« PreviousContinue »
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 oflicers 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 oflicers 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 when their legality was disputed, was obviously contrary to good principle, and was most likely to be opposed by the non-official members of the Legislative Council. Their exclusion from the sitting was therefore secured by the Government, by the Council being convened for that particular occasion, contrary to invariable custom, at Agra, where the non-official members could not attend. i The Bill was therefore passed only by official members, and their speeches on the subject betrayed the significant facts that the measure did not enlist their approval, and that their votes were given simply in obedience to the orders of the Secretary of State, as conveyed in his despatch of 24th November, 1870, saying :—“The Government must hold in its hands the power of requiring the Governor-General to introduce a measure, and of requiring also all the members of his Government to vote for it."
The Bombay Revenue jurisdiction Bill, passed in Agra in 1873, received the Viceroy’s assent only in I875, a delay which the public ascribed to hesitation on the part of His Excellency to sanction so anomalous an enactment. Meanwhile the Northern India Rent and Revenue Bills were passed by the Council, extending similar provisions to the vast provinces, portions of which are now a prey to famine. These three enactments have effectually stripped landowners and cultivators of their constitutional right to apply to the Law Courts of their country for redress in respect of over-assessment and other wrongs suffered at the hands of Government servants. Thus Lord Salisbury’s proclaimed opinion as to the true remedy for famine in India has remained a mere formula, an abstract principle, which is entirely ignored and is impugned by the Indian Government, with the result that vast and fertile provinces and industrious and thrifty populations are now being desolated by a “famine of almost unexampled extent and severity.” (Lord G. Hamilton, 22nd March, I897.)
In 1770 a famine occurred in Bengal, in which a third of the population is said to have perished; and Lord Cornwallis who, shortly afterwards, investigated the causes of the calamity, arrived at precisely the same conclusion as that which Lord Salisbury subsequently proclaimed, namely, that in an agricultural country the people ought to make in times of plenty money enough to lay up against times of dearth. Lord Cornwallis perceived moreover that the oppressive assessments enforced in India absorbed almost the entire produce of the soil in favourable seasons, leaving to the cultivator barely enough for his subsistence and no surplus to lay up against times of scarcity. He therefore fixed the Government demand on land in perpetuity and established independent Courts of Judicature for the protection of the people against illegal demands made by fiscal ofiicers. The marvellous success of the measures he inaugurated for the purpose has long been a matter of history, and the horrors of famine have been unknown for nearly three-quarters of a century in the districts where the Permanent Settlement Regulations of 1793 have been observed. Those measures present a startling contrast to our Indian administration of the present day, as the following statements contained in the Preamble to Regulation II. of 1793 will shew :-—
“ All questions between the Government and the landholders respecting the assessment and collection of the public revenue have hitherto been cognisable by Revenue Courts, where the collectors of revenue preside as judges. The proprietors can never consider their rights and privileges as secure whilst Revenue ofiicers are vested with these judicial powers. It is obvious that if the regulations for assessing and collecting the public revenue are infringed, the Revenue officers themselves must be the aggressors ; and that individuals who have been wronged by them in one capacity can never hope to obtain redress-from them
in another. Government must divest itself of the power of infringing in its executive capacity, the rights and privileges which, as exercising the legislative authority, it has conferred on the landlords. The Revenue officers must be deprived of their judicial powers. All financial claims of the public, when disputed under the regulations, must be subjected to the cognisance of Courts of Judicature superintended by judges who, from their official situations and the nature of their trusts, shall not only be wholly uninterested in the result of their decisions, but bound to decide impartially between the public and the proprietors of land. The collectors of revenue must not only be divested of the power of deciding upon their own acts, but rendered amenable for them to the Courts of Judicature, and collect the public dues subject to a personal prosecution for every exaction exceeding the amount which they are authorised to demand on behalf of the public, and for every deviation from the regulations prescribed for the collection of it.”
The conclusions deducible from the statements in the foregoing pages may be summarised as follows:–
The severity of the famine which periodically devastates some part of India is due to the poverty and destitution of the bulk of its inhabitants and to their consequent inability to tide over the temporary period of the visitation. The natives of India are eminently frugal, industrious and thrifty; and it was doubtless through the exercise of those national virtues that their ancestors succeeded in amassing the great wealth for which their country was long renowned. Their actual poverty must therefore be ascribed to circumstances which hinder them from obeying their saving and thrifty disposition-a conclusion which is confirmed by our District officers, whose reports attribute that poverty to oppressive taxation, chiefly in the form of over-assessments of the land tax.
The only parts of India which have long been and still are exempt from the horrors of famine, are the districts where the land tax is fixed in perpetuity, and where independent Courts of Judicature protect the people against illegal demands of fiscal officers. In the rest of India it is utterly vain to expect that famine can be averted so long as the agricultural classes, that is, the great bulk of the population, are reduced to live from hand to mouth, that Revenue officers preside as judges in Law Courts, and that the Indian Legislature is made to enact unprincipled measures favouring the exercise of arbitrary power and the enforcement of illegal claims by the Executive.
IlI.—SOME REMARKS ON THE SITUATION IN CRETE.
ARE we returning to the Middle Ages? Is Europe
going back to the picturesque confusion of the days when personal law had scarcely yet been supplanted by territorial? Has, perhaps, a new crusade been set on foot, and an instalment of its heterogeneous chivalry reached the scene of so many irregular exploits of their old-time predecessors? Or what then is the meaning of those six Standards floating over Canea ?
Such might be the questions which would occur to the mind of a voyager by the coasts of Candia, who had been isolated for a while in the Arctic regions or elsewhere, from the current of affairs. What the answer should be we cannot at present say. But the reason which would be given by most people for the strange phenomenon would be that the foreign troops had been landed and were exercising jurisdiction, in the first instance, for the preservation of order and the protection of property. And it is,