Famine and Dearth

Bengal District Gazetteers - Darbhanga

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Introductory notes

The Bengal District Gazetteers were published in the first two decades of the 20th century. The bulk of the series was published under the supervision of Lewis Sydney Stewart O'Malley. L.S.S. O'Malley who entered Indian Civil Service in 1898, joined as Assistant Magistrate and Collector in Bengal. O'Malley was later promoted to the post of Under Secretary to Government and General and Revenue Department when he took upon his work on the Bengal District Gazetteers. The Gazetteer volume on Darbhanga benefitted from J.H. Kerr's Darbhanga Survey and Settlement Report(1904). The volume was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1907.

The East India Company procured the revenue rights of Darbhanga along with rest of Bihar with the Grant of Diwani in 1765. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The region suffered from the famine of 1770, when one-third of Bengal is believed to have perished. The effects of Chalisa famine was also felt on the region.

Selection details

The East India Company procured the revenue rights of Darbhanga along with rest of Bihar with the Grant of Diwani in 1765. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The region suffered from the famine of 1770, when one-third of Bengal is believed to have perished. The effects of Chalisa famine was also felt on the region.

BENGAL DISTRICT GAZETTEERS
DARBHANGA

by
L.S.S.O'MALLEY
INDIAN CIVIL SERVICE
CALCUTTA: THE BENGAL SECRETARIAT BOOK DEPOT. 1907
[Page 49]

1. CHAPTER V AGRICULTURE

ALTHOUGH there is a certain amount of irrigation in the north of the district, the main sources of supply are tanks and streams, which are apt to fail in a dry season when they are most wanted. Artificial irrigation therefore plays a comparatively minor part in the agricultural economy of the district; and Darbhanga, like the rest of North Bihar, is dependent for its crops on the local rainfall. If the monsoon is up to its normal strength, and the rain is timely and well distributed, it admirably serves the purposes of the agricultural system generally practised. The main crop in the district is winter rice, which covers over three-fifths of the cropped area. This crop requires good rain at the end of May and in June, to facilitate the preparation of the ground and the growth of the seedlings. More rain is required in July and August for transplantation, and without a good fall during the Hathiya asterism at the end of September and during the early part of October, the rice withers away and never comes to maturity. All the essentials for a good winter rice crop are thus secured in a year of normal rainfall, which also provides admirably for the crops of the bhadoi harvest, which are sown in May and June and reaped in August and September. A good rainfall at the end of monsoon farther secures moisture for the crops of the next spring harvest, which are sown in October and November, and in a normal year are refreshed during the cold weather by seasonable showers. Unfortunately, the district does not always enjoy a normal rainfall, and whether this falls short of the average, or is badly distributed, full crops cannot be looked for; and in a district so dependent as Darbhanga on its winter rice, the most serious results naturally ensue from a failure or premature cessation of the monsoon. Although, therefore, Darbhanga is practically independent of irrigation in a year of normal rainfall and can raise full crops without it, the importance of seasonable and well distributed rain, particularly during the monsoon, cannot be overestimated.

[Page 50]

Another very important factor affecting the agricultural prosperity of the district is its liability to floods. Provided that they come fairly early in the season and are not of great height or long duration, floods are productive of as much good as harm, as the cultivators have time to re-transplant if the crops are destroyed, and the land is enriched by the silt they leave. Very great damage however is caused by inundation in exceptional years, such as 1906, when floods of an unprecedented height and of long duration swept over a very extensive area, with the result that the bhadoi and aghani crops were almost entirely destroyed in the head-quarters subdivision, while they were very seriously damaged in other parts of the district, and that acute distress ensued throughout the flooded country, and in some tracts culminated in famine.

Tracts of The first of the three tracts mentioned in Chapter I, viz., fertility. the south-western portion of Darbhanga, comprising the Dalsingh Sarai and Samastipur thanas, is the richest and most fertile area in the district and grows all the most valuable autumn (bhadoi) and spring (rabi) crops. The second tract, viz., the doab between the Baghmati and Little Gandak, is liable to inundation from the former river, and the main crop produced is winter rice, though good rabi crops are also raised in many parts from the lands enriched by the fertilizing silt deposited by floods. The third tract, as already stated, comprises the head-quarters and Madhubani subdivisions, the south-eastern portion of which is in the rainy season a vast chain of lakes linked by the numerous streams flowing south. In this part the only crop of any importance is rice, which when not submerged by early floods is very prolific. In the Madhubanl subdivision, where the land is generally higher, the staple crop is winter rice; but the three western thanas and the south of the Phulparas thana, contain stretches of high land suitable for the more valuable rabi crops.

