British Administration of Odisha

The British occupation of Odisha in 1803 created a new chapter in the history of Odisha. Before that, Odisha had been under an alien rule for such a long period. They introduced British administration in Odisha which brought far-reaching changes in Odisha. In fact, the British administration had changed the life of the people of Odisha to a great extent. Odisha was divided into three administrative units under British administration.’ ‘Province of Cuttack’ was under Bengal Presidency, Ganjam and Koraput were under Madras Presidency and Sambalpur was under Central Provinces. Besides, there were princely states. The administration under such conditions naturally could not become uniform. Further ‘Province of Cuttack’ was divided into two divisions viz., Northern and Southern with head quarters at Balasore and Jagannath (Puri) respectively in 1804. Subsequently for administrative reasons, head quarter at Puri was shifted to Cuttack in 1816. Cuttack also became the seat of the Commissioner, the Board of Revenue and the Provincial Appeal Court in 1818. The Commissioner became the Superintendent of Feudatory States. Cuttack Province was divided into Balasore, Cuttack and Puri districts in 1828.

British Land Revenue Settlement in Odisha

In the administration, revenue aspects were considered most important. All the three kinds of land settlement, viz., Zamindari, Ryotwari and Mahalwari were implemented in different parts to assess and collect land revenue.

A. Zamindari system

The British occupied Odisha in 1803. At that time permanent Settlement had been in force in Bengal for a decade. The Permanent Settlement recognized the zamindars as the hereditary proprietors of the soil in perpetuity, provided they paid to the government, the latter’s share of the revenue, collected from the cultivators. The same system was not introduced in entirety in Odisha.

1. Temporary settlements

The English introduced temporary settlements in most areas and extended Permanent Settlement to some zamindaries of the Maratha period. Under the Regulation XII of 1805, short term settlements were introduced for eleven years in the following order – one year settlement of 1804-5, three years’ settlement from 1805-6 to 1807- 8, four years’ settlement from 1808-9 to 1811-12 and three years’ settlement from 1812-13 to 1814-15. At the end of these short term experiments, Permanent Settlement was proposed to be introduced in such lands which were “in a sufficiently improved state of cultivation to warrant the measure on such terms as the government shall deem fair and equitable”.

2. Zamindaries under regulation

Under the above regulation, settlement of land revenue was made with the following zamindaries at a fixed jama in perpetuity – Darpan, Sukinda, Madhupur, Aul, Kanika, Kujang, Harishpur, Marichpur, Bishnupur, Dampara, Patia, Kalkalla, Chhedra and Parikud. East India Company wanted to treat the raja of Khurda as a zamindar on the basis of Permanent Settlement like the zamindars of the above-mentioned estates but due to the rebellion of the raja in 1804 his estate was converted into a government estate.

In 1805 the Government promised that Permanent Settlement would be introduced in the temporarily settled areas at the end of eleven years’ experimental short term settlements. But the promise could not be actually fulfilled because in 1811 and 1812 the Court of Directors of East India Company, in their despatches to the Government in India, disapproved of the introduction of Permanent Settlement in ‘ceded and conquered territories’ including Odisha.

3. Bad effects of short term settlements

The short term settlements proved ruinous to the Oriya tenants as well as zamindars. While the tenures of proprietors of land were frequently changed, no method was devised to protect the rights of the peasants over tile land. Revenue was often fixed and increased without taking into proper consideration the real value and capability of estate. Subsequently S.L. Maddox held that the early revenue settlement in Odisha was an “unfortunate record of assessment on insufficient enquiry and of the enforcement of inelastic rules for the realization of inequitable revenues.”

The British allowed no reduction or remission of revenue, in the event of the peasants’ inability to pay since 1804, there were numerous floods and droughts, causing famine or scarcity of food, but collection of revenue went on as per the Bengal Regulations. The early land revenue policy of the British was considered more repressive than that of the Marathas, because the latter allowed remission or reduction of revenue, when there was loss of crops caused by the natural calamities.

Because of heavy assessment and failure of crops, the landlords could not pay revenue to the Government for their estates. The arrears of revenue led to sale of estates. In 1807, 266 estates with a total jama of more than 3 lakhs were sold. Estates with a higher jama of Rs. 5,000/- or more were sold at Fort Wiiliam, Calcutta. Consequently many Odia zamindars lost their estates and those estates were purchased by the Bengali speculators. Since Permanent Settlement was not introduced, many zamindars gave up their estates in 1816-17 to get rid of the troubles, caused by the short term settlements.

