Social Scientist. v 19, no. 219-20 (Aug-Sept 1991) p. 28.

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Peasants and British Rule in Orissa^*

In this paper we discuss some aspects of the economic conditions of peasants in coastal Orissa, comprising the districts of Balasore, Cuttack and Puri, during the period from 1803, the beginning of British rule, to 1930. In the first section we study the British policies relating to land and their consequences for various sections of the agricultural population. In particular, we discuss the burden of rent on the cultivators. In the following section we analyse the impact of irrigation canals constructed by the government during the 1860s in the Mahanadi delta, on productivity, cropping pattern and extension of cultivation and distribution of the benefits of irrigation among the various sections of the agricultural population. In the third section, the evolution of a peasant's right in land from a customary right to cultivate to a marketable asset, and its consequences are traced. In the fourth section, we briefly discuss various aspects of agricultural indebtedness, which was severe by the end of the nineteenth century, and the related process of transfers of occupancy rights of peasants in land, which assumed large proportions from the beginning of this century. The final section contains some concluding observations.


The first British land revenue settlement in Balasore, Cuttack and Puri, then forming a single administrative unit, was made in 1804-05 with the zamindars and the talukdars who were largely dispossessed and were in a state of abject poverty and depression during Maratha rule, which preceded British rule. The Marathas had commonly entrusted land revenue collection to the village headmen and sometimes their officers collected directly from the ryots, in .order to maximize collections.1 During the last years of Maratha rule, the annual land revenue collections were about Rs. 10,80,770, despite their highly oppressive methods. In 1804-05 the British revenue demand was pit-

* Department of Economics, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad.

** The author is grateful to Amiya Bagchi, Amit Bhaduri, Tarun Mukhopadhyay, Prabhat Patnaik and Amal Sanyal for their comments and suggestions.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 8-9, August-September, 1991

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