Critical Analysis of Permanent Settlement of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha

The assessment of the Permanent Settlement of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha should be done in the light of following points.

Position of Zamindars

The permanent settlement was mainly done to make the amount of land revenue permanent, certain and fixed. The ownership of land had undergone paradigm shift. In Mughal era, Zamindar was not owner of the land but only a collector of revenue. With permanent settlement vesting ownership rights in Zamindar, he assumed a position that never been his before. The Zamindars became wealthier.

Further, Zamindars were not the same old hereditary landholders, but anyone could become a Zamindar provided he had good connection in East India Company or some other hack. Many servants of old Zamindars, petty clerks, agents, traders and merchants became the so called new Zamindars. They all became petty capitalists and they invested in trade, commerce thus some positive impact on other segments of economy was seen. This class of new capitalists was called “Mushroom gentlemen”.

For East India Company, this system secured the British Dominion in India. In Zamindars, it created a faithful class of Indians who proved to be a great instrument for the security of the British interests in India. This settlement was the reason that during the 1857 mutiny, the Zamindars remained loyal to the company and did not provide any help to the rebels.

However at the same time, company retained the ultimate ownership and was able to sell the land via public auction if the fixed rent was not paid on due date by Zamindar. The Zamindar had to deposit the collected revenue on a day fixed before sunset, if not done, he would lost part or full of estate and then the estate would be sold in open auction. No excuses were entertained.

This so called “sunset law” on rigidity of the sale later became a prestige issue and its brunt was borne was the peasants. The land revenue was fixed high and it was not very convenient to pay it on time. Many Zamindars turned defaulters and it created problems.

Revenues of Company

By this settlement, the company was sure of getting fixed revenues. It also facilitated the easier method of collection of revenue through Zamindars. Before this settlement, the company needed large establishment / officials to make annual / five yearly assessments. The permanent settlement saved the company from these expenses. The officials could be engaged in judicial or other works. However, the permanent settlement could not enhance the amount of land revenue because it was inherent in the settlement that it was permanent in terms of revenue also and company could not increase a single pie even if there was rise in the produce or prices of the produce. This was one of the reason that some British authors called the settlement a blunder as it resulted in loss of enhanced land revenue in times to come.

Impact on Peasants and Productivity

Since the permanent settlement made Zamindars owners of land, peasants were left at their mercy. The Peasants had no right over land and could be kicked out any time.

In 1799, the East India Company passed some notorious regulations which gave arbitrary powers to the Zamindars to eject the cultivator and forfeit the agriculture stock for non-payment. This was probably the lowest point in Indian Peasantry.

Since any increase land productivity was not subject to increase taxes, it was expected that Zamindars would make efforts to improve the conditions of the tenants. This system was that what company would levy from the Zamindars was fixed as 10 parts out of 11 parts. The 11th part was the remuneration of the Zamindar. However, what the Zamindar would levy from the Peasants was left unsettled. This implies that more the value of 11 parts, more is the remuneration of Zamindar’s 11th part. Thus, it was clear that if the productivity of land is improved, company will have no right to demand anything in excess of what was already settled. But this belief of Cornwallis was belied later because unfortunately, the increased earnings were not spent on peasants. Instead this led to increased luxuries and pleasures of the Zamindars.

Pressure on land and Absentee Landlords

The same time was of increasing pressure on lands due to many reasons. Since work of Zamindars was to collect and pay revenues at time, they started doing sub-feudalization of their estate to some unofficial middlemen. Thus, a new crop of unofficial middlemen also grew between the Zamindars and Peasants. A Zamindar would sublet the land to a middlemen and would relocate to big cities like Calcutta to live a luxurious life. Zamindars thus turned into Absentee landlords due to permanent settlement. This was exact opposite to the hitherto Zamindari system prevailing since Mughal era. old rural based zamindars were replaced by many new urban landlords, who obtained Zamindari by hook or by crook to earn money as well as social distinction. The urban Zamindars left their servants and agents to collect revenue from peasants. This furthered the exploitation of the peasantry because agents / middlemen would extort almost all a peasant produced.

Impact on rural society of Bengal.

The social outcome of permanent settlement in Bengal was that the society was divided into two mutually hostile classes of Zamindars and Tenants. While Zamindars were favourite children of British Imperialism, they were few in numbers in comparison to the other class of tenants. British won loyalty of a few at cost of many.

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