4. Exploitation of Bengali zamindars

The Bengali zamindars who purchased estates stayed away from the estates and appointed amlas to collect revenue. Those amlas took advantage of the peasants’ ignorance of Regulations and collected more than the legal rent. About their oppression Trower the Collector of Cuttack observed: “This system must have .been most ruinous to the country destructive to the prosperity of the ryots, and one of the greatest evils which the foreign amlas have entailed on the district since it came under the British Government.

The short term settlement did not end in 1814-15 as had been originally proposed. There were ten more short term settlements which ended in 1837. A thirty years settlement wasintroduced in 1837 and the question of Permanent Settlement was finally rejected. This long term settlement was made on the basis of careful field survey and investigation into the individual
rights of each landholder and under-tenant but the people had already been subjected to much hardship due to the short term settlement of preceding thirty three years.

B. Ryotwari system

The Ryotwari system was introduced in place of Zamindari in ‘Ganjam plains’ of Chhatrapur, Berhampur and Ghumsar in early part of 19th century. Under the system, revenue collection was made by officials appointed by the Company. It ensured the tenants of their rights over land on condition of a fixed amount of rent annually. The rent was fixed at half of net production on the basis of assessment. The ryot (peasant-cultivator) felt secured about his possession. He was given a document called ‘Patta’ containing amount and kind of land and the rent he had to pay. He could deal with his land in any manner without putting any liability on the state.

C. Mahalwari system

The System was introduced in Sambalpur district. It was a modified version of the Zamindari System. Both the Zamindars and the village headmen played an important role in the System. They were standing mid-way between the chiefs of a feudatory state and proprietor of the Mughalbandi area. Sambaipur district was divided into two tracts-Khalsa and Zamindari. Whereas the former refers to such land held by village headmen directly from government, the latter was a feudal organization headed by Zamindars. Khalsa consisted of 119 Malguzari, 870 Gauntia and 16 Ryotwari villages comprising of an area of 1657 sq miles. Whereas Zamindars were 17 in number with 3,248 sq miles.

The lease of land was granted to Zamindars or Gauntias or Birtias or Umra, as the ease may be, for collection of revenue. There was some tax-free land called Bhogra, Devottara or Brahmottara. Bhogra was enjoyed by those Zamindars, Gauntias etc. and some classes of village servants like Jhankar (village priest) Chaukidar (watchman) and Nariha (water-carrier) etc.

Brahmottara and Devottara were land granted to Brahmins and religious institutions respectively. The System had some demerits. The short term settlement of the System proved to be harassing and expensive for the tenants. Further, the Zamindars and Gauntias exploited tenants in various ways. Free labour known as Bethi- Begar was taken from them. They had to pay Nazarana (present) to secure Zamindar’s consent for transfer of land. As Sambalpur district was declared tobe “a partially excluded area” under Govt. of India Act of 1935, it was difficult to amend the tenancy laws.

British Judicial Administration in Odisha

The judicial administration, adopted by the British government in Odisha, was efficient. One judge was appointed to look after the administration of justice. The people of Odisha could not follow the clumsy judicial procedure of the court. Sometimes, laws were tilted in favour of the culprit who bribed the am/as and other servants of the court and even the pleaders of the opposite party. The people of Odisha gradually lost faith from the judiciary, run by the British government in this land. The same judge also acted as magistrate. The conquered territories were divided into several thanas under the control of the darogahs.. The police, to a greater extent, was oppressive.

Last Line to Say

Thus, the introduction of British administration in Odisha brought far-reaching changes in the life of the people of Odisha. Odisha got divided into three administrative units under British administration. In the administration, revenue aspects were considered most important. All the three kinds of land settlement, viz., Zamindari, Ryotwari and Mahalwari were implemented in different parts to assess and collect land revenue. The short term settlements proved ruinous to the Oriya tenants as well as zamindars. The Bengali zamindars exploited the tenants of Odisha. The people of Odisha could not follow the clumsy judicial procedure of the court. The police, to a greater extent, was oppressive in nature.

Credit: Inputs from History of Odisha From 1803 to 1948 by Dr Manas Kumar Das