unauthorised protected area in Kālāmeghā has now been sacrificed to the claims of the new settlers while orders have been issued for the reclamation of the 50 square miles of protected forest, as soon as the area is required for reclamation. The income derived from the protected area amounted in the 13 years ending in 1920 to Rs. 2,68,778 the whole of which was collected by the staff of the Colonisation Officer.

Resume of the Forest Policy and Future 56. The forest policy of Government in the area has fluctuated to a remarkably small extent. Originally it was laid down that the primary object of Government was to accelerate the reclamation of the pestilential tract of jungle. The unhealthiness of tract appears, however, to be largely mythical, as the reserved forest is reported to be the most healthy of the Bengal forest divisions. By the year 1870, however, it had been discovered to a small extent that a large portion of the area was too low-lying for reclamation, and that accordingly no real objection existed to the protection of some portions of the jungle. This fact has now been fully realized, and it has been recognised that the major portion of the Sundarbans in the 24-Parganās is not likely to be sufficiently elevated for successful reclamation for a considerable period. In Khulnā, the pressure of population is not sufficient to create a real demand for reclamation; in Bākarganj, on the other hand, the 7 The increase of 208 square miles is due to rectification of errors in computation revised in 1913.

Creation of Reserved and Protected Forests

171

pressure of population is great, and the land is sufficiently elevated to admit of reclamation. In Bākarganj and the 24-Parganās the value of the jungle is little, and the necessities of these areas have been met by declaring the unleased areas. ‘Protected forests’, from which Government collects revenue, but which are at any time available for reclamation, when required, subject, except in Bākarganj, to special rules requiring the consent of the Irrigation Department. In Khulnā, however conditions are entirely dissimilar the northern part of the Khulnā Sundarbans contains timber of very great value; in 1875, the more valuable portion was declared reserved forest with the object of conserving the supply of timber and of obtaining a reasonable revenue from this valuable property; the area of reserved forest in Khulnā has gradually been extended until it covers the whole of the unleased forest, none of which is now available for reclamation; a small part of it is of little value, but its reservation facilitates the administration of the more valuable area. The policy of Government as applied to each different district has been fully justified. In 5 or 6 years the whole of the Bākarganj protected forest will have been reclaimed, but during the period of protection from 1910 to 1920, Government has derived a revenue of Rs. 2,68,778, being at the rate of Rs.415 per square mile per annum. In the 24-Parganās, Government will continue to derive revenue from 1,711 square miles of an otherwise valueless tract, until it is fit for cultivation. In Khulnā, future developments are not likely to lead to any violent revision of policy in favour of an extension of reclamation. Tentative suggestions have been made for the reclamation of 9 lots in order to round off the forest boundary, and, to release the forest on the Khulnā littoral for grazing purposes; these proposals have, however, been abandoned. When pressure of population, however, in Khulnā and Jessore, which is now satisfied with reclamation of the Jessore marshes, requires further room for expansion, such expansion can only be in a southerly direction, and the reclamation of a portion of the less valuable area of the reserved forest mainly in the west and south may then become advisable. The ultimate area of the reserved forest would then be confined to the northern parts of the Sundarbans forests in the Khulnā and Bāgherhāt Subdivisions—the area originally reserved in 1875. It is a mistake, however, to think that either protected or reserved forest will disappear with any degree of rapidity. Natural

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

processes of flood and tidal action have still to raise the area to the minimum height required for successful cultivation; the necessity of maintaining a spill area for the floods will always require consideration, and finally experience has proved that patchwork reclamation is unsuccessful, as the surrounding jungle renders the reclaimed tract material and generally unhealthy. Whatever policy may ultimately be adopted, however, it is certain that the valuable sundri area must be retained as reserved forest.

CH A P T E R V I I I

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

(A) GENERAL

Features of the Period 57. There are few features in the administration of the Sundarbans apart from the proposals for the abolition of the office of the Commissioner which are of great importance in the period from 1870 to 1903 when the Sundarbans Committee was convened; the history of the rules shows that apart from the 24-Parganās, the period was one of little development and that such development as occurred was unsatisfactory; only in the 24-Parganās was there any important extension of grants; there are, however, two facts in the period of considerable importance which concern the whole of the area, the one the preparation of Ellison’s map, the other, the cyclone and storm wave of 1876 and its consequent results.

Lieut. Hodges Map of 1831 58. As is shown in Mr. Pargiter’s history, there had been several surveys, some whole, some partial, of the Sundarbans since the first experiment of Tilman Henekell. The only general map that had been published was one based on the survey of ‘Alexander Hodges, 29th Regiment, B.N.I. Surveyor to the Soondorbun Commission’, during the Commissionership of W. Dampier in 1831, printed and published by T. Black at the Asiatic Litho. Press, Calcutta. This map purported to be ‘A new and improved map of the Soondurbuns. Compiled front the latest Government Documents, and showing accurately the Boundaries of the Forest, the recent Grants of Land and those of 1780, together with 128 additional allotments of Jungul Land.’ The forest, boundary as far east as the Jabunā river, and the area of all lots up to 109 was laid down from minute surveys made between 1822

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

and 1824; east of the Jabunā river, the forest boundary was plotted from minute surveys made in 1829 and 1830. Lots subsequent to 109/(i.e. 109-239) were plotted by approximation; part of the forest detail was derived from surveys of 1811-14, while the coast line to a depth varying from 5-10 miles was filled in from Rennell’s Atlas. The importance of Hodges’ map lies firstly in the fact that it is the authoritative evidence of the northern boundary of the Sundarbans and that it lays down the 239 ‘lots’ which have subsequently with small additions, formed the units of administration in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā. By 1873, however, the map was out of date.

Ellison’s Map of 1873 59. At the time of the compilation of his map in 1873 James Ellison held the appointment of Surveyor in the Sundarbans, during the Commissionership of Mr. A.D.B. Gomees. The map purported to be ‘a map of the Sundarbans, showing the extent of available land, of land granted under the rules of the 24th September 1853 or held in Fee Simple, permanently settled estates, etc., compiled under the direction of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans by James Ellison, Surveyor in the Sundarbans, 1873.’ The scale of the map was, as in the case of Hodges’ map, 4 miles = 1 inch. The map was not based as a whole on original surveys, and the method of its preparation is best described from an endorsement on the map itself. ‘This map has been compiled with the aid of the following maps and surveys—sheet No. 121 Indian Atlas, and the Revenue Survey maps of Districts 24-Parganās, 1851 to 1855, Jessore 1855 to 1859 and Bāckerganj 1860 to 1863. Captain Lloyd’s chart of the Sea Face of the Sundarbans, published in 1831, Lieutenant Morieson’s survey of a part of the Sundarbans, and the surveys executed by the officers attached to the Sundarban Commissioner’s office; from which source the details and boundaries of the estates leased out have been worked up. The progress of cultivation has been taken from the latest records, but owing to the nature of Sundarbans clearances perfect accuracy cannot be attained.’ Different kinds of leases were shown on the map in different colours. Copies were lithographed from the original and the Surveyor General’s office,

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

175

Calcutta, in April 1874. This map has been the only map available for working purposes up to date, and has been reissued with slight alterations due to changes of jurisdiction in 1893, 1899, 1901, 1903, and 1917. The reprint of 1893 included leases granted under the rules of 1879 up to date. The great interest of the original map is that it shows clearly all areas leased, distinguishing between the various forms of leases, and thus constitutes a definite land mark in the history of the Sundarbans. The maps attached to his volume attempt similarly to distinguish the different forms of lease under which different grant are held. The year 1873 fell in a period of stagnation, when little progress was made until the issue of the rules of 1879. The tendency of the period was decline—a tendency that was hastened, especially in Bākarganj, by the cyclone of 1876.

The Cyclone of 1876 60. On the night of October 31st and November 1st, 1876, occurred the most terrible cyclone and storm wave that had been experienced since 1822. The greatest havoc was confined to Chittagong and the estuary of the Meghnā and accordingly the Bākarganj portion of the Sundarbans, only of the Sundarbans tracts, suffered severely; in Gālāchipa thānā no less than 1/5th of the population was estimated to have been drowned. The calamity was described in detail by Sir Richard Temple, Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, who visited the affected area immediately after the occurrence, and a vivid account is contained in the Gazetteer of the Bākarganj District published in 1918. Crops and cattle were destroyed far and wide, and the immediate effect of the storm, so far as it effects this history, was the relapse of a vast area of the Sundarbans in Bākarganj to jungle. The secondary effect of the cyclone was an enquiry into the possibility of erecting refuges to protect from loss of life in case of similar calamities. ‘It may be asked in conclusion “wrote Sir Richard Temple”, whether any protective means against such calamities in future can be devised—any embankments or the like? This question will be duly considered; but at present I know not how to devise such safeguard, nor have I seen any one who can suggest anything. The area to be protected would be too great to

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

be encompassed with protective works.’ In 1880 Government issued a resolution1 on the subject; it was considered unnecessary to attempt protective measures in the southern face of the 24-Parganās (except Sāgar Island) and the western portion of Jessore (Khulnā) as the locality was thinly populated. For the remainder of the area it was proposed that tanks with high terraced banks sufficiently lofty to keep out a wave of ordinary height should be constructed at short intervals; the banks would serve as a refuge for the people, and the tank would ensure a supply of pure drinking water. The construction of such protective works had been an essential condition of the revenue-free grants in Sāgar Island after the experience of the storm wave of 1864, which had devastated the island. It was proposed that Government should set an example to other landlords by constructing such tank-refuges in its own estates. The resolution, however, merely contained a counsel of perfection; the construction of a sufficient number of tank-refuges to be of any value would have required an expenditure and organisation beyond the power of Government or the private landlord; for it was laid down that no cultivator should dwell at a distance greater than one mile from the nearest refuge. In Sāgar Island alone has the construction of such refuges been made an indispensible condition of the leases under the rules of 1897; the value and failure of the condition is referred to in the account of Sāgar Island. The lesson of 1876 has taught little more than the impossibility of protecting the Sundarbans area as a whole from the dangers and disasters of storm waves. (B) BĀKARGANJ

Administration from 1870-1903 61. It is not necessary to give a detailed account of the development estate by estate in the period from 1870-1903; where the facts are of importance, they are more appropriately referred to in the chapter on survey and settlement operations in the area—the defective inspection of forest grants and renewals of leases of resumed mahāls. In 1877, the total area under lease was reported to be 482 square miles against 520 1

Resolution of the 26th April 1880.

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

177

at the close of the period, the area is probably incorrect as the total area is given as 616 square miles against 697 as ascertained during the settlement operations. Of the 482 square miles, 281 were under cultivation, the remainder being jungle. No fresh areas were opened up in this period under the rules of 1853; the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 resulted only in 7 grants in Naltonā 2 in 1890 and 5 in 1806 covering an area of 8,198 acres, while the leases under the Small Capitalist Rules are dealt with in greater detail in Chapter IX. The period, however, was one of decline; even before the storm wave of 1876—a calamity upon ‘which have been fathered far more sins that it could ever claim as its progeny, forest grants had been relapsing to jungle and resumed by Government on failure to fulfil the clearance conditions—Bara Bogi and Karāibāriā in 1866 Chhotā Nishānbāriā in 1868 Kālāmeghā in 1869, Abuganj in 1871 and Bara Nishānbāriā in 1874. After the storm wave, Dalbuganj and Nilganj capitulated in 1878 and 1879, Latachapli in 1886 and by the year 1890 many of the resumed mahāls had followed in the rout—South Teakhali succeeded by Debpur, Katadia, Chila and Kukua. The rules of 1879 proved neither a palliative nor a restorative. In the resumed mahāls indeed, Government ordinarily adopted the line of least resistance and resettled with the mālguzārs; Kātādia however, remained khās. In South Teākhāli, under the guidance of Mr. Pargiter, an experiment in hāolādāri settlement was attempted; over 4,000 acres were settled in 1880; four further grants were made in 1898, and in 1902 Mr. Sunder created 11 further hāolās; by 1903, however, when the area was resettled only 1,924 acres were occupied. In the forest grant area in the absence of any suitable system, Government probably adopted the correct policy of drift. An attempt to regrant Kārāibāriā in 1875 was effectually countered by the storm wave, and it remained waste till 1903. Kālāmeghā was abandoned to the Small Capitalist Rules; Abugunj, Dalbuganj and Bara Nashaubaria were abandoned to jungle. Latachapli experimented with a farming lease in 1888, but in 1906, the claims of jungle prevailed. In Chhotā Nishānbāriā and Barā Bogi alone interesting experiments in colonization, not sanctioned by any rules, were instituted by Mr. Pargiter in 1880; in the former, a Māgh Settlement of 133 bighās was made, the experiment was a failure, and the creation of 6 hāolās over 190 bighās in 1880 did not materially

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

effect the problem of reclamation. In Barā Bogi, however, the area colonized covered an area of 1,356 bighās, and had extended to 46 square miles when the colonisation period opened. The period is one of little interest and no progress. Applications for grants of land were not infrequent, numbering 30 in 1892-3, 158 in 1893-4 and 593 in the following year; the applications, however, received little attention. The Sundarbans Commissioner was unable to cope with the work in the distant tract of Bākarganj and in 1894-5 and 1895-6 failed even to visit the district. The Collector of Bākarganj appealed in vain for permission to control settlements in his portion of the Sundarbans. The period closed with gloomy prospects; a large area of the grants under former rules had relapsed to jungle and the rules of 1879 had resulted in little extension of cultivation, less than 2 square miles under the small Capitalist Rules, and 13 square miles out of an available area of 43 square miles under the Large Capitalist Rules. The history of these grants is recorded in Chapter IX. (C) KHULNĀ2

Area Available for Issue 62. The account, of the Sundarbans forest in Chapter VII has shown that little development could be expected in the reclamation area during the period. In 1875 and 1876, the whole of the unleased forest in the Bāgerhāt and Khulnā subdivisions of the district then included in Jessore had been declared reserved forest; excepting 74 square miles, which were declared protected forest in 1879, the whole 2 An apology is due to the reader for the very satisfactory and unreliable information that is available for Khulnā. On the abolition of the Sundarbans Commissioner’s Office the Khulnā records appear to have been gravely abused, and it will be impossible to remedy the confusion until a complete survey of the area has been made. The administration of the area in the past appears to have been neglected, and is especially noticeable in the delightful disregard shown for the Dampier-Hodges’ line. A printed list of estates presumed to be south of the line was drawn up only recently in 1915, but I find that it omits 6 permanently-settled and 12 temporarysettled estates, while including one to the north of the line. So far as can be gathered there now appear to be 99 estates south of the line, and 97 estates wrongly treated as Sundarbans estates, north of the line.

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

179

of the Satkhirā forest had been similarly reserved. In 1890-1 six square miles of reserved forest were released for reclamation—otherwise there has been no scope for the extension of reclamation. In 1895 Mr. Ross, the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, had proposed the release of 19 further lots for reclamation, but, as has already been shown, Government declined to accept the proposal. The earliest statistics available show that in 1877, out of 1,701 square miles, being the Sundarbans area in the Bāgherhāt and Khulnā Subdivisions, 429 square miles had been leased out, of which 168 were under cultivation; 1,232 square miles constituted the reserved forest area, and the total area available for lease amounted to 40 square miles only. In 1880, the total area reported as available for leases under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 in the whole district amounted to 49 square miles only; covering portions of lots 165, 222, 223 and the whole of lot 225. In the year 1890-1 lots 216, 224 and 225 were released from the protected area, while lot 240 of the reserved forest was also released. Small areas, however, have also been settled subsequently under the rules of 1879 in lots 164, 172 and 220. Throughout an attempt has been made to confine the narrative to genuine Sundarbans estates lying to the south of the Dampier-Hodges line, a matter of some difficulty, as most of the statistics existing refer indiscriminately to estates lying to the north and to the south of the line.

Existing Issues in 1870 63. At the opening of the period there appear to have existed south of the line the following estates: Number Permanently settled estates

Area (Acres)

6

7,111

Grants under the rules of 1853

28

1,43,885

Resumed mahāls

33

62,539

Total

67

2,13,535 or 334 sq. miles

In addition to the above, 3 revenue-free properties redeemed under

180

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

the rules of 1863 existed in the Morrelganj grant covering an area of 13,725 acres or 20 square miles. There is little of importance to record regarding these estates, but the grants under the rules of 1853 are interesting. It will be seen later that in the 24-Parganās the terms of the leases of nearly all resumed mahāls were commuted under the rules of 1853 and accordingly few original grants under these rules exist. In Khulnā, however, of the 28 grants, no fewer than 15 were made originally subsequent to the issue of the rules of 1853, the remaining 13 being commuted resumed mahāls or forest grants of an earlier date. In the Satkhirā subdivision re-claimation has been confined to 6 lots, Nos. 165-69 and 172; in the Bāgherhāt subdivision the lots under reclamation were only Nos. 239 and 1 to 6 to which lot 240 was subsequently added. In the Khulnā subdivision the lots originally reclaimed were 211, 212 and 217-23, supplemented in 1881 by lots 216-24, 225. The only extension of reclamation in the period was under the rules of 1879.

Leases under Rules of 1879 64. The progress of the administration of the rules for leases to Large Capitalists in the district is interesting. The first lease was executed in 1881-2 for 7,934 acres lying in lot 223, followed in 1886-7 by 2 leases covering 2,182 acres in lot 216. In 1890-1 when lots 224, 225 and 240 were released for reclamation, a considerable increase in the grant of leases occurred, 4 in lot 223 covering 6,082 acres and 3 in lot 224 covering 6,069 acres. In the following year 6 further grants were made, 3 in lot 225 for 4,959 acres and 3 in lot 240 for 4,890 acres. This extension of grants and of the area available for reclamation appears to have whetted the appetites of the land speculators, the appetiser being largely the value of the timber that could be extracted in clearing the grants. In 1892-93 out of 471 applications for grants in the Sundarbans no fewer than 434 referred to the Khulnā area, while in the following two years 223 applications were received. In the latter year (1894-95) four further grants were made under the revised rules in lot 225, the leases being executed in the following year. These grants covering 8,231 acres in all produced a sale price of Rs. 1,68,513.

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

181

The price does not appear to have daunted the land speculators, for in the year 1895-6 no fewer than 1,300 applications were received for the Khulnā area, doubtless in the hope, supported by the Sundarbans Commissioner that a further attack would be made on the reserved forest. This Government declined to do, despite the fact that only a small portion of lot 165 now remained for reclamation, an area of 2, 1, 5 acres that was ultimately leased in 1901, and an area of 489 acres in lot 172 leased in 1903-4. The refusal of Government to sacrifice the reserved forest resulted in an immediate decrease in the number of applications from 68 in 1896-7 to 3 in 1902-3. During this period the Small Capitalist Rules showed little sign of activity. In 1904 Mr. Sunder, the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, reported that such grants had only been made in one lot in the year 1902 covering 165 acres. This information appears to be incorrect; the Khulnā records appear to indicate the creation of 9 hāolās, 6 in lot 216, 1 in lot 220 and 2 in lot 224, covering 14,039 acres but such was the confusion in Khulnā between the Large and Capitalist Rules, that the true state of affairs cannot be brought to light until the completion of detailed survey and settlement operations.

Miscellaneous 65. There is little else of interest to report during this period. Khulnā was affected only to a small extent by the terrible cyclone and storm wave of 1876 but its immunity was largely due to the protection afforded by the large area of forest and to the fact that no-reclamation had been undertaken in the danger zone with the exception of lots 1 to 6 (Khauliā-Barisāl) on the Haringhātā estuary. In 1882 Khulnā was created a separate district which comprised the Sundarbans area included in the Satkhirā subdivision of 24-Parganās and the Bāgherhāt and Khulnā subdivisions of Jessore. Almost immediately after the creation of the new district, orders were issued for the transfer of the headquarters of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, barely saved from impending abolition, from Alipur to Khulnā, the headquarters of the new district; effect was not, however, given to these orders.

182

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans (D) 24-PARGANĀS

Area under Lease in 1870 66. The history of the 24-Parganās Sundarbans from 1870 till 1903 is, with the exception of Sāgar Island, practically confined to the working of the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879. The actual area cleared and cultivated at the opening of the period is not known, but by 1877, of the 3,203 square miles included in the area, inclusive of the Satkhirā subdivision still at that time attached to the 24-Parganās, 1,014 square miles had been leased out, of which only 346 square miles or 34 per cent was under cultivation, 423 square miles were under reserved forest, and the remaining 1,766 square miles were considered to be waste lands available for lease—the system of protected forest was not yet in force, and the administration had not reached the stage when control by the Forest and Irrigation Departments was considered to be of material importance. Of the area under lease is 1870 6 square miles (lots 17, 21 (I) and 51) were held on leases in perpetuity; 3 Fee Simple grants were in existence (lot 19 (part) 132 (part) and 137) covering less than 8 square miles, while the revenue of 12 others had been redeemed; further redemptions in 1872, 1878, 1879, 1880 and 1883 covering an area of 183 square miles raised the number of redeemed estates to 24, mainly in the vicinity of Port Canning. But practically the whole of the area under lease was held under 99 years leases granted under the rules of 1853. They were not all in origin forest grants but in the 24-Parganās the option had been taken by all the proprietors of resumed estates, with the exception of 7, covering 8 square miles, to convert under the profitable rules of 1853. The number of such leases amounted to 93, covering 411 square miles.3 The history of these leases is more intimately connected with the period prior to 1870; during the period now under review, records exist of the examination of the clearance conditions of the leases, but, as will be seen in the account of the settlement operations on Bākarganj in Chapter IX, little reliance can be placed on the thoroughness of these examinations, but the records appear to show that in no less than 3

All these figures exclude the Satkhirā Subdivision, included now in Khulnā.

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

183

27 instances it was necessary to renew the leases on revised conditions owing to the failure of the grantees to fufil the clearance clauses of the leases. Settlement operations in the 24-Parganās will doubtless reveal abuses similar to those that the settlement operations in Bākarganj brought to light.

Application of the Rules of 1879; 1882-94 67. It has already been noted that in the 24-Parganās alone were the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 applied to any considerable extent, 5094 square miles being leased under 182 separate leases against 70 square miles under 29 leases in the districts of Bākarganj and Khulnā during the period from 1879 to 1903. Applications for grants were received as soon as the new rules were published, and in 1882 the first leases, 8 in number, were granted covering an area of 15½ square miles; the average area of each lease was 3,797 bighās, well below the maximum of 5,000 bighās. This rate of progress was not however maintained during the next succeeding years. In 1883 only one lease covering 3,750 bighās was executed; in 1884 two leases covering 9,268 bighās. 1885 showed no progress; in 1886 one lease, of 1,500 bighās was granted; 1887 witnessed the grant of 2 leases covering 10,000 bighās; in 1888 five further grants were made of 22,000 bighās. Of these original 19 leases it is interesting to note that in no instance except 2 of the 1888 grants was it necessary to take action under the clearance conditions, the two exceptions being the eastern and western portions of lot 122, new leases for which were executed in 1895. This appears to point to the fact that the leases were genuine clearance leases and not merely the outcome of the land speculation which shortly afterwards became rampant. In 1889 two leases were executed for 5,600 bighās; in 1890, 2 leases for 9,000 bighās; in 1891 a single lease of 500 bighās; 1892 showed no progress, while in 1893 5 grants covering 24,500 bighās were made. It is interesting to note that at this time indications existed of the coming land hunger, but the interest of the speculators centered in the Khulnā area, undoubtedly with the expectation of securing 4 These areas can only be taken as approximate owing to the lack of accurate surveys.

184

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

the more valuable forest produce from the lots under reclamation. In the year 1892-3, no fewer than 471 applications for grants had been received, of which 434 were for grants in Khulnā and only 7 for the 24-Parganās. In Khulnā, however, only one lot (No. 165) was still available for reclamation, and on the refusal of Government to sanction any further disafforestation, applications became more numerous in other areas.

The Rules of 1879, 1894-1904 68. It would be tedious to narrate the further extension of the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 in detail. The year 1891-5 witnesses the application of the revised rule referred to in paragraphs 18 and 19, but the element of competition then introduced seemed merely to sharpen the edge of the land hunger. The following table will show the progress made in the 24-Parganās: Year

Number of applications

Number of grants

Area of grants (acres)

Sale price Rs.

1894-5

62

7

11,824

19,627

1895-6

147

12

18,979

75,328

1896-7

38

15

23,892

31,825

1897-8

72

4

22,831



1898-9

133

19

45,927

1,23,261

1899-1900

132

45

80,566

2,64,502

1900-1

51

37

76,397

1,03,009

1901-2

35

1

1,583

1,583

1902-3

87

29

60,641

1,08,596

1903-4

47

2

4,169

9,708

The above table is self-explanatory and calls for little comment. The paucity of sales in 1901-2 is ascribed to delay on account of the confusion then existing in the Sundarbans Commissioner’s office. In 1903-4, proposals for abandoning the system were already in existence. Of individual leases, it is only necessary to comment on the

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

185

following of exceptional size each of which was specially sanctioned by Government, viz., lot 132 of 42,568 bighās in 1898, lot 128 (part) of 21,404 bighās, lot 127 of 21,265 bighās in 1900, lot L (1st portion) of 21,150 bighās in 1901 and lots 141 and 149 of 14,916 and 14,613 bighās, respectively, in 1903. It is interesting to note that towards the end of the period the area under grant was extended to cover blocks C to L in the south of the Diamond Harbour Subdivision. Of the 53 grants in this area, four, C (1st portion), E (6th part south) and G (1st portion A and 1st portion B) were subsequently resumed by Government, while no fewer than 28 others failed to fulfil the original clearance conditions and were subsequently resettled on revised terms; there is no doubt that much of the area was at the time unfit for reclamation.

Port Canning Government Estate T. No. 2692 69. Probably the most interesting estate of this period in the 24-Parganās is the Port Canning Government Estate. The estate covers the whole of lots 52 and 54 and comprises an area of 6,375 acres or approximately 10 square miles. Practically, the whole of the estate is included in lot 54. This lot appears to have been granted originally in perpetuity in 1830 at a rent of ānnās 8 per bighā. After numerous transfers, it appears to have been held in 1847 under a 99 years lease. About the year 1853, proposals were made for the creation of a port on the Matlā river, and on the 5th July 1853, this lot was purchased by Government for the sum of Rs.11,000. Lot 54 became the centre of operations for the new port, and considerable expenditure was incurred in the foundation of Port Canning. In 1862 the Port Canning Municipality was created, and Government transferred all its interests in the area in fee-simple to the Municipality. In 1866, Government granted the Municipality a loan of 4½ lakhs of rupees on the security of the land and property; and a further small mortgage loan of Rs. 22,200 was advanced in 1870. Shortly afterwards, however, Government was compelled to sue the Municipality on account of the first loan, the property was attached in execution of the decree and the Collector of the 24-Parganās was appointed Manager of the estate. The financial position of the estate was very involved, and in

186

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

1881, Government determined to execute the decree by bringing the estate to sale. It was purchased by Government for Rs. 50,000 at a sale held on the 5th November 1883, and the property purchased now constitutes the Port Canning Government Estate. In 1888, a survey and record-of-rights were prepared by Mr. Ellison under the Bengal Tenancy Act and completed in 1889 for a period of 15 years; existing rents were recorded and no settlement of fair rents was made. The survey was a rough compass survey and resulted in an area of 6,681 acres, with a total rental of Rs. 23,174. The estate was held under direct management. Shortly before the expiry of this settlement a notification (No. 4308 of the 2nd December 1902) was issued for a fresh survey and record-of-rights, and a plane table survey was commenced in February 1903. The new settlement was more precise than the original operations and included the fixing of fair rents. The area of the estate was finally returned at 6,375 acres and the revenue fixed at Rs. 23,909, an increase of Rs. 735 only on the former revenue. This settlement took effect from 1905 and is still in force, the estate being held under direct management. (E) SĀGAR ISLAND

Early History 70. The early development of Sāgar Island is dealt with in detail in Chapter XVI of Pargiter’s history, but it is necessary briefly to recapitulate the events which led immediately to the grants of 1875. Sagar lies at the mouth of the river Hughli close to the eastern bank, from which it is separated by a channel known as the Baratālā river or Channel Creek. Attempts to reclaim the island had been made as early as 1811 with the intention of benefiting the navigation of the Hughli. After a series of vicissitudes, 31,190 bighās had been cleared by 1863 in 6 blocks, these blocks consisted of Mud Point, Ferintosh, Bāmānkhāli, Trowerland and Shikārpur in the north of the island, and Dhobelat in the south on the seaface. A cyclone in 1864 and a storm wave in 1867 reduced the area under cultivation to 2,750 bighās. A proposal was made in the same year to renew the grant of the area under cultivation rent-free for ever on condition that certain protective works

187

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

were erected. These proposals were not accepted by Government, and they decided to offer the grantees alternative terms—either the grant of the cultivated area in perpetuity at the rate of four ānnās per bighā—or a continuation of the grants free of revenue in perpetuity on condition that the grantees provided places of refuge and tanks for drinking water. The grantees accepted the latter alternative and the detailed conditions were approved by Government in March 1871.5

Terms of the Revenue-free Grants 71. The areas actually settled by the new grant were as follows: Bighās

Bighās

Mud Point

11,783

Trowerland

7,349

Ferintosh

15,258

Bamankhāli

3,826

Shikārpur

7,486

Dhobelat

17,726

It will be noted that these grants covered only a small proportion of the island, the whole of the centre and the south western portion, covering an area of 71 square miles, being excluded and remaining the absolute property of Government. The actual deeds were not completed until 1875, and they were executed in the year 1875-6 except that for Shikarpur, which was not completed until the following year. The terms are important and may be summarised as follows. The grants were free of revenue in perpetuity subject to the following conditions: (a) A place of refuge consisting of a tank and a surrounding embankment, terraced inside, was to be constructed on a specified spot, shown on a plan attached to the deed. (b) The size of the tank was to be 200 by 150 feet; the embankment was to be 16½ feet in height with a crest 5 feet broad and a slope of 3½ to 1 and 2 to 1 outside and inside respectively.

