Lord Cornwallis

Lord Cornwallis twice held the high post of governor general. His first tenure lasted from 1786 to 1793. For second time, he came to India in 1805, but died before he could do any wonders again.

Lord Cornwallis was the First English Nobleman to come to India to undertake the office of the Governor General and also the first of Parliamentary Governor Generals of India. He was also the First Governor General to die in India {during his second term}.

Before arrival of Lord Cornwallis, John Macpherson had served as acting Governor General for a short period of around 20 months.

Lord Cornwallis introduced a new revenue system under the Permanent Settlement of Bengal in 1793 with a view to stabilize land revenue and create a loyal contented class of Zamindars. This abolished periodic auction of Zamindari rights and established permanent Zamindari rights to collect land revenue from the tenants and payment of a fixed amount to the Government treasury every year. During his tenure, doors of covenanted services were closed for Indians. He got the power of commutation of punishment. He defeated Tipu in third Anglo-Mysore war and signed Treaty of Srirangpatanam.

Permanent Settlement of the land revenue of Bengal

Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement in Bengal, Banaras, Bihar, Carnatic (North Karnataka) and Orissa. As per this system, the Zamindars who formerly collected revenues were recognized as Land Lords and the ownership of the Land was made hereditary. This means that now onwards there would be no auctioning. The son of Zamindar would be a Zamindar. The idea was that Zamindars would have a “permanent interest” in the welfare of the Peasants. But the result was that cultivators were reduced to tenants, deprived of all kinds of rights on the land. The Zamindar could kick a cultivator any time, without giving any reason. In the same system in 1799, the Zamindars were given rights to confiscate the land and kick out the tenant cultivators.

So the system was as follows:

  • Zamindar was the real owner of the Land and “representative” of the Government.
  • Peasants were now “tenants” of the Zamindars
  • Peasants could be kicked out any time by the Zamindar
  • The Zamindar was like a servant to the Government. He used to keep 11% of the revenue with him for “serving as agent of the Government” and 89% he had to pay to the Government.
  • Thus the revenue started coming to the British on 10/11 ratio.
  • The Permanent Settlement fixed the revenue of the land on a 10 year basis.

The economic drain from India was set at a faster pace by Lord Cornwallis by putting in place the Zamindari or Permanent settlement system. The system remained in placed but later a new Mahalwari system was placed during the times of Sir Thomas Munroe in certain areas of India.

Reforms in the East India Company

To “curb” the corruption in the company, Cornwallis was given sufficient powers and authorities. He put in place the rules and regulations for the servants of the company. As per the new rules

  • Only qualified people would enter into the service of the company.
  • No recommendation from England would be given weightage for appointments in the company’s service.
  • The private trade of all the company servants was abolished.
  • Company servants were now to sign a bond which included that they won’t accept any gifts from Indians and will not indulge in private trade.
  • Top posts were only for Europeans, Indians were given posts which were lowest such as peons.
  • The revenue collectors were deprived of the Judicial powers.

Judiciary Reforms

The next important change Cornwallis did was to set up courts in the states, districts and provinces. The Supreme Court of Calcutta was the final court of appeal. The system of Civil Judiciary was as follows:

  • Lowest Court was the Amin Court or Munsif Court. The Munsifs could decide the case where the value was less than Rs. 50.
  • The higher court was the District court or “Diwani Adalat”. The Judge was called “Session Judge”. This session Judge was essentially an Englishman, who used to deliver justice to “only Indians” and not the Europeans. He was assisted by assessors.
  • The higher than Diwani Adalat was the Provincial Court of Appeal. Four provincial Courts of appeal were set up at Dhaka, Calcutta, Murshidabad and Patna. These courts heard appeals from the districts except the English.
  • After provincial court, the Highest Court of Appeal was set up which was called “Sadar Diwani Adalat”. The headquarters of Sadar Diwani Adalat was at Calcutta and it was the Highest Court of Appeal. Its judge was supported by a Head Qazi, two Muftis and Two Pandits.
  • The appeals from the “Sadar Diwani Adalat” were submitted to the King in England. The King of England only entertained those cases whose value was more than 5000 rupees.

The above system was in the Civil Judiciary. In Criminal Judiciary, Cornwallis introduced the following structure:

  • At Taluka / Tahsil level there was a Darogh-i-Adalat. Its Judge was “Darogha” who was “An Indian“. This was the lowest level.
  • The appeals from a Darogha could be taken to “District Criminal Courts”. The judge of this court was a Session Judge, an English.
  • To hear the criminal appeals from District courts, 4 Circuit Courts at Murshidabad, Dhaka, Calcutta and Patna were established.
  • The Highest court of Criminal appeal was in “Sadar Diwani Adalat” at Calcutta which used to sit once in a week. It was supervised by Governor General in council.

