Some Problems Relating to Horizontal and Vertical Expansion in Colonial Agriculture in Western India
The problem of underdevelopment in colonial agriculture has been a subject of much controversy. In 1901, R.C. Dutt remarked that the land tax levied by the British government was not only excessive but it was also fluctuating and uncertain. This uncertainty of the land tax paralysed agriculture, prevented savings and kept the tiller of the soil in a state of poverty and indebtedness. The criticism was directed especially against the governments of Bombay and Madras which absorbed approximately the whole of the surplus leaving the cultivators little beyond the wages of their labour and the profits of their agricultural stock.1 The colonial government recorded an emphatic dissent. In a resolution in 1902, Curzon stated that there was no reason for thinking that local taxation was on the whole either onerous or excessive, and that equity and moderation were the underlying principles of the land revenue system. It was argued that in the Bombay Presidency in the 40 years ending in 1895-96, cultivation had increased from 14.75 to 23.33 million acres or about 60 per cent acreage expansion, as compared with an increase of population probably not exceeding 30 per cent. In several districts the whole of the cultivable land had been practically absorbed. In Poona, Ahmednagar, Sholapur and Satara, the cultivable waste amounted to less than 1 per cent of the total cultivable area. It was further argued that the assessment amounted to no more than one-fifteenth 10 one-twentieth of the gross produce.2 Some time ago M.D. Morris denied any economic deterioration under the British rule. The argument was vigorously contested by Bipan Chandra, T. Raychaudhuri and Toru Matsui.3 Recent studies on western India seek to reinforce this notion of expansion and prosperity of agrarian economy under the British rule. According to M.B. McAlpin, agricultural prosperity increased between 1860 to 1920 due to better markets and falling transport costs, rising prices, and reduction in foodgrains and shifts to commercial crops. It has also been argued that increase in agricultural productivity occurred due to increase in irrigated area, use of better seeds/ increase in labour use per acre, and
4 Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.