5 Government of Bengal, Revenue Department, to Board of Revenue No. 808, dated the 1st March 1871.

188

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

(c) The embankment was to be well rammed and turfed with a sward 50 feet wide between it and the tank. (d) No habitation was to be erected more than one mile from the place of refuge, unless its plinth were 16½ feet above the ground, and raised roads were to be constructed between all habitations and the place of refuge. (e) Additional protective works were to be erected as cultivation extended beyond the prescribed distance. (f ) The original works were to be completed within 3 years and all future works required under the previous clause within a similar period. It was further laid down that a yearly inspection should be made by the Commissioner in the Sundarbans and that failure to construct or maintain the works would entail forfeiture of the grant; no penalty was prescribed for failure to clear the grants.

Subsequent History of the Revenue-free Grants 72. The subsequent history of these grants is somewhat obscure and they appear to have attracted little attention; within a few years of the grants much of the area had relapsed to jungle, and by the year 1880 the grantees had commenced disposing of their interests; the four northern blocks were purchased by Raja Piari Mohan Mukherjee; he appears to have succeeded in clearing the area for cultivation, but the condition of the protective works was deplorable. There is no doubt that in the 20 years succeeding these grants, Sagar island was not an attractive proposition to the prospective ābādkār—for despite the enormous demand for grants in the 24-Parganās under the rules of 1879, no application for land in the island was received before 1894. In 1898, however, the attention of the Board of Revenue was drawn to the neglect of the, protective works. Orders were issued6 that inspections should be made regularly and that the results of each inspection should be reported separately immediately after the inspection: the grantees should also be reminded of the terms of the deeds, and if they failed to execute the repairs after due notice, a report should be submitted 6

Board of Revenue No. 396A, dated the 11th August 1898.

Administration of the Sundarbans, 1870-1903

189

to the Board, in order that the repairs should be done by Government at the cost of the grantees and the penalty inflicted according to the indentures. The confusion then reigning in the Sundarbans’ office resulted in the successful evasion of the Board’s orders, and it was not until 1904 that a bout of vigorous inspection commenced at the hands of Mr. Sunder. The result of the inspections was the same throughout the grants, and though properly appertaining to the succeeding period, the result can best be narrated here. Protective works were incomplete throughout; the water in the tanks was undrinkable, and no embanked paths had been constructed. The inspections had, however, as usual been made in disregard of the terms of the deeds and the Board was compelled to remark7 that no action could be taken against the grantees; in future 14 days’ previous notice of the inspection should be given to the grantee; the Commissioner in the Sundarbans would, after inspection, report in detail how far the conditions of the grant had not been complied with and what further protective works were required in view of the extension of cultivation. The Board would then determine the facts and issue the necessary orders. The abolition of the Commissionership in 1905 and the greater interest attached to the more profitable grants under the rules of 1897 resulted in the orders of the Board being once more lost sight of, and no further action has been taken with reference to the revenue-free grants. It should, however, be observed, that in the rāiyatwāri portions of Sāgar Island Government has abandoned the idea that protective works are necessary, and it would no longer be equitable or justifiable to penalize the grantees of the revenue-free grants for failure to execute works which are now considered unnecessary.

Grants under the Rules of 1897 73. The circumstances which led to the passing of the Sāgar Island rules of 1897 and the details of the actual rules have been described in Chapter III. It is only necessary to observe that they were based largely on the conditions laid down for the revenue free grants grafted on the terms of the Large Capitalist leases of 1879. The new rules owed their 7

Board of Revenue No. 2894A, dated the 7th April 1904.

190

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

origin to two applications filed in 1894; these were followed in the following year by 27 further applications. The rules were published in 1897 and between 1898 and 1901 the whole of the remainder of Sāgar Island, approximately 71 square miles in area, not included in the revenue free grants, was under lease; the rapidity of settlement is indicative of the land hunger then prevalent; the collapse of the grants within 7 years of the passing of the rules is proof of the failure of the rules. Three leases were executed in 1898 for Sāgar Island, first and second portions, in the south-west of the Island, 10,395 bighās in area, and Chak Fuldobi (9,500 bighās) in the north. In 1899 three further grants were made, Ramkarer Char West (10,840 bighās) and Ramkarer Char East (11,550 bighās) in the centre of the island, and Trowerland, second portion (6,750 bighās) in the north. Progress was maintained in 1900 when Shikarpur (second and third portions) in the east of the island 9,900 bighās in area respectively, and Sāgar, third portion (9,705 bighās) were settled. In 1901 5 further grants were made completing the settlement of the island, 10,100 and 10,200 bighās in Chak Goalia, first and second portions, respectively, and 10,000, 7,900 and 10,950 bighās respectively in the three portions of Chak Mansadwip. Three years later these new grants were included in the inspection of the Sāgar Island leases made by Mr. Sunder, and 12 out of the 14 leases fell beneath the hammer of resumption. The story of the resumptions and the subsequent history of the grants belong to the succeeding period and are narrated in Chapter XIV.

PART I I

(B) ADMINISTRATIVE AND DEVELOPMENT FROM 1903 TO 1920

CH A P T E R I X

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

SURVEY AND SETTLEMENT OPERATIONS

Condition of the Tract at the Commencement of the Period 74. There are two outstanding features of the period from 1903 in the Bākarganj tract, the first the survey and settlement operations, the second the introduction of the colonization scheme; the former covers the history of the resettlement of resumed estates and the inspection of forest grants the latter covers the administration of the new forest grants, rules. It must be remembered that by 1876 practically the whole area of the Bākarganj Sundarbans was under lease, but the devastating cyclone and storm wave of that year had resulted in numerous surrenders of leases and replace of vast areas of reclaimed land to jungle. The attractions of the rules of 1879 had induced lessees to come forward for barely 15 square miles of waste. In 1904 the following synopsis of lands under lease was prepared by the Commissioner in the Sundarbans:1 Serial No. 1. 2.

3.

4.

Class of lease Held under tālukdāri right, heritable and transferable; liable to reassessment Held under malguzāri leases; not transferable. No right to malikana on refusal of settlement Held under farming rights; not transferable and no right to sublet or renewal Held under Large Capitalist Rules, 1879

No. of estates 25

Area (acres) 46,215

2

1,637

13

19,213

7

8,198

1 Commissioner, Presidency Division, to Board No. 467 R.L., dated the 15th December 1904.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

194 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

Held under Small Capitalist Rules, 1879 Held under rules of 1853 Held on proprietary title (heritable, transferable, entitled to mālikāna)2 Held on rāiyatwāri leases Held in perpetuity Held under fee-simple grants (1863) [Total]

2 21 3

1,187 1,11,745 41,909

7 10 2

18,533 16,882 9,117

92 2,77,636 or 434 sq. miles

It is not certain how far this list is accurate; the information on which the area was based is undoubtedly defective and certain minor discrepancies in classification were pointed out in 1905.2 The figures collected during the settlement operations show a total of 83 estates covering an area of 483 square miles against 90 with an area of 432 square miles in the synopsis of 1904;3 95 square miles of the leased area were however unreclaimed. The area estimated as still available for lease in 1904 was 260 square miles.4 With the 10 estates reported as settled in perpetuity and the two fee-simple grants, Casperzabad (Nail Sāplezā) and Kākchirā, this chapter has little concern. Of the remainder classes 4, 5 and 6 consist entirely of forest grants; classes 1, 2, 3 and 7 are mainly resumed mahāls, but include some 6 forest grants made prior to 1853; class 8 includes both forest grants and resumed mahāls. It is unnecessary to note that the area included in the colonization scheme was not included in the synopsis figures of 1904. The total area of the Sundarbans was calculated during the settlement operations at 697 square miles including alluvial accretions; the total area leased out at that time amounted to 520 square miles; a small part of this has been resumed and included in the colonization area of 156 square miles. 2 Declared to be only tenures by Legal Remembrancer, Eastern Bengal and Assam to Board No. 1118 dated the 23rd July 1907. 3 These figures exclude small capitalist tenures; the settlement figures show 383 tenures covering 23,614 acres against an unreported number of tenures covering an area of 1,187 acres in the synopsis. The latter is undoubtedly wrong. 4 Board to Government Revenue Department No. 1143-A, dated the 8th February 1904.

The BŔkarganj Sundarbans

195

SETTLEMENT

Decision to Prepare a Survey and Record of Rights 75. In 1902 Mr. Beatson-Bell, as Settlement Officer of Bākarganj, had proposed the extension of survey and settlement operations into the Sundarbans area with the object of ascertaining what land had been cultivated, of gauging the measure of success which had attended the different experiments made, and of discovering whether due precautions had been taken for the protection of the cultivator and the preservation of the public peace. It was not at that time proposed to revise the revenue demand, but it was suggested that on the completion of the record-of-rights, Government should decide on its future settlement policy in the Bākarganj Sundarbans. These proposals were not accepted but it was decided that, as a traverse survey had already been completed, a cadastral survey should be made of Gālāchipā thānā, the most easterly part of the Sundarbans for subsequent use by the Commissioner of the Sundarbans.5 Early in 1903 however in the light of certain confidential reports Government asked6 the Board of Revenue to reconsider this decision; the condition of affairs in the Sundarbans was not satisfactory, and Government held that a survey and record-of-rights would increase the information about the area and would be of much assistance in arriving at a solution of the problem. The Board agreed7 with Government in a somewhat hesitating manner and it was decided8 that, unless the cost were prohibitive, settlement proceedings should be extended to the Bākarganj Sundarbans. ‘The result will be’ ran the Government letter ‘that the settlement of the Bākarganj portion of the Sundarbans will be a model for Sundarban settlements for all time’. The decision of Government was further emphasised by the Sundarbans Committee of 1903 which recommended that the resettlement of expired leases 5

Government of Bengal Revenue Department file 30/36s of 1902 serials 16-19. Government, Revenue Department to Board No 660, dated the 7th February 1903. 7 Board to Government Revenue Department 7899 A, dated the 19th September-1903. 8 Government Revenue Department to Board 2877 T. R., dated the 29th October 1903. 6

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

should form an integral part of the work of the Settlement Officer. An estimate of the cost of the operations was prepared; the total estimate amounted to 2½ lakhs of rupees, of which Rs.25,000 would be recoverable; the operations were provisionally sanctioned9 by the Government of Bengal in anticipation of the formal sanction of the Government of India at the commencement of 1904; final sanction10 was not however received until April 1905.

Synopsis of the Survey and Settlement Operations 76. It is not necessary to describe in detail the course of the operations, which followed the ordinary system of settlement operations with the exception that forest areas were surveyed on a scale of 4˝ to the mile and no record-of-rights was prepared for the forest. The difficulties of the operations are thus described by Major Jack. ‘In the Sundarbans the establishment had to live and sleep in country boats and to draw drinking water and supplies at regular intervals from the north. There was a great deal of sickness, and on return the establishment presented a ghastly appearance. Tigers waited for them when they got out of their boats on to the banks, and crocodiles made caution equally necessary within their boats. Tigers killed two of the establishment, although in one case a surveyor in the squad was lucky enough to hit the tiger over the head with his brass sight-rule. It is little cause for wonder that many of the staff absconded in the Sundarbans.’ At one time the Settlement Officer himself was lost for two days and nights in his launch in the winding fetid creeks of the area. Galāchipā thānā in the east was commenced in 1901 and completed in 1907 with the exception of the Rabnābād islands—the completion of which was delayed till 1912. The Sundarbans portion of the Amtali thānā in the centre and Matbāriā thānā in the west were commenced in 1904 and completed in 1908. The only important Sundarbans area omitted from the operations was the extensive Tushkhāli estate, the survey and record-of-rights in which had recently been completed in 1899. The 9 Government of Bengal Revenue Department to Government of India Department of Revenue and Agriculture No. 250, dated the 12th January 1904. 10 Government of India Revenue and Agriculture to Government of Bengal Revenue Department No. 569-164-8, dated the 14th April 1905.

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maps of the survey are invaluable and have been supplemented by the issue in 1909 and the following years of a series of topographical maps of the whole area on a scale of 1˝ to the mile, published by the Survey of India. The most interesting features of the operations, however, were the inspection of forest grants and the resettlement of resumed mahāls.

Character of the Sundarbans Leases 77. In paragraph 74 the total area of leased Sundarbans estates was shown on the basis of a return of 1904 to be 277,636 acres or 434 square miles; the new survey showed these figures to have been greatly underestimated, partly due to unauthorised extension of cultivation, but mainly to the fact that areas had been entered in defect in original grants and resumption proceedings, in the former cases generally by fraud and corruption, in the latter largely on account of defective surveys. The district survey disclosed the following figures: Class

Resumed mahāls

Forest grants

Nature of settlement

Number of Revenue estates (Rs.) Permanently settled at fixed 9 26,940 revenue Permanently settled at 29 96,663 variable revenue Temporarily settled 5 17,166 Settled with cultivators 3 1,13,458 Fee-simple grants 2 Nil Grants under rules of 1853 21 40,972 Grants under Large 8 8,215 Capitalist Rules of 1879 Grants under Small 383 67,106 Capitalist Rules of 1879 Permanently settled 1 817 Farmed 1 563 Hāolādāri settlements 4 27,817 Settled with cultivators 7,780 4,07,497

Area (acres) 17,006 101,782 13,098 25,935 11,163 114,514 11,528 23,614 677 135 8,698 4,533 332.683 or 520 sq. miles.

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The increase in area is in very small part due to the inception of the colonisation scheme, to a small extent due to the exclusion of certain estates from the former regime of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans, but in the main to the accuracy of the survey. Of the 46 resumed mahāls, settlement of land revenue would never be necessary in the 9 estates, the revenue of which had been fixed in perpetuity; of the remaining 37 estates, land revenue was resettled and the leases revised or renewed in 36 estates, the only exception being the extensive Tushkhāli estate covering 36 square miles, which had recently been resettled by Rai Peari Mohan Basu Bahādur. This stage of the operations covered an area of 208 square miles, or 85 per cent, of the area of the resumed mahāls liable to revision of land revenue. In the forest grants, however, resettlement of land revenue was confined to 4 estates covering an area of 18 square miles, or less than 7 per cent, of the total area of 272 square miles liable to re-assessment. This great difference is due to the fact that among forest estates, grants under the rules of 1853, being held on 99 years leases, would not normally expire until the year 1952, while leases under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 must escape the operations of the Revenue Officer until 1920. The grants under revision were all of a special character. Accordingly in the forest grants the main feature of the operations was the inspection of the clearance conditions of the leases; in the resumed mahāls the matters of interest are the settlement of fair rents, the revision of land revenue and the renewal of the leases. FOREST GRANTS

Inspection or Clearance Conditions 78. For all practical purposes the inspection of the clearance conditions of forest grants was confined to estates held under the Forest Grant Rules of 1853, as all previous grantees had by that time commuted the conditions of their grants. Only 8 grants covering an area of 18 square miles (the return of 1904 had shown an area of 15 square miles) had been made under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, 7 situated in Chak Naltonā and one in Abad Karāibāriā; the conditions of the grant required that one-eighth of the area should be cleared by the

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end of the fifth year of the grant; no further clearance conditions had been laid down, and this very lenient obligation had been fulfilled, the average clearance found by the settlement staff being 55 per cent of the area leased. Under the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879 no clearance conditions had been laid down, as no lease could be granted except for the area of actually cleared, the clearance entitling the grantee to an additional grant; these grants had on the whole been successful; their abuse is described below in the account of the resettlement of land revenue of Kālāmeghā. The clearance conditions under the rules of 1853 were, however, severe, and affected 21 extensive grants in the district. It will be remembered that under the terms of the rules of 1853, one-eighth of the grant was required to be cleared and fit for cultivation at the end of the fifth year, one-fourth by the end of the 10th year, one-half by the end of the 20th year and three-quarters by the end of the 30th year; in default the entire grant was liable to forfeiture. As the last grant under the rules of 1853 had been made in 1857, the period of 30 years had long elapsed.

State of Clearance in the Grants of 1853 79. The survey operations had shown the following figures with respect to clearance in the 21 grants of 1853: No. of estate

4542 4908 4553 4554 4565 4579 4869 4870 4821

Name of grant

Aila Teakhali Debnāthpur Tafalbaria Kāwābuniā Hazikhāli Tarabunia Amtali Arpangasia Kalai Char Kathālia

Total area Area cleared Area required Deficit (Acres) and cultivated to be (Acres) cleared and cultivated 9,650 7,512 7,240 … 11,860 9,615 8,895 … 576 448 432 … 1,693 1,298 1,270 … 413 318 310 … 723 587 542 … 2,967 2,306 2,225 … 6,820 5,363 5,115 … 1,834 1,340 1,376 36

200 4551 4903 4899 5105 4582 5087 4900 6292 6307 4599 4898 and 4897

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans Kukuā Pachā Koraliā Chāndkhāli Khaprabhāngā Char Chapli Chakāmāyā Juanpārā Kachupatra Chhotā Bogi Tiākhāli (3 estates)

3,035 4,425 2,742 2,303 4,164 8,906 37,933 5,526 12,285

2,410 2,658 1,438 296 723 2,757 22,303 956 2,954

2,276 3,319 2,057 1,727 3,123 6,680 28,450 4,145 9,214

166 661 619 1,431 2,400 3,923 6,147 3,189 6,260

9,707

5,456

7280

1,824

In the first 8 of these estates it will be seen that the clearance conditions had been fulfilled and no further enquiry was necessary; as the settlement figures of cultivated lands excluded new and old fallow, thatching grass, etc., the small defects in Kālāi Char Kāthāliā and Kukuā were considered too trifling to justify the enforcement of the clearance conditions in minute detail. After some discussion the same principle was applied to Pacha Korāliā. In 1908 Major Jack, the Settlement Officer commenced the enquiries into the remaining 10 estates. The enquiry proved to be extremely troublesome, and it is not necessary to enter into details regarding the majority of the estates. Two main difficulties had first to be decided, based on the terms of the leases of 1853; doubts were raised firstly whether Government was bound to complete its inspection of the fulfilment of the clearance conditions at the end of 30 years or whether the final inspection could be made subsequently. It was ultimately decided that the rules were no bar to delay in the final inspection of the area cleared, provided that no previous final inspection had been made. The second difficulty lay in deciding whether the rules of 1853 contemplated the power of Government to resume if the area cleared reverted in part to jungle after a certificate of final clearance had been given; the difficulty was of importance as the storm-wave on 1876 had resulted in large areas relapsing to jungle, though not to the extent claimed. It was after careful consideration decided, that provided a bona fide final certificate

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of clearance had once been given, there was no provision in the rules which conferred on Government the power to resume, if the area under cultivation subsequently fell below the required standard. These two decisions simplified the course of the enquiries.

Grants in which Resumption was Barred 80. The case of Jnānpārā (T. No. 4900) was finally settled by the application of the first of the above decisions. The grant had been made originally under the rules of 1830, and had been commuted under the rules of 1853 by a rubokāri dated 11th August 1856, the date from which the progress of clearance was to be calculated. On a demarcation of the boundary of the grant with that of Char Kālāmeghā in 1881-2 by Mr. Pargiter it was found that the area had increased from 112,592 bighās to 112,722 bighās, and accordingly a revised lease containing the same clearance terms was executed on the 10th March 1883. In 1887 a proceeding was drawn up by Mr. Ellison, alleging that he had inspected the grant in January of that year and that practically the whole of the area had been cleared; he accordingly gave a certificate that the clearance conditions had been fulfilled. The enquiries made by the settlement staff showed that the required area had never been under cultivation, but in view of the existence of Mr. Ellison’s certificate and the great difficulty of proving its falsity in Court, no further action was taken. In March 1909 the Collector referred11 for orders regarding the remaining 9 grants. In 7 of these grants it was decided that no action could be taken, but the facts warrant a brief recital. In Char Chapli (T. No. 4582) a lease for 99 years had been granted in 1856; the form of lease omitted, doubtless collusively, all reference to the clearance conditions and no handle for resumption existed despite the fact that only 17 per cent. Of the area had been cleared! It is interesting to note, however, that this is the only lease, nominally granted under the rules of 1853, which does not confer a proprietary status; the right conferred is that of a temporary farmer, whose rights terminate wholly and finally on the 11 Collector of Bākarganj to Commissioner, Dacca Division No. 5419 L.R., dated the 19th March 1909.

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expiry of the current lease in 1955. The three grants in North Taikhali presented an interesting history; originally settled as a single grant in 1852, the cleared portion had been resettled, obviously with no clearance conditions, as Tauzi No. 4599 in 1857; the uncleared portion had been divided into 2 grants, Nos. 4897 and 4898, the conditions requiring clearance of the area in the 15th year; Mr. Ellision supplied the necessary certificates for the two estates on the 22nd and 15th December 1873 respectively. The Taikhali grants were accordingly saved from resumption. Khaprabhanga (T.No. 5105) was still more fortunate; originally granted in 1847 and commuted in 1856 under the rules of 1853, it was resumed on the 27th February 1879 after an inspection by Mr. Ellison, which somewhat surprisingly showed that only 6,219 out of 23,180 bighās had been cleared; a fresh lease was executed on the 7th November 1880 covering 7,356 bighās but including no clearance conditions; the remainder has been absorbed in the colonization area. Chakmaya (T.No. 5087) escaped the sword of resumption by a false entry of area and a false clearance certificate. Granted in 1846 and commuted on the 31st January 1856, Mr. Ellison certified on the 20th April 1876 that 9,675 out of a reputed area of 12,880 bighās has been cleared; it was however reported that the real area of the grant was 25,060 bighās. The Commissioner in the Sundarbans, however, held by a decision of the 13th May 1876 that he was bounded by the area entered in the lease, and accepted the certificate. Chāndkhāli (T. No. 4890) owed its salvation to a doubtful certificate of Mr. Ellison dated the 7th March 1888. There only remained the Chhotā Bogi and Kachupatra grants.

Resumption Proceedings in Chhotā Bogi 81. The grant of Chhotā Bogi was originally made in 1856 for an area of 27,392 bighās. An inspection made in 1868 showed that the original clearances had relapsed to jungle, but in 1869 Government waived12 its right to resume, and in 1871 the grantee executed an agreement to clear ¼th of the area within 5 years. By April 12 Commissioner of Dacca to Sundarbans Commissioner No. 537, dated the 29th March 1869.

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1879, however, only 3,300 bighās were under cultivation. Further concessions13 were made to the grantee by the Board of Revenue, and a further agreement was executed for the clearance of ½ and ¾ th of the total area by the 30th April 1889 and 1894 respectively. On the 20th July 1891 the grant was inspected by the Sarishtadar and Peshkar of the Sundarbans Commissioner’s office, who submitted a flagrantly false report that 13,790 bighās had been cleared. A final enquiry was commenced on the 10th December 1894 but was not completed until the preparation of the record-of-rights in 1906. The Collector of Bākarganj recommended the resumption of the whole grant. On the 4th December 1909 the Board of Revenue ordered a local enquiry, mainly to test the accuracy of the settlement map and record; the enquiry was made personally by Major Jack and Mr. Ascoli, Assistant Settlement Officer in May 1910, and the accuracy of the map and record was clearly proved. ‘The estate’ wrote Major Jack ‘can properly be forfeited … but to confiscate all, would invite a comparison with the historical land-revenue exploit of Jezebel’. He accordingly proposed a compromise, that the area lying east of the Gendamara khāl should be resumed, its clearance being essential for the success of the colonization scheme, and that the grantee should be allowed a further period of 5 years to bring 5,000 acres out of the balance of 6,285 acres under cultivation. The Board in its order of the 25th March 1911 accepted the proposals for resumption, but extended the period for bringing ¾th of the remainder of the grant under cultivation to 12 years from the 1st of April 1911. It should be noted that in 1923 a further inspection of the grant will be necessary, and that if the revised clearance conditions have not been fulfilled the whole of the grant will be liable to resumption.

Proceedings in Kachupatra 82. The case of Kachupatra (T. No. 6292) can be dealt with more briefly. Granted in 1857 with an area of 10,820 bighās it was subsequently found to contain an area of 14,671 bighās for which a revised lease was executed in 1883. In 1878 the clearance deficit had 13

Board’s order No. 755A, dated the 5th August 1879.

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amounted to 2,659 bighās on the original area. In 1885 only 2,813 bighās had been cleared out of the required 7,336 and on the 1st September 1887 the grantee undertook to clear ½ and ¾th by the 1st May 1890 and 1895 respectively. An inspection commenced on the 3rd February 1891, but, probably on account of a sale for arrears of revenue on the 26th June of that year, was never completed. The history of Kachupatra thenceforth tallies with that of Chhotā Bogi; it was however reported that one of the grantees had spent a considerable sum of money in attempted reclamation and that his failure was mainly due to the large number of co-sharers with whom he was associated. The Board of Revenue finally determined14 to waive its power of resumption and allowed a further period of 12 years for completion of the reclamation of ¾th of the area. In 1915 the grantees applied for a fresh survey and record-of-rights as they had claimed to have claimed to have cleared the necessary area. In 1918 the grant was inspected, the clearance conditions were found to have been carried out in full and on the 7th November the Collector of Bākarganj granted the necessary clearance certificate.

Resume of the Grants of 1853 83. It is important to remember that Bākarganj is the first district in which the grants of 1853 have been thoroughly examined, accurately surveyed and subjected to a strict scrutiny. The settlement operations have proved that the methods of inspection in the past have been lax and have offered opportunities for venality of which advantage was readily taken. The example of Char Chapli shows that even at the original settlement the methods employed were not above suspicion. It is extremely doubtful whether Khulnā or the 24-Parganās will be more successful in passing the test of a trustworthy examination of the grants. The grants of 1853 cover 34 per cent of the area leased in the Bākarganj Sundarbans; the percentage of unreclaimed forest is 24 per cent against 18 per cent in the whole of the area. The revenue derived is Rs. 40,972 averaging 5¾ ānnās per acre against Re.1-3-7 per acre in the whole of the area. The rental paid by the cultivators is Rs.5,68,661 or 14 times the revenue. Such however 14

Board’s No. 1050-W.L.T., dated the 25th July 1911.

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is the complexity of Subinfeudation, for the grants were ordinarily cleared by the creation of chains of tenure-holders on account of the unwieldy size of the grants, that the grantees receive but Rs.1,51,605 or 28 per cent of the assets. The rules of 1853, despite the laxity with which their terms were enforced, failed in three aspects; they failed to stimulate cultivation; they failed to produce an adequate revenue for government – for Government has sacrificed an annual revenue exceeding a lākhs of rupees even on the present basis; and finally they failed, owing to the inevitable system of subinfeudation fostered by the rules, to protect the actual cultivator.

Assessment of Forest Grants and the Grants under the Small Capitalist Rules 1879 84. In four forest grants only, each of them of an exceptional nature was resettlement of land revenue effected. Dhaluā (T. No. 5007) and Bargunā (T. No. 5008) had been decreed to Government as excluded from the Aila Fuljhuri estate of the Nawab of Dacca in 1870; Kālāmeghā (T. No. 4573) had been granted under the rules of 1853 but was resumed in 1869. These three estates had been set aside for grants under the Small Capitalists Rules of 1879, and only the area cleared before the application of these rules came under assessment. In South Tiakhāli (T. No. 4600) originally a 99 years grant, but resumed after the storm-wave in 1879, only a small area held by a Hāolādār was reassessed, the remainder being placed under the control of the Colonisation Officer. The result of these assessments can best be shown in tabular form: Name of estate

Area under Previous New assessment revenue revenue (acres) (Rs.) (Rs.)

Kālāmeghā, T. No. 4573 South Tiakhāli, T. No. 4600 Dhulua, T. No. 5007

290 1,491 4,727

Nil 1,305 16,522

720 3,246 21,344

Bargunā, T. No. 5008

5,126

16,160

21,153

15

Contractual routs accepted under tenure-holders.

Rate of interest per acres (Rs. An.) 3 14 3 3 4 8 9 015 5 0 9 015

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The most interesting aspects of Kālāmeghā, Dhaluā and Bargunā, however, are the hāolās granted under the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879; in these estates only were these rules applied. In Kālāmeghā 148 hāolās had been granted; of these 39 created by Mr. Sunder in 1903 were cancelled in 1907 as they had been created in gross violation of the rules; violation, however was not confined to the later grants; in 1887, for example, a fortunate Sub-Registrar was granted a lease for 1,150 bighās against 200 allowed by the rules. Despite the bar to subinfeudation in the rules, 385 under tenures were recorded with 208 tenures subordinate to them. Out of 111 hāolādārs no fewer than 104 were absentee speculators, a striking commentary on the supposition that these rules initiated a system of rāiyatwāri settlement. In other aspects the leases had resulted in development; the area from the time of the original grants has increased from 4,033 to 5,471 acres, but 35 per cent of the area had still to be cleared. The opportunity was taken to make the quinquennial measurement required by the rules, resulting in an increase of revenue from Rs. 7,759 to Rs. 9,435 in 1910 and Rs. 9,621 in 1917. In Dhaluā 63 grants existed covering 4,001 acres: 358 osat and nim-hāolās with 41 other subordinate tenures had been illegally created. Only 4 per cent of the area remained unreclaimed. In Barguna 198 hāolās has been created covering 13,937 acres, of which 88 per cent, had been reclaimed, but the tenure-free had produced 869 bastard blossoms, of which 578 were osat and nim-hāolās and the remainder subordinate tenures. A quinquennial assessment was made raising the revenue of the Dhaluā grant by Rs. 900 to Rs. 15,326 and that of the Bargunā grants by Rs. 3,295 to Rs. 48,708. It cannot be said that these hāolā grants were altogether unsuccessful, provided that they are correctly regarded as capitalist ventures; but they proved beyond a doubt that without the initiation of a genuine rāiyatwāri system the cutting off of the hydra’s heads is mere child’s play compared with the stunting of the bloosoms of the Bakarganj tenure tree. RESUMED MAHALS

Nature of Settlements in Resumed Mahāls 85. The re-assessment and re-settlement of land revenue of the ‘resumed mahāls’ have been so fully described by Major Jack in the

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Final Report on the Survey and Settlement Operation on Bākarganj that it is unnecessary to describe the process in detail. It will be remembered that the Bākarganj Sundarbans area contained 46 such estates, of which 9 settled in perpetuity do not come under re-assessment. It might, however, be observed that the permanent settlement in 1854 of one of those estates, Gerakhali (T. No. 4539) was illegal having been sanctioned by the Commissioner of the Nadia Division, whereas the sanction of the Governor-General in Council was necessary for such settlements. Of the remaining 37 estates, 31 are held by permanent tenure-holders, one Chaora (T. No. 4801) was let in farm though subsequently managed khās, while 5 have been settled rāiyatwāri. Of these last the two petty Hazikhali estates (T. Nos. 4561 and 4568) are unimportant, they were previously held under ijārā leases; Nishānbāriā (T. No. 4545) is interesting as having previously been held by a tālukdār whose rights were cancelled in 1910 on account of his oppressive methods; in Chak Chila (T. No. 4540), the ijārādār had created tenures contrary to the terms of his lease, and on his refusal to agree to new conditions the ijārā was cancelled in 1910. Tushkhali (T. No. 4642) had long been under the direct management of Government owing to the inability of the mālguzārs to control the turbulent tenantry of the estate. Subsequently to the settlement proceedings it will be shown that Chāorā, Kukuā and the Marichbunia group of estates came under direct management. The difficulties of assessment in the area were, however, due to the remarkable fecundity of the tenure-trees; to obviate the difficulties two methods of assessment were prescribed which have been fully explained by Major Jack. The first system, that of 1907, was based on the rāiyati valuation of the estate, i.e. a standard rāiyati rate added to a valuation of land held by tenure-holders at special grade rates; allowances varied for different grades. The Government revenue was fixed so as to allow the superior tenure-holders a profit of 25 per cent, on his collections subject to the proviso that the Government revenue should not be less than 50 per cent of the total valuation; this valuation by grades was extremely complicated and difficult in practice. In 1909 a revised system of assessment was adopted; its main features were the assessment of hāolā-tenures on the basis of area instead of on profits—the rate being 35 per cent, lower than the standard rāiyati rate. The superior tenure-holder or tālakdār paid

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revenue assessed at 75 per cent of the hāoldāri rental—the profit being shared by intermediate tenure-holders. The work of re-assessment and its results may be described in brief. For this purpose the estates of the area may be divided into five groups: (a) (b) (c) (d) (e)

Northern group comprising 16 estates, Rābnābād island group comprising three estates, Eastern group comprising ten estates, Central group comprising six estates, Western group comprising two estates.