The soils of the district. may be divided into three kinds, balsundri, a sandy loam; banger or chikna, a clayey soil with an admixture of sand; and matiyari, a clay soil with little or no sand. The three main classes correspond roughly with the three physical divisions of the district. Balsundri is the prevailing soil south of the Little Gandak in the thanas of Samastipur and Dolsingh Sarai. The doab between the Baghmati and the Gandak, corresponding roughly with the Warisnagar thana, is chiefly composed of bangar, while the prevailing soil in the rest of the district is matiyari. But the distribution is not a strict one, for matiyari soils are found in chaurs in Samastipur, and balsundri in the high lands of Benipati Matiyari soil, being extremely retentive of moisture, is best suited [Page 51] for the growth of winter rice. Bhadoi crops, which cannot stand too much moisture, do best in balsundri or sandy bangar, and the more valuable rabi crops are almost exclusively grown on balsundri. Rice also does well on low-lying bangar lands, if the admixture of sand is not too strong to absorb the moisture. All over the district are found patches of asar land, which are unproductive owing to the salt efflorescence known as reh: it is generally believed that this can only be eradicated by inundation. On the whole, however, the foregoing classification of soils is of little practical importance, and would not be readily understood except by the more intelligent cultivators. The only classification of land understood by the ordinary cultivator is that of Hansard and bhith, Hansard meaning the low land on which rice (dhan) is grown, and bhith the uplands growing cereals or crops of any kind other than paddy. This was the classification adopted in the records at the time of the settlement concluded in 1903.

There are no Government irrigation works, but an area of 171 square miles or 61 per cent of the cultivated area is irrigated from other sources. Most of this area lies in the north of the district; where irrigation is devoted to food crops, whereas in the south it is reserved for the special and highly cultivated non-food crops. Here extensive irrigation is not practicable, owing to the scanty sources of supply, nor it is greatly required for the crops mainly grown. There is a prejudice against well-irrigation, as it is believed that land once artificially irrigated must always be irrigated. This belief is probably to a certain extent well founded; for in the soil prevailing in this area, irrigation forms a crust below the surface, which impairs the fertility of the land, unless irrigation is continued every year. Hence irrigation is only practised on lands near wells, and these lands are reserved for the more valuable crops. Irrigation once begun must be continued and though it may result in a good return through the production of more valuable crops than can be raised on unirrigated lands, it entails an amount of labour and expense from which the majority of cultivators are averse.

Artificial irrigation is moat practised in the Madhubani subdivision to the north of the district. Here the numerous streams and rivers which intersect the country are utilized for the supply of water to the winter rice crop, especially in the Khajauli and Phulparas thanas; and in the Benipati thana nearly one-third of the net cropped area is irrigated from a complete system of pains or artificial channels led off from the Kamla river. These [Page 52] pains, for many of which the old beds of the Kamla were utilized, were constructed during the famine of 1897 by the energy and foresight of Mr. King, the Sub-Manager of the Rohika Circle of the Darbhanga Raj; and they were the means of saving 30,000 acres of winter rice during the partial failure of the monsoon in 1901. In the area covered by these channels the outturn of winter rice in that year was 80 per cent as against 30 per cent. on the west, 21 per cent on the east and 19 per cent. on the south. Besides these sources of supply, tanks are very largely used all over the subdivision for the irrigation of the fields in their neighbourhood, either to expedite the transplantation of the winter rice seedlings or to prevent them from withering during a break in the rains.

[Page 60]

A century ago a great part of Darbhanga was uncultivated partly owing to the desolation caused by the terrible famine of 1770, and partly because of the oppression of the farmers of revenue and the depredations of freebooting zamindars. So terribly did the former affect the people that in 1783 the Collector of Tirhut submitted a proposal that cultivators should be attracted from the dominions of the Vizier of Oudh to reclaim the unpeopled wastes of his district; and in 1781 the Judge" reported that, owing to the tyranny of the local revenue officer and his subordinates, there was but very little cultivation for 20 miles from Darbhanga and that grass jungles appeared over extensive plains which before were rich in culture. In 1796 pargana Pachhi was described as the abode of dreadful beasts of prey, while the adjoining pargana of Alapur, now one of the richest parts of the district, was the haunt of wild elephants, whose depredations prevented all improvement. Pargana Bharwara, which comprises a considerable portion of the head-quarters subdivision, where 78 per cent. of the land is now under cultivation, contained large stretches of waste land; and in 1802 it was reported that for miles nothing could be seen but uncultivated plains with here and there a few bighas under the plough. When law and order were finally established, agriculture was extended to a remarkable degree, and with what rapidity this happened can be gathered from a report submitted by the Collector in 1824 [...] "In Tirhut proper," he wrote, "the waste land at the time of the Settlement, it is believed, considerably exceeded that under cultivation, and in some extensive parganas adjoining the Nepal Terai and those between the Teljuga and the Daosi rivers in the north-eastern part of the district the cultivated land was to the waste, perhaps as one to fifty. All these parganas are now considerably advanced in cultivation. Since the decennial settlement. cultivation has been improved and extended, and the population has increased in Tirhut in a manner that excites the wonder of those who do not reflect that such was the inevitable result of that measure."

