Famine and Dearth

Proceedings of the Committee of Revenue, 2nd-23rd September,1784

About this text

Introductory notes

The early records preserved in the West Bengal State Archive pertains to the administration of the land revenue system by the East India Company. The Company attained the revenue rights of the Province through the Grant of Diwani in 1765. The records in the repositories of the Archive date back to the Select Committee Records in 1768. Between 1769 and 1786 the revenue administration was managed by various intermediate agencies like the Resident at the Durbar, Provincial Council of Revenue, the Calcutta Committee of Revenue. In the early the revenue administration was managed by various intermediary agencies, these committees reflect the early experiments and confusion of the East India Company over revenue collection.

On 1781 the Court of Directors decided to centralise the Committee of Revenue based in Calcutta. The office of the Provincial Councils were abolished on February 9, 1781. The Committee of Revenue was placed in full control aided by a Diwan. Collectors were appointed under the Diwan at various districts. The new Collectors were mere figure-heads, and zamindars were encouraged to pay their revenue direct into the Khalsa or Exchequer at Calcutta. The Committee of Revenue continued to operate till it was replaced by the Board of Revenue in 1786.

Selection details

On 1781 the Court of Directors decided to centralise the Committee of Revenue based in Calcutta. The office of the Provincial Councils were abolished on February 9, 1781. The Committee of Revenue was placed in full control aided by a Diwan. Collectors were appointed under the Diwan at various districts. The new Collectors were mere figure-heads, and zamindars were encouraged to pay their revenue direct into the Khalsa or Exchequer at Calcutta. The Committee of Revenue continued to operate till it was replaced by the Board of Revenue in 1786.

1.

1.1.

[Page 18]
Collector of Chittagong with enclosure
Gentlemen,

I herewith transmit you copy of a Letter from the Resident at Tipperah Stating with greater accuracy from local investigation the deplorable condition of the Province.

It must of course follow that a great proportion of the Collection must fail. However Mr Leekis [...] and attention and his abilities are sufficiently know to the Committee and it is not necessary that I should assure them He will exert himself to the utmost not only to lessen the present Evils but effectually to restore the Province to the same flourishing state which we had brought it before these unfortunate floods came on.

I am & ca
James Irwin CollR.

1.2.

[Page 19]
To James Irwin Esq Collector of Chittagong
Sir,

In my address to you dated the 1st Instant I gave you Estimate upon the best Information had then received of the probable deficiency that would [...] upon the Collections of this Province in consequence of the Inundations, and at the same time promised you a more accurate account of the inquires sustained, obtained from a local and ocular investigation which I now beg leave to before you

I have since the 1st Instant visited the Pergunnah to the Northward of Mhaireoul Noornagur, Ootergunganagur, and Chumpuknagur which are those that have felt with most severity the effects of the Floods and it is with concern I acquaint you that the Representations I received of the total destruction of the crops, the depth of water and the distresses of those remaining in the Pergunnah were not in the least exaggerated I went on Board my Boat( a barge) at the southwest end of Noornagur Pegunnah [Page 20] and proceeded in the day time only keeping between the Center and Western part of it till I reached the Northern Extremity of Chumpucknagur Pergunnah, which is the Northernmost of the three in which space not an ear of stem of Paddy could I see, or even a blade of grass except here and there upon the Bank of a tank that was unusually high. It is compleat sea and in many situation not even a Tree as far as the eye could reach was to be seen, I returned keeping between the Centre and East of the Pergunnah but found no variation in appearances except upon the Border of the Hills, where a cultivated spot was rarely to be seen and _ [...] southeast extremity of Noornagur Pergunnah some [...] grass; the depth of water in any part of those Pergunnahs is not less than ten feet and in many parts twenty and upwards. The Memory of Man does not furnish an Instance of such floods.

It is impossible for the present to make any Collection, in the Pergunnahs I have mentioned and fear a very small portion of their Jumma for the Current year hereafter will be realized, as there is not probability of the water subsiding time enough to bring any quantity [Page 21] Of land into cultivation, the Period the tillage being nearly expired but even supposing this not to be the case, the desertion of the Inhabitants and he scarcity of Cattle, great numbers of which have perished by the Floods and for want of food would be insurmountable Impediments.

I have prohibited for the present my Collection being made from the Talookdars and Ryots of these Pergunnah convinced that in their present distressed circumstances if any demands were made on them, very few of them would remain in the Province and that the Pergunnahs would next year, however favourable the season be in an uncultivated and desolate state, whereas by temporary suspension an encouragement is held out to them to bring every spot of land they possibly can into cultivation(it is from the cultivated lands only that I can make any collections) and the present calamity will be felt but in a trifling degree next year, In November I mean to revisit that part of the Province when the Waters will have subsided sufficiently for me to determine with accuracy the Loss.

The State of this Pergunnah (Mhaircool) the Ryots [Page 22] of which have been particularly unfortunate the generality of them having [...] lost their labour by the Floods, was alarming and forbade a total loss of Revenue the water in several places having been over the loss of the Houses, however, they have in great measures subsided and cultivation is going on, tho many parts of the Pergunnah must be lost for the Current year, I have thought it necessary to hold out a similar encouragement to them and have suspended the Mofusil collections till the month of Assin, by which period I shall know for certainty what can be collected.