The Northern Group 86. The northern group, commonly known as the Marichbuniā group was originally resumed from the zamindārs of parganā Aurangabad, with the exception of Bhayang Kakrabunia, a tenure of Buzrogumedpur parganā. With the exception of two small estates in Hāzikhali, which had been settled with farmers, with an area of 180 acres, the remaining 10,701 acres were comprised in 14 estates, held by tenure-holders possessing a permanent right to renewal of their leases. In this tract the bee of subinfeudation had shown extraordinary activity, and the estates were honeycombed with tenures, 125 having been created under the tālukdārs with 589 subordinate creations; the incidence of tenures being one in every 15 acres. In these tenures the superior tālukdārs possessed an interest in whole or in part in no less than 411; this fact is important, if it is noted that whatever conditions might be entered in the leases of the superior tālukdārs for the protection of the cultivators, would not be binding on these same persons in their guise as subordinate tālukdārs. The estates were in an extraordinary state of confusion, oppression, illegal exactions and evictions, false criminal cases, confiscation of property and forced labour were rife. In July and August 1909 a special enquiry was instituted, as a result of which two courses of action were proposed; firstly that the estates should be held khās by Government for 12 years under Section 3 of Regulation VII of 1822 as the continuance of management by the tālukdārs ‘would endanger the public tranquility and otherwise be seriously detrimental’; secondly that the chains of tenures held by the

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same person should be merged under Section 111(d) of the Transfer of Property Act. The Advocate-General’s opinion was, however, unfavourable, and if was determined to safeguard the cultivators by means of specific provisions in the tālukdārs’ leases, which would terminate the rights of the tālukdārs on the proof of commission of any illegalities, and by requiring the subordinate tenure-holders to execute similar agreements, in default of which their net profits would be reduced by 50 per cent. With 13 exceptions all the tālukdārs and tenure-holders signed the agreements and broke the conditions before the ink of their signatures was dry. The result of the re-assessment raised the Government revenue from Rs.22,106 to Rs.34,908—the increase being entirely due to the acceptance of contractual rents which varied from Rs.6 to Rs.7-12 per acre. In August and September 1912 a further enquiry was held. ‘To summarise the result of the enquiry’ ran the report ‘it has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the state of affairs now is identically the same as what it was before the current settlement was made, with the exception that the landlords obtained a firmer hold over the tenants by the extended application of control by locally appointed mridhās. The oppression and extortion continue with unabated force’. The futility of the agreements was now apparent—for the difficulties of proving the breaches in the terms with a cowed tenantry as the only witnesses were insuperable. Measures were, however, taken to strengthen the administration of the area; this had the desired effect, the cultivators combined for their own protection and refused to submit to the exactions and extortion. In 1918 the tālukdārs at last found their position unendurable and applied to the Collector of Bākarganj to take their estates under Government control for the whole period of the leases, agreeing at the same time to surrender all rights held by them in subordinate tenures. In 1919, the Board of Revenue issued orders-assuming the management of the estates, and the group is now under the khās management of Government.

Rabnābād Island and Eastern Groups 87. The Rabnābād Island and Eastern groups call for little separate mention. The former group of three estates covering an area of

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17,434 acres was reassessed under the rules of 1909, the revenue Rs. 36,792 being enhanced to Rs.57,641; the estates are under tālukdāri settlement, and 1019 under-tenures were recorded, averaging 1 to every 46 acres. Several new islands have formed to the south and east of this group, the most important are Char Biswās and Char Kukri Mukri, the colonisation of which is about to be commenced. The eastern group comprising 10 estates, containing 27,235 acres, was settled under the rules of 1907; with the exception of Nishānbāriā (T. No. 4545) and a part of Katadia (T. No. 4549) the estates are settled with permanent tenure-holders with a right to renewal; the revenue showed a big increase from Rs. 15,820 to Rs. 35,514. In these groups the rates of rent are considerably lower than the Marichbunia group varying from Rs. 2-10 to Rs. 4-12 per acre.

Central Group 88. The main feature of the central group, consisting of 6 estates covering an area of 27,719 acres is the almost entire absence of forest which amounts to little more than 1 square mile; the rates of rent vary considerably from Rs. 2-15 per acre in Tepurā to Rs. 6-5 in Kukuā; the revision of land revenue resulted in an increase from Rs. 38,754 to Rs. 91,648. The estates of this group are interesting. Chāorā (T. No. 4801), an estate 13 square miles in area, was the only resumed Sundarbans estate leased in ijārā; on the application of the ijārādār, however, Government assumed direct management on an annual payment of Rs.8,000, approximately ⅔rds of his nett profits, to the ijārādār; Kukua (T. No. 4550) was obsessed with the evil of 18 superior and 268 subordinate tenures, the incidence being 1 tenure to 23 acres; the majority of the tenure-holders are non-resident speculators. As in the case of the Marichbunia group, the tenure-holders have surrendered their rights to Government for the period of 30 years of the current lease on receipt of ¾ths of their net profits, and the estate is now managed directly by Government. Taktabunia (T. No. 4538) rejoices in one tenure to every 25 acres. In Chak Chila (T. No. 4540) the permanent mālguzār refused to accept the terms of settlement and his rights have been permanently cancelled.

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211

Western Group 89. The western group contains only two estates of which one, Teturam Peshkar is unimportant, being only 189 acres in extent; it is held under a tālukdāri settlement. The resettlement of the other estate, Tushkhali was made subsequently to the district settlement operations and took effect for 15 years from 1916. This extensive estate covers an area of 22,801 acres; it includes the usual crop of Bākarganj tenures to the number of 453; its total revenue is Rs.1,21,741. RESUME

Appreciation of the Settlement Operations 90. The above account covers the whole of the Bākarganj Sundarbans area under lease excepting the colonisation area, and the fullness of the account is due solely to the completeness of the investigations made in the course of the survey and settlement operations. No such account can be possible for the Khulnā and the 24-Parganās areas until they have been through the mill the machinery of which has been perfected by the devotion and energy of Major Jack in Bākarganj; a tribute is also due to Rāi Sāhib Hara Kisore Biswās on whom the major portion of the labours fell. Possibly the above account does not convey a clear idea of the intricacies of the work; the lease of each grant or estate required detailed examination in order to ascertain its terms and the degree to which they were binding on Government; the conditions of every tenure amongst that mighty array were put to the test; the history of each estate was examined only to prove how in the past in many instances Government might have rid itself of these difficulties had it only known its rights and realised the conditions. As Government had prophesied in 1903 these settlement operations will indeed be a model to all similar operations in the Sundarbans. It only remains to give a synopsis of the leases in the area as they now exist. Excluding the alluvial area, 20 forest grants under the rules of 1853, and 9 resumed mahāls are held under proprietary title; 16 resumed mahāls and portions of 6 forest grants are held under permanent tenure rights: one forest grant under the rules of 1853 is let in farm; 5 resumed mahāls are settled rāiyatwāri. In 15 other estates held under

212

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

permanent tenures, and one other estate let in farm. Government is at present managing on a rāiyatwāri basis. Two estates, of winch one, Nali Sāplezā or Caspersābād, has been a model for rapid and efficient colonisation, are held in fee-simple. The remaining area is included in the colonisation scheme of settlement.

CH A P T E R X

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

THE COLONISATION SCHEME

Creation of the Post of Colonisation Officer 91. In 1902 Mr. Beatson-Bell, as Settlement Officer of Bākarganj, had proposed that the Sundarbans area of that district should be transferred from the jurisdiction of the Commissioner in the Sundarbans to that of the Collector, and his proposals were warmly supported by Mr. Savage, Commissioner of the Dacca Division. The Board of Revenue were not however prepared to accept the proposals.1 The subsequent history of the proposals has been described in detail with reference to the introduction of the rāiyatwāri system (Chapter IV) and it is only necessary to note here that the Sundarbans Committee of 1903 recommended that Government should invest capital in a scheme for reclamation by rāiyatwāri settlement in Bākarganj, and that the settlement should he carried out by the Collector. The Board of Revenue accepted2 the recommendations of the Committee, suggested that the work should be entrusted to the Deputy Collector in charge of Government estates and asked for an annual grant of Rs.50,000 per year for a period of 50 years to complete the work of reclamation; the area remaining for reclamation was estimated to be 266 square miles. These proposals were accepted by the Government of Bengal and sanctioned3 by the Government of India. In 1906 definite proposals were formulated which resulted in the rāiyatwāri rules of 1907. In

1 Board to Government, Revenue Department No. 966-A.D., dated 26th November 1902. 2 Board to Government, Revenue Department No. 1143-A., dated 8th February 1901. 3 Government of India Department of Revenue and Agriculture to Government of Bengal Revenue Department No. 1040-154-1, dated the 26th July l904.

214

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

sanctioning4 these rules the Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam remarked that the work of colonisation should be under the control of the Collector of the district, but that for dealing with a task of this magnitude he should be given a special assistant, as Colonisation Officer; the appointment was sanctioned by the Government of India and in May 1907 Maulvi (now Khān Bahādur) Ataur Rahaman was appointed5 as the first Colonisation Officer. Meanwhile however the work of colonisation had already commenced and it is necessary to review the area and the progress that had been made up to date.

Area Available for Colonisation 92. The original colonisation area consisted of 20 estates in whole or in part, forming with a few exceptions a solid block 233¾ square miles in area at the south of the Sundarbans. These exceptions consisted of Char Chapli, held on a 99 years farming lease, Chak Bogi and a portion of Khaprabhāngā leased under the Waste Land Rules of 1853, Chak Naltona leased under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, and portions chiefly of Chak Kālāmeghā, Barguna and Karāibāriā, which had been leased from time to time, mainly under the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879. The original area had been extended by the resumption of a part of Chhotā Bogi in 1911 (vide paragraph 81) and of the whole of Nishānbāriā (T.No. 4545) during the survey and settlement operations (vide paragraph 85). This tract differs in many respects from the uncultivated forest of the 24-Parganās mainly by the fact that the whole of it had at one time been leased and had been largely under cultivation; the original estates had been resumed partly after the disastrous storm-wave of 1876. The following table gives a brief history of the area:

4

Chief Secretary, Eastern Bengal and Assam Government to Board No. 5296-C, dated the 26th May 1906. 5 Eastern Bengal and Assam Government Notification No. 5736-C, dated 9th May 1907.

Name of Estate

Tauzi Date of Date of Total area Area number original resumption (sq. miles) available for lease colonization (sq. miles).

Chak Kālāmeghā

4,573

1853

1869

35

30*

Bargunā

5,008

1805

1856

32

½*

Chhotā Bogi

6,623

1879

1911



Karāibārā

4,526

1855

1866

8

t

Bara Bogi

4,959

1856

1866

16½

12†

Chhotā Nishānbāriā

6,821

1862

1868

8

8

Bara Nishānbāriā

6,300

1862

1874

12

12

Tengagiri Chāk

6,301



9¾‡

Lātāchapli

4,958

25½

23½‡

Khaparbhāngā

6,450

11¼

11¼

Dhulasār

4,583

Char Bāhātāli

5,092

Bara Bāliātāli

1856

1886



1818

7

1906





4,580

1819



žt

Chhotā Bāliātāli

4,581

1819



t

Mithāganj

4,865

1847

1871

10

10

Dalbuganj

4,973

1856

1879

5

5

Sonatālā

6,052

Nitaganj

4,771

South Tiakhāli Nishānbāriā

1866

12½

12½‡

1879

10

10

4,600

1831

10

t

4,545

1908

5

›t

* Small Capitalist Rules area † Partly colonized before ‡ Protected forest. t1BSUMZMFBTFECFGPSF

1856

5*

216

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

The total area of the estates included in the colonisation area is 233¾ square miles, of which 176¼6 was available for colonisation. It is important to note that in many of these estates rāiyatwāri or small hāolādāri settlements had been made as long as 25 years before the inception of the colonisation scheme. It is further important to remember that the estates shown as protected forest form only a portion of the area originally protected, and that the protection afforded will only continue until the areas are required for colonisation. In the meantime the forest is under the control of the Colonisation Officer.

Initial Settlements 1904-7 93. The first effort at colonisation was made in the year 1904, after the decision arrived at by the Committee of 1903. 11,000 bighās of land were demarcated in South Tiākhāli and Nilganj and allotted to 151 prospective settlers under the promise that loans would be granted to them. The Board of Revenue however sanctioned advances7 of grain only, which the settlers declined to accept, and the original colony was abandoned. On the issue of the Bengal rāiyatwāri rules of 1905 a detailed enquiry regarding the applicability of these rules to Bākarganj was made. This enquiry resulted in the Bākarganj rules of 1907; it is merely necessary to point out that great emphasis was laid on the necessity of granting loans in cash and undertaking an extensive programme of improvement works. In June 1906 the Board sanctioned8 the commencement of the colonisation work in anticipation of the issue of final rules. A certain amount of spade work had however already been done since the transfer of the area from the jurisdiction of the Sundarbans Commissioner in March 1904. An Inspector had been appointed7 for the area and in the year 1904-5, Rs.4,910 was expended; in 1905-6 came the abortive resettlement of South Tiākhāli and Nilganj above referred to. On receipt of the Board’s orders the work of colonisation was taken up in earnest and by August 1906, 340 colonists had been selected for the colonisation of portions 6 7 8

A more accurate calculation shows 173½ square miles Board’s No. 449-A of the 9th January 1905. Board’s No. 49-W.L.D., dated the 11th June 1906.

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

217

of South Tiākhāli, Nilganj and Abuganj-Mithāganj. Little progress could, however, be made owing to the absence of a special officer; a suggestion that the work should be undertaken by the Settlement Officer was negatived on the advice of that officer himself. By the time that the Colonisation Officer had joined his appointment in April 1907 only 92 new tenants had been settled in Nilganj; of these all but 13 deserted and abandoned their holdings.9

Features of the Bākarganj Sundarbans 94. To understand the work of colonisation, essential that the condition of the Bākarganj Sundarbans should be fully realised. The land is on the whole high, and the tides, compared with the 24Par-ganas tract, low; throughout the greater part of the colonisation area, however, the water is saline or brackish. Marginal embankments are accordingly required, but not of great height; smaller embankments and dams are required along and across the interior khāls to prevent the salt water flooding the area under cultivation. Owing to the absence of fresh water, tanks for drinking purposes are required in all areas reclaimed. Sporadic cultivation already existed in some of the estates in 1907, largely in the possession of Maghs; the safe-guarding of the rights of these tenants was accordingly essential; this was particularly important in the case of Maghs who are unable to compete in business transactions with the Bengali. Owing to the fact that the whole area was covered with jungle, the necessity of issuing loans to the new colonists during the period of clearance is obvious. The three essentials for successful colonisation may accordingly be described as (a) the selection of suitable colonists, (b) the issue of loans, (c) the construction of works of sanitary and agricultural improvement. A fourth and very important aspect of colonisation work in the area is the necessity of extending clearances in continuous blocks—a necessity not fully realised for some years; this is due to the fact that the jungle is very malarious and the existence of jungle near a cleared area results in outbreaks of virulent fever amongst the colonists. The actual work of colonisation consists in three stages (a) colonisation, (b) reclamation 9

Government Order No. 1605, dated the 14th April 1904.

218

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

and (c) assessment. The first stage covers the selection of colonists and allocation of holdings, the second, settlement on and clearing of the holding, and the third, fixing of rents for the area cleared. In Bākarganj, however, areas that had already been settled were included in the colonisation scheme; improvements both sanitary and agricultural, were effected, and settlements made under the colonisation rules; in these areas only the final stage of assessment was required. In Chapter VII it has been shown that of the area three whole mauzās and three mauzās in part were declared protected forest; this does not, however, affect the progress of reclamation, but merely controls the cutting of the timber until reclaimed. Reclamation has not however commenced in Sonātālā, the colonisation of which will be postponed until the remainder of the area has been developed. For convenience the history of the colonisation is narrated year by year; important decisions are referred to in the year in which the problem arose. A brief synopsis is then given of the development of each estate, followed by an account of the general development of the area as a whole.

Development from 1907-9 95. Maulvi Ataur Rahaman, the Colonisation Officer, commenced his work with great vigour, and in the year 1907-8 no fewer than 22,120 bighās were settled with 488 colonists mainly in Kālāmeghā and Nilganj, but also in South Tiākhāli, Chhota and Bara Bāliātāli, Dhulasār and Mithāganj. During the year Rs.22,181 was expended on improvements. Khepupārā, situated in South Tiākhāli, was selected as the headquarters of the Sundarbans and Rs.6,109 was expended in laying out the site; ponding the completion of accommodation the Colonisation Officer was empowered to make Patuākhāli, the subdivisional town, his headquarters. Naturally no rent was assessed during the year but Rs.4,400 was collected for grazing rights and Rs.3,962 from the sale of timber and reeds. Rs.2,820 were advanced as loans to settlers. During an inspection of the area by Mr. Savage, Member of the Board of Revenue, an important decision was arrived at, namely that improvement works should be executed in areas occupied by former settlers, provided that, they agreed to come under the colonisation rules.

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

219

1908-9, 12,750 bighās were settled with 341 new colonists, 162 being settled in Kālāmeghā; the area under colonisation was now extended to Bargunā, Lota Chapli, Bara Bogi and Bara and Chhotā Nishānbāriā, 244 former colonists occupying 5,618 bighās in South Tiākhāli, Lota Chapli, Chhotā Nishānbāriā, Bara and Chhotā Bāliātāli and Dhulasār were included in the colonisation scheme. Loans were advanced to the amount of Rs.10,440 and Rs.43,720 were spent on improvements. A large number of the new settlers were Maghs, for whom it was now decided to reserve specific areas.

Development, 1909-10: Fixing of Rates of Assessment 96. The year 1909-10 is one of importance. The actual number of new colonists was 296 in 10,229 bighās, the majority, viz., 161 being in Kālāmeghā. The old colonists in South Tiākhāli and Chhotā Nishānbāriā were assessed to rent. Rs.6,715 were distributed in loans and Rs.62,970 expended on improvements. A very important work of improvement was commenced in the excavation of a big khāl connecting the Haringhātā and Bishkhali rivers, between Kālāmeghā and Gnānpāra, an estate held under a 99 years lease. Two important matters came up for decision during this year. The one concerned the status of old tenants who came under the colonisation rules. The majority of these tenants held at low rates of rent, about five ānnās per bighā, and it was clear that it would be impossible to settle new tenants at a fair assessment, while the old tenants held at ridiculously low rates; at the same time the law did not permit of the enhancement of their rents as rāiyats to the necessary extent. In 1903 it had been proposed that all new settlers should be given rights as hāoladārs. This proposal had not been accepted though even now again supported by Major Jack. It was now proposed in order to avoid the difficulties of enhancement that the old settlers should be given hāolā rights. After a considerable amount of discussion this proposal was accepted10 by the Board of Revenue; this decision, which was gladly accepted by the old settlers, made the principle of equalisation of assessment feasible in each estate. The second matter for decision was the fixation of rates 10

Board’s No. 15-W.L. dated the 13th May 1910.

220

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

of assessment—a matter of urgency as the period for assessment of the settlements of 1907 was now at hand. It will be remembered that the rules of 1907 had laid down a single scale for the whole area; the scale covered a rent-free period for three years, followed by a gradual enhancement from two ānnās a bighā in the fourth year of the lease to the maximum rate of Rs.2 per bighā from the twenty-first to the thirtieth year of the lease. For the purpose of assessment, the area was now divided into 5 groups, excluding South Tiākhāli and Karāibāriā, which were reserved for special treatment. In all groups the rent-free period was maintained, and the principle of progressive enhancements adopted. The maximum rates fixed for each group were as follows: Bogi Group.—Bara Bogi, Chhotā and Bara Nishānbāriā, Re. 1-2 to Re. 1-6 per biqha. Central Group.—Mithāganj, Nilganj, Dalbuganj, Sonātālā, Re.1-2 to Re.1-4 per bighā. Eastern Group—Dhulasār and Bara, Chhotā and Char Balia Bāliātāli, Re.1-4 per bighā. Southern Group.—Lota Chapli and Khaprabhāngā. Re. 1 per bighā. Kālāmeghā Group.—Re. 1-8 per bighā. It was decided that the Bogi and Southern Groups should be maintained as Magh reserves, and a further principle was laid flown that in the future reclamation should radiate from Khepupārā (in South Tiākhāli) as the centre.

Development from 1910-12 97. In the year 1910-11, 346 new colonists were settled on 11,616 bighās of land, mainly in Kālāmeghā and Lotā Chapli; Rs. 36,681 were spent on improvements and a commencement was made in the work of assessing the first of the new settlers to the extent of 395 acres with an ultimate revenue of Rs. 1,463-13. In the following year 317 new colonists were settled on 8,398 bighās; Rs. 37,051 were spent on improvements and 3,810 acres were assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 16,914. As this was the last complete year in which Maulvi Ataur Rahaman was in control, a review of the work during the first five years is interesting. During this period, the period of the pioneer, no

221

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

fewer than 1,788 new colonists had been settled and an area of more than 31 square miles had been colonised. The experiment had been proved to be a success and that success was largely due to the methods employed by the original Colonisation Officer, methods which have been followed by his successor. In December 1912 he was succeeded by Maulvi Qamaraddin Ahmed, who still holds the post.

Development from 1912-20 98. The development during the 8 succeeding years has been rapid, but efficiency has not been sacrificed to rapidity of progress. The results may be seen from the following tables: Years

Number of Area settled Amount spent on Area assessed Ultimate colonists in bighās improvement (acres) rental

1912-13

715

54,586

45,110

430

723

1913-14

239

12,340

51,327

3,754

13,292

1914-15

535

31,560

46,841

7,108

29,290

1915-16

416

24,070

50,542

7,515

25,654

1916-17

638

24,805

33,240

4,946

14,895

1917-18

476

23,141

33,235

1,883

6,345

1918-19





5,457

3,916

13,501

1919-20

278

10,980

57,609

2,866

9,388

3,297

181,482

3,53,361

32,418

1,13,088

Total

It will be seen that the year 1918-19 shows a decrease in progress, no new colonists being settled and the area assessed being small. This is due partly to the fact that of the 173½ square miles available for colonisation, 110 square miles covering the best land had already been colonised, partly to the fact that colonisation had been allowed to run too far ahead of reclamation, little more than half of the colonised area (viz., 58 square miles) having been reclaimed, and largely to the fact that during the last three years the amount spent on improvement works had been insufficient to render the colonised

222

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

area fit for reclamation. The progress in 13 years has however been exceptional. In its original programme the Government of Bengal had suggested the colonisation of the whole area in 50 years at a total expenditure of 25 lakhs of rupees. More than half the work has been completed in 12 years at a total cost in improvements of approximately 5 lākhs of rupees and in management of little more than 2 lakhs; the programme should without difficulty be completed a half the time and at half the cost originally estimated. During this period, apart from land revenue which has amounted to 3¼ lakhs, Government has obtained an income of approximately 2¾ lakhs of rupees from forest produce and grazing rights, thus reducing the excess of expenditure over income to 1 lakh. On the completion of the scheme a revenue of 4¼ lakhs of rupees may be anticipated against the present annual income from land and forest revenue of 1 lakh.

Progress of Colonisation by Estates 99. A review of the progress effected in the different estates included in the colonisation area is of interest. Chāk Kālāmeghā—T. No. 4573—As has been previously stated this estate had been set apart for leases under the Small Capitalist Rules of 1879. The hāolās that had been created were resumed during the settlement operations and on completion only 44 remained covering an area of 188 acres; the remainder of the 35 square miles constituting the estate was available for colonisation, which commenced in the year 1907. Up to date some 18 square miles have been colonised of which 10 square miles with an ultimate revenue of Rs. 35,089 has been assessed. The population is 5,581, and two thriving hāts exist in the estate at Pātharghātā and Char Duani. Ten Cooperative Credit Societies have been founded with a working capital exceeding Rs. 32,000. The total amount expended in improvement works has been Rs. 9,495; the most notable improvement, namely, the khāl between the Haringhātā and Biskhāli rivers is however maintained by the District Board; this has facilitated colonisation to a very considerable extent. It is expected that the remaining area of 17 square miles will soon be colonised. Bargunā—T. No. 5008— Practically the whole of this estate was

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

223

cultivated previously, and only 206 acres remained, the colonisation of which is complete. The feature of Bargunā is a huge and prosperous hāt. Chhotā Bogi—T. No. 6623—Was resumed in 1911 from a 99 years grant, which the grantee had ignominiously failed to clear. By an expenditure of Rs. 15,655 the whole area, 4½ square miles in extent has been colonised by 289 settlers and reclaimed within a period of 7 years, the estate will ultimately produce an annual revenue of about Rs. 10,000. Three Co-operative Societies have been established with a working capital of Rs. 3,075. The estate is a remarkable example of the superiority of the present scheme over leases to middlemen. Karāibāriā—T. No. 4526—Five square miles are held under a special grant. The remaining 3 square miles have been colonised by 176 settlers, but not yet assessed. Rs. 6,623 have been spent on improvements and 3 Co-operative Societies have been founded with a capital of Rs. 2,435. Bari Bogi—T. No. 4959—Of the 16½ square miles, 4½ had been previously settled; of the remainder, 5½ square miles have been colonised between 1911 and 1920 and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 12,329. Rs. 16,819 have been spent on improvements, and two Cooperative Societies have been established with a working capital of Rs.7,300. Chhotā Nishānbāriā—T. No. 6321—Excepting 63 acres previously settled on hāolādāri leases, the whole area of 8 square miles is under colonisation; of this half a square mile was colonised in 1909 and 4½ square miles in 1915 entirely with Maghs at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 10,800. Rs.16,692 have been spent on improvements and one Co-operative Society is in existence with a capital of Rs. 3,106. The population is now 1,200. Bara Nishānbāriā—T. No. 6300—This is also a Magh colony. 7 square miles out of 12 have been settled with 307 colonists; only 2 square miles have been assessed up to date at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 4,999. Rs. 10,456 have been spent on improvements. Lātā chapli—T. No. 1958 —This estate being on the sea face, has required heavy expenditure to the amount of Rs. 18,723. Of the total area of 23½ square miles 8 have been colonised by Maghs only and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 13,650. Three Cooperative

224

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

Societies have been founded with a working capital of Rs. 9,513. In this estate a bungalow has been constructed on the sea face. Chak Dhulasār—T. No. 4583—Of 7 square miles 2 square miles had already been settled; the remaining area was colonised between 1911 and 1916 and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 7,592. Rs. 29,096 have been spent on improvements, and 3 Cooperative Societies have been founded with a working capital of Rs. 12,431. Char Bāliātāli—T. No. 5092— Is a small estate of 1½ square miles; the cultivable area was colonised in 1909 and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 1,720. Rs. 7,315 were spent on improvements; one Cooperative Society with a working capital of Rs. 4,870 has been established. Bara Bāliātāli—T. No. 4580—Excluding 1½ square miles previously settled, 2¾ square miles were colonized between 1912 and 1915 and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 5,111. Rs.43,709 have been spent on improvements and one Cooperative Society with a capital of Rs.5,889 has been established. Chhotā Bāliātāli—T. No. 4581—Excluding ¾ths of a square mile previously settled, the remaining 6 square miles have been completely colonised between 1913 and 1917 and assessed at an ultimate revenue of Rs.11,722. Rs.59,534 have been spent on improvements, and one Co-operative Society is in existence with a working capital of Rs.8,019. Mithāganj—T. No. 4865—The whole area of 10 square miles has been colonized between 1913 and 1918, but only one square mile with an ultimate revenue of Rs.1,783 has been assessed. Rs.42,612 have been spent on improvements, and 4 Cooperative Societies are in existence with a capital of Rs.12,225. Dalbuganj—T. No. 4973—Of 5 square miles only half a square mile has been colonized by Magh tenants and assessed in 1917 at an ultimate revenue of Rs.832. Nothing has been spent in improvements. Nilganj—T. No. 4771—The whole estate, 10 square miles, has been colonized between 1914 and 1918, but only 4½ square miles have been assessed at an ultimate rental of Rs. 8,933. Rs.48,146 had been spent on improvements, and 4 Cooperative Societies have been established with a capital of Rs.19,529. South Tiākhāli—T. No. 4600—Three square miles had been settled previously, leaving 7 square miles for colonisation. The whole of this

The Bākarganj Sundarbans

225

has been settled and was assessed in 1909 and 1914. The amount spent on improvements to date is Rs.52,498. One Cooperative Credit Society with a capital of Rs.32,177 has been formed. Within this estate is situated Khepupārā, the headquarters of the Colonisation Officer; it contains a bāzār, Post office, school, dispensary and a successful Co-operative Sale Society. Nishānbāriā—T. No. 4545—Out of 5 square miles only 1½ square miles were available for colonisation and of this the cultivable area of 140 acres has been colonised and assessed. No improvement works have been necessary; one Cooperative Society with a capital of Rs.8,268 is in existence.