[Page 64]

2. CHAPTER VI NATURAL CALAMITIES

[Page 70]

In the early years of British administration, hardly a year passed without the record of some natural calamity; in one famines year it was drought, in the next inundation, and in either case the people were hard put to it to withstand distress. The earliest famine of which we possess any detailed record is that of 1769-70, when one-third of the population of Bengal is said to have perished, and Darbhanga suffered like the other districts of Bihar. A serious drought followed in 1783, and advances had to be made for the relief of the cultivators, though the scarcity did not culminate in actual famine. The years 1787 and 1788 were no more propitious, as the country was inundated, the cattle died in large numbers, and the crops failed. Drought again caused scarcity in 1791, when all persons, except grain dealers, were arbitrarily prohibited from keeping by them more than one year's supply of grain. There was another drought in 1804; in 1806 the bhadoi crop was entirely destroyed by floods, and the aghani was threatened; and in 1809 there was considerable suffering owing to the failure of all the principal crops.

[Page 113]

3. CHAPTER XI LAND REVENUE ADMINISTRATION

THE first historical assessment of land revenue in Tirhut is that made in 1582 by Todar Mal, the great finance minister of Akbar. The result of this assessment was that an area of 817,370 acres in sarkars Hajipur and Tirhut was settled at a revenue of Rs. 11,63,020, which gives an incidence of about Re. 1-7 per acre. Owing to the changes of jurisdiction which have taken place, it is unfortunately impossible to disentangle the figures for the present district of Darbhanga. During the period, close on 200 years, which elapsed between this assessment and the grant of the Diwani in 1765 to the East India Company, there are two assessments of which we possess statistical knowledge, one made by Shah Jahan in 1685 and the other in 1750 during the viceroyalty of Ali Vardi Khan. The result of the first assessment was to raise the revenue to Rs. 17,98,676, i.e., by 55 per cent., while it was lowered by,Ali Vardi Khan to Rs. 16,48,142. No records can, however, be found of the areas dealt with, so that we are unable to estimate the incidence upon the actual area cultivated at the time they were mode. It appears to have been difficult to ascertain what was the actual state of the revenues when . 'We took over the Province in 1765, and various changes were mode in the system of revenue administration up to the date of the decennial settlement in 1790, which was made permanent by Lord Cornwallis in 1793. At this settlement an area. of 1,584,836 acres was assessed in Tirhut at Rs. 9,83,642, giving an incidence of 9 annas per acre. During subsequent resumption proceedings a further area of 1,066,001 acres was assessed to a revenue of Rs: 6,77,887, making a total of Rs. 16,61,029. The actually permanently settled revenue of Muzaffarpur and Darbhanga at the present time (1906) is Rs. 17,45,924.

When the English assumed the government of the country in 1765, they continued the existing system of revenue administration which the mercantile training of the Company's servants had not qualified them to manage.' In 1769 European Supervisors were appointed to control the native officers, and as it [Page 114] was realized that the collection of details regarding the internal resources of the country was a matter of the first importance, they were ordered to enquire into the economic conditions prevailing and the general system of administration. The result of these enquiries was to show that "the whole system resolved itself on the part of the public officers into habitual extortion and injustice, which produced on the cultivators the natural consequences, concealment and evasion, by which Government was defrauded of a considerable portion of its just demands."In 1770 a Revenue Council of Control was established at Patna; and next year the Court of Directors sent out their well-known orders" to stand forth as Diwan and by the agency of the Company's servants to take upon themselves the entire care and management of the revenues." The direct control of the revenue administration was, accordingly, entrusted to European officers; but this assumption of direct management having proved a financial failure, the European agency was replaced by native amils under the control of a Provincial Council at Patna. The quinquennial settlement effected in 1772 having also failed to give satisfaction, annual settlements were made from 1778-80 with farmers and zamindars; and these settlements being equally unsuccessful, Tirhut was for the first time placed under an European Collector in 1782.

This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

agriculture, crops, drought, famine, flood, inundation, irrigation, rainfall, settlement, waste

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - Darbhanga

Editor(s): L.S.S. O'Malley

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1907

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Calcutta

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at the Digital Library of India: http://www.dli.ernet.in/.

Digital edition

Original editor(s): L.S.S. O'Malley

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 49 to 52
  • 2 ) page 60
  • 3 ) page 70
  • 4 ) pages 113 to 114

Responsibility:

Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

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Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > gazetteers > district

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