Salt and the Indian Salt Tax


(by David Page)

The main salt resources in India were the rock salt mines in the Punjab, the salt lakes of Rajasthan, particularly Sambhar Lake near Jeypore, the Gujarat coast, and to a lesser extent the coastal waters near Calcutta.

The salt tax became a major source of revenue for the East India Company and later the British government, and was not abolished until February 1947.

The Bengal Presidency grew a hedge which marked the Customs Line between the Bengal Presidency and the rest of India, Rajputana in particular. It was erected to aid the collection of the tax on salt into Bengal and the export tax on sugar from Bengal, and of course, to prevent smuggling of these commodities. The Line was started by the East India Company in the 18th century, and was only abandoned in 1878.

The retail price of salt at the beginning of 1878 in Patna, Allahabad, and Lucknow was recorded as Rs 5 a maund (Department of Finance and Commerce 1885, 220. A maund was equivalent to 82 pounds or 39 kilos.) It seems probable that it was at about that level in the interior of the Bengal Presidency, depending on transport costs, in 1794, when the wholesale price averaged 3 ¼ rupees (Parliamentary Papers 1856, 146). In 1836, John Crawfurd described “a wholesale price of five rupees per maund upon the spot, and without reference to distribution over an immense tract of country, often without roads or bridges, for the most part with indifferent ones, and notoriously deficient in capital” (Parliamentary Papers 1836, Appendix 76: 196). He also referred to the situation in 1823, when “in many parts of the country the price rose to 12 rupees a maund for adulterated salt”.

Source: The Great Hedge of India, Roy Moxham, 2001, (ISBN 1-84119-260-0), pp.72, 160-163. Published by:

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