The Success of the Colonization Scheme 100. The progress of the colonization scheme in Bākarganj has been described in detail for a set purpose. ‘For the colonization scheme’ wrote Mr. (now Sir Charls) Stevenson-Moore in 1915 ‘as it is being worked in the Bākarganj Sundarbans, I have nothing but unqualified praise. . . . What has been done in this area constitutes a record of which the local officers can justly be proud, and should, in my opinion, be regarded as the model on which any scheme for the development of the Khulnā and 24-Parganās Sundarbans (after such modifications as the difference of physical conditions necessitates) should be based.” Since 1915 development has been even more creditable, and the only real defect that can be pointed to is the recent failure of reclamation to keep pace with colonisation—a failure due to the financial stringency occasioned by the war. A contrast with the tardiness of reclamation under the rules of 1853 and 1879 is inevitable, and is finely illustrated by the history of Chhotā Bogi. But the real success has not been one of quantity, so much as of quality, and this success has been largely due to the human element, the two Colonisation Officers, Khān Bahādur Ataur Rahaman and Khān Sāhib Qamaraddin Ahmad; to them is jointly due the credit for the establishment of a colony unparalleled in Bengal. Each settlement is a model—created almost on patriarchial lines with the Colonisation Officer at its head. The Maghs have been converted from a poverty—stricken community to a body of prosperous cultivators. Rents are moderate, though not

226

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

too low; tanks for drinking water have been provided by Government assisted liberally, since 1911, by the District Board, and at Khepupārā a headquarter has been established, containing all the advantages of a modern village which the colonists look upon as their centre. Loans have been generously granted by Government, and faithfully repaid. A spirit of thrift and cooperation is being inculcated and already 42 Cooperative Credit Societies have been established. A central bank has also been registered with a capital of 4 lakhs of rupees, and in Khepupārā a Cooperative Sale Society has commenced a prosperous career not only by the sale of necessaries to the colonists, but also for the purpose of disposing of their produce on a co-operative basis. The area is a model in development—not only in the principles and system which have rendered it possible, but in the spirit with which the work has been effected and the humanity which has been instilled in to the dry maxims of the rules.

CH A P T E R X I

The Khulnā Sundarbans

HISTORY OF THE KHULNĀ AREA NOT COMPLICATED 101. Owing to the extensive area of reserved forest subsequent to the years 1875-9, there has been in the Khulnā area little scope for extension of reclamation, excepting where former grants have been resumed. As late as 1915 the Board of Revenue accepted generally the policy of the Forest Department that for the present no further area of forest should be opened for cultivation, and even the 19 lots proposed for reclamation by Mr. Ross in 1895 still remain reserved. It will thus be seen that the history of the area from 1903 is more concerned with re-settlements of former resumptions or grants than with the opening out of new grants, and that accordingly Khulnā has only to a small extent been affected by the alterations made from time to time in the forest grant rules. The work has been mainly that of re-settlement, and even in this respect has been simple. The important distinction between resumed mahāls and forest grants, has already been referred to; in the former re-settlement only was required; in the latter Government was required to inspect the amount of clearance under the rules of 1853 from 20 to 30 years after the commencement of the lease, and to check the rent-free periods and periods of subsequent enhancement.1 PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: IMPORTANCE OF RECOGNITION 102. But it is not only the paucity of forest grants due to the extent of the forest reserve that differentiates the problem of Khulnā from that of other Sundarbans tracts. The main difference is a physical one; the Khulnā Sundarbans are the mean between those of the 24-Parganās 1 Vide note at page 69.

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and Bākarganj; whereas in the 24-Parganās the land is for the most part low, and its elevation has in many cases been retarded by premature embankment, in Khulnā it is more favourably situated; a large portion of the 24-Parganās area is subject to the abnormally high tides of the river Hughli which do not affect the Khulnā tract. In the 24-Parganās the streams of the Sundarbans are comparatively free from silt, but saline, due mainly to the fact that there is little flow throughout the year from the Ganges through the head-waters of the Hughli river; the streams of the Khulnā Sundarbans contain sweeter water, laden with a greater quantity of silt. The difference is of great importance; reclamation in the 24-Parganās implies big expensive embankments to avoid damage by salt water or high floods; the spill area of the rivers is affected and the natural process of land elevation is hampered. In Khulnā however, where embankments are required, they are small and are not required throughout the year; there is no obstacle to the natural elevation of the land by deposits of silt, and even where embankments are required a vast spill area remains for the river system over the 2,089 square miles of reserved forest, where embankments are not permitted. Thus in Khulnā the cost of reclamation is less, the possibilities of success greater; on the other hand in the 24-Parganās the salt laden soil weakens the jungle growth, and jungle clearance requires less toil. The differences between the 24-Parganās and Khulnā are accentuated in Bākarganj; there the water of the streams, connected as they are with the main channels of the rivers Padma and Meghna, is sweeter than in Khulnā, the land well elevated and the soil exuberant with fertility. The distinction between the various characteristics of these tracts was noted in 1852; it was never acted upon until the fetish of uniformity of administration had been finally abandoned by the abolition of the Commissionership in the Sundarbans in 1905. From that time the administration has considered primarily the physical conditions and requirements of each part of the tract, and it is this recognition of the power of nature that must form the future basis of development and administration in the Sundarbans.

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The Khulnā Sundarbans SYNOPSIS OF LEASES EXISTING IN 1904

103. The year 1903 is an important one in the history of the Sundarbans. In this year proposals were advanced for the abolition of the office of Commissioner in the Sundarbans and the first definite advance was made in the policy of reclamation by rāiyatwāri settlements. The Khulnā area was, however, almost definitely excluded from the new policy; it was reported in 1904 that apart from the reserved forest only 3,800 acres of waste land remained unsettled in Khulnā; this, as events have proved, was an under-estimate, but the paucity of available land was a sufficient justification for the decision of Government, declining allotments of funds for the furtherance of rāiyatwāri settlement in Khulnā, as in the case of Bākarganj and the 24-Parganās. The period from 1903 is accordingly, with the exception of the grant for reclamation of a portion of lots 164 (Khaikhali) and 216 entirely a history of surveys and resettlements. To realise the extent of these operations, it is important to understand the nature of the leases in existence at the time; the following table prepared in 1904 will explain the situation:2 Serial No.

Class of lease

No. of estates

Area (acres)

1.

Held on tālukdāri leases, permanent transferable, but liable to enhancement

41

18,155

2.

Held on malguzari leases with the option of renewal; non-transferable; cancellable on refusal of revised conditions or assessment

31

30,923

3.

Held or farming leases; non-transferable, temporary and without right to sublet

19

20,318

4.

Held under Large Capitalist Rules of 1879

22

36,697

5.

Held under Small Capitalist Rules of 1879

1

165

6.

Held under the rules of 1853

38

157,991

2 Commissioner, Presidency Division, to Board No. 467 R.L., dated 15th December 1904.

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

230 7.

Held under proprietary leases, enhanceable but entitled to malikana

8.

Held on rāiyatwāri leases

9.

Permanently settled estates

10.

Estates redeemed under the rules of 1863 Total

10

5,935

3

6,237

30

63,655

2

12,802

197 352,878 or 551 sq. miles

This table does not appear to be entirely accurate the number of estates is very much larger than those now in existence3 and excluding the permanently-settled and redeemed area (120 square miles), the balance of 431 square miles is greater by 85 square miles than the area now returned as under temporary settlement. The difference is due to the inclusion of estates classed at the time as Sundarbans estates but situated north of the Dampier-Hodges line, 97 in number, and accordingly now excluded. It is interesting to note that no fee-simple grants were made in Khulnā. Classes 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9 include without distinction resumed mahāls and forest grants, made prior to and not converted under the rules of 1853. It should further be noted that the leases included in class 7 as proprietary leases were declared in 1907 on a reference from Bākarganj to be tenures.4 EXTENT OF RESETTLEMENTS 104. During this period the term of settlement of all estates (with a single exception) included in classes 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8 have expired covering 103 estates with an area of 125 square miles. Classes 9 and 10 are naturally excluded from resettlement, while the leases of 1853 being for a term of 99 years and those of 1879 being for 40 years fall in at later dates. The dates when renewals fell due is indicated herewith:

3

In 1902 the number had been returned at 170, but this number included only 4 permanently-settled estates. Adding the balance of 26 and one new grant under the rules of 1879 the numbers tally. 4 Legal Remembrancer to Board of Revenue, Eastern Bengal and Assam No. 1118, dated 23rd July 1907.

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The Khulnā Sundarbans Year

Number of estates

Area (sq. miles)

1903-4

72

64

1904-5

13

10

1905-6

1

18

1911-12

5

11

1918-19

5

11

1919-20

7

11

103

125

Total

Resettlement proceedings were instituted with vigour. In 1903, 12 estates were already under settlement. In 1904, 43 estates were notified for settlement under the Bengal Tenancy Act,5 and the settlement of 37 other estates was ordered by the Board of Revenue under the provisions of Regulations VII of 18226. In October of that year settlement pro-ceedings were in progress in 87 estates covering an area of 72 square miles of the Khulnā Sundarbans, Mr. Sunder the Commissioner in the Sundarbans being in charge. The leases were ordinarily renewed for terms of 15 or occasionally 30 years; it must be remembered that none of the specific leases of 1853 and 1879 were under renewal. By 1910, 99 estates had been resettled. There are several points of interest to note in the resettlement of these 99 estates. The total number of rāiyats recorded was 3,835 of whom 2,910 were accorded the status of settled rāiyats, possibly as a jeu d’ esprit, for no mauzās, as will be seen below, were at that time in existence. Compared with the customary rate of rent, viz., Rs. 6 per acre existing in the Sundarbans, the rates fixed were low, varying materially in different areas: Thānā Morrelganj Thānā Bagherhat Thānā Rampal and Paikgacha Thānā Kaliganj Thānā Asasuni 5 6

... ... ... ... ...

Rs. 7 to Rs. 3 per acre Rs. 5 to Rs. 4 per acre Rs. 5 to Rs. 2 per acre Rs. 4 to Rs. 2 per acre Rs. 3 to Rs. 2 per acre

Notification 1481 L R, dated the 8th March 1904. Board to Presidency Commissioner No 2639 A, dated the 25th March 1904.

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Thānā Dumuriā ... Rs. 3 to Rs. 1 per acre The average rate approximated Rs. 4 per acre and only one-third of the soi-disant settled raiyats were assessed at a rate of Rs. 5 or more. It is interesting to note that the detailed cadastral survey which the settlement proceedings undertook, was supplemented in 1906 by a topographical survey of the reserved forest on a scale of 2 inches to 1 mile. In 1906-7, 953 square miles were so surveyed, and in 1907-8 an area of 1311 square miles, including the survey of lot 165 on a scale of 4 inches to 1 mile. FORMATION OF MAUZĀS 105. The Sundarbans area of Khulnā had been excluded from the thakbast survey, which had demarcated and mapped revenue villages or mauzās which in other areas had been generally adopted for revenue purposes on the basis of the Revenue Survey map. The importance of the mauzā lies in the fact that under the provisions of the Bengal Tenancy Act it forms the unit by which the rights of the vast majority of cultivators, namely settled rāiyats, are determined. It is an extraordinary fact that this defect in the fiscal arrangements of the area was not noticed at the time of the large number of settlement proceedings under the Bengal Tenancy Act, which commenced in the year 1903. The defect appears to have been detected initially early in the year 1910 by the Collector of Khulnā, and its importance was immediately realised by the Government of Bengal, which at that time in view of the breakdown of the Fraserganj rāiyatwāri experiment was proposing to revert to the system of reclamation through capitalists. ‘If however,’ ran the Government letter7 ‘the old system of leases to capitalists is to be restored, there is one precaution which it is necessary to take in the interests of the tenants. The Sundarbans have hitherto been practically excluded from the scope of the Bengal Tenancy Act, so far as the protection of the rāiyats is concerned, for the reason that the areas leased have not been defined as villages, and there have in fact been no villages within the Sundarbans as defined in Section 3(70) 7 Chief Secretary, Government of Bengal to Secretary, Department of Revenue and Agriculture, Government of India, No. 543T—R., dated 24th May 1910, paragraph 11.

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of the Bengal Tenancy Act. This omission should be supplied; and in future, at the time of granting a lease, the area included in it will be declared to be a village within the meaning of the Bengal Tenancy Act’. The Collector of Khulnā proposed the declaration of 50 areas, each consisting of a separate estate, and comprising the whole or part of a lot, as villages. Difficulties however existed; the area of these estates varied from 28 acres (T. No. 943) to 7,933 acres (T. No. 931). The Board expressed the opinion that as the proposals were made for the specific object of extending to cultivators certain rights under the Bengal Tenancy Act, the size of the unit adopted was of considerable importance; a small unit would minimise the advantages to be given; too large a unit would be inconvenient for administrative purposes in general and in particular for surveys and records-of-rights. As the proposals were however merely a temporary expedient, and in the absence of any more satisfactory unit, the Board agreed to accept them until a further survey and record-of-rights of any of the lots or of the district generally were made. A long desultory correspondence ensued, regarding the form of notification, and finally in August 1914, the Board of Revenue sanctioned8 the declaration by the Collector of 46 areas as villages under the provisions of the last part of Clause 10, Section 3 of the Bengal Tenancy Act. The declaration however was not exhaustive; in 1915 it was reported that several lots had not been included in the declaration; in 1916 the sanction of the Board was given9 to the declaration of 42 more estates as villages, the estate within each lot being adopted as the unit and the areas varying from 439 acres (T. No. 829) to 15365 acres (T. No. 865). These declarations constitute an important advance in bringing the Sundarbans area within the general fiscal system of Bengal, but it is important to remember firstly that no villages have been constituted within the reserved forest and that any extension of cultivation will require further declarations, and secondly that the village units adopted are admittedly make-shifts, and will require considerable modification at the time of the next survey. 8

Board of Revenue to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 2861 Miscellaneous, dated the 27th August 1914. 9 Board of Revenue to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. 371 R.L., dated the 18th May 1916.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans THE KHAIKHĀLI RECLAMATION

106. This chapter has dealt almost entirely with the steps that have been taken to systematise and improve the administration of the reclaimed area. It would however be incomplete without a brief account of one of the few experiments at reclamation in the period. It will be remembered that the rāiyatwāri experiment introduced in 1904 was abandoned in 1910, when the Capitalist rules of 1879 were again introduced. In 1911 an area estimated at 2,200 acres in the north of lot 164, Khaikhāli, situated on the Kālindi river in the Satkhira subdivision was leased to Bengal Young Men’s Zamindāri Cooperative Society for a period of 40 years under the Large Capitalist rules of 1879. This Society was originally formed with the intention of encouraging Bengalis of the bhadralok class to take to agricultural manual labour. It has not proved a success. Of the total area the Society retained about 330 acres, the greater part of which it subsequently sublet to 4 of its members. The remainder of the grant was taken over by a syndicate consisting of 7 members of the Society after a sale by auction resulting in the payment of Rs. 26,657 to the funds of the Society. The rent of the lessees was fixed at double the Government revenue; where cultivators have been settled, the rent has been fixed at Rs. 2-8 per bighā against the normal rate of Rs. 2, but the greater part of the area is being cultivated by hired labour. The methods of clearance and cultivation have been poor and slow. The grant originally supposed to be 2,200 acres in area is now returned at more than 4,800 acres, an excess not unusual in former Sundarbans history. The object of the experiment has been a dismal failure; and still the results contain the germs of a system of subinfeudation before which even Bākarganj might pale. The result is the surest justification for the reversion to the rāiyatwāri system decided on in 1918. FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS 107. It is unlikely that the future will see any developments of importance in the Khulnā Sundarbans; of the area not included in the reserved forest portions of lots 163, 164, 165, 169 and 172 only remain to be cleared. The general policy of excluding the Forest Reserve from reclamation has been accepted; but proposals have

The Khulnā Sundarbans

235

recently been made for straightening out the boundary by additional reclamation,10and for the surrender to reclamation of lot 7, a tongue of land lying between the Haringhata and Bhola rivers, detached from the Forest Reserve. A further proposal has been advanced to throw open for grazing purposes the Khulnā littoral, where the abundance of luxuriant dhūp grass might form a suitable area for grazing stock. This proposal would result in a slight reduction of forest area, which, except in the case of lot 7, contains little in the way of valuable timber. The history of the Khulnā area for some time to come, however, must be one of resettlements of the reclaimed area, the creation of a system of mauzās suited to the conditions of the area and the preservation of the reserved forest.

10

Of lots 209, 210, 213-19 and 241-3.

CH A P T E R X I I

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

GENERAL

Peculiarities of the Area 108. While the account of the administration of the Bākarganj Sundarbans in Chapters IX and X covers the whole area south of the Dampier-Hodges line, the account of the 24-Parganās area for the same period is practically confined to two specific areas, Fraserganj where the first rāiyatwāri rules came to a sudden termination, and Sāgar Island, where the new rāiyatwāri rules were first applied. The small extent of administrative activity is not due only to the vacillating policy regarding the rules, but very largely to the extensive area of protected forest and to the inevitable decision to subordinate development to the necessities imposed by geographical conditions. The 24-Parganās Sundarbans, it must be remembered, lie at the mouth of the river Hughli and consequently the treatment of the tract is of vital importance to the Port of Calcutta. In the first place a large spill area is required for the vast quantities of water brought down by the rivers Hughli, Dāmodar and Rūpnarayan during the season of floods in order to avoid deterioration to the channel of the port; secondly, the area is subject to abnormally high tides; and thirdly, extension of reclamation requires the erection of big embankments which, while limiting the spill area, prevents the elevation of the ground level by a natural process of silt deposits. The account of the development of the 24-Parganās area up to the year 1903 has shown to what a large extent, compared with the Khulnā and Bākarganj areas, advantage had been taken of the forest grant rules of 1853 and of the large Capitalist Rules of 1879 to develop that part of the area, mainly in the north, which was reasonably fit for reclamation.

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

237

Synopsis of Leases in 1904 109. In the year 1904, Mr. Sunder, Commissioner in the Sundarbans, submitted a list showing the nature of the leases under which different portions of the 24-Parganās Sundarbans were held; the list may be summarised as follows: Serial No. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11.

Nature of lease

Number Area of estates (acres) Held under tālukdāri right 1 330 Held under malguzari right 4 2,733 Held under farming right 2 1,957 Sāgar Island leases under the rules of 1897 8 23,304 Held under the Large Capitalist rules of 1879 182 3,25,671 Held under Forest Grant rules of 1853 93 2,62,937 Held in perpetuity 3 3,842 Redeemed estates 24 1,17,113 Resumed for Canning Town 2 6,311 Held under fee-simple 3 4.867 Held revenue-free in Sagar 6 20,966 Total 328 7,70,031 or 1.203 sq. miles

The area of 1,203 square miles out of a total area of 2,896 square miles may be taken as approximately accurate and compares favourably with the areas reported as under lease in Bākarganj and Khulnā at the same time—434 and 551 square miles respectively. The list is noteworthy for several reasons; in the 24-Parganās alone had the redemption rules of 1863 been applied to any extent, no less than 183 square miles having been redeemed out of a total of 203 square miles in the whole of the Sundarbans; this result was largely due to the operations of the Port Canning Company. The second feature worthy of note is the large area held under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879, viz., 509 square miles, compared with 57 in Khulnā, and 13 in Bākarganj. The third noticeable feature is the extent of the grants held under the rules of 1853 viz., 411 square miles. The extent of this area is largely due to the fact that in the 24-Parganās large numbers

238

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

of the holders of resumed estates were allowed to convert the terms of their lease; under the rules of 1853; the natural result of this has been the exclusion of a large number of estates from resettlement during the period. These three classes of grants cover an area of 1,103 square miles out of 1,203 leased in the area. In the redeemed estates the revenue administration has no further interest; in the area leased under the rules of 1879, no lease would expire until 1923; while the first leases of forest grants or commuted resumed estates to expire under the rules of 1853 would not fall in before 1929. With the whole of this vast area then the period under review has no concern. It is true that a similar remark might have been applied to Bākarganj; but in the 24-Parganās there have been no District survey and settlement operations to test the extent to which the conditions of the grants have been carried out or abused, and until such operations have been under-taken it would be idle to attempt a review of the conditions prevalent in these grants. If the analogy of Bākarganj is of any value, the settlement operations in the 24-Parganās will reveal an interesting history.

Forest Grants under the Rules of 1853 and 1879 110. The areas leased under the Rules of 1853 and 1879 require little comment. In the preceding paragraph it has been shown that in the year 1904, 93 forest grants under the rules of 1853 existed covering an area of 2,62,937 acres. The number and area of these grants have not varied during the period, but the maximum revenue, namely Rs. 80,163, approximately at the rate of 4 ānnās 10 pies per acre, was attained in the year 1917-18. The average area of each grant is 2,827 acres. No grants existed under the Small Capitalist Rules, but under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 there existed, in 1904, 182 grants covering an area of 3,25,671 acres. The years succeeding the abolition of the Commissionership in the Sundarbans witnessed considerable activity in checking the clearance clauses of these leases, namely, the clearance of l-8th of the area by the end of the fifth year of the lease, as a result of which the number of grants had been reduced by the year 1906-07 to 163 covering an area of 2,96,469 acres held at a revenue of Rs. 26,166, which would ultimately rise to Rs. 1,74,928. During the period only one additional grant was made, that of lot 148 covering

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

239

14,000 acres in 1909, but during the checking of the clearance clauses several grants were split up, lot 112, 1st portion, for example being divided into 7 separate leases; at the same time considerable increases in area were recorded. By 1911 the number of grants had thus risen to 188 covering an area of 3,44,263 acres, with a current revenue of Rs. 58,292 which would eventually rise to Rs. 2,35,111. The number of grants has remained the same until the close of the period, but the current revenue has risen to Rs. 1,38,269, while the ultimate revenue at the expiry of the leases has been revised at Rs. 2,35,206. The average rate of revenue will ultimately work out at approximately 11 ānnās per acre, while the average area of each grant is 1,831 acres, or slightly in excess of 5,000 bighās sanctioned by the rules.

Guasaba 111. It will be remembered that at the time of the introduction of the rāiyatwāri experiment at Fraserganj in 1904, the Capitalist Rules of 1879 were held in suspension and that orders of the Government of India were obtained for their revival in a modified form in 1910. The modified rules never eventuated, and were finally abandoned in 1915, when the objections of the Irrigation Department to indiscriminate embanking resulted in the decision to suspend further reclamation pending the completion of a level survey. During this period accordingly the Large Capitalist Rules—for the Small Capitalist Rules had never been applicable to the 24-Parganās—are of little importance. It is only necessary to sketch the history of the special grant referred to above. In the year 1903 leases under the Large Capitalist Rules were given to Sir Daniel Hamilton for 3 blocks of land viz., Guasaba Island (approximately 830 acres in area), lot 143 (approximately 3,200 acres in area) and lot 149 (approximately 4,850 acres in area). In 1909 these grants were supplemented (despite the fact that the rules of 1879 were in abeyance)1 by the lease of lot 148, an extensive adjacent block exceeding 14,000 acres in area, at a sale price of Rs. 14,226 and an ultimate revenue of Rs. 8,069. The total 1 Vide Bengal Government, Revenue Department, Notification No. 5090, dated the 14th December 1908.

240

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

grant covers an area of approximately 35 square miles. The method adopted for the development of the area has been by means of the gradual embankment of specific blocks and subsequent reclamation: approximately ¼th of the area has now been completed. The colony is managed by the Salvation Army but is entirely undenominational; no difficulty is experienced in getting tenants, and the general condition is one of prosperity. Rents are fixed at Rs. 2 per bighā, and the extent of a holding is limited to 30 bighās. This settlement is an exceptional example of the results that can be obtained by spreading the heavy initial outlay in reclaiming Sundarbans lots over a series of years. 112. The real history of the development of this period however deals merely with six small estates, held under mālguzāri leases, or resumed by Government, the term of settlement of which had expired, to a few general proceedings affecting the area as a whole, and to two specific areas, the importance of which necessitates separate treatment, viz., Fraserganj, an entirely new clearance, and Sāgar Island, the whole of which was in 1904 held under leases, either as revenue-free grants, or as revenue-paying tenures under the rules of 1897.

Scope of Activity-Petty Settlements 113. The resettlement of the 6 small estates with which the period opens does not require any detailed treatment; the subsequent history of some of them is however of interest. In 1904 a notification was issued sanctioning the survey, the preparation of a record-of-rights and resettlement of land revenue of 6 estates in the 24-Parganās Sundarbans. (i) Lot No. 16 (northern portion) had been originally settled in 1831 and after various resumptions was finally resumed by Government on breach of the clearance conditions of the lease in 1879. The survey and publication of the record-of-rights was completed in July 1905, the area being 1,426 acres held by 13 tenure-holders and 136 raiyats. Since the time of resumption it had been under a mālguzāri form of lease; proposals were now made for cancelling the lease on the grounds that the estate had been sublet contrary to the terms of the lease, and that no attempt had been made to improve the estate. A raiyatwāri settlement was proposed and an expenditure of

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

241

Rs. 15,000 on embankments and jungle clearing. The Board of Revenue agreed that the estate should come under direct management from the 1st April 1906. The total revenue was fixed at Rs. 4,899 against the former revenue of Rs. 2,351. In June 1906 however the settlement proceedings were stopped mainly owing to difficulties regarding the rights of the tenure-holders and to the fact that it would be inequitable to enhance rents until the embankments were improved, and for this funds were not then available. Rents, were accordingly collected at the former rates.2 Settlement proceedings were again instituted by a notification3 of 1917 and a fresh rāiyatwāri settlement was completed in 1920 at a net revenue of Rs. 7,040. The total area of the estate is now returned at 1,437 acres, of which 1,294 acres are assessed. Of the rental of the estate Rs. 2,766 is payable direct by rāiyats and Rs. 6,106 is collected by tenure-holders, who have been allowed a profit of 15 per cent, subject to a further 15 per cent, if the embankments are kept in proper condition. (ii) Ranaghata (T. No. 596) situated in lot 31 was originally resumed in 1820, and in 1829 Government conceded to the lotdārs a proprietary status. This status was respected in the new settlement which was completed in 1907 at a revenue of Rs.1,503 on an area of 333 acres against the former revenue of Rs.1,100. (iii) Tona (T. No. 38) is a small patitabādi mahāl, lying north of the Dam pier-Hodges line, having an area 450 acres; it was originally resumed in 1823 and was settled under a malguzāri form of lease; on a complaint of the rāiyats that the malguzārs had neglected the embankments of the estate, the lease was cancelled in 1904 and the estate brought under khās management. The new settlement took effect from 1907 at a revenue of Rs. 1,452 being an increase of Rs. 411 on the previous assessment. (iv) Lot No. 20 (Bhagwanpur) T. No. 1326, containing 989 acres appears to have been settled originally as a forest grant in 1830; the grant was relinquished in 1842. After further settlements had been made, the lot was purchased by Government at a sale for arrears of revenue in 1875, and settled on a farming lease. The settlement 2 3

Notification No. 1481L.R., dated the 8th March 1904. Notification No. 9116L.R., dated the 29th December 1916.

242

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

proceedings disclosed a lamentable state of affairs. The farmer, an officer of the Public Workers Department, had contrary to the terms of his lease, created four permanent tenures over the estate; no embankments had been built and the estate was in a deplorable condition. Orders were initially issued postponing the settlement until Government had erected the required embankments, but finally in 1907 it was decided to settle with the four chākdārs or tenureholders, to whom the responsibilities of the management of the estate were made over, Government obtaining a revenue of Rs. 3,357 against the former revenue of Rs. 616. (v) Lot 62, Painabad is of special interest; it was originally a forest grant of 1830 resumed for failure to carry out the clearance conditions in 1848; it was not, however, brought under khās management until 1904 on account of the failure of the lease-holders to keep the embankments of the estate in proper order. Mr. Sunder’s settlement was completed in 1907 for an area of 429 acres at a revenue of Rs. 1,834. This estate has been extremely unfortunate; little was done by Government to restore the embankments that had been neglected by the former grantee until 1915. In that and the following year the embankment surrounding the khās portion of the lot was completely restored. The restoration, however, proved of little value despite the expenditure exceeding Rs. 9,000. The lot was inspected at the commencement of 1918; it was found that the embankments of the surrounding lots, the leased portion of Painabad and Sarangabad were badly breached, and that any attempt to maintain the embankments round the Government estate under such conditions must result in disaster. Owing to the fact that the area is liable to heavy deposits of silt, the Irrigation Department suggested the abandonment of the embankments until the land had risen to a sufficient level; the Collector recommended the abandonment of the estate for 10 years. Orders were finally issued that Government would abandon the embankments temporarily, that the tenants might remain on the land, in view of the obvious difficulty of removing them, but would be responsible for the upkeep of the embankments; liberal remissions of rent should, however, be allowed. It was held that on the expiry of the current settlement in 1922, the question of restoring the embankments should again be considered, if the level of the land

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

243

had risen to the necessary extent. It is interesting to note that since 1913 no crops have been produced on the estate and the total revenue collected has amounted to Rs. 827 against an annual demand of Rs. 1,834. The estate is a valuable example of the dangers of premature embanking and of the impossibility of reclaiming small isolated areas in the 24-Parganās tract. (vi) The sixth estate for resettlement lay in the south-west of lot 67, Sakdah, T. No. 1467; settled first in 1830 as a forest grant and resumed from time to time, the south-western portion was finally settled on a rāiyatwāri basis in 1880. The fresh settlement was commenced in 1904 and took effect for 15 years from 1907, the area being returned as 1905 acres assessed at a revenue of Rs. 6,909 against a previous revenue of Rs. 3,422. It is interesting to note that Mr. Sunder called special attention to the neglect of the embankments in the past and pointed out the necessity of repairs being taken in hand on an extensive scale.

