THE CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE
Simla, 20th October
A Resolution is published in the Revenue and Agricultural Department dealing with the reports furnished by the Local Governments on the material condition of the lower classes of the population in India. These reports were called for by the Viceroy in Council in a circular issued on the 17th August 1887. The Resolution says:—
The replies to the inquiry thus instituted are on the whole of an encouraging nature, and testify to a great progress in prosperity and the protection of agricultural interests which has followed extension of railways and canals. But the Government of India desire it to be distinctly understood that the inquiry to which reference is now made was necessarily only of a cursory and incomplete character, and in no way supersedes the obligation placed upon the Departments of Land Records and Agriculture, by the Resolution of 1881, to continue to work out the careful analysis of agricultural tracts which is necessary in order to ascertain with certainty and precision in what localities any section of the lower classes of the population is suffering from insufficiency of food or from other causes which tend to a degradation of agricultural operations and to local distress. In the meantime, the inquiry which has been made enables the Government of India to place before Local Governments and Administrations a sketch (Appendix A) of the general condition of the lower classes in India, and to indicate roughly the localities in respect to which it appears desirable to examine the question whether inland migration can be usefully encouraged.
It may be stated briefly that over the greater part of India the condition of the lower classes of the agricultural population is not one which need cause any great anxiety at present. The circumstances of these classes are such as to secure in normal seasons physical efficiency for the performance of agricultural work, though in the tracts classed as ‘Insecure’ there is always a risk, in the event of failure of the rains, that the more indigent class of the people may be overtaken by distress in various degrees and forms, and be deprived of the wages ordinarily provided by agricultural operations on which, in normal seasons, they depend for their livelihood.
There is evidence to show that in all parts of India there is a numerous population which lives form hand to mouth, is always in debt owing to reckless expenditure on marriages and other ceremonies, and in consequence of this indebtedness and of the fact that their creditors the middlemen intercept a large proportion of the profits of agriculture, does not save and has little or nothing to fall back upon in bad seasons. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, there is no sufficient cause for the direct interference of Government. In one or two parts of the country, however, there seems to be grounds for anxiety. In Behar it is believed that 40 per cent of a population of 15,313,359 is in a state of agricultural degradation. The chief remedy suggested by the Government of Bengal is emigration to the Colonies, to the tea plantations of Assam, and—with far greater effect—to the eastern districts of Bengal, which has already relieved in a certain measure the congestion of population in Behar; but the obstacles of climate and language and the risk to health in reclaiming land in Assam or Eastern Bengal have hitherto impeded immigration on a larger scale.
In the North-Western Provinces and Oudh there is now no evidence of marked agricultural degradation, and even in districts such as Ballia, where the density of population is over 700 to the square mile, the fertility of the soil, which is the cause of the density of population, secures general prosperity. Still the census figures, which show that in twenty-one districts there is a population of more than 500 to the square mile, suggest the inference that the time may not be far distant when it may be necessary to relieve over-population by some comprehensive scheme of emigration. This remark especially applies to the districts east of Lucknow. And although the Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh is of opinion that there is at present nothing which demands special action in those Provinces, it recognises as the best corrective for local distress the emigration of the surplus population from one part of the country to another.
In the rest of India—with the one exception of the Ratnagiri district in the Bombay Presidency—no precautionary measures of an exceptional character seem to be immediately called for; so that in existing circumstances Behar is the tract, which demands the chief and closest attention of the administration. But the inquiry which has been made, and which has led to the above conclusion, is only of a preliminary character and must be supplemented by the careful analysis of agricultural tracts which was enjoyned on the Departments of Land Records and Agriculture in the Resolution of 1881.”
Reference is then made to various schemes under which migration was carried out, and the causes of success or failure are examined. It is pointed out that Government is in a very different position from that in which it stood when the Famine Commission’s report was presented, as a large tract of country has been added to the Empire in Burma, and this will help to solve the problem of relieving the congested tracts of India on a scale and in a manner that could never have been obtained by emigration to the limited and unhealthy area of the Central Provinces.
The Mandalay Railway and feeder roads will bring excellent land within reach of colonists. Large grants of land are advocated, and it is proposed to set aside 100,000 acres for this purpose in Upper and Lower Burma. It is recommended the grantees be allowed to settle their own terms with the tenants, and grants be at first made on liberal conditions. The Chief Commissioners of Burma and the Central Provinces will collect information regarding waste lands available, the nature of the soil, the character of cultivation, the climatic conditions, the routes by which land may be reached, &c., and this information will be disseminated among the people of over-crowded tracts, and further suitable action be taken.
The Resolution concludes with the following summary of the measures which the Government of India has, under the direction of His Excellency Lord Dufferin, already taken in connection with the subject of inland emigration:—
- Firstly, obligation has been placed upon the Departments of Land Records and Agriculture to ascertain in what tacts relief is needed.
- Secondly, an inquiry has been instituted into the facts and circumstances under which population now moves from one part of India to another.
- Thirdly, an inquiry has been made into the condition of the agricultural population in all parts of India.
- Fourthly, the subject has been, with the permission of Local Governments, discussed at a conference of the Directors of the Departments of Land Records and Agriculture, whose proceedings have been placed before them for consideration.
- Fifthly, the Government of the North-Western Provinces and Bengal, which contain the most crowded tracts, were invited to depute officers to the Central Provinces and Burma for discussion with the authorities there of the procedure which should be adopted. It now remains for the Local Governments concerned to submit their opinions and advice to the Supreme Government.
The Pioneer comments
The Resolution in which the Government of India sums up the result of the inquiries made from the Provinces about the material condition of the people does not reveal much, probably because there is little to reveal. The investigation has served the purpose of showing that Lord Dufferin’s Government was not indifferent to the subject, and that may have been what was principally wanted of it.
No one, except perhaps a National Congressman, requires to learn the elementary facts about the condition of the people which are cited as the outcome of so much ado, such as that the population is badly off in Behar or is overcrowded in Ballia. And the few measures that are suggested by way of remedy have the true Secretariat look of being designed for show and for little else.
But if the question of over-population is shirked for the time being, there is no doubt about the contention that we are in a far better position to meet its results than when the Famine Commission sat—on the one hand by the all but complete realisation of the protective railways scheme: on the other by the acquisition of a vast field for future emigration in Upper Burma, which the sons of Hindustan are now free to enter in upon and possess.
©The Pioneer 1888