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held with regard to matters happening within the Liberty of the Water Tamar, without the precincts of the Borough, and thereby falling without the mischief of the Act of 1835.
There is, however, nothing to prevent Water Courts from being still held by Vice-Admirals of the Coast, or rather by their duly appointed Judges.
II.-FAMINE AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF
THE LAWS IN INDIA.
CALAMITY of incalculable magnitude has befallen
our Indian Empire, where millions of Her Majesty's subjects are enduring the pangs of hunger, many of whom have already succumbed to their privations, while many more seem doomed to perish from the same cause during the next few months. Lord George Hamilton, addressing his constituents on the 17th February last, said :
“ There are 300 millions of people, 80 per cent. of whom derive their whole subsistence from agriculture, and the agriculture of the country is dependent on the fall of rain at certain periods of the year.
If the rain does not come there arises not only the scarcity of food but the cessation of employment. The area affected by the present dearth is larger than has been similarly afflicted during the present century."
Besides the sufferings of the people, which credible witnesses describe as literally appalling, the administration of the country becomes partially disorganised during these visitations, owing to the best officers of the Government being called away to distribute food to starving multitudes, and prevent gratuitous relief being given to those who may still be in a condition to undergo some labour in return for a pittance.
In the famine of 1877-79 the deaths exceeded six millions, and the tract of country affected by the present visitation being much more extensive, the mortality may likewise be greater.
Irrespective of the mortality and the misery which famine inflicts on the people, it casts very heavy financial burdens on the State, crippling the Government in the performance of its functions and aggravating the condition of the afflicted people who have ultimately to bear those burdens through additional taxation. In 1880 the Under Secretary, in his statement in Parliament, informed the House that the Indian Government had, in the recent famine, spent £13,000,000 in famine relief, and sustained a loss of £9,400,000 in land revenue rendered irrecoverable through the effects of the famine.
Under these ominous circumstances it becomes imperative on Parliament to inquire into the causes of this great calamity, with a view of ascertaining if a remedy cannot be devised for averting similar visitations in future.
Some years ago a notion prevailed that great irrigation works tending to counteract the effects of drought, would put an end to famine in India; and many millions of money, borrowed by the Indian Government, were spent in the construction of such works. The experiment, however, completely failed to produce the expected result, while it seriously aggravated the situation by permanently burdening the people with increased taxation for the discharge of interest on the capital sunk in the works. This lamentable result of the irrigation scheme was exposed by Lord Salisbury in 1877, in the following terms :
"If you spend money rashly in irrigation works, which will not pay and cannot be used by the inhabitants, the interest of that money must be found out of taxes, which must in the main be levied on the peasant; and the end will be that, in order to save him from famine which comes
once in twenty years, we will crush him under the increased burden of taxes which come upon him every year. Depend on it, the true remedy to famine and scarcity is the frugality of the people. The people ought, in years of plenty, to make money enough to lay up against these times of famine."
The sound principle thus proclaimed by his lordship narrows the scope of the suggested inquiry into a single question, namely—what militates against the exercise of frugality and thrift among a people universally acknowledged to possess those virtues in an eminent degree, when their exercise is most powerfully called for by the danger of famine? The answer (which is doubtless known to all who have observed events in India) is that," the cultivator, except in the districts where the land tax has been permanently fixed, has, as a rule, no savings to lay up.” The soil he cultivates is fertile; but he is not allowed to remove the crop he has raised until fiscal demands, amounting to nearly the value of that crop, have been satisfied; and the cultivator thus finds himself compelled to seek the aid of the money-lender, and lives in chronic indebtedness and poverty. The accuracy of this statement is borne out by numberless official documents, a few extracts from which may suffice to elucidate the situation.
“The margin left for the cultivator's subsistence is less than the value of the labour he has expended on the land. This district has the benefit of water communication by both the Ganges and the Jumna ; it is intersected by the East Indian Railway, and is partly traversed by the Ganges Canal; yet the land is only worth five years' purchase, and the state of the average cultivator is one of hopeless insolvency and misery." (Collector of Cawnpore on the land assessments.)
"" This district has been much mismanaged, and unauthorised charges and illegal modes of duress have prevailed
very extensively. The revision of the Settlement took place at a period when the disposition to over-assess was far from being allayed. It is impossible in districts so greatly injured by oppressive assessments that the evils which have arisen can be redressed at one operation. No slight benefit will have been gained if the Government are convinced of the actual loss of money which is certain to follow over-assessments." (The late Mr. Bird's report on the district of Budaon.)
“The over-estimate of the capabilities of the Deccan acted upon by our early Collectors drained the country of its agricultural capital, and accounts for the poverty and distress in which the cultivating population has ever since been plunged.” (Blue Book on the Deccan Riots Commission, 1878, page 10.)
“ The Government has read with much concern the opinion expressed by the Collector as to the undue pressure of the revised rates, in consequence of which a large quantity of land has been put up for sale in default of revenue, much of which found no purchasers.” (Government Minute on the Report of the Collector of Sholapur for 1872-73.)
“ These circumstances justify me in placing the excessive enhancement of the assessments as the special cause which has disturbed the relations of debtor and creditor in the Poona and adjoining districts." (Sir Auckland Colvin's Report as Member of the Deccan Riots Commission.)
From these extracts (and many others equally authentic might be cited to the same effect) it will be seen that oppressive taxation has long been a characteristic of our Indian administration; and the following case shews that the sway of that immoral tendency has been powerful enough to override all sense of fairness in the Executive and the very authority of the laws enacted by ourselves.
At the periodical revision of the land assessments in the Bombay Presidency in 1870, a cultivator finding that
the revised tax imposed on his farm greatly exceeded the maximum fixed by a Government regulation having the force of law, appealed to the District Court for relief.
It becomes necessary here to explain that the Law Courts in India (excepting the four High Courts established in the Presidency towns) are presided over, not by independent judges and trained lawyers, as in civilised countries, but by Revenue officers of the Government, controlled by the Executive and dependent for their advancement and welfare on the pleasure and good-will of the Government. Judges thus situated cannot be expected willingly to decide against the Government whom they are bound to obey. At all events in the present instance the cultivator's suit was dismissed notwithstanding the evidence by which it was duly supported. An appeal lay at the time from the decision of the District Court to the High Court of the Presidency ; but the cost of such an appeal placed the privilege beyond the means of the bulk of the cultivators.
The aid of sympathising friends, however, enabled the plaintiff in the suit in question, to lay his case before the High Court of Bombay where, the evidence he adduced having been duly examined, the assessment on his farm was pronounced to be illegal. Thereupon the Government introduced in the Legislative Council of the Governor-General the Bombay Revenue Jurisdiction Bill, removing all revenue matters and the conduct of Revenue officers from the cognizance of the Law Courts and vesting Revenue officers with judicial powers and authority to adjudicate in such cases. The member in charge of the Bill said in its defence: “If every man is allowed to question in a Court of Law the incidence of the assessment on his field, the number of cases which might arise is likely to be overwhelming."
This Bill, which constituted an Executive officer the judge of his own acts and of those of his subordinates