Other Areas, the Property of Government 114. Of the above six estates two are held on proprietary and mālguzāri leases; the remaining four are the property of Government; they do not, however, exhaust the estates that have been directly under Government control in the area during the period. Excluding Fraserganj and the Sāgar Island estates, there are four other resumed estates, the 1st portion of plot C. 1,533 acres, the 6th portion of plot E. (south portion), 908 acres in area, plot G. 1st portion A and 1st portion B, 3,270 acres in area; no attempt has been made to colonise these resumed estates, and it is interesting to note that, again excluding Sāgar Island, Government has incurred no expenditure on repairing or constructing embankments in the resumed area. The history of lot C is, however, of interest. After an inspection by Sir Charles (then Mr.) Stevenson-Moore in 1915 enquiries were ordered with a view to reclamation and colonisation. This lot had been settled under the Large Capitalist Rules in 1901; an inspection made by Mr. Sunder on the 7th May 1906 showed that no attempt had been made to clear the lot. The lot was resumed on the 13th August 1906, although the terms of the lease entitled the grantees to resettlement on certain conditions. In 1916, the grantees filed a suit against Government

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and proposals were made for a compromise restoring the lease for a period of 35 years at a rental of 2 ānnās per bighā for the first 15 years and 4 ānnās per bighā together with a penalty of 20 per cent, for the remaining 20 years. In May 1917 these proposals were accepted and the lot is again included in the Large Capitalist Grants. The Irrigation Department objected, however to the reclamation of the lot as it would involve the danger of serious injury to the navigable channels in the neighbourhood. Accordingly, though Government has withdrawn its claims, no fresh lease has been executed and the lot remains waste. Plot E. sixth portion had been settled in 1900 under the Large Capitalist Rules but was resumed on the 28th August 1906 for failure to fulfil the clearance conditions. On the 11th August 1908, the northern portion, comprising 2,117 bighās, was settled with a lotdār, the southern portion remaining in the possession of Government; it is apparently fit for reclamation. Plot G. 1st portion had been settled under the same rules in 1901, but on the 4th September 1906, portions A and B were resumed as the area had remained virgin jungle. These portions have remained in the khās possession of Government and are not yet sufficiently elevated to justify any attempt at proper reclamation. In addition to the resumed area, in the years 1917 and 1918, Government took formal possession under Section 3 of Act IV of 1863 of 22 islands lying in the large rivers and on the sea face; the most important of these are Upper Bedford Sand in the main stream of the river Hughli. Moore Island lying south of Sāgar Island in the Bay, plots A and B near the mouth of the Baratala river, Lothian Island near the mouth of the Sattaramukhi river and Bulcheri Island lying on the sea face at the mouth of the Jamira river. Apart from protecting its interests by taking formal possession, Government has made no attempt to colonise any of these islands.

Restrictions of Area for Colonisation 115. It has already been stated that the failure to extend the area under colonisation has been due to a definite policy— a policy necessitated by the importance of maintaining a spill area for the river which forms the channel to the port of Calcutta. The question was raised seriously for the first time in 1909. In that year it was reported by the Public

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

245

Works Department that the contraction of tidal spill caused by the reclamation of Sundarbans lots was causing obstruction to drainage in the basins south of Calcutta. Two remedies were suggested, the first that certain areas, already reclaimed should be restored to tidal spill, the second that tidal spill should not be excluded by embankments from any land in future, until it had been raised to the level of the mean of high water of the spring and neap tides. The first proposal was clearly unpractical and was abandoned, though as has been shown it has been applied in the peculiar case of Painabad. The second proposal was, however, accepted by Government and orders were issued by the Board of Revenue accordingly.4 In 1915, however, the subject was raised again by Mr. (now Sir Charles) Stevenson-Moore; he was not prepared to accept the policy as being applicable to the whole area of the Sundarbans lying in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā; he pointed out that conditions varied to an extraordinary extent in different tracts of the area; while the rivers between the Hughli and the Matla carried very little silt, those east of the Matla were silt-laden and had the advantage of more active headwaters; and paradoxical as it might appear, drainage was more efficient in the heavily embanked Basirhat subdivision than in the more open area of Diamond Harbour. He ascribed the state of affairs largely to artificial causes necessitated by the requirements of the town of Calcutta, and stated as his opinion that a single standard of level could not be applied to the whole of the tract. He suggested that a systematic examination of the whole area should be made, and that such examination should commence with a complete survey of levels. The question was referred to Mr. Addams-Williams, an officer of the Public Works Department on special duty in the area; he concurred generally with the proposals and it was decided to hold in abeyance the settlement of new lots until the completion of the level survey, the cost of which was estimated at Rs. 28,500. The survey has not yet been undertaken, and extension of reclamation is definitely barred without a reference to the Irrigation and Forest Departments.

4 Board to Commissioner, Presidency Division No. 873 A—T., dated the 24th September 1909

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

Extension of the Embankment Act to the Sundarbans 116. Closely allied to the question of levels in relation to spill areas is the problem of the control of embankments in the Sundarbans. The decision of 1909 regarding extension of reclamation raised certain legal difficulties; for within the Sundarbans area Government possessed no power to prevent the erection of embankments. This difficulty first appeared as a practical obstacle in the year 1910 with reference to the Boyersinga estate in Khulnā, recently purchased by Government, where it was found impossible to prevent the erection of embankments by cultivators. In 1912, proposals were made by the Board of Revenue to extend the Bengal Embankment Act (II of 1882) to the Sundarbans; Section 76 of the Act would enable Government to prevent the erection of embankments in any area notified under Section 6. These proposals were accepted and ultimately became law in Act IV of 1915. Though the Act applies to the whole of the Sundarbans it is peculiarly applicable to the 24-Parganās; in the Bākarganj area embankments are only of minor importance, in Khulnā the extension of reclamation is suspended. In the 24-Parganās, however, where reclamation is in progress, and where river and flood problems are of such great complexity and concern to the Port of Calcutta, complete control of embankments is of vital importance.

Formation of Villages 117. The decision to abandon the rāiyatwāri system in 1910 and to revert to a modified form of Capitalist lease, involved the necessity of taking measures for the protection of the rāiyats against the demands of the totdārs. In 1910 the Government of Bengal had proposed that all future grants should be declared to be villages within be meaning of the Bengal Tenancy Act, whereby the rāiyat would be able to acquire rights of occupancy. The 24-Parganās Sundarbans had been excluded from the thakbast and revenue surveys. It is obvious that the extension of this privilege to future grants only would deprive the cultivators in the lots already reclaimed of the benefit conferred by the Tenancy Act. It was subsequently decided to notify the whole of the area that had been divided into lots. It is unnecessary to repeat here what has already

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

247

been written with reference to Khulnā (paragraph 105, Chapter XI) regarding the effect of the measure now proposed. In December 19105 it was decided to notify 335 blocks of land, each comprising a single estate, as villages under Section 3(10) of the Bengal Tenancy Act; the units were not altogether suitable, the size of the new villages varying from 43,034 to 103 bighās, and were declared to be provisional and liable to revision when settlement operations were undertaken in the area. It must also be remembered that a vast area of protected forest was excluded from these proposals. The blocks were finally declared to be villages by a notification dated the 14th February 1912. The problem of the real status of the raiyats recorded in the 6 settlements commenced by the notification of 1904, before any villages had been constituted, is one of considerable intricacy and surprise.

Survey of the Sundarbans 118. It has already been stated that the only available map of any value of the 24-Parganās Sundarbans was that completed by James Ellison in 1873 (vide Chapter VIII, paragraph 59). This had been brought up to date in a rough manner from time to time. In 1905 however a detailed scientific topographical survey of the 24-Parganās Sundarbans area was commenced by the Survey of India. The operations of the year 1905-6 covered an area of 1,050 square miles in the eastern part of the district. The northern portion, 456 square miles, comprising the part of the area divided into lots was surveyed on a scale of 4-inch to the mile, while 594 square miles, consisting of protected forest, were surveyed on a 2-inch scale. In the following year, 1906-7, the operations covered an area of 638 miles in the west of the district including Sāgar Island, the whole block being surveyed on a scale of 4-inch to the mile. These maps are purely topographical; they do not attempt to distinguish the estates within the different lots, nor do they show the limits of the villages notified in 1912.

5 Board of Revenue to Presidency Commissioner No. 4478-A, dated the 21st December 1910.

CH A P T E R X I I I

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

FRASERGANJ

Description of the Island 119. In paragraph 38 it has already been stated that, even before the issue of the raiyatwāri rules in 1905, it had been decided to inaugurate the system in Fraserganj; it is now necessary to give an account of the progress of these operations. Fraserganj, or more correctly Nārayantolā, the local name, or Mecklenberg Island according to the Admirality charts, is an extensive island in the Diamond Harbour subdivision, situated on the sea face of the Bay of Bengal at the mouth of the Sattaramukhi river. Bounded on the south by the Bay of Bengal and the Pukhuriaber khāl, on the east by the same khāl and the Sattaramukhi river, on the West by Edwards Creek or the Patibunia khāl and on the south by the same creek and the Chandanpiri river, the island covers an area of 28,555 bighās (946 acres) or approximately 15 square miles. The island had formerly been inhabited, for during the reclamation four old brick kilns were discovered in the south east of the island while a number of house sites were discovered with large tamarind and mansā trees growing in the vicinity. Facing the Bay an extensive sandy beach runs into a series of sand dunes, behind which a fringe of trees separates the dunes from the jungle which then covered the rest of the island. Between two series of sand dunes there lies an extensive fresh water jhīl or lagoon. By the year 1904 the island had reached a sufficiently advanced stage in its formation to justify the commencement of cultivation. But it must be remembered that the original intention was not so much the commencement of a raiyatwāri settlement, as the foundation of a seaside resort for the population of Calcutta; in fact a survey of the island was undertaken, prior to reclamation, in the year 1903-4—before the raiyatwāri scheme had been definitely accepted.

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

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The Original Scheme of Reclamation 120. In 1904 the Government of Bengal placed before the Government of India definite proposals for raiyatwāri settlement in the 24-Parganās Sundarbans; and it was proposed that Fraserganj should form the first centre for raiyatwāri colonisation. It was estimated that the total cost of reclamation, including embankments, clearance of jungle, construction and maintenance of drinking water tanks, and advances to cultivators, would not exceed Rs. 23,000 per square mile or approximately Rs. 22 per bighā; this estimate is considerably in excess of the actual expenditure incurred in more recent reclamations of resumed estates in Sāgar Island, where the normal expenditure does not ordinarily exceed Rs. 5 per bighā. The Government of India entertained some doubt as to whether the financial advantages anticipated to result from the scheme would be realised; the raiyatwāri proposals were however sanctioned. A general scheme was accordingly drawn up for the reclamation of Nārayantolā—hereafter called Fraserganj after Sir Andrew Fraser, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal at the time. To those experienced in Sundarbans reclamation, Fraserganj would seem a difficult area to experiment with; the nature of the island is such as to necessitate the reclamation of the whole area at a time, involving an enormous outlay of capital, 3½ lākhs of rupees according to the Government estimate, before any real progress would be apparent and before any return on the heavy outlay could be expected. The more profitable areas are those in which a specified area can be reclaimed in independent sections. The general scheme necessitated the enclosure of the whole island by a massive embankment excluding a portion in the north to be retained as a fuel reserve; interior embankments were to be erected as required. The island was divided into 9 blocks, averaging 1,051 acres each in area and varying in extent from 1284 to 610 acres. Block I in the north (1284 acres in extent) was to be left as a fuel reserve; Block IX (826 acres) and the greater portion of Block VIII (1,105 acres) forming the southern tongue of the island were to be reserved for residential sites; the remaining area of the island, more than 6,000 acres in area would be available for cultivation—the justification for the experiment in raiyatwāri colonisation. In furtherance of this object it was decided

250

A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

that reclamation should commence in the north of the island where the land was higher and accordingly reclamation would be easier, spreading southwards from Blocks II and III, which lay immediately to the south of the Fuel Reserve (Block I).

Progress of Reclamation 1904-5 121. The work of reclamation was commenced in the year 1904-5 under the superintendence of Mr. Sunder, at that time Commissioner, and from 1905 Deputy Collector and Settlement Officer in the Sundarbans, and the originator of the scheme for the reclamation of Fraserganj. According to the scheme as originally sanctioned the work of reclamation should have been commenced in the north of the island; Mr. Sunder however considered it advisable on his own authority to commence work in the south; the ostensible reason for this was the fear of cholera amongst the coolies, which might be obviated by the existence of the large fresh water jhīl in the south of the island. The history of the reclamation points, however, to the conclusion that the real object of developing the southern area more rapidly was to expedite the creation of a seaside resort. In the first year of the work, a small amount of embankment was constructed in the south, and 2,611 acres nominally cleared at a cost of Rs. 65,175. It is necessary to point out that the clearance was only nominal and not sufficient to constitute reclamation. In the 24-Parganās area the completion of circuit embankments is essential, before the cutting of the jungle can make the land fit for cultivation; clearance of jungle before the completion of embankments is of little use, and it is this defective procedure that militated so strongly against the success of the Fraserganj experiment. By the end of the first year’s work 25 colonists had settled on the cleared portion of the island. The construction of roads for the seaside resort had already commenced, and in the following year, roads and embankments were continued, and an additional area of 3,300 acres reported to be cleared; only 2 further families, however, were induced to settle on the clearance. The total expenditure of the year amounted to Rs. 1,49,712. Mr. Sunder was still hopeful. ‘I believe’ he wrote, ‘that in another season with the reclamation of the whole of the island completed, progress will be great.’

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251

Progress 1906-8 122. In the year 1906-7 expenditure continued on a lavish scale to the amount of Rs. 1,21,695 resulting in the clearance of 1,761 acres, the construction of 4 miles of the circuit embankments and 2 miles of cross embankments, while 12 miles of embankments and roads were under repair; much jungle still existed in the north of the island, where the clearance should have commenced, and interest centered in the south where a golf course was under preparation for the seaside resort. The number of cultivators increased from 27 to 53, and 14 applications for building sites in the residential area were received. Considering that already 7,672 acres of the island had been cleared, covering the whole area except the fuel reserve and parts of blocks II, III, IV and X in the north, the demand for land was disappointing, and it was now apparent that it would be difficult to attract a sufficient number of colonists to the island. The attractions of Fraserganj as a sea-side resort were however increased by the running of a subsidised week-end steamer, the ‘Khatri’, from the beginning of January, and by the construction of a dak bungalow at a cost of Rs. 20,000. The programme for 1907-8 was ambitious and included the construction of 15 miles of outer embankment, the damming of 58 khāls and the clearing or reclearing of 3,523 acres to complete the reclamation of the island. The programme was not completed, only 8 miles of embankment being constructed, 30 khāls dammed and 1,500 acres cleared. Only 1,900 bighās of land had been leased out after 4 years of toil, and of this only 506 bighās were actually under cultivation; the total revenue payable amounted to Rs. 1,011. During the year the expenditure amounted to Rs. 1,19,163, and in addition to the reclamation work, there now existed a golf course, a landing stage, a dāk bungalow and a refuge house constructed at an abnormal cost of Rs. 9,985. During the year the forms of lease for use in Fraserganj were sanctioned by Government; as however they have never been of more than academic interest it is unnecessary to enter into the terms in detail. The raiyatwāri lease was for a period of 25 years at the rate of Rs. 3 per bighā the customary Sundarbans rate. No transfers or subleases were permitted except to resident cultivating rāiyats and then only with the consent of the Collector; residence on the island

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

was an essential condition of the lease, and Government retained the right of re-entry on failure to clear and cultivate the area leased. The building lease was for a period of 30 years and the land leased could not be sold or sublet without the Collector’s permission; the plans of buildings to be erected required the approval of the Collector. On the termination of the lease both land and buildings would revert to Government but the lease would be renewable on conditions and at a rent to be agreed upon; the lease was liable to forfeiture in case the buildings were not completed within two years.

Failure of the Scheme 123. The abnormal expenditure and the failure to show any adequate return for the enormous outlay had not escaped the notice of Government. The wasteful method adopted by Mr. Sunder had been brought to their notice at the commencement of 1907, and in June of that year it was decided that all projects exceeding Rs. 2,500 in value should be treated as public works. The Commissioner of the Presidency Division was requested to make a detailed inspection and this was done in February 1908. The Commissioner’s report was not hopeful; up to September 1907, exclusive of the cost of management, Rs. 3,27,233 had been spent on reclamation alone in addition to Rs. 39,497 on other necessary work. Rs. 1,56,000 would still be required for reclamation, Rs. 48,000 for refuge houses as protection against storm waves, and Rs. 40,000 for the health resort, bringing the total to over Rs. 6,00,000. The progress of the work received a not undeserved condemnation. As a result of this inspection Government issued a resolution1 calling on Mr. Sunder to explain his action, and suggesting that as soon as the reclamation was complete, the whole of Fraserganj should be leased out to a capitalist, a course, which in the opinion of the Government, would be more profitable.

Progress 1908-10: Proposals to Abandon the Scheme 124. The Government resolution resulted in the decrease of the 1

Resolution No. 1878, dated 27th March 1908.

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253

allotment for Fraserganj to Rs. 39,500 and in a reply from the Commissioner2, who expressed a strong opinion against the adoption of a single definite system for colonisation in the Sundarbans and was inclined to favour a system of reclamation through capitalists. As regards Fraserganj he wrote:—‘In my opinion it is too early to pronounce definitely on the success or non-success of the scheme of direct settlement by Government . . . in the first place the experiment at Fraserganj has not given the new system a fair trial. The island was selected by Mr. Sunder partly because it possessed fairly high lands, which it would be easy to protect from the tides, and partly because there were good means of communication, as it lay on the route of the Assam steamers. The former advantage was lost by commencing work on the south (where good drinking water was available) instead of the north of the island as originally sanctioned, though this has resulted in securing a convenient site for a sea-side resort. The latter advantage has been lost, for the time, by the abandonment of the route by the steamers. It would however have been better for the purposes of the experiment to select some island nearer the mainland and more accessible to cultivators and to have devoted attention solely to reclamation.’ In December 1908 an offer was received from Sir David Yule offering to take the lease of Fraserganj at a rental of 4 ānnās per bighā; in the absence of a reference to the Government of India on the proposal to revert to the capitalist system, the offer was refused. The work of reclamation continued; in the year 1908-9 an agricultural farm was established on 154 bighās of land and the reclamation operations continued. By the close of the year 21,740 bighās had been reclaimed nominally leaving only 3,966 bighās unreclaimed apart from the fuel reserve. The Commissioner had again to call attention to the fact that funds intended for the outer embankment and essential for reclamation had been diverted for the construction of interior embankments, and caustically remarked that, whereas since 1903 Sir David Hamilton had successfully reclaimed and colonised 12,000 bighās of his Guasaba grant at a cost of two lākhs, Government had expended 5 lākhs on the partial reclamation of 17,000 bighās and the settlement of 40 cultivators. By the 21st April 1909, the work of 2

Board of Revenue to Government, No. 365-A.T., dated 10th June 1908.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

reclamation so far as Government was concerned had been completed, covering the whole area of the island except 3,860 bighās in Block I (the fuel reserve), 2,653 bighās in Block II and 308 bighās in Block IV. Of the remaining 21,734 bighās, only 1,902 bighās had been settled with cultivators; 50 bighās in Block III, and 1,072 and 780 bighās in Blocks VIII and IX in the south, the area reserved for the seaside resort! The total expenditure on the experiment had been Rs. 5,24,184 excluding the cost of management, and of this amount 4¾ lakhs had been spent on actual reclamation work, at the rate of Rs. 42,240 per square mile against the original estimate of Rs. 23,000.

Abandonment of Raiyatwāri Scheme 125. In September 19093 the Government of Bengal finally decided to abandon the scheme, mainly for financial reasons, and proposed that Fraserganj should be leased out under the large Capitalist Rules of 1879 subject to certain alterations, firstly that the system of sale by auction should be abandoned, and that tenders should be invited for lease either at a high premium with a low rental or at a normal rental with little or no premium, and secondly that the rights of the few cultivators already settled on the island should be safeguarded by declaring the island to be a village, within the meaning of the Bengal Tenancy Act and by specific provisions in the lease. The Government of India agreed to these proposals4 and in May 1910 advertisements for tenders were issued and by July 7 offers had been received, the revenue offered for a period of 40 years varying from Rs. 2,54,220 to Rs. 5,55,470. The offers were considered poor, but Government hesitated to take responsibility for the heavy cost of upkeep that a raiyatwāri settlement would entail. The offer of the Maharajā of Kasimbazar for a total revenue in 40 years of Rs. 5,42,570 was accepted, the total revenue barely covering the amount that had been spent on the reclamation of the estate. For the first 10 years of the lease, the revenue was fixed at 2 ānnās per bighā for an area of 20,000 bighās, while in 3

Government of Bengal to Government of India, No. 2134 T.-R., dated 22nd September 1909. 4 Government of India to Government of Bengal, No. 1200-429-2, dated the 26th October 1909.

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255

the three succeeding decennial periods the rate of revenue was fixed at ānnās four, ānnās eight and rupee one ānnā one per bighā for the whole area. Government reserved a strip of land 25 feet broad round the island to prevent claims to accretion and also all existing rights of way, water, easements and minerals. The lessee was bound to keep the Refuge House and embankments in a proper state of repair, in default of which repairs would be undertaken by Government and the cost recovered from the lessee. The lease was heritable and renewable for a period of 15 years at a revenue to be calculated at 60 per cent, of the assets of the lessee, but assignment of the lease was prohibited without the permission of the Commissioner. Government retained the right to re-enter on the estate if the lessee failed to pay the stipulated revenue. The lease was executed on the 2nd December 1910 and confirmed by Government on the 4th February 1911. On the 21st January 1911 a notification was issued, declaring Fraserganj to be a village within the meaning of the Bengal Tenancy Act.

Criticism of the Fraserganj Policy 126. How far the new lease will be successful it is impossible to judge; by the year 1915, 350 raiyats had been settled on the estate, and the area reported to be under cultivation was 15,000 bighās, and no difficulty was being experienced in procuring raiyats to take up the land. If this was the case, and had Government decided to proceed with the experiment, the revenue to Government in 1915 would have been Rs. 30,000 against Rs. 2,500 under the terms of the lease, and it is improbable that the cost of management and upkeep on reasonable lines would have exceeded Rs. 10,000 a year as a maximum. Subsequent experience in raiyatwāri colonisation in the Sundarbans has proved that the expenditure in Fraserganj was extravagant, but that even despite the extravagance it would have been profitable to Government to proceed with the scheme. This aspect of the case cannot be described more accurately than in the words of Sir Charles Stevenson-Moore written in 1915—‘The island known as Fraserganj was selected by Mr. Sunder, Commissioner in the Sundarbans, for the trial of this experiment in the 24-Parganās. The selection was not a good one for several reasons. The island (so at least it was said) was

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

so formed that it was necessary to embank practically the whole of it at one time, thereby a very heavy initial capital outlay being entailed. There are many islands in the Sundarbans which have been and are being reclaimed in portions, and I have no doubt such a block could have been discovered for the commencement of this experiment. Then difficulty seems to have been experienced in attracting raiyats to this island, but it can be said that ordinarily there is no difficulty in obtaining raiyats to cultivate Sundarbans lots. Again Mr. Sunder was obsessed by a wild-cat-scheme for converting Fraserganj into a seaside resort for Calcutta business people, and this no doubt contributed in a measure to the extravagant lines on which the experiment was run. . . . Mr. Sunder’s actual expenditure worked out to the extravagant rate of Rs. 22 per bighā, even on the assumption that the whole of the 21,741 bighās had been completely reclaimed, although this was very far from being the case. The only possible conclusion is that the work was carried out extravagantly and inefficiently, and that the experiment did not receive a fair trial. In spite of this, however, the scheme, had Government persevered with it, would have probably turned out financially sound. The Commissioner estimated that if the estate were completely settled the rents would in 5 or 6 years amount to Rs. 40,000, but that during these years there would be a loss of Rs. 67,000 in interest. Probably the whole of the land would not have been settled in the time, but the interest at 4 per cent, on 4¾ lakhs is only 19,000; so without labouring the point further, it is clear that there was some margin. It is moreover a fact patent to all that lotdārs in spite of the revenue chargeable to them find Sundarbans lots exceedingly remunerative. ‘The Government of Bengal, however, embarrassed by financial stringency declined to persevere with the experiment in the 24-Parganās and in their letter to the Government of India applied to lease out Fraserganj on the ground that ‘the experiment has to this extent been unsuccessful that its continuance in the present condition of the provincial finances is impracticable.’ Whatever the actual financial results of continuing the colonisation of Fraserganj on a raiyatwāri system might have been, it is obvious that they could not have been so unsound financially, as the system which

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257

Government has adopted. The average annual revenue to be received by Government during the current lease amounts to Rs, 13,564 a return of only 2½ per cent, on the capital invested by Government in the scheme.

CH A P T E R X I V

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

SĀGAR ISLAND

Synopsis of the Period 127. In Chapter VIII the development of Sāgar Island has been traced up to the year 1904. With the area of 33 square miles included in the six revenue-free grants of Mud Point, Trowerland (1st portion), Bamankhali, Ferintosh, Shikārpur (1st portion) and Dhobelat, this chapter has no concern. The history of the 71 square miles leased out in 14 grants under the rules of 1897 is of great interest and some complexity. Commencing with resumption proceedings from 1904 till 1906, a period of stagnation followed until a new policy was instituted in the year 1915, which aimed at the colonisation on a raiyatwāri basis of the whole of the area resumed. The details of the new raiyatwāri scheme have already been described in paragraph 41 of Chapter V.

Resumptions of 1904-6 128. The rules of 1897 under which the 14 grants had been made contained 2 penal conditions: the one required the clearance of 1/8th of the total area of each grant by the termination of the 5th year of the lease—the other imposed the obligation of constructing the necessary protective works within four years of the execution of the lease. The penalty for failure in either case was forfeiture of the lease; or in alternative certain monetary penalties. At the beginning of the year 1904, Mr. Sunder commenced the necessary inspection, the results of which may be briefly related now, a more detailed account being given in describing the history of each lot. Only two of the 14 grants, viz., Chak Fuldobi after being allowed one year’s grace and Chak Mansadwip (3rd portion) escaped resumption. In 1904 the following grants were resumed for failure to construct the protective works; in

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The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

every case it appears that the grants were still under jungle; Sāgar Island 1st, 2nd, and 3rd portions, Ramkarer Char East, Trowerland (2nd portion) and Shikārpur 2nd and 3rd portions. In 1906 Chak Mansadwip, 2nd portion followed in the rout. Only 4 grants remained; in 1904 Ramkarer Char West was given a year’s grace; it was resumed on the 23rd November 1906 and restored to the grantees on the 31st October of the following year. Chak Mansadwip 1st portion which had been settled on the 13th April 1901 was inspected by Mr. Sunder on the 12th April 1906 and resumed by Government on the 18th August 1906, on the ground that one-eight of the area had not been cleared. On the 27th July 1909 the area was resettled with one of the co-sharer grantees, but in 1917 the resumption was declared invalid and the original grantees restored to possession. On the 4th September 1906 Chak Goalia 1st portion was resumed, and was resettled with the lessees on the 28th February 1908. On the 4th September 1906 Chak Goalia 2nd portion was resumed, but was resettled under the Large Capitalist Rules of 1879 on the 1st April 1908, the conditions regarding protective works being omitted and the ultimate revenue being enhanced by adding a penalty of 20 per cent, on the rate of revenue. By the year 1909 accordingly at the time when the original scheme of raiyatwāri settlements was being abandoned, the fiscal condition of the island was as follows: Number

Area (bighā)

Revenue-free grants

6

63,424

Leases under the rules of 1897

5

51,390

Lease under the rules of 1879

1

10,200

Khas possession of Government

8

67,100

At late as the year 1915 the total revenue derived from the resumed estates amounted to Rs. 6,368 only, averaging 1½ ānnās per bighā; of the area 3,782 bighās only were under cultivation; from five of the properties no revenue at all was derived. With the 6 revenue-free grants and the 6 leases under the rules of 1879 and 1897, this history has no further concern. The next development of the Government estates was the result of a detailed inspection made by Mr. (now Sir) Charles Stevenson-Moore in January 1915.

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Investigations and Proposals of 1915 129. The steps that led to the inception of the new scheme and the details of the new rāiyatwāri rules have already been dealt with in paragraph 41; it is necessary, however, to give a concise account of the work that was actually taken in hand, the general scheme being first described and followed by an account of the development in each estate. The new scheme was based on a detailed examination of the resumed grants in Sāgar Island in 1915. It was pointed out that out of the 67,100 bighās held by Government, only 3,782 bighās were paying rent to Government. No attention had been paid by Government to the maintenance and repairs of embankments; in Shikārpur 2nd portion it was found that the tenants were themselves maintaining the embankments, to such advantage to themselves that about 3,000 bighās of unauthorised and unassessed cultivation were in existence. The same conditions prevailed throughout the resumed grants; the actual state of affairs was unknown, and no effective agency existed for the management and control of these estates. As a result of this investigation definite proposals were placed before Government: (a) That a record-of-rights and a settlement rent roll should be prepared for Shikarpur 2nd portion, Sāgar Island 3rd portion and Mansadwip 2nd portion, where cultivation already existed, and that all unauthorised cultivation should be assessed, (b) That an annual grant of Rs. 15,000 or Rs. 20,000 should be made for the reclamation of Sāgar Island, the work to commence over a block of 1,000 acres in Shikarpur 2nd portion. (c) That a Muhammadan Sub-Deputy Collector with a small staff should be placed in charge of the area with a status similar to that of the Colonisation Officer in the Bākarganj Sundarbans.