I shall be happy if the measure I have taken should meet with your and the Committee approbation who I hope will do me the justice to believe that every Exertion will be used to collect as much as possible of my collections.

I am &ca
R. Leele
A true Copy Jame Irwin CollR.
[Page 23]

1.3. Answered as follows

Sir,

We have been favoured with your letter of the 24th Instant inclosing one from the Resident of Tipperah giving a further account of the Melancholy situation of that district. We have transmitted a copy of Mr Leekeā€™s letter to the Hon'ble Governor General in Council and request you will inform him that we entirely approve his conduct, in affording the suffering Ryots relief from the pressure of demands for Revenue at a Time their whole or a great part of their property must have been destroyed, and that we have a confidence in his attention and his discernment that this indulgence be not abused by the sufferers nor extended to any others.

We are & ca

1.4.

[Page 240]
Gentlemen,

We have received your letter of the 23rd August, 2nd and 6th Instant with their several enclosures.

23rd August- In consideration of the misfortune that have happened from the Inundations in Tipperah and Sylhet and the Eastern Provinces of Dacca, we agree to your taking Duties on Grain for those parts but are of opinion that the present prospect of Plenty renders the General reduction of Duties unnecessary.

[Page 241]
We are & ca
Edward Wheeler John Machpherson

1.5.

[Page 258]
Collector of Sylhet Gentlemen,

I take the liberty of informing you that I returned to my Station a few day ago after the Closing the accounts of Sawan by Mr Hyndman .

The Revenue in demand for this Month you will observe from the Towjee, amountable Cawns 157800 of which only 41500 have been realized the Residue remains outstanding and it is with pain I give you my opinion that this Balance so far from being reduced will continue to accumulate during the whole course of this year and if only one half of the Jumma is collected I am afraid it must be done with a degree of rigour inconsistent with humanity and sound policy. None but those who have been convinced by ocular demonstration can form an Idea of the unhappy state of this Province now labours under, the misery at this moment experienced by the Inhabitants is grievous beyond description, In addition to the total failure of the Grand crop not one grain of [Page 259] which has been saved, two thirds of the Cattle have already died for want of nourishment and I see but very little prospect of saving the remainder for not a tuft of grass or verdure of any kind is to be seen from one end of the District to the other.

The low lands tho always overflowed at this season of the year produced luxuriant crops of grain and pasture for cattle but the late rise of the water was more rapid than has ever been known in the memory of men and overwhelmed the whole Province in general ruin.

The country thro which I passed in my way to Sylhet exhibits the appearance of an open Sea in the midst of which a few small islands appear, eve upon these wretched spots, [...] in General raised near 15 feet above the level of the Plain, the Inhabitants are obliged to take shelter from the waves and inclemency of the weather by erecting stages for a temporary residence, not only their crop their cattle but their houses and the Grain intended for seed is gone. I observed and listened to their lamentations as I passed a long with a degree of sorrow and compassion. I never before experienced which communicated to my feeling the more forcibly because it was totally out of my power to afford the smallest assistance or alleviate their present distress.

Both men and women were employed in endeavouring to save the lives of the few cattle that still remained by diving in this open sea and scraping from the bottom roots of grass and weeds for their food which can only prove a temporary relief. The waters have as yet only fallen about six inches and the rains continue without intermission, I am now using every means in my power to encourage the sowing of new seed upon the High Ground adjoining to the Hills to be ready to plant the moment the water takes off and the Inhabitants from motives of self preservation I am happy to find are showing a greater degree of industry than they ever exhibited upon [Page 260] upon any former occasion.

I have the Honor to be & ca

Robt. Lindsay
[Page 260]

1.6. Answered as follows

Sir,

We have received your Letter of the 3rd Instant.

From the general distress of the inhabitants as stated by you, we can only desire that you will continue to exert your utmost endevours to alleviate their sufferings. In regard to the Publick Revenue we can only recommend to you to adopt your demands to the ability of the People to pay and to afford to the Inhabitants every encouragement in renewing their cultivation as soon as the waters subside.

As we will always be ready to forward any proposition which you may have to offer for the relief of the Inhabitants. We desire you will state to us any measures which may in your opinion be [Page 261] conducive to these purposes.

We are & ca

[Page 301]

1.7. Read the following Letter from the Governor General and Council

Gentlemen,

The Collector of Sylhet having addressed us on the State of that District we in consequence of the very distressed situation of the Inhabitants from the evident and unavoidable calamity of the Inundation in the District, desire you will write to the Collector not to press the Inhabitants for the payment of more Revenue than what they can easily afford, on the contrary to contribute all he can to the relief of their distresses and that we on this occasion rely particularly on his humanity and integrity and will take into our favourable consideration any abatement Revenue which we may represent as essentially [Page 302]necessary

We are & ca
Edward Wheeler John Macpherson
This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

crops, flood, grain, rain, relief

Source text

Title: Proceedings of the Committee of Revenue, 2nd-23rd September,1784

Original date(s) covered: 1784

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from manuscripts at the West Bengal State Archives. Original date(s) covered: 1784

Digital edition

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) page 18
  • 2 ) pages 19 to 22
  • 3 ) page 23
  • 4 ) pages 240 to 241
  • 5 ) pages 258 to 260
  • 6 ) pages 260 to 261
  • 7 ) pages 301 to 302

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

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

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

Genre: India > official correspondence > state archives > West Bengal

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.

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