One hundred years of colonial revenue policy of the British East India Company made the entire Indian peasantry impoverished and indebted to unscrupulous moneylenders and bankers.
It is all because of the high incidence of land revenue fixed and imposed by the British, existence of many intermediaries between the cultivator and the state, subdivision and fragmentation of landholdings and pressure on agriculture due to the growth of population.
Besides these factors, uncertain monsoons, poor means of irrigational facilities, and lack of modernization of agriculture also contributed to the impoverishment of the peasantry.
Added to these factors, the most important feature was high demand for revenue and its constant increase year after year throughout the colonial period.
The British collected as land revenue from Bengal in 1767 an amount of sixty lakh of rupees. By 1793, the amount rose to Rs 1, 09, 59,130. Besides high tax on the cultivator, many intermediaries exploiting the innocent and uneducated peasant by demanding tax at various levels made the cultivator approach the moneylender to pay the revenue due to the state. Consequently, the peasants were indebted and it led to rural indebtedness as rural industries based on rural handicrafts declined due to rapid industrialization of England and the drain of wealth from India to England.
The early Indian nationalist thinkers Dadabai Naoroji, R.C. Dutt and Govind Mahadeva Ranade and many more, made minute studies of the drain of wealth and causes of rural indebtedness and finally came to the conclusion that it was all due to the British colonial interests destroying the Indian agriculture and rural industries.
Bishwesvar Prasad aptly remarks that the prosperity of England beckoned poverty of India, for imperialism based on a colonial economy thrives on the exploitation of the dependent subjects. India had become the victim of colonialism and all the evils of imperialism had become evident before the power and position of the East India Company had been extinguished after the revolt of 1857. By 1911, the rural indebtedness was estimated as 300 crore and by 1937 it rose to 1,800 crore.
Further, besides man-made disasters, natural disasters like famines also affected the Indian peasants and made them impoverished. A number of major famines: 1759 (Sind), 1783 (UP, Kashmir, Rajasthan), 1800-1804 and 1837-38 (UP). Famines occurred in 1787, 1790-92, 1799-1804, 1812-13, 1819-20, 1824—25, 1833-34 in Maharashtra and Rajasthan, famines occurred in south Indian region in 1781-82, 1790-92, 1806-1807, 1833-34 in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Of all the famines the most devastating was the 1770 famine of Bengal, where one crore people perished.
The failure of the British colonial power to improve irrigation and the failure to tackle famines through a sustained policy also contributed to the impoverishment and indebtedness of rural India. We may conclude that the British colonial policy coupled with land revenue experiments made India an impoverished and debt-ridden country.