Progress in 1915-16 130. In September 1915 the first action was taken on the proposals made by Mr. (now Sir) Charles Stevenson-Moore, and on the 21st of that month Kāzi Muhammad Mahiuddin joined as Colonization Officer. The scheme had not yet received the general sanction of

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261

Government and accordingly as all systems of settlement in the area were in abeyance there could be no question of commencing colonisation. His work in the year 1915-16 was confined to the expenditure of Rs. 800 on the embankments of Shikārpur 2nd portion and to the collection of rents in the resumed grants held under direct management. The most important result of his deputation however was to put a stop to the many encroachments made on the resumed grants by squatters and neighbouring lotdārs; these encroachments will be referred to later. During the same year proposals were made by the Board of Revenue1 for assessing unauthorised cultivation in Mansadwip 2nd portion and Shikarpur 2nd portion, and for repairing and constructing new embankments in the latter resumed grant. In May 1916 Government2 accepted the proposals of the Board which was asked to submit definite proposals of colonisation work in the year 1917-18 to the amount of Rs. 15,000.

Progress in 1916-17 131. In the following year no allotment had yet been made for colonisation, and the work of the Colonisation Officer was again confined to the collection of rent; in the winter of the year, however, settlement operations were commenced under Chapter X of the Bengal Tenancy Act in Shikarpur 2nd portion, Mansadwip 2nd portion and Sāgar Island 3rd portion. Extensive encroachments were discovered in Ramkarer Char East and it was decided to extend survey operations to that grant. Proposals were made for reclamation work and the repair of embankments in these estates in the following year, and the raiyatwāri rules and leases for the Bākarganj Sundarbans examined in detail with the intention of adapting them to the requirements of the 24-Parganās. The revenue of the resumed grants still remained at Rs. 6,368, derived from Shikārpur 2nd portion, Mansadwip 2nd portion and Sāgar Island 3rd portion, with the addition of Rs. 25 collected from the Port Commissioners of Calcutta for a semaphore 1

Board of Revenue to Government Revenue Department, No. 2006 G.E., dated the 31st May 1915. 2 Government Revenue Department to Board No. 355 T.R., dated the 16th May 1916.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

on Sāgar Island 1st portion. The remainder of the grants remained untenanted with the exception of Rāmkarer Char East where extensive encroachments had taken place.

Progress in 1917-18 132. It was expected that the year 1917-18 would result in considerable progress in the resumed grants. The resettlement of Shikārpur 2nd portion was completed, and the settlement of the other three resumed grants referred to in the previous paragraph advanced considerably—the details can however be more accurately dealt with in the subsequent history of the resumed grants. Progress was however made in the construction and repairs of embankments, Rs. 240 being spent in Shikarpur 2nd portion, Rs. 5,254 in Mansadwip 2nd portion, Rs. 1,010 in Rāmkarer Char East and Rs. 7,458 in Sāgar Island 3rd portion; an area of 1,216 bighās was settled with 101 colonists in Rāmkarer Char East. By this time however the position in the resumed lots had become complicated. No sooner had Government commenced to assert its rights in the resumed lots and to attempt to develop and reclaim them, than litigation was threatened by the former grantees on the grounds that the resumption proceedings had been invalid. It is unnecessary to enter into details of the alleged defects of the resumption proceedings, but it was immediately apparent that it was impossible for Government to expend money in reclamation, where its title was being assailed and where the success of Government was not assured. In September 19173 it was accordingly decided that no further expenditure should be incurred on the resumed estates regarding which civil suits were pending, until the suits had been disposed of. Reclamation was accordingly postponed in Shikarpur 2nd and 3rd portions and in Mansadwip 2nd portion. It was however, decided that a scheme should be drawn up for an annual expenditure of Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 in the remainder of the area, that ordinarily the outer embankments only should be erected and maintained by Government, leaving the tenants to clear the jungle and erect and 3 Collector, 24-Parganās to Board of Revenue D.O. No. 73—Con., dated the 14th September 1917.

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The 24-Parganās Sundarbans

maintain the inner embankments, and that settlement should be entirely raiyatwāri, except that exceptions might be made in the case of certain trespassers up to the extent of 250 acres each. In accordance with this decision a definite programme was drawn up and submitted by the Collector4 of the 24-Parganās in October 1917. The programme contemplated the reclamation of the whole of the remaining area of the 3rd portions of Sāgar and Ramkarer Char East and Trowerland 2nd portion, an area of 34,100 bighās, by the year 1922-3 at an expenditure of Rs. 1,13,482 excluding certain expenditure already incurred. Finally however, it was decided to confine the original reclamation work to the 3rd portion of Sāgar Island where the title of Government was unassailable. Apart from the work already undertaken in the year 1917-18, a revised programme was submitted5 for reclamation work in Sāgar Island portions 1, 2 and 3 on the following lines: Bighās 1918-19 1918-19 1918-19 1919-20

Reclamation Sāgar Island Ditto Ditto Ditto Total

(3rd portion) (2nd portion) (1st portion) (1st portion)

2,550 3,000 1,550 3,000 10,100

The programme was sanctioned by the Board of Revenue.

Progress in 1918-19 133. It will be more convenient to deal with the litigation in connection with the resumed grants and to recount the result of the settlement operations in the detailed account of each estate. In the year 1918-19 however reclamation work proceeded but was greatly hampered by a severe outbreak of cholera. The reclamation of 2,750 bighās in Sāgar Island (third portion) was completed and 808 acres were settled with 305 colonists. Reclamation was also commenced in 4

Collector, 24-Parganās to Commissioner, Presidency Division, No. K.M. 2664-17, dated the 8th October 1917. 5 Collector, 24-Parganās to Commissioner Presidency Division, No. K.M. 1911-18, dated 14th March 1918.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

1,570 bighās of Sāgar Island (first portion), 300 bighās of the second portion and the remaining 110 bighās of the third portion. The total expenditure in the year under report was Rs. 13,923 mainly in the three portions of Sagar, the remainder being used for the completion of the work commenced in Mansadwip (second portion), Shikarpur (second portion) and Ramkarer Char East. It is interesting to note that as a result of the reclamation work and the settlement operations in four of the resumed estates the revenue had increased to a very large extent, as the following statement will show: Estate

Mansadwip (second portion) Shikarpur ( ditto ) Ramkarer Char East Ditto West* Sāgar Island (first portion) Ditto (third portion) Total

1915

1919

Area settled (bighās)

Revenue (Rs.)

Area settled (bighās)

Revenue (Rs.)

1,389 559 – – 20 1,775 3,743

2,778 838 – – 25 2,662 6,303

7,120 1,077 1,216 7 8 4,792 14,220

13,931 2,154 661 13 10 4,085 20,854

Note: *A special lease in a grant under the 1897 Rules.

Of the area in Sāgar Island (third portion) 2,749 bighās had not yet been assessed, while a further Rs. 2,079 would be derived from Mansadwip and Ramkarer Char East on the completion of the assessment. The total ultimate revenue of the area assessed by 1919 amounted to Rs. 35,721.

Progress in 1919-20 134. In the closing year of this period, considerable advance was made in the extension of reclamation, the total sum expended being Rs. 19,669 out of an allotment of Rs. 25,000. The failure to spend the full amount was due to an objection raised by the Port Commissioners to the reclamation of a block of land, 2,570 bighās

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in extent, situated in Sāgar Island (first and third portions), on the ground that reclamation would result in the silting up of a khāl and render useless one of the Hughli river semaphores; for this reclamation a sum of Rs. 5,000 had been allocated. A sum of Rs. 12,002 was spent on successfully completing the reclamation of the 4,680 bighās taken up in the three portions of Sāgar Island in the previous year. A sum of Rs. 2,827 was spent in the improvement of existing embankments in Mansadwip (second portion), Shikarpur (second portion), Ramkarer Char East and Sāgar Island (third portion), the balance being used for establishment and works of less importance. In addition to reclamation 360 colonists were settled on 1,309 acres of land, assessed at an eventual revenue of Rs. 7,800. The following table will show the actual results obtained in the Sāgar Island estates by 1920 as a result of the resettlement of existing leases and the extension of colonisation on a raiyatwāri system: Estate

Mansadwip second portion) Shikarpur (second portion) Ramkarer Char East Sāgar Island (first portion) Sāgar Island (second portion) Sāgar Island (third portion) Total

Area (bighās)

Revenue

Total Reclaimed Assessed Present Ultimate area Rs. Rs. 8,242 8,242 7,120 13,931 14,161 9,900

1,219

1,077

2,154

2,154

11,550 6,300

1,368 1,578

1,216 8

1,097 10

2,408 –

3,000

3,000





7,810

9,000

4,902

2,043

4,085

9,975

20,309 11,464 21,277

36,508

47,992

Out of a total area of approximately 25 square miles available in the estates in which work has been commenced 42 per cent, has now been reclaimed and 24 per cent, has been assessed to rent. It will be observed that in Trowerland no work has yet been done and the area still lies waste. Shikarpur (third portion) has been excluded

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

from the table; as the result of a compromise in a civil suit, the estate has been restored to the original grantees under special conditions which are described in the paragraph dealing with the history of the estate; the eventual revenue of the estate from 1930-40 will, however, amount to Rs. 6,540. Litigation is still pending with regard to the resumption of Mansadwip (second portion), and Shikarpur (second portion), in the latter the decision of the original court having been in favour of the grantees.

History of Rāmkarer Char East: T. No. 2.31 135. Rāmkarer Char East is the largest of the grants made under the rules of 1897, covering an area of 11,550 bighās; it was originally leased on the 13th April 1899 for the usual period of 40 years, but was resumed on the 24th June 1904 on the grounds that the grantees had failed to erect protective works, or to reclaim any portion of the grant. At the time of resumption not a single tenant had been settled on the estate. After resumption no attempt was made to reclaim the estate; in 1914 however, it was discovered that on the authority of amalnamas granted by the lotdār or Goalia Chak (first portion), extensive encroachments had been made on the estate. The correct boundary between the two estates was accordingly demarcated, and in 1917 the lotdār of Goalia Chak applied for settlement of the encroached area which amounted to 452 acres as a chākdār under Government. The application was refused, and in 1918, following a demarcation under Act V of 1875, the whole of the encroached area was surveyed and settled with the exception of 23 acres under dispute and 31 acres mainly of waste, recorded in the possession of Government, the net area colonised being 398 acres. The area was settled mainly with the cultivators, 101 in number, who were in possession of the encroached portion, the rate of rent for the cultivated portion being fixed at Rs. 2 per bighā; for the uncultivated portion a rent-free period of 2 years was allowed and the full rate fixed from 1921-2. The revenue of the first year amounted to Rs. 661 rising in 1921-2 to Rs. 2,408. In order to ensure the success of this colonisation, repairs to the embankments of the estate were undertaken at a cost of Rs. 1,376.

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267

The colonisation only covered 1/8th of the total area of the estate, and in the original programme of 1917 for the reclamation of Sāgar Island, it was proposed to complete the reclamation of the estate by the year 1921-2, blocks varying from 2,000 to 3,000 bighās in area being reclaimed each year. In the revised programme of 1918, however, it was decided to postpone the reclamation of Rāmkarer Char East until the 3 portions of Sāgar has been completed. Consequently no further progress has been made. The area colonised remains at 452 acres with an ultimate revenue of Rs. 2,408, the whole having been done since the date of resumption. The colonisation of the remaining area of the estate will be commenced from the year 1920-1.

History of Trowerland Second Portion: T. No. 2932 136. The history of Trowerland is brief and up to date of little interest. The original lease dates from the 13th April 1899 for a period of 40 years, covering an area of 6,750 bighās. The grant was inspected by Mr. Sunder in 1904, and was resumed by Government on the 24th June of that year. The whole estate at that time lay waste and no attempt had been made to construct the protective works required by the terms of the lease. No attempt has yet been made to reclaim the estate, the greater part of which is now covered by wild hetal palms; the boundaries of the estate remain intact. Reclamation will not be commenced until the three portions of Sāgar Island have been completed according to the existing programme.

History of Mansadwip Second Portion: T. No. 3024 137. Mansadwip (second portion) covering an area Rs. 7,900 bighās was originally settled for a period of 40 years under the rules of 1897 from 1st April 1901 by a lease dated the 16th July 1901. The lot was inspected by Mr. Sunder on the 2nd February 1904. At that time little jungle clearing had been done and no protective works had been constructed. The lot was again inspected on the 12th April 1906 and it was reported that the clearance conditions had not been fulfilled and no protective works had yet been made. The estate was accordingly

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

resumed by Government on the 18th August 1906. A certain amount of settlement was then effected, and a rent-roll prepared in 1909 showed 32 tenants in possession of 1,339 bighās of land paying Rs. 1,578 as revenue; a subsequent settlement brought the total area up to 1,389 bighās paying Rs. 2,778 as revenue. Subsequently the tenants of the estate and of the adjoining lotdāri grant, Mansadwip (first portion), cleared the whole area of the estate. In order to obtain a full assessment a survey and record-of-rights of the estate were commenced under the Bengal Tenancy Act. Excluding an area of 130 acres in possession of the lotdār of Mansadwip (1st portion), the area of the estate was found to be 2,725 acres; of this area 371 acres is recorded as unculturable waste; 1,833 acres were found under cultivation, and the remaining 50 acres of virgin jungle and 471 acres of recent clearance were colonised. The rent-roll showed a total of 352 cultivators possessing 2,354 acres of land assessed at a revenue of Rs. 14,240 against a former revenue of Rs. 2,778. This settlement was confirmed in 1918, when orders were also issued for the ejectment of the lotdār from the area of 130 acres encroached on by him. This estate furnishes a good example of the possibilities of colonising the Sāgar Island estates; it furnishes an equally good example of the difficulties inherent in the area. The colonisation work necessitated a considerable amount of work on the embankments of the estate, and the work was taken in hand and completed between 1917 and 1920. In the meantime in July 1917, however, the widow of the original grantee threatened to file a suit against Government, declaring the resumption to be invalid. The suit was filed and is at present pending in the Civil Courts. It should be noted that if the plaintiff succeeds, the maximum revenue that Government will be able to collect till the termination of the first period of the lease in 1941 will be Rs. 1,481 against the revenue now fixed at Rs. 14,240, a startling commentary on the respective values of lotdāri and rāiyatwāri settlements.

History of Shikārpur 2nd Portion: T. No. 2933 138. Shikārpur (2nd portion) having an area of 9,900 bighās was leased under the rules of 1897 with effect from the 13th April 1900, for

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269

a period of 40 years. In 1904 the grant was examined by Mr. Sunder, and on his report that the terms of the grant had not been complied with, the lot was resumed by Government on the 25th July 1904. A rent-roll of the estate was prepared in 1909 from which it appeared that 36 tenants were cultivating 498 bighās of land, which were assessed at Rs. 747. By 1910, 47 tenants were in possession of 559 bighās which were assessed at a revenue of Rs. 838. An inspection made in the year 1915 showed that there had been considerable encroachments on the estate by squatters and by the grantees of the Shikārpur revenuefree grant and their tenants. It was accordingly decided to make a survey and prepare a record-of-rights of the cultivated portion of the estate leaving the waste area for subsequent colonisation. The survey was commenced in 1916 and covered an area of 403 acres, 55 acres of which had been encroached on by the grantees and tenants of Shikarpur (1st portion). Of this total area 47 acres were recorded as unculturable waste, the remaining 356 acres in possession of 100 tenants being assessed at the rate of Rs. 2 per bighā, the total revenue amounting to Rs. 2,154 against the former revenue of Rs. 838. The proceedings were completed in 1917. The extent of cultivation, covering almost, one quarter of the estate rendered it necessary for Government to repair the existing embankments in order to ensure the success of cultivation. In 1915-16 Rs. 800 were expended on repairs, in 1916-17 a further sum of Rs. 240 was spent; up to the year 1920 the total expenditure on the estate had been Rs. 1,661. Proposals had been made in 1917 for reclaiming an additional area of 2,000 bighās by repairing the old lotdāri embankments—the institution of a civil suit however in the same year for a declaration that the resumption proceedings were invalid necessitated the suspension of any further attempt at reclamation. The original grantees had petitioned in 1915 for the restoration of the lot; their petition was however refused, and on the commencement of a regular settlement a suit was filed by them against Government. During the pendency of the suit a compromise was suggested, but negotiations proved abortive and the case was allowed to run its course. In 1920 the resumption proceedings were declared by the original court to have been invalid, and the original lessees were ordered to be restored to possession, but an appeal against

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

this decision is now pending. If the appeal fails the ultimate revenue in the current settlement will be Rs. 1,856 against a probable revenue on a rāiyatwāri settlement of Rs. 17,000.

History of Shikārpur 3rd Portion: T. No. 2967 139. Shikārpur (3rd portion) was one of the grants leased on the 13th April 1900 for a period of 40 years, and covered an area of 10,900 bighās, it succumbed beneath the wave of inspections in 1904 and was resumed by Government on the 27th September 1904. The whole estate was waste and up to the present time has yielded no revenue, and being bounded by Shikarpur (2nd portion) and rivers, has not suffered from encroachments; there is no trace of any embankment in the estate. Up to the year 1916 there is no history to record, but in that year the original lessees threatened to file a suit against Government to declare the resumption proceedings invalid. Owing to the fact that there were admittedly defects in the resumption proceedings, the Board of Revenue originally agreed to negotiate for a compromise by granting the original lessees a tenure within the estate; the lessees however declined the proposed terms, and ultimately a compromise was effected restoring the lessees to possession under revised conditions, which differ from the original lease in the following respects. The grantees were admitted to settlement as temporary tenure-holders for 20 years in place of ‘an occupancy right which shall be hereditary and transferable’ for 40 years; the allowance for unassessable area was reduced from ¼th to 1⁄5th; provisions for the construction of protective works were omitted, while the rent-free period was reduced from 15 to 5 years, the rate of rent being enhanced to 8 ānnās per bighā from the 6th to the 10th year and to 12 ānnās from the 11th to the 20th year against a maximum of 4 ānnās per bighā from the 21st to the 40th year in the original lease. In place of the stipulated clearance of ⅛th of the area by the end of the 5th year in the original lease the lessees were required to clear 2⁄5th of the area by the end of the 5th and 4⁄5th of the area by the end of the 10th year. They were granted a preferential claim to all future settlements on condition that the terms of the previous lease had been carried out and on agreeing to the terms proposed by Government. The penalty for forfeiture on failure to

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271

fulfil the clearance conditions was omitted, the lessees accepting the alternative term of a penalty of 4 ānnās per bighā. Under the terms of this lease the estate will be held revenue-free until 1924; from then until 1929 the annual revenue will be Rs. 4,360 and from 1929 till 1940 Rs. 6,540 against a revenue of Rs. 2,044 per annum from 1920 to 1940 under the old lease; under the new lease the total revenue for the full period of the lease amounts to Rs. 87,200 against Rs. 45,990 under the original lease. The new lease was finally executed on the 23rd December 1919.

Hitory of Sāgar Island, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Portions: T. Nos. 2928 and 2968 140. The history of the three portions of Sagar, being the area in which the reclamation scheme has been applied can be narrated most conveniently together. The first and second portions, contain 7,3956 and 3,000 bighās respectively, constituted the first grants made in 1898 under the rules of 1897 and were resumed on failure to fulfil the conditions of the grant on the 27th July 1904; the third portion, containing an area of 9,705 bighās was leased from the 13th April 1900 at an ultimate revenue of Rs. 1,820 under the same rules, and was resumed by Government, for failure to construct the protective works, on the 29th September 1904. Up to the year 1915 when definite proposals for rāiyatwāri settlement were first formulated the revenue derived from the 1st portion amounted to Rs. 25 being the rent paid by the Port Commissioners for a Semaphore Station; no revenue was derived from the 2nd portion. In the 3rd portion however a considerable amount of cultivation existed, and in 1909 a rent-roll was prepared showing 1,794 bighās assessed at a rental of Rs. 1-8 per bighā; in 1915 the total revenue amounted to Rs. 2,662 assessed on 1,774 bighās. Owing to the incompleteness of the rent-roll it was determined to survey the estate and prepare an accurate record-ofrights and rent roll under the Bengal Tenancy Act. These operations commenced in 1916-17 and were completed in 1918. The operations were confined to the reclaimed area, which, excluding 13 acres held 6

According to more recent calculations the area is now given as 6,300 bighās.

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

rent-free for the Sagar Light House, covered 700 acres, of which 25 acres were unassessable. The remaining area, 675 acres, in occupation of 126 raiyats, was assessed at Rs. 4,085 at the rate of Rs. 2 per bighā, against the former revenue of Rs. 2,662. Before the commencement of the colonisation scheme accordingly the total revenue of the three portions of Sāgar Island amounted to Rs. 4,110. In the original programme prepared for the colonisation of Sāgar Island in 1917 it was proposed to repair the embankments in the reclaimed area of Sāgar Island (3rd portion) in 1917-18, to complete the reclamation of that portion between 1919 and 1921 to reclaim the first and second portions in 1921-3. In the revised programme of 1918, the work of reclamation was to be advanced on the following lines: 1917-18 Repair of existing embankment in 3rd portion Reclamation of 2,550 bighās (partly) in 3rd portion 1918-19 Completion of reclamation of 2,550 bighās in 3rd portion Reclamation of 4,550 bighās in 1st and 2nd portion 1919-20 Reclamation of 3,000 bighās in 1st portion Total

Rs. 4,928 4,988 4,732 11,000 10,000 35,648

Actual progress has not entirely tallied with the programme. In 191718 a sum of Rs. 7,458 was expended on old and new embankments in the 3rd portion, against the estimate of Rs. 9,916. In the following year the work was extended to cover an area of 2,750 bighās in the 3rd portion which were completely embanked at a cost of Rs. 10,686. Embankments were commenced in 4,570 bighās of the 1st and 2nd portions and in an additional 110 bighās of the 3rd portion but the work was greatly hampered by an outbreak of a virulent epidemic of cholera. 2,749 bighās in the 3rd portion were colonised with 305 settlers at a rental of Rs. 2 per bighā, commencing from 1921-2. In 1919-20 the area in which embankments were commenced in all three portions was completely reclaimed at a cost of Rs. 12,002, and 3,900

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273

bighās were settled with 360 new colonists almost entirely in the 1st and 2nd portions. A slight setback occurred in this year owing to a decision to abandon the reclamation of 2,570 bighās in the 1st and 3rd portions on an objection of the Port Commissioners. The total area reclaimed in this group of estates now amounts to 9,480 bighās, practically the whole of which has been actually colonised.

CH A P T E R X V

The Problem of the Sundarbans

Development Now Guided by Fluvial Laws 141. In his ‘History of the rivers in the Gangetic Delta 1750-1918’ Mr. Addams—Williams builds his narrative round the quotation ‘Rivers first create the land, then fertilise it and finally distribute its produce.’ The history of the Sundarbans constitutes such an account of river action and it is merely the fact that revenue is more concerned with land than with water that has tended in this book to hide the importance of the rivers of the Sundarbans. In Bākarganj, the land has already been created and fertilised, and the rivers distribute the produce of the granary of Bengal. To a lesser extent creation and fertilisation of the land is complete in the Khulnā Sundarbans, but the value of the natural produce of the soil—the sundri tree—has compelled the tiller of the soil to yield precedence to the hewer of wood. In the 24-Parganās, however, the stage of fertilisation is not yet complete, and over the greater part of the area the time has not arrived when the rice field will supplant the less precious jungle—with its produce of reeds and firewood, of bees-wax and honey. After exactly a century and a half of experiments, commencing in 1770 with the patitabadi leases granted by Claude Russell, the Collector-General, the importance of river regime has now been recognised, and the development of the Sundarbans in its several parts now bows to the laws of the rivers which formed the land. A few words will suffice to summarise the results of work done and the problem of future administration.

The Bākarganj Sundarbans in 1920 142. In Bākarganj, a fiscal system of such complexity, as is unknown in other parts of the Presidency of Bengal, has been reduced from chaos to order. This complexity was due to the fluctuating system of resumption and grants of forest areas for the purpose of cultivation grafted on

The Problem of the Sundarbans

275

the confusing mania for subinfeudation, rampant throughout the district. But order has not been achieved without effort. In the older leases and grants the present state of order is due to the thoroughness of the survey and settlement operations—‘a model for Sundarbans settlements for all time.’ In the area, which in 1905 lay waste and unprofitable, credit must be given to the colonisation scheme and its rapid and efficient extension of cultivation. Before 12 years have elapsed, should no calamity of nature intervene, every acre of available waste land will be under lease, producing its wealth of rice for the cultivator and its quantum of revenue to Government. But the credit that may be due to the administration, has depended entirely on the work of the rivers. The land has been well-raised, and the Haringhata, Bishkhali and Buriswar rivers continue to raise and fertilise the land with their silt-laden waters drawn from the main streams of the Ganges and Brahmaputra. Such is the activity of the rivers in these parts that the Irrigation Department has withdrawn all its powers of control.

The Khulnā Sundarbans in 1920 143. Between the Haringhata and Raimangal rivers, the Khulnā Sundarbans present a less pleasing aspect. 45 years have passed since the idea of reclamation was abandoned, and the greater part of the area was declared to be reserved forest. There is no questioning the correctness of that decision, and, even apart from the question of fluvial necessities, the value of the forest produce has justified the policy adopted. But the disappearance of the possibility of reclaiming the forest appears to have resulted in a parallel disappearance of interest in the area cultivated or available for cultivation. It is difficult to apportion the blame between the system of administration and the officers in control. Records in confusion; little is known of the grants already made; whether any land remains for reclamation is a matter of considerable doubt. Order cannot be restored until a survey and record-of-rights have followed in the path of the Bākarganj pioneers. The question of reclamation on an extensive scale does not arise. In Khulnā the policy of restricting reclamation has fortuitously harmonised with the necessities of river action. The Reserved Forest constitutes a vast area for tidal spill, which enables the rivers of the

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

area to pursue their natural career of development, untramelled by the existence of embankments which restrain their spill. The land at the mouth of the estuaries is subject to a natural process of elevation, and when this is completed an extension of the delta southwards may be expected. In the meantime the natural process of flood and spill has conferred on the area a condition of health, probably unequalled in the remaining tracts of the Sundarbans.

The 24-Parganās Sundarbans in 1920 144. The problems of the 24-Parganās Sundarbans are probably more complex than those of Khulnā or Bākarganj. There is little doubt that up to the year 1904 reclamation proceeded at too rapid a pace; consideration of the problems of irrigation was unthought of, despite the fact that the security of the channel to the port of Calcutta depended largely on the treatment of the Sundarbans tract. Of the area reclaimed by 1904 it cannot be said that knowledge is complete; the area still awaits the test of survey and settlement operations, and it would be futile to suppose that the test will be passed more easily than in Bākarganj. Subsequent extension of reclamation has practically been confined to Sāgar Island—a tract with characteristics toto caelo heterogeneous from the remainder of the area and suffering still from excessive doses of experiments. How far and within what period reclamation operations can be extended into the vast area of protected forests is still unknown. But here the claims of the wood-cutter must yield eventually to those of the cultivator, while those of the cultivator, in his turn, must be dependent on the requirements of the river system. A survey of levels to decide on the rival claims has been sanctioned, but not yet undertaken, and as the work of reclamation in Sāgar Island proceeds towards its close, the survey has now become a matter of some urgency. River action in the area is a complex problem and one of vital importance. The delta near the mouth of the river Hughli is in a peculiar stage of transition, complicated by the requirements of the town of Calcutta and the channel to the Port. Since the change in the course of the Ganges some centuries ago cut off the headwaters from the river Hughli to the river Gorai, the area of the delta that forms the 24-Parganās Sundarbans has depended for its development on tidal

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action alone, not on the action of the rivers mainly as in Bākarganj, nor on the combined action of tides and rivers as in Khulnā. The delta in accordingly developing backwards from south to north, and the seaward face is more elevated than the interior; the erection of embankments at an early date in the interior has further complicated the situation, and has resulted in the creation of a series of ridges interspersed with low lying areas protected by embankments from the benefits of tidal spill. In the Protected Forest area where embankments do not yet exist there is still time to avoid this unnatural development; and it must be the policy of the future to arrest reclamation in that area till the tidal spill has done its work—to avoid heavy embanking until the height of the land is a sufficient protection against the highest tides, at the same time guarding against the dangers involved in the rise of the tidal wave as development progresses. The complexity and importance of the problem have now been realised and in this area river requirements must ever remain the essential condition of any extension of reclamation.

The Policy of the Future 145. Had the river problem been the same in the several parts of the Sundarbans, it is possible that an easier solution might have been found to the problem, not so much of the method as of the possible extent and rapidity of reclamation. Without doubt the method would soon have adapted itself to the realisation of the prevalent conditions. It is impossible now to wipe clean the state; human agency has defeated the rivers in their normal process of creating and fertilising the land; vested rights and interests have been created in vast areas to rob the rivers now of their curative powers. But where no individual rights have yet been created, where Government still retains complete freedom of action, in the colonisation tracts of Bākarganj, the reserved forests of Khulnā, and the protected area of the 24-Parganās the lesson is being applied and the problem of the rivers must control all future development in the Sundarbans. The real problem is not the rival claims of tillage, forest and waste, but the claims of nature and man.

A P PE N DI X A

Art. V: Cameos of Indian Districts

III: THE SUNDARBANS The Sundarbans is the name commonly given to all the southern portion of the delta of the Ganges, but in its stricter sense it means so much of that portion of the delta as was excluded from the Permanent Settlement. The Sundarbans stretch from the Hooghly on the west to the Meghna, the estuary of the Ganges and Brahmaputra, on the east; and comprise the southern portions of the present districts of the 24-Parganās, Khulnā and Bākarganj. The old districts differed very considerably from the present division of the country. The district of Bākarganj was carved out of the old Dāccā district; and Dacca Jellālpur disappeared long ago. Many minor alterations have occurred, and lastly Khulnā was carved out of Jessore and the 24-Parganās a few years ago. Various derivations have been suggested for the word Sundarban, but only two appear probable. One is sundari, the sundri tree, and bān, forest, the whole word meaning ‘the sundri forests’; and the other samudra (through its corrupted and vulgar from samundar), the sea, and bān, forest, the whole meaning ‘the forests near the sea’. There are two arguments in favour of the former derivation, first, that the sundri tree is the commonest tree there, and secondly, that the word is sometimes locally pronounced Sundariban. There is one argument in favour of the second derivation, that the same name is given to similar forests in the south of the Chittagong district, where, I have been told, sundri trees do not grow, or are rare. I believe, too, though I cannot recall any passage, that the word samudra-vana occurs in Sanskrit authors as meaning large forest tracts near the sea. The second derivation seems the more probable, though it is possible the former has also exerted some influence in the present form of the word. The Sundarbans are entirely an alluvial formation. They are pierced by large estuaries throughout, especially in the west portion where there are no rivers, for the Ganges and its branches have long ago left that

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part of the country and their waters pour out further east. Most of the branches now intersect Bākarganj, but a few are found in Khulnā. The estuaries and rivers run generally north and south. The three largest estuaries are called the Matla, Roymangal and Sipsa rivers, the first running up to Port Canning and being connected with Calcutta by Tolly’s Nullah. There is little or no current down these estuaries; they are tidal water-courses, and the water in the west is as salt as the sea. In the middle the water is rendered less salt by the fresh water that comes down the few rivers there, the chief of which are the Kalindi ‘the black river’ and Pasar; but it seems that these rivers are gradually silting up. The Bhairab, which passes Jessore, has silted up long ago; yet its name ‘the terrible’ would indicate that it was once a furious stream. Among the many rivers in Bākarganj, the chief are the Baleswar the ‘lord of might’ on which Morrellganj stands, and the Bishkhāli the ‘poison-stream’: and the water there is comparatively sweet. The scenery in the Sundarbans possesses no beauty. The view even from a short distance is a wide stretch of low forest with an outline almost even, and rarely broken by a tree rising above the dull expanse. In the forests, so far as I have seen them, there are few trees above thirty or thirty-five feet high, and few attain any considerable girth. This seems to be the result of the closeness with which they grow, and the poverty of the soil which is impregnated with salt. But when a tree can get room enough to grow freely, it will attain a much greater size. I have not been much into the Reserved Portion of the forest, and I believe the trees there are larger than in the open portion. The finest and largest trees I have seen have been almost invariably in places where the land had once been cleared; so that they had a good start before the jungle sprang up around them. There is little undergrowth in the forests, though here and there one may find cane-brakes and thickets of prickly scrub; and there is more of matted undergrowth and tropical luxuriance to be found in Saugor Island than elsewhere. Few of the forest trees display a handsome bloom, as far as I have noticed at all times of the year except during the rains; the prettiest is a species of Hibiscus which grows freely along the banks of the streams, and bears large yellow flowers which turn to crimson as they droop. The only views that have some charm are to be found when drifting silently along with the tide on a bright day in February and March

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in the smaller streams in the Bākarganj forest. The low golpata palm with its immense leaves, the thickets of the Hibiscus with its yellow and crimson blossoms, and clumps of the dark-green prickly kewa grow along the banks and overhang the stream, while above them the forest closes in with breaks of sunshine streaming through the foliage. A brilliant king-fisher may be met perched on a bough over the water; deer and wild pig may be seen quietly enjoying themselves in the jungle; and, to add a spice of danger to the peaceful scene, one may come across a tiger at any moment. Between these large estuaries and rivers are innumerable streams and water-courses, called khāls, forming a perfect network of channels, and ending ultimately in little channels that serve to draw off the water from each block of land. For each block is formed like a saucer, with high ground along the bank of the khāls surrounding it, and with one or more depressions in the middle according to the size of the block, The water collects in the depressions, and is drained off by the little khāl into the larger khāls, and ultimately into the rivers; conversely when the water swells in the rivers, it floods the country through the same courses. Many of the khāls connect two large ones, and consequently the tide flows into them through both ends; such khāls are called do-aniya khāls in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā, and bhārānis in Bākarganj. They are very useful as affording communication between the larger khāls, but have one serious defect, that, they are liable to silt up at the point where the two tides meet, for the water is always still there. The rivers and khāls abound with fish of all kinds and support a large fishing population. Fish caught near Calcutta or large towns is carried there, but the greater quantity is, I believe, consumed locally. Fish are sometimes conveyed alive long distances by enclosing them in a larger wicker-cage, which is towed behind the boat; but this is not common. There was once a fishery and fish-drying business near the mouth of the Meghna, but it was given up many years ago. The subject of fisheries has lately attracted considerable attention. It would be out of place for me to enter upon the question here, but there can be no doubt that the old records contain a mass of information, which might have been usefully considered in recent discussions. In the year 1860 the Sundarban rivers and khāls were divided into blocks and

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farmed out by public auction; and Government derived a considerable revenue from the farms till the question of the public right of fishery was raised. Then, after some discussion, the Government gave up the fisheries in 1867. The water throughout the Sundarbans is necessarily very dirty, being full of the mud and impurities brought down from up-country. In the middle and eastern portions, where the rivers ensure a constant out-flow to the sea, the waters are comparatively wholesome; but in the west, where there is no strong current and the tide alone flows in and out, objectionable matter is washed up and down for some time before it finds its way into the sea. Amid such unfavourable conditions the climate is, of course, very unhealthy. The ground is never dry except for the two or three months of the hot season, and malaria is always rife. On the large rivers and on their high banks, where the air can circulate freely, there is comparative immunity; but the bulk of the people have their houses near the banks of the khāls that penetrate everywhere into the land. There is generally a belt of jungle along the banks of such khāls, for no cultivation can be attempted outside the embankments where the salt water can reach. These khāls therefore are closely shut in by jungle, and the condition of the water in them increases the insalubrity. If the khāl is open, the tide flows in and out, and leaves, except at high tide, a bank of mud, which is as much as ten or twelve feet high in places near the sea. If the mouth of the khāl has been dammed, the water is necessarily stagnant and unwholesome. The people cannot escape these unhealthy conditions, for roads are unknown in the Sundarbans, and the waterways are the only means of communication with outside places; while the embankments are the chief means of communication within the blocks of land. I suppose, however, the people have become inured to these conditions, for there is not, I believe, more sickness among them than in Central and Eastern Bengal. Wholesome fresh-water can scarcely be had anywhere, and even when ordinary fresh-water is not obtainable, the people will use water that is slightly brackish without apparently any deleterious consequences. The wild animals must, of course, drink water more or less salt, for it is very seldom they can get access to a tank of fresh water. Along the Hooghly the land is high, but east of it, as far as the river

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Kālindi that is in the 24-Parganās, the land is lower and is liable to be submerged, and immense embankments are indispensable to its reclamation. From the Kālindi to the Baleswar, that is in Khulnā, the land is moderately high, and the embankments are only a few feet high. East of the Baleswar, that is in Bākarganj, the land is so high that embankments are unnecessary. The results of these conditions and of the quality of the water, which I have already mentioned, is very striking. In Bākarganj everything looks prosperous, and every rāiyat, who is at all well-off, has a good homestead with plenty of fruit trees and some cold weather crops, in addition to rice which is practically the only crop that can be grown in the Sundarbans. In the 24-Parganās cocoanuts will not grow, and fruit trees do not thrive, so that the country wears a less cheerful aspect. Khulnā, with its intermediate conditions, presents a corresponding appearance; yet even there large tracts are so swampy, that the people who cultivate them are obliged to reside elsewhere, and the appearance of the country is then one vast plain covered with rice and reed and rush, and broken here and there by clumps or lines of low trees which fringe the streams, for only along their banks is the ground at all raised or firm, and inside one may easily sink knee-deep in the muddy soil even in the dry months of the year. One of these swampy tracts seems to have been sinking during the last forty years; it was once fairly cultivated ground and people lived on it, but now it is almost waste. Whether the Sundarbans were formerly cultivated or not is a question sometimes asked, and difficult to answer. Large tanks, masonry buildings and structures, and high embankments are met with in various places throughout the Sundarbans, but chiefly in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā portions, and are cited as indications of a former prosperity. I do not, however, think there was ever any extensive cultivation in the heart of the Sundarbans, though no doubt cultivation once extended throughout the northern portion of the Sundarbans, and considerably further south than when we acquired the country. For the present subdivisional town of Bagherhat is not mentioned in Major Rennell’s atlas of 1779; and a few miles to the south is an old mosque sacred to a Mohammedan saint, with large tanks near. The roof of the mosque consists of about sixty small domes, supported by slender stone pillars. No stone is procurable anywhere in the neighbourhood, and the

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stone is said (with every probability of truth) to have been brought all the way from Chittagong. This subject was discussed some years ago by Mr. H. Blochmann, the well-known authority in archaeological matters, and he came to the conclusion that there had been no marked change since the fifteenth century, but it seems probable that constant fluctuation occurred during those lawless times. It is well-known, too, that even during the present century considerable tracts have fallen back into jungle. During the last century the Sundarbans were infested with dacoits and pirates who had their retreats in the forest and sallied out to prey on the country and waters around. During the first half of this century, the Government had its salt manufacture established in various places in the Sundarbans. These two facts go some way to explain the existence of many masonry remains without resorting to the theory of a former widespread civilization. Still it is a common popular belief, that the Sundarbans were once extensively cultivated, and I have found its former prosperity during the Mughal Empire referred to as an undoubted fact in a letter written in 1783. If this be true, it can be explained in only one way, that the country must have been considerably higher than it is now, about as high as the land at the extreme east near the Meghnā, and that the Ganges sent more fresh water through Central Bengal than it does now, for it is scarcely probable that with the present level and present insalubrious conditions, former inhabitants could have succeeded where all modern efforts have obtained but a partial success. There are reasons for believing that there has been some subsidence of the country in comparatively recent times, for in excavations near Khulnā the remains of an old forest of Sundri trees were found eighteen feet below the present surface of the ground. The lower portions of their trunks and their roots were in their natural position, and alongside them lay the upper portions of their trunks broken off. Many of the trees were quite decomposed, but in others the woody fibre was nearly perfect. Again, near Sealdah sundri tree stumps were found similarly embedded thirty feet below the present surface. Sundri trees do not grow, it is said, except between high-water and low-water levels; so that the trees could not have grown naturally as they were found. This subject was discussed by the Revenue Survey Officers and by the Meteorological Reporter to the Government, and

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the conclusion arrived at was that, while partial depressions may have occurred through the weight of the earth and forest, yet the main depressions were caused more or less suddenly during some great earthquakes. Accepting this explanation, it seems very probable that the lands throughout the Sundarbans were once as high as those to the east; higher than that it is scarcely possible for them to have been, considering that they are entirely alluvial. When the East India Company acquired the civil administration of Bengal in 1765, Diamond Harbour was forest, and the country even in the vicinity of Calcutta was in a wild and uncultivated state, especially to the east, where the forest approached to within about seven miles from the town. All the forest was admittedly the property of the State. The first effort to reclaim the forest was made in 1770 by Mr. Claude Russell, the Collector-General, in the present district of the 24-Parganās. He granted leases which allowed the lessee an initial period free of rent until he should have made some progress in the cultivation, and fixed an ultimate rate of about Rs. 1½ per acre on all the land that might be found reclaimed when surveys should be made from time to time. These (disregarding details which are varied to suit varying circumstances) are the usual terms on which forest lands have been leased out. Those lands were called patitābādi tāluks, that is, tāluks for the reclamation of waste land. Very considerable progress was made by those lessees, and the neighbouring zamindārs also busied themselves in promoting cultivation, so that during the forty years following the country was cleared almost down to Saugor Island on the south, and nearly as far as Port Canning on the east. The next effort was made by Mr. Tilman Henckell, Judge and Magistrate of Jessore, in 1783. His scheme was to lease out small plots to raiyats so as to establish a body of independent peasant proprietors holding directly under Government. The terms were very similar to those of Mr. Claude Russell’s leases. It was approved by Warren Hastings, and Mr. Henckell after roughly defining the boundaries of the Sundarban forest, granted about one hundred and fifty leases during 1785. He entertained very sanguine expectations of success, and did his utmost to advance the scheme, but it was opposed by all the neighbouring zamindārs, who claimed the lands

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cleared by the grantees and indeed all the forest, but declined to afford him any information about their estates that might enable him to decide the disputes. During 1786 he demarcated with bamboos what he considered to be the northern boundary of the forest, and strengthened the position of the lessees, but notwithstanding all his efforts, the struggle was too severe for the lessees, and in 1792 they had all disappeared except sixteen; and in their cases the character of the scheme had been modified—the lessees developed into tālukdārs, and their lands were called ‘Henckell’s tāluks.’ It was the character of these early grants, and the exclusion both of these grants and of the forest from the Permanent Settlement that has rendered the history of the Sundarbans peculiar, and different from what occurred in other districts except such frontier districts as Chittagong. A brief account of the administration of the Sundarbans may prove interesting, for it is little known, having been buried in the oblivion of many volumes of old correspondence, and Sundarban schemes once largely affected the enterprise of Calcutta. About the year 1810 various schemes appear to have been broached for the improvement of the port of Calcutta. One was to reclaim Saugor Island; another was to construct wet docks at Diamond Harbour. These schemes drew attention to the Sundarbans and the Government determined to reassert its rights which had lain dormant till then. During those years various surveys had been carried out in the Sundarbans which have been of inestimable value ever since. The Sundarbans (exclusive of the sea face) from the Hooghly as far as the river Pasar, were surveyed by Lieutenant W.E. Morrieson, during the years 1811-14, and his results were corrected by his brother Captain Hugh Morrieson in 1818. This was a great work, and must have been most arduous. It introduced certainly where previously all had been chaos, and it has been the basis of all subsequent maps of the Sundarbans. A Captain Robertson surveyed the main water-routes from the Hooghly as far as the district of Noākhāli during 1810; and a portion of the sea coast, east of the Hooghly was surveyed by Lieutenant Blane in 1813-14, Lieutenant Morrieson in the course of his survey found that the north east branch of the Roymangal estuary approached to within a very short distance of the Kālindi, and he made a cut joining the two rivers. The stream of the latter very soon

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enlarged the cut, and a large quantity of its fresh water was diverted and passed into the Roymangal. At that time cultivation extended much further south on the east bank of the Kālindi than on the west, but the diversion of so much fresh water deprived that country of one of its chief advantages, and a considerable tract reverted into jungle— a signal instance of far-reaching disastrous consequences arising out of a seemingly trifling act. ‘Morrieson’s cut’ has, however, by opening up a new route, conferred a perhaps more than equivalent-benefit on the Sundarban traffic. In this connexion I may also mention a cut called ‘Leonard’s cut,’ which was made about the year 1862 to connect the north-western branch of the Sipsa with the Kabadak, and which has been a great boon to traffic. An attempt was made during the years 1814-16 to re-measure the grants already mentioned and revise their rentals, but it met with only partial success. The advantages, however, that the State might gain from the opening up of the Sundarbans were clearly perceived, and a law was passed in 1816, sanctioning the appointment of an officer to deal with the Sundarbans, to be styled the ‘Commissioner in the Sundarbans,’ with all the powers and duties of a Collector. Inquiries and measurements were first begun by a Mr. Scott in the country south and east of Calcutta, and it was found that encroachment and reclamation had been continuously progressing, partly by the lessees, partly by the zamindārs, and partly by unauthorized persons. All this increase of area brought under cultivation was held without payment of any revenue to the State. The proposal to levy revenue from it naturally aroused the opposition of all the persons interested, and especially of the zamindārs, who claimed the whole of the forest, and among whom were several very powerful individuals; and they resisted the operations with every kind of open and secret opposition, fraud and chicanery; indeed, Mr. Scott was allowed a small escort of twelve sepoys for his protection. Besides these difficulties from without, the Government, though it had expressly declared in a law enacted in 1817 that the Sundarbans were the property of the State, yet began to entertain misgivings as to whether it was not debarred by the Permanent Settlement from dealing with these lands. These adverse circumstances, and the intricacy of the questions that arose practically put an end to the operations for the next four years.

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In 1821 the Sundarban office was reconstituted under Mr. Dale; and was re-inforced by a survey-party under Ensign Prinsep, with the wider object of demarcating the State lands from private estates. But directly the inquiries began in the district of the 24-Parganās, it was found that, if the zamindārs were to be believed there were no State lands at all, for they claimed all the forest that abutted on their estates down to the sea coast, and yet declined to point out their lands. The only course, therefore, was to survey all the lands that had been brought, into cultivation during the previous thirty years, and that was done. Mr. Prinsep surveyed the line of dense forest from the river Jabuna to the Hooghly in 1822 and 1823; and with the aid of the Morriesons’ map, he divided all the forest lands between those rivers into blocks and numbered them: this was the beginning of the ‘Sundarban lots’. All the circumstances of the lands being made known by these surveys, attention was next directed to the claim of the State to demand revenue both from the recently reclaimed lands and also from the forest; the land-owners on the contrary claimed to hold all these lands and the forest as part and parcel of their estates, at the revenue fixed at the Permanent Settlement, and free from increased revenue. The establishment of the right of the State of demand revenue from lands that pay no revenue is called resumption. If the right is established, the next business is to fix what revenue should be paid, and this is called settlement. Resumption was not an easy matter, on account of the intricacy of the claims, the paucity of trustworthy documents, and the fabrication of false papers; but the exertions of Messrs Dale, R.D. Mangles, John Lowis and other officers overcame the difficulties, and recovered to the State all the lands that had been surreptitiously encroached on, and all the forest in the 24-Parganās, by the year 1828. During the years 1827 and 1828 the whole subject of the rights of the State over the recent cultivation and the forest underwent a thorough discussion, and was conclusively and finally determined in favour of the State. The Government had believed that no claims would be asserted which were not grounded on some foundation of plausible rights, and that the right of the State to the forest lands would not be contested, but the anticipations had been ruefully disappointed, though it was beyond dispute that the lands had been reclaimed from

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the forest after the Permanent Settlement. The system adopted also, of issuing notices to claimants, had been unfortunate for it almost amounted to one of advertising for claimants to valuable rights. The deliberations resulted in the enactment of a Regulation in 1828 which declared,—‘The uninhabited tract known by the name of the Sundarbans has ever been, and is hereby declared still to be, the property of the State; the same not having been alienated or assigned to zamindārs, or included in any way in the arrangements of the Perpetual Settlement, it shall therefore be competent to the GovernorGeneral in Council to make, as heretofore, grants, assignments, and leases of any part of the said Sundarbans, and to take such measures for the clearance and cultivation of the tract as he may deem proper and expedient.” It also enacted that the boundary of the Sundarban forest should be determined by the Sundarban Commissioner and laid down by accurate survey. Mr. William Dampier was appointed Commissioner, and Lieutenant Hodges, Surveyor. The jurisdiction was now extended over the whole of the Sundarbans in Khulnā and Bākarganj. They defined and surveyed the line of dense forest from the Jabuna (where one end of Prinsep’s line was up to the eastern limit of the Sundarbans, during the years 1829 and 1830; and Mr. Dampier formally affirmed Prinsep’s line in the 24-Parganās in 1832-3. ‘Prinsep’s line’ and ‘Hodges’ line’ are the authoritative limits of the then Sundarban forest. Out of his own surveys and those made by his predecessors, Lieutenant Hodges prepared a map of the whole of the Sundarbans in 1831, which has been the standard map of the Sundarbans ever since. Following Prinsep’s method, he divided all the forest as far as the river Pasar into blocks, and revising the numbering, reduced the whole of his and Prinsep’s blocks into a series numbered from 1 to 236. The aggregate area of these 236 ‘Sundarban lots’ was computed at 17,02,420 acres or 2,660 square miles. Beyond the river Pasar no detailed survey of the forest had been made, and it was impossible to continue the allotments there. When the forest line was authoritatively determined, it became necessary to deal with the lands which had been already reclaimed and where held free of land revenue, that is, to resume and settle them. These operations were diligently prosecuted, but being very long and

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tedious occupied attention for many years afterwards. It would be out of place to pursue this portion of the administration at any length, and a few remarks will present the general results. The resumptions may be divided into two stages at the year 1836. The proceedings till that year dealt with what may be called the prominent and indisputable cases of encroachment, and most satisfactory results were accomplished. Very large tracts were recovered to Government, and indeed, the area of the Sundarbans at that time did not differ much from what it is at the present time. After that year the proceedings were more intricate and difficult, for the inquiries were then systematically conducted into the smaller and clandestine cases of encroachment, which had either escaped notice before, or had been left because of their difficulty for more thorough and leisurely investigation. As fast as each estate was resumed, it was brought under settlement, and the increase of revenue may be computed roughly at about 2½ or 3 lakhs up to about the year 1844. As early as the year 1819 the Government had contemplated making grants of the forest lands with a view to their being cleared, but nothing definite was decided upon, though a few isolated grants had been made both before and after that year. The most noteworthy of these was a lease granted in 1805 for a tract in the Bākarganj Sundarbans at a fixed rental of Rs. 349. So little, however, was then known about the lands, that the lessee laid claim to about 120 square miles of forest land. His claim was contested by Government, and gave rise to long and varying litigation, which was not finally decided till 1870, when the Privy Council decreed about half to the lessee and the rest to the State. Those lands are some of the finest in the Sundarbans and belonged to the Nawab of Dacca. Rules for the grant of the forest were promulgated in March 1830, and as the right of the State to the forest had been established, there was no hindrance to the granting out of the lands. Applications poured in, mostly from the Europeans resident in Calcutta, who had formed sanguine expectations of success. With the exception of some lands reserved for the Salt Department, applicants practically got gratis whatever they asked for in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā. During the two years 1830 and 1831, 98 lots were granted away, and 12 more during the next five years, with a total area of 5,51,520 acres. The

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principal grantees, those who got several lots, were Messrs. Kerr, Sturmer, McDermott, Mackenzie, D’Costa, Betts, Clark, Hamerton, Heatly, Storm, Rogers, Campbell, Fergusson, Brae and Pigou; and among natives Radha Krishna Datt, Guru Prasad Chowdhury and Hafizuddin. These grants were made in perpetuity at a rental of about Re. 1½ per acre, and nothing was payable during the first 20 years; but it was a condition that one-fourth the area should be rendered fit for cultivation within five years, under pain of the grant being forfeited to Government, this condition being held necessary to ensure that the grantees should carry out the object for which they had received the lands. No regular grants could be made in the eastern part of the Sundarbans, for no detailed survey had been made of the forest lands there up to that time. The first thing to be done in reclamation is to embank the lands. This means that a line must be cut through the forest along the banks of the streams surrounding the lot, and the embankment thrown, up along the line; and that strong dams must be constructed across the mouths of the smaller streams which run into the block in order to keep the salt water out. When this work is finished, the regular business beings of felling the forest, digging tanks, and constructing huts for the future cultivators. All these operations require months of constant attention and the earlier operations are difficult and dangerous. A strong body of coolies must be procured who must, be supported all the while with food and fresh water. Their health and safety must be cared for, and a shikāri is generally employed to fire off his gun occasionally to frighten away the tigers that abound in the forest; if there is no shikāri, the coolies raise a combined shout at short intervals. Unusual sickness or destruction by tigers may produce a panic and inflict almost irreparable loss. In spite of all precautions, they suffer from both evils. The grantees appear to have prosecuted their undertaking with enthusiasm. Besides the inherent difficulties of the reclamation, it could have been no easy matter for them, numerous as they were, to collect all the labourers they wanted, or a sufficient number of rāiyats to settle on the lands permanently. The labourers they procured were the Sundarban wood-cutters, coolies from Chotā Nāgpur, and Māgh coolies from the eastern frontier. The difficulties were greater in the

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case of those grantees whose lands lay deeper in the forest; yet even those, who got grants bordering on the cultivated tracts and were in a comparatively advantageous position, suffered severely from the hostility of the zamindārs in disputes regarding their boundaries. To add to all these difficulties, great damage was inflicted on most of the grants by a storm and wave on 21st May 1833, which swept up the Hooghly and desolated the country on both sides. Still good progress was made for a time, and only about twelve grants were forfeited during the first ten years. After the first eager competition, the applications fell off, but they revived in 1839, and about half of the forfeited grants were re-leased out, besides some twelve new lots. By that time a juster estimate had been formed of the capabilities of the Sundarbans. Indeed, a number of the grantees petitioned the Government in 1841 for more liberal terms, and the Government expressed its readiness to show every indulgence to those who had really exerted themselves to reclaim their lands. Some of the persons who got grants were mere speculators; they did not attempt to clear their lands, but realized whatever profit they could get from the wood and other natural products, and sold the lots as soon as they could find a purchaser; so that, having acquired the grants free of cost, they made an advantageous speculation. In few cases did the grantees comply at once with the clearance condition, for forfeiture was waived in about one-third of the lots; but in rather more than one-third the difficulties and losses experienced proved insuperable to the grantees, who in consequence virtually gave up the undertaking, so that the Government was obliged to cancel their grants as forfeited. In fact, few grantees were able to succeed who had not ample capital at their command. The reclamation required unceasing care and vigilance, for desertion among the rāiyats left the lands fallow and unremunerative, till fresh rāiyats could be engaged at heavy expense; and if the embankment chanced to be breached, the salt water poured in and ruined the soil with a deposit of salt. The first allotment had been in a measure a matter of luck, for as each lot was given to the first applicant, the best lots were taken up by the earliest applicants. Until some progress was made in the lots bordering on the cultivated tracts, it was almost hopeless for a grantee, whose land lay deeper in the forest, to succeed in his undertaking, however great his

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

capital might be. Some thirty new grants were made down to the year 1852, and many of these were in the Eastern Khulnā and Bākarganj Sundarbans, as some partial surveys were made in that region. To most persons the mention of the Sundarbans recalls to mind two places, Port Canning and Morrellganj. The latter is the earlier town. Some squatters had made a clearing in the forest there about the year 1840, but no further progress was made till Messrs. R. and T.H. Morrell bought three large blocks of land there in 1849. They began clearing the ground very fast, and their undertaking was greatly facilitated by the advantages the land possessed, in being well raised and having excellent river frontages with plenty of fresh water. At the north-east corner, on the bank of the main river, and where two other rivers join it, they built a town which they called Morrellganj after themselves. They established a mart, which soon became the most important in that part of the country. They also built a good brick house for themselves; and a police station, a sub-registration office and a dispensary were soon located there. The estate passed out of their hands many years ago. Morrellganj now occupies less prominent attention than formerly, but is still a prosperous town. The Grant Rules of 1830 had not been as successful as had been hoped. The grantees complained that the terms were too strict, and their objection had been practically admitted, inasmuch as the stringency of the terms had been relaxed freely in individual cases. On the other hand it was necessary to see that the concessions granted by Government were not abused, that is, that the lands were taken by bona fide reclaimers. The rules were accordingly modified and were re-published in September 1853. Grants were to be made for 99 years and were sold to the highest bidder if there was competition; the revenue assessed on them was reduced to about 6 ānnās per acre; and even this full rate (low as it was) did not become payable till the 51st year, after a long and very gradual enhancement commencing from the 21st year. But reclamation was more carefully provided for and the grantee was required to have one-eighth of his grant fit for cultivation in five years, one-fourth in ten, one-half in twenty, and practically the whole in 30 years, under pain of forfeiture. The earlier grantees were allowed the option of giving up their old leases and taking fresh leases

Appendix A

293

under the new rules. This boon was highly appreciated, and about seventy of the earlier grantees accepted it and commuted their leases. These rules gave a fresh stimulus to Sundarban enterprise. The new conditions as to clearing being much easier than the old, there was less occasion for indulgence; but even these conditions were not complied with, and during the following ten years about seventy grants fell in through forfeiture; and from these and other lands about ninety fresh grants were made. Still it has been far from the policy or practice of Government to press these conditions harshly, and if a grantee has exerted himself and yet failed through calamities or other causes beyond his control, either forfeiture has been waived, or he has been allowed a further time to satisfy the condition. There was no difficulty during those years in granting out lands throughout the Sundarbans and even in Bākarganj, for surveyors had been employed continuously from the year 1840, and had made partial surveys of all the accessible lands; besides which, all such lands in Khulnā and Bākarganj were surveyed and mapped out by the Revenue Survey during the years 1857 to 1863. A few years later, or just after the Mutiny, two proposals were brought before the public for the disposal of waste lands generally; one was to sell them out-and-out exempt from land revenue, and the second to allow landowners to redeem their existing land revenue by paying it off once for all by one capitalized sum. These measures were generally advocated with the object of promoting the settlement of Europeans in India; and after much discussion rules, called the Waste Land Rules, were promulgated in October 1863 to carry out these views. Some thirteen lots were sold under these rules in 1865 and 1866, but many of the purchasers were indifferent, or were unable to complete the purchase money during the ten years allowed for the payment by instalments, and eight of those lots came back to Government in subsequent years. The rules for the redemption of the land revenue however, met with more success, and were taken advantage of in some twenty lots. The granting out of lands had been stopped meanwhile; but the new measures were found fault with on the grounds, that the upset price was excessive, and that only capitalists could take advantage

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

of them. Applicants for land therefore preferred the Grant Rules of 1853, and wished to go back to them, but no definite course was chosen, for Mr. F. Schiller’s great scheme of Sundarban reclamation was then before the public. He and eight other gentlemen, European and Native, applied to Government in January 1865 to purchase all the remaining ungranted waste lands, proposing to raise a capital of not less than one million sterling, and to reclaim the lands by means of labour imported from China, Madras, Zanzibār and other places The Government was prepared to allow this ambitious scheme, but declined to encourage any intention to import labour from Africa. Mr. Schiller then attempted to start the Company with a capital of nearly two millions, and continued his efforts for three years; but the public could not be induced to join; so much money had been lost in Sundarban enterprises, that people had grown cautious. His efforts proved unsuccessful, and the scheme at length fell through in August 1868; indeed, at that time, the Port Canning scheme was competing for the support of the public. About the year 1853 the idea was started of making a subsidiary port to Calcutta on the river Matla. The river was surveyed at once; and Government bought up lot 54, which is at the head of the river on the west side, with an area of about 8,260 acres for Rs. 11,000, for the purpose of constructing a ship canal and railway to connect that river with the Hooghly. At that time the lot was only partially cleared along the river frontage; and this portion was surveyed for six miles, and marked out into roads and ‘lots’ for the construction of the new town and port in 1855, and a site was chosen for the railway station. Measures were also taken at once to clear the remainder of the lot and people it with raiyats. This was a tedious and expensive undertaking, and seems to have occupied about seven years. The establishment of the port was begun about 1858 and it was called Port Canning. The lands on the river bank were the town lots, and all the rest remained agricultural lands. The leasehold right in the town lots was sold at public auction for a term of sixty years, and was largely bought up. Some success attended the scheme, and in 1862 the Port Canning Municipality was formed and formally obtained from the Government its property in the town lands. Attempts were made to raise public loans for the improvement of the town and

Appendix A

295

port, but they were not attended with success. In connexion with this scheme a Company was started called the ‘Port Canning Land Investment, Reclamation and Dock Company, Limited’, for the purpose of purchasing and reclaiming the waste lands on the river Matlā. The Company bought seven lots, and held ten others in grant; and it contributed largely to a debenture loan that the Municipality succeeded in raising in 1865. But that body needed more money the next year, and Government lent it four and a half lakhs without interest for five years, the Government retaining the port dues in its own hands. Enough seems to have been done to make the port a success if success were attainable. A railway was constructed between Calcutta and Port Canning. Wharves were built and placed in connexion with the railway. But the scheme of a subsidiary port seems to have been unsuited to the commercial interests of Calcutta, and it failed. The Municipality fell into hopeless pecuniary difficulties, which at length brought it into costly litigation with the Port Canning Company and with Government. The final result was that many of the lease-holders of the town lots, who held large quantities of the Municipality’s debentures, commuted their debentures for the free-hold right in their lots; and the Government bought up the whole of property of the Municipality in the Civil Court, and has since paid off all the other debenture-holders. Port Canning now wears an appearance of stagnation. No shipping visits the port. Fire-wood and other articles are carried by the railway to Calcutta, but the line does not convey the produce that is brought by country-boats from Eastern Bengal round through the Sundarbans; this is conveyed by boats into Calcutta. A mill is the only place in the town that displays any signs of industry. What the expense incurred in the scheme was it is impossible to say. The Government spent at least six lakhs; I do not know what income it received, but the amount can scarcely have been comparable with the expenditure. How private persons were affected is still less within conjecture, but their losses are commonly reported to have been very heavy. At the same period that the Port Canning scheme was set on foot, other measures were taken to improve the navigation and trade in the Sundarbans. There are at present two alternative routes for boats between Calcutta and Eastern Bengal, and two routes have existed

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

more or less during the past. One is an inner route, running through the cultivated tracts; and the other is a more southerly one, and passes in places through the forest. The latter is very largely used in the cold season, when the weather is ordinarily calm and there is no fear of storms or floods. The inner route is generally resorted to in the hot season and rains to avoid the risks of the other route; but in places it is narrow, and the block is occasionally so great among the boats meeting from both directions that as the boatmen endeavour to get their own boats on as fast as possible and no proper order is enforced, the boats become jammed, and much time and temper are lost before they can emerge on their way. The block is especially trying when one of the immense tubs, which are the approved fashion of boat built by the people in some parts of the country, sticks in the mud at ebb-tide, and all efforts to move it are hopeless till the next flood-tide. Navigation, however, must have been in a very unsatisfactory state about forty years ago. There was no continuous towing path from Calcutta to Khulnā; boats sank in the channels and were a constant cause of obstruction and danger; and the channels silted up, especially at the points where the tide flowing from opposite directions met. A careful inquiry was made in 1853, and these defects were remedied and other improvements were introduced. The towing path is an indispensable requisite; boats can be rowed as long as the flood or ebb-tide will carry them in the direction they wish to go, but if there is no wind to help them on, it is wasted labour for the boatmen to attempt to row any except the smallest boats against stream; it is then they can tow, and the towing path is absolutely necessary to prevent the boats being detained till the tide becomes favourable again. For a few-years an officer with magisterial powers was stationed half-way between Calcutta and Khulnā to superintend the navigation. At present all these matters are, I believe, cared for by the Public Works Department. These routes are too small, except in a few places, for the large steamers that ply between Calcutta and Eastern Bengal; they take a route much further to the south, which passes for the most part through dense forest. Besides the schemes that have been already mentioned was a suggestion that a mart should be established on the river Baleswar

Appendix A

297

or Bishkhāli, as a port for the trade of East Bengal, independent of Calcutta. Both rivers were surveyed, but only the Baleswar was found favourable for small vessels. The scheme was talked about for some years, but ultimately came to nothing; indeed, the failure of the Port Canning scheme indicates how mistaken many of the projects started at that time were. I have already mentioned the proposal that was suggested about 1810 to clear Saugor Island, in order to benefit the navigation of the Hooghly. Two persons tried in turn but failed, and many persons applied for grants in the island, but it appeared they had no real thought of clearing the land and only wanted to secure a nominal property that might eventually become valuable. The island was surveyed by Lieutenant Blane in 1813-14, and its area was computed at about 1,43,550 acres. The Collector of the 24-Parganās, Mr. Trower, began clearing in a central portion, which has been named after him Trower-land; but he found that cultivation could be undertaken better by private persons, and convened a meeting of merchants and others in Calcutta in 1818. The result was that a Company was started, called the Saugor Island Society, with a capital of two and a half lakhs in 1819. The Government granted the island to the Company in perpetuity, the first 30 years being free of rent, with various stipulations as to clearing and other matters, failure in which would entail forfeiture. The management was in the hands of 13 trustees, a number which to the superstitious will seem to have prophesied misfortune from the beginning. The Society began energetically, and very satisfactory progress was made in the four northern portions called Mud Point. Ferintosh, Trowerland and Shikārpur, and in a portion at the extreme south called Dhobelat, until May 1833, when the great gale and inundation occurred, which destroyed almost everything and compelled the Society to throw up the scheme in despair. Four gentlemen then, Messrs. Hare, Macpherson, Hunter and Campbell, bought the four northern portions and carried on the undertaking. Government also conferred on them the privilege of making salt, from which, and the rice cultivation combined, they reaped a lucrative return. The island continued in fair prosperity, although storms occurred in June 1842, October 1848 and June 1852; and the rent-free term was extended to 1863. In that year those four

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

portions were found more or less cleared, and cultivation was also found in Dhobelat and another portion; all the rest of the island was jungle except the spot occupied by the light-house. The settlement of these lands was under discussion, till everything was changed by the cyclone and storm-wave of 5th October 1864, which swept over the island with full force and wrought great havoc. On the 1st and 2nd November 1867 occurred another storm and high tide which threw the island still further back. These calamities compelled attention to the necessity of providing means of safety, and especially safety for human life; the embankments that had been erected had not been a sufficient protection. After much discussion it was at last settled that in each estate in the island, a central place of refuge should be constructed, consisting of a tank surrounded by an embankment 16½ feet high; that no habitation should ordinarily be built more than a mile from the place of refuge, and that embanked paths should be made connecting the place of refuge with the habitations. Subject to these and minor conditions, the cultivated lands in the five estates I have mentioned were granted out free of rent in perpetuity in 1875. The places of refuge have been constructed and are subject to annual inspection. Since then, however, there have been no cyclone-waves to test the efficacy of the arrangements, though the people expected one in 1883 because the Bengali year ended in a ‘nought’! At the south of Saugor Island, in a little creek off the sea, is held in January the annual festival of bathing in the Ganges at its junction with the sea. It is largely attended by both men and women, but the festival is decaying, unless excursion steamers should resuscitate it as a pleasure trip; and the numbers who attend it are far below the estimate often made. I doubt if the number exceeds 5,000, though it is popularly stated to be something like ten times as many. The festival is held on a small piece of sandy ground, mat booths are run up in rows, and fakirs and hawkers combine religion and trade in their respective callings. It can be readily perceived that in such circumstances, sanitary arrangements are but nominal, and, though the festival lasts but a few days, the Dilgrims are liable to be attacked by cholera, or to carry its germs away with them. Of late years reclamation has made little progress excepting

Appendix A

299

Bākarganj, where almost all the lands are more or less cultivated, but great loss of life and damage were inflicted by the cyclone-wave of 1st November 1876 on the lands at the extreme east. The forest in the 24-Parganās and Khulnā is under the Forest Department; that in the former district now is protected, and that in Khulnā is ‘reserved.’ Wood-cutters are allowed to ply their business in the protected forest under passes from the Department, and careful watch is kept over them by toll-stations established at all the important water-passages into the forest. Everything in Bākarganj is free. They bring away timber and fire-wood, gol pada leaves for thatching and reed for matting. Shells, canes and other articles are also obtained from the forest. The wood-cutters godown in boats suited to the cargo they intend to fetch, and before beginning their work, generally propitiate the forest divinities through fakirs in order to obtain immunity from wild animals. Some fakirs have great reputation. The chief local divinities are the Boy Saint (Sawal Pir) and the Forest Lady (Bān Bibi); both seem from their names to be of Mohammedan origin, but they are worshipped by both Mohammedans and Hindus, and their shrines are often marked by nothing more than a bamboo with flag at the top. These men can get near places, where they intend to cut timber, by means of the khāls that penetrate everywhere. It is difficult to wander far through the forest in the west, as the ground is low and swampy, but there is no hindrance in Bākarganj except for the khāls. Perhaps the greatest advantage the wood-cutters enjoy is, that the forest has little undergrowth, and they can keep a look-out for some distance around. The bawalis, or regular wood-cutters, are very poor and must venture their lives to gain their living; they graphically express it, their choice lies between starvation and risking themselves against the tigers. Raiyats, however, from Jessore, Khulnā and Bākarganj often undertake expeditions to the forest when they have no pressing work at home; and much of the rice crop is also reaped by such men, when the Sundarban cultivators are unable to gather it in unaided. There is plenty of sport in the Sundarbans, though it is not to be had easily. Tigers, deer and wild pig abound everywhere, and especially on the confines of cultivation. Deer are especially destructive in November and December when the rice has grown, but has not reached maturity. The wild pig are always at hand to dig up the ground for whatever they

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A Revenue History of the Sundarbans

can find. The tigers stalk the deer and the pigs, and will swim broad streams in their search for prey. Buffaloes are found in the eastern parts, and rhinoceroses in the depths of the forest near the sea coast. Abandoned clearances, where grass has grown up, are excellent places for finding deer, which may be seen browsing there at all times of the day. Such places are better and more numerous in Bākarganj than in the west, for when land is abandoned in the west, a kind of wild palm, called hetal, and low scrub or reed spring up and thrive more readily than grass; but in lands that are much impregnated with salt, little will grow besides a low reddish succulent herb, and the jhau, which is like a casuarina. In the east, the land being high, grass grows readily, and will maintain its position for years before it is ultimately extinguished by the encroachment of the forest. Such spots are very plentiful in the lands near the sea coast in the extreme east, which have been reclaimed and abandoned by the Magh settlers; and they generally possess deserted tanks which contain fairly fresh water, and are visited nightly by wild animals. Māghs from Chittagong and Arakan have been settled on the coast lands at the extreme east for at least sixty years, and have carried with them their inveterate practice of ‘jhooming,’ that is, they settle on a spot of forest, cut down the trees, and cultivate the soil for a few years; and then move off to a new spot and repeat the process. But the difficulties and disadvantages of Sundarban cultivation have compelled them to stay longer in one place than their old practice was. Newly cleared ground is full of the stumps and roots of the trees and cannot be ploughed; the seed must be scattered broadcast till the stumps and roots decay. The sundri tree has the peculiarity of sending up from its roots small prongs or spits, a foot or more in height, which are sometimes so thickly placed as to leave little room for walking. The first crops are of course, poor, as the soil is more or less impregnated with salt, and it needs some years’ cultivation to eradicated the salt. Their unsettled habits render the Māghs excellent pioneers, but most troublesome rāiyats. If lands cleared by Māghs can be peopled with Hindu or Mohammedan rāiyats, they may be considered as well settled as possible, but these classes strongly dislike what they consider the filthy habits of the Māghs, who build their houses on piles from 3 to 5 feet high, and keep their dogs, poultry and refuse in the space

Appendix A

301

beneath. The results are certainly most insanitary; yet they may perhaps furnish the geologists of a future age with as much interest and information as the ‘kitchen middens’ of Denmark. All the shooting must be done on foot. Elephants cannot be had unless conveyed there at an expense which is prohibitive. It is not of much use to seek the tiger or deer on foot, even on solid ground, for they would hear or see one long before one could get at them; and with tigers, it has sometimes happened that, while the sportsman imagined he was following up the tiger, the tiger was stalking him. Deer may be found in the evening or early morning in most of the open spots, and they are very bold when the rice is ripening. In the deserted clearances, where they are little disturbed, they may be seen all day long. The local shikaris are far from adepts in their profession. In some parts they have little pits a foot or two deep in the open spots, and sit in these at night to shoot the deer. The tigers are seldom disturbed, unless they are troublesome, and the readiest way to get them is to sit up over a ‘kill,’ or lie in wait for them near their haunts; yet, in one of the cleared spots where a pair had established themselves, I saw them walking about in the open in broad day-light. Near Morrellganj the people sometimes settle a troublesome tiger by hemming him in with nets and driving him into them; though he can leap a long distance, he cannot, they say, spring over a net seven feet high. I have never seen wild buffaloes, though their tracks around deserted tanks, where they go at night to drink, are common enough. An officer’s duty in the Sundarbans is a mixture of sedentary life, rough out-door work, and jungle wandering. It consists in surveying, settling and leasing out lands of every description, from the most thoroughly cleared estates to the wildest forest, during the cold season; and while travelling from one place to another days may be spent in the confinement of a boat. Much of the work must be done with a gun in one hand, and everyone who has served there has no doubt tales to tell of the risks he has run. The drawbacks are many and obvious; yet there are fair opportunities for sport and living so entirely among the isolated people, to whom the slightest medical attention is a great boon, for months together, with so few of the usual official accompaniments one may learn very much of their ways and language, and more perhaps may be learnt of the rise and growth of

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the land system of Bengal in the conditions, both crude and highly developed, which are found in the Sundarbans, than in the ordinary districts where the changes that have been at work have been almost hidden from notice by the Permanent Settlement. F.E. Pargiter

Index

Abadkar 108, 188 Abadkari 67 Abuganj-Mithaganj 123, 177, 217 Act VII of 1878 (known as Indian Forest Act) 58, 73 Act I of 1905 111, 157 Addams, Williams 274 Aila Fuljhuri 205 Alipore (Alipur) 23, 29, 45, 66, 153, 181 Amtali 158, 169, 196 Andarmanik 169 Arakans (also known as Magh) 25, 46, 143, 177, 217, 219, 220, 223, 224, 225, 290, 300 Arpangsia (river) 167 Assam 138-40, 158, 214 Ataur Rahaman (Maulavi) 214, 218, 220, 225 Aurangabad 208 Bagerhat 21, 22, 55, 58, 59, 164, 167, 170, 178-81 Bakarganj 18, 21, 25-7, 30, 38, 43-5, 50, 52-4, 59, 61, 64, 69-74, 76, 77, 83, 84, 101, 102, 105-11, 120, 123, 125, 132-8, 139, 144, 146-52, 154-9, 163, 168, 171, 174, 175, 178, 182, 183, 193, 195, 203, 204, 206, 207, 209, 211, 213, 216, 217, 218, 225, 228, 229, 236-8, 260, 261, 274, 276-80, 282, 288, 289, 292, 293, 299, 300 Baleswar (river) 25, 279, 282, 296, 297 Baliyatali 224 Bamankhali 80, 128, 186, 258 Banerjee, Tarini Das 86 Bangaduni 79 Bangladesh 21

Bankura 35, 46 Bara Baliyatali 224 Bara Bogi 177, 219, 220 Bara Nishanbaria 223 Baratala 78, 186, 244 Barga Kshatriya 87 Barguna 133, 158, 206, 214, 219, 223 Barisal 167, 181 Barrackpore 24 Baruipur 166 Basirhat 30, 45, 67, 166, 245 Basu, Peari Mohan (Rai Bahadur) 198 Bay of Bengal 21, 24, 25, 78, 105, 248 Bell, Beatson (Sir Nicholas) 133, 135, 154, 155, 195, 213 Bengal Rules of 1905 140 Bengal Chamber of Commerce 81 Bengal Forest Rules 72 Bengal Embankment Act 147, 246 Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 86, 186, 231-3, 246, 247, 254, 255, 268, 271 Bengal Young Mens Zamindari Cooperative Society 234 Bentham, Jeremy 36 Bernard, C.E. 117 Bhagwanpur 241 Bhairab (river) 279 Bhayang Kakrabuniya 208 Bishkhali (river) 219, 222, 275, 279, 297 Biswas, Hara-Kisore (Rai Sahib) 211 Bhola (river) 26, 235 Blane (Lt.) 285, 297 Blochmann, H. 283 Bombay 81 Bongaon 24, 66 Bose, Sugata 87

304

Index

Bordilon, J. 155 Brahmaputra (river) 26, 62, 275, 278 Brandis, Dietrich 54, 56, 163 Bulcheri (island) 244 Buriswar 275 Burma 51, 163 Buzrogummedpur 106, 208 Calcutta (Kolkata) 23, 24, 28, 42, 44, 49, 53, 59, 68, 74, 78, 81, 105, 144, 175, 244, 245, 248, 256, 261, 276, 279, 280, 285, 286, 294-7 Campbell, George 33, 50, 164, 290, 297 Canning Company 164 Canning, Lord 39 Canning Town 80 Capitalist Rules of 1853 238; of 1879 136, 138, 146, 148, 234, 236, 238, 239 Casperzabad (Nail Sāplezā) 194, 212 Chandanpiri 248 Chandkhali 202 Channel Creek 79, 186 Chaora 207, 210 Chapman, R.B. 79 Char Biswas 210 Char Kukri Mukri 210 Charter Act of 1813 44, 83; of 1833, 44, 83 Chatterjee, Purna Chandra 102 Chattopadhyay, Bankim Chandra 86 Chaudhury, Binay Bhushan 18 Chila 177 China 294 Chittagong 283, 285, 300 Chhotanagpur 45, 88, 290 Chhota and Bara Baliatali 218 Chhota and Char Balia Baliatali 220 Chhota Baliatali 219, 223 Chhota Bagi 202, 204, 214 Chhota and Bara Nishanbaria 220 Chhota Nishanbaria 123, 177, 219, 223 Chowdhury, Guru Prasad 290 Clark, H.J. 290 Clive, Lord 29

Committee of New Land 29 Dacca (Dhaka) 62, 106, 134, 152, 205, 213, 278, 289 Dacca-Jellalpur 278 Diamond Harbour 30, 45, 86, 166, 185, 245, 284, 288 Dalbuganj 177, 220, 224 Dale (Mr.) 287 Dalhousie Island 79 Damodar (river) 236 Dampier, William 79, 105, 106, 108, 159, 173, 178, 179, 230, 236, 241, 288 Dansey, E.P. 55, 167 Datt, Radha Krishna 290 De Barros 22 Debpur 177 Dhalua 205, 206 Dhobelat 80, 128, 186, 258, 297, 298 Dhlasar 218-20 Diamond Harbour 248 Dinajpur 44 Dumria 59 East Bengal 25, 138-40, 158, 214, 281, 295, 296 East India Company 25, 28, 62, 284 East Pakistan 17, 30 Eaton, R.M. 63 Edgar, J.W. 117 Ellission (Alison), James 18, 30, 173, 174, 186, 202 England 36 Farakka 24 Faridpur 25, 59 Farington Bart, Henry (Sir) 168 Fee Simple Grants 194 Fee Simple Rules (1861) 47, 174; (1863) 47 Fergusson, I.J. 290 Ferintosh 80, 128, 186,258, 297 Forest Act of 1865 48, 54-56, 58; of 1870, 59; of 1878 55, 58, 140 Forest Lady (Ban Bibi) 299 Forest Grant Rules of 1853, 70; of 1879, 198

Index Forest Rules of Bengal 50, 51 Fraser, Andrew 43 Fraserganj (Island) 43, 44, 79, 144, 145, 147, 232, 236, 239, 240, 243, 248, 249, 251-3, 255, 256 Fuldobi 190, 258 Ganga-Sagar 80 Gastaddi, A.D. 22 Gendamara Khal 203 Gerakhali 207 Gidwani, Vinay 38 Gnanpara 219 Goalia 190, 259 Gomees (also spelt as Gomes) A.D.B. 18, 55, 118, 119-21, 123, 124, 174 Gorai (river) 276 Grant 159 Grant Rules of 1830 292; of 1853 294 Grey, William 56, 163 Gosabe (also spelt as Guasaba) 18, 21, 78, 79, 239, 253 Guha, Ramchandra 57, 58 Hafizuddin 290 Hamerton 290 Hamilton, Daniel 239; David 253 Hare, L. 135, 297 Haringhata (river) 167, 181,219, 222, 235, 275 Harvey (Mr.) 150 Hastings, Warren 30, 158 Hazikhali 207 Heatly 290 Heing (Mr.) 167, 168 Henckell, Tilman 105, 123, 173, 284 Henckell’ s Taluks 107 Hodges, A. (Lt.) 28, 105, 106, 173, 174, 178, 179, 230, 236, 241, 288 Home (Mr.) 164 Hughes-Buller (Mr.) 168 Hughli (also spelt as Hugli, Hoogley) 21, 24, 62, 78, 79, 81, 105, 128, 186, 228, 236, 245, 278, 281, 285, 287, 291, 297 Hunter 297

305

Jabuna (river) 173, 174, 288 Jack, J.C. 27,101, 107, 117, 125, 196, 200, 203, 206, 207, 211, 219 Jamira 78, 79, 244 Jamuna (river) 24 Jaynagar 67 Jessore 24, 30, 44, 45, 52, 53, 55, 59, 106, 119, 120, 150, 152, 164, 165, 171, 174, 176, 178, 181, 279, 299 Jnanpara 201 Jungleburi 67 Jungle Mahal 63 Kabadak 286 Kachupatra 202-4 Kaira 167 Kakchira 194 Kakdwip 40, 42, 43 Kalai Char Kathalia 200 Kalamegha 123, 170, 177, 199, 201, 205, 206, 214, 218-20 Kalindi (river) 25, 234, 279, 282, 285, 286 Karaibaria 123, 177, 198, 214, 220 Kasimbazar 43, 44 Katadia 177, 210, 222 Kazi Muhammad Mahiuddin 260 Kerr, Messers 290 Khaikhali 229, 234 Khauliya-Barisal 181 Khan Bahadur Qamaruddin Ahmad 102 Khanris 45 Khaprabhanga 202, 214, 220 Khepupara 218, 220, 225, 226 Khulna 21, 22, 25, 29, 30, 33, 44, 45, 47, 54, 58, 59, 61, 64, 66, 67, 72-4, 76, 77, 102, 106, 107, 110, 111, 119, 123, 127, 132, 134, 138, 144, 145, 147, 148, 153, 155, 157, 164-71, 174, 176, 178-81, 183, 184, 204, 211, 227, 229-35, 236, 245-7, 275-8, 280, 282, 283, 288, 289, 292, 293, 296, 299 Koras 35 Kukua 177, 200, 207, 210

306

Index

Kulpi 28 Kultali 21 Kurmi 35 Large Capitalist Grants 244 Large Capitalist Leases of 1879 189, 198, 238 Large Capitalist Rules, 1879 40, 58, 63, 64, 80, 87, 120, 123, 125, 126, 128, 130, 132, 177-84, 214, 237, 239, 259; 1901 243, 244 Latachupli 177, 219, 220, 223 Leeds, the Bengal Conservator of forest 50-2 Le Mesurier, H. 133 Locke, John 36 Lloyd (Mr.) 168, 174 Lothian Island 79 Lowis, John 287 Lyon, P.C. 135 Macpherson 297 Maddox, S.L. 135 Madras 294 Maharaja of Kasimbazar 254 Maine, Henry 55 Mangles, R.D. 287 Mansadwip 190, 258-62, 264-8 Marichbunia 207, 208, 210 Matbaria 196 Matla (river) 78, 79, 81, 110, 182, 245, 279, 294, 295 McNeile, D.J. 117 Mecklenberg (Island) 79, 144, 248 Meghna (river) 21, 24-6, 105, 175, 278, 283 Messers. Betts 290 Mehendiganj 26 Midnapore 35, 42, 45, 46, 67, 87, 88 Mithaganj 218, 220, 224 Mitra, Asok 19 Mitra, Digambar 86 Molungees 45 Mongla 21 Morrieson, Hugh 285

Morrieson, W.E. 105, 174, 285, 286 Morrell, R. and T.H. (Messrs.) 292 Morrellganj 180, 279, 292, 301 Mudpoint 80, 128, 186, 258, 297 Mukherjee, Piari Mohan (Raja) 188 Mullins (Mr.) 150 Mundas 35 Narayantola 144, 248, 249 Nadia (Nadiya) 24, 25, 207 Naltona 177, 198, 214 Namasudra 35, 38 Nandi, Manindra Chandra (Maharaja of Kasimbazar) 44 Narayantola 43 National Archives of India, New Delhi 18 National Library, Calcutta 19 Nepal 51 Nilganj 216, 217, 220, 224 Nishanbaria 207, 210, 214, 225 Noakhali (Noakhall) 25, 52, 53, 285 Oraons 35 Orissa 45 Painabad 242, 245 Pangasia 167 Pargiter, F.E. 101, 103, 104, 151, 152, 159, 173, 177, 186, 201 Pasar (river) 55, 279, 285, 288 Patharghata 220, 222 Patitabadi 67 Patitabadi Lease 274 Patitabadi mahal 241 Patuakhali 26 Paundra Kshatriya 35, 38, 88 Permanent Settlement 21, 26, 48, 64, 66, 67, 84, 85, 115, 278, 285-8, 302 Pirojpur 26 Port Canning 48, 56, 78, 80, 86, 110, 182, 185, 279, 284, 292, 294, 295, 297 Port Canning Company 48, 56, 86, 163, 237

Index Port Canning Land Investment, Reclamation and Dock Company Limited 81, 295 Port Canning Municipality 81, 185, 294, 295 Port of Calcutta 236, 244 Prinsep, Ensign 105, 287, 288 Qamaraddin Ahmed, Maulavi 221, 225 Rabnabad Islands 196, 209 Radcliff Award 29, 66 Raimangal (Roymangal) 25, 78, 275, 279, 285, 286 Ramkarer Char 259, 262-7 Raiyatwari Settlement 43, 44, 56, 57, 64, 66, 67, 69, 87, 111, 121, 124, 133-5, 137, 138, 140, 144, 145, 147, 148, 156, 158, 164, 189, 206, 207, 212, 213, 216, 229, 234, 236, 239-41, 246, 248, 249, 251, 254-6, 258, 260, 261, 263, 268, 270, 271 Ramkarer Char 190 Rangarajan, Mahesh 63 Ray, Rajat Kanta 18 Ray, Ratnalekha 18 Regulation I of 1793 139; IX of 1816 66, 106, 150, 152, 153, 157; VII of 1822 208, 231; III of 1828 105 Rennell, James 22, 174, 282 Robertson, Capt. 285 Ross, P. 127, 130, 150, 155, 167, 179, 227 Rupnarayan (river) 236 Russell, Claude 274, 284 Sadar 26 Sagar Island (Saugor Island) 78, 79, 126, 129, 132, 136, 138, 148, 176, 182, 186, 188-90, 236, 240, 243, 244, 247, 249, 258-65, 267, 271, 272, 276, 279, 297, 298 Sagar Light House 272 Sahabazpur 26 Sakdah 243

307

Santals 35 Saptamukhi 78 Sarangabad 242 Sarankhola 21 Satkhira 21, 22, 165, 170, 180, 182 Sattaramukhi (river) 144, 244, 248 Saugor Island Society 297 Savage, Commissioner of Dacca 134, 213, 218 Schiller, F. 110, 294 Schlich Wm. (Dr.), Conservator of Forest 52, 54, 56, 77, 163-5 Scott, D. 286 Sen, Uma Kanta 108, 150 Shikarpur (also spelt as Sikarpur) 80, 128, 186, 187, 190, 258-62, 264-6, 268-70, 297 Shyamnagar 21 Singbhum 35 Sipsa (river) 167, 279, 286 Sivaramkrishnan, R. 63 Small Capitalist Rules 63-5, 121, 123, 124, 128, 132-4, 137, 142, 177, 178, 181, 199, 205, 206, 222 Sonatala 218, 220 Stevenson-Moore, Charles (Sir) 134-6, 147, 225, 243, 245, 255, 259, 260 Sturner 290 Sujat Khan 85 Sunder (also known as Sundar, The Commissioner of Sundarbans) 43, 69, 134, 135, 144, 181, 189, 190, 206, 237, 242, 243, 250, 252, 253, 255, 256, 258, 259, 267, 269 Taktabunia 210 Temple, Richard (Sir) 49- 53, 76, 119, 175 Thompson, Rivers (Messers.) 117 Tiakhali (Teakhali) 109, 177, 202, 205, 216-20, 224 Todarmal 24 Tolly’s Nullah 279 Trower 78, 297 Trowerland 80, 128, 186, 190, 258, 259, 265, 267, 297

308

Index

Tushkhali 158, 196, 207, 211, 218 24-Parganas 23, 24, 28-30, 32, 33, 41, 43-6, 52, 53, 55, 59, 61, 64, 66, 68, 69, 72, 74, 76, 77, 78, 81, 83, 86, 87, 102, 106-8, 110, 111, 119, 123, 132-8, 144, 145, 147, 149, 152, 155, 157, 158, 166, 169-71, 173, 174, 176, 180-2, 184, 185, 188, 204, 211, 214, 225, 227, 228, 236-239, 240, 243, 245-7, 249, 250, 255, 256, 261, 263, 276, 277, 280, 282, 284, 287, 289, 297, 299

Van den Broecke 22 Waste Land Rules 293; of 1853 49, 119; of 1879 167 West Bengal State Archives 19 Wood, Charles 47 Yule, David 253 Yusufpur 66 Zanzibar 294