Other Judicial Reforms included the following:

  • Court fees were abolished by Cornwallis.
  • Lawyers were to prescribe their fees.
  • Ordinary people could sue the Government servants (Indians) if they committed mistakes.
  • Inhuman punishments such as cutting limbs, cutting nose and ears were abolished.

Cornwallis Era and Too much Litigation

The Cornwallis era is known for a very steep increase in litigation in India. The administrative reforms of Cornwallis were based upon the permanent settlement of revenue. Here we see that there was a separation of the revenue administration and the judicature. Further, the Europeans were employed at higher offices, which were given the job of complex system of regulations. The excellent plan came with simultaneous reforms in the judiciary which included the setting up courts in the states, districts and provinces, Abortion of court fee, rules for lawyers to prescribe the fee etc. The actual motive of recourse to the courts for zamindars proved to be a weak motive and due to all these reasons, the permanent settlement worked very badly in the beginning. Courts were choked by the litigations. The litigation kept flooding the courts, until the Zamindars were given coercive powers in 1795 and 1799.

Police Reforms of Cornwallis

So far Police was under the Zamindars. It was taken away from Zamindars and handed over to the Superintendent of the Police at District level. The Police was Europeanized. They were now paid salary and given unlimited powers to arrest the suspected persons.

So now Thanas were there in India to maintain “peace and order”. Zamindars had still a great influence on these Thanas, but legally there were detached from the Police functionary.

In 1789 Lord Cornwallis made a proclamation that “anyone who is found associated with Slavery would be prosecuted in the Supreme Court“. This step he had taken to curb the menace of slavery prevalent in India since Sultanate Era but the immediate reason was that the Children were collected by the Indians and sold to “French”.

Mysore Maratha War 1785-1787

When Lord Cornwallis was busy in making administrative reforms in the English dominions, the Indian Great Marathas and Tipu Sultan were engaged in bloody quarrels.

After second Anglo Mysore war, Tipu Sultan was the sovereign King of Mysore. The Marathas established a military alliance with the Nizam of Hyderabad to recover the territories that were lost to Mysore. Tipu Sultan resolved to teach them a lesson and attacked. Marathas tried to include Lord Cornwallis in the war which commenced with marches, counter marches and skirmished from 1785 onwards.  Cornwallis stick to the policy of neutrality and did not participated in the war game. Finally, exhausted, Marathas and Tipu Sultan signed the Treaty of Gajednragarh in 1787 and maintained peace.

Third Anglo Mysore war 1790-92

Tipu Sultan was hostile towards the British since the beginning.  Mangalore Treaty of 1784, which was signed on the end of the Second Anglo Maratha war had an article regarding transfer of the Prisoners. Tipu did not honor this and kept the British prisoners with him. This was one of the reasons of the hostility. In the same treaty, the British had promised to not to enter into agreements with the Marathas and Nizam, but Cornwallis informally convinced them to not support if there was a war.

The immediate reason of the war which commenced in 1789 was that the local Dharamaraja of Travancore made some fortifications into the territories which were claimed by Tipu. In Cochin he purchased two forts from the Dutch, but Cochin was paying tribute to Tipu. Travancore was an ally of the British. So when Tipu attacked Travancore, the British attacked Tipu.

The Diplomacy of Cornwallis kept Tipu aloof from the Marathas , Coorg and Nizams. Lord Cornwallis led the British army in person, with pomp and a magnificence of supply which recalled the campaigns of Aurangzeb. The result was Tipu’s defeat.

The peace was restored by the Treaty of Shrirangpatnam which was signed in 1792. The terms of the Treaty were dictated by the British. As per this treaty:

  • Half of the territories of Tipu were snatched away from Tipu and divided into Marathas, British and Nizam
  • Tipu had to pay Rs. 3.30 Crore as war indemnity.
  • The Raja of Coorg got independences from Tipu.
  • Two sons of Tipu were delivered as Hostages.

This war eventually crippled the great Sultan, who once thought of making India free of the British. He fulfilled the conditions of the treaty but ever afterwards he burnt in the fire of revenge upon his British victors.

Retirement of Lord Cornwallis

Lord Cornwallis retired in 1793, and was succeeded by Sir John Shore.

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