Read this article to learn about the role of Warren Hastings as the Governor of Bengal.
Warren Hastings came as Governor of Bengal in 1772 at the age of forty when he had been already two years in India. He had risen regularly up the rungs of the civilian ladder from the position of a writer, the lowest grade in the Company’s service.
As a member of Vansittart’s council he was posted as the resident at Murshidabad Court.
He returned to England after fourteen years’ service in India. Impressed by the ability with which gave evidence before a committee of the House of Commons, he was sent back to India as the second of the Madras Council in 1769. He was next appointed Governor of Bengal towards the end of 1771 and he assumed charge early in 1772.
The incompetence of Give’s successors had fully revealed the evils of Dual Government. Miseries of the people due to oppression and exploitation by the Company’s servants were aggravated by the famine of 1770 which stalked whole of Bengal leaving a third part of it desolate and one-third of the population decimated.
The Company’s dominions in Bengal then consisted of these types of territories of a variety of titles. Burdwan, Midnapur and Chittagong were gifted to the Company in 1960 and were revenue tree. Calcutta and the 24-Parganas were held as Zamindary under the Nawab. Other places of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were held by the Company as Diwani granted to the Company in 1765 for an annual payment of 26 lakhs of rupees to the Emperor.
From 1765 to 1772 the administration of the diwani was in the hands of two Indian officials called Naib-Diwans or deputy finance ministers of the Company although legally and actually the Company was the real diwan. There naib-diwans were Muhammad Reza Khan in Bengal and Shitab Rai in Bihar.
This system of Indian executive officers functioning under vague British control, known as dual system had fallen into great disrepute and while the Company itself was in great financial straits, its servants returning to England carried immense fortunes with them and their Indian counterparts were amassing fortunes by all questionable means.
The directors of the Company strongly suspected the naib-diwans of intercepting a great part of the revenue that ought to have reached the Company’s exchequer. Such, in short, was the state of things Hastings was called upon to deal with. As Warren Hastings understood the situation is clear from his remark when appointed Governor of Bengal: “a station” he said “of more eclat, but of more trouble and difficulty.”
His task was to consolidate the Company’s rule in Bengal, preservation of the British possessions from deadly danger without, and bitter schism within. He found the Company, a Commercial Corporation turned revenue former with all the attendant problem of such transformation.
The Court of Directors wrote:
“We now arm you