Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Warren Hastings (contd-1)
Hastings spent two successful years at Madras. His management of the company's commercial concerns was particularly commended. In 1771 the directors of the East India Company, looking for a new Governor of Bengal, Choose Hastings.He returned to Calcutta on 17 February 1772.
As a Governor;
As a Governor he dismissed formal acknowledgements of Mughal authority over Bengal and asserted the company's direct authority . He believed sovereignity, a concept that he frequently invoked, was vested in the 'British Nation' and that there must be no equivocation about that.
Hastings shared the view , universal among contemporary Europeans, that Bengal was a naturally rich province with a highly productive agriculture and skilled manufacturers that had suffered from mismanagement under its Indian rulers and during the British take over. It had been aflicted in 1770 by a severe famine.
The Bengal famine of 1770 (Bengali: ৭৬-এর মন্বন্তর, Chhiattōrer monnōntór; lit The Famine of '76) was a catastrophic famine between 1769 and 1773 (1176 to 1180 in the Bengali calendar) that affected the lower Gangetic plain of India. The famine is estimated to have caused the deaths of 10 million people (one out of three, reducing the population to thirty million in Bengal, which included Bihar and parts of Orissa). The Bengali names derives from its origins in the Bengali calendar year 1176. ("Chhiattōr"- "76"; "monnōntór"- "famine" in Bengali).
By early 1770 there was starvation, and by mid-1770 deaths from starvation were occurring on a large scale. There were also reports of the living feeding on the bodies of the dead in the middle of that year. Smallpox and other diseases further took their toll of the population. Later in 1770 good rainfall resulted in a good harvest and the famine abated. However, other shortfalls occurred in the following years, raising the total death toll.
As a result of the famine large areas were depopulated and returned to jungle for decades to come, as the survivors migrated in mass in a search for food. Many cultivated lands were abandoned—much of Birbhum, for instance, returned to jungle and was virtually impassable for decades afterwards. From 1772 on, bands of bandits and thugs became an established feature of Bengal, and were only brought under control by punitive actions in the 1780s.
East India Company responsibilities
Fault for the famine is now often ascribed to the British East India Company's policies in Bengal.
As a trading body, the first remit of the company was to maximise its profits and with taxation rights the profits to be obtained from Bengal came from land tax as well as trade tariffs. As lands came under company control, the land tax was typically raised fivefold what it had been – from 10% to up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce. In the first years of the rule of the British East India Company, the total land tax income was doubled and most of this revenue flowed out of the country. As the famine approached its height in April of 1770, the Company announced that the land tax for the following year was to be increased by a further 10%.
Sushil Chaudhury writes that the destruction of food crops in Bengal to make way for opium poppy cultivation for export reduced food availability and contributed to the famine. However, this claim has been disputed on the grounds that the total area under opium poppy cultivation in the Bengal region constituted less than two percent of all the land.
The company is also criticised for forbidding the "hoarding" of rice. This prevented traders and dealers from laying in reserves that in other times would have tided the population over lean periods, as well as ordering the farmers to plant indigo instead of rice.
By the time of the famine, monopolies in grain trading had been established by the company and its agents. The company had no plan for dealing with the grain shortage, and actions were only taken insofar as they affected the mercantile and trading classes. Land revenue decreased by 14% during the affected year, but recovered rapidly (Kumkum Chatterjee). According to McLane, the first governor-general of British India, Warren Hastings, acknowledged "violent" tax collecting after 1771: revenues earned by the Company were higher in 1771 than in 1768.  Globally, the profit of the company increased from fifteen million rupees in 1765 to thirty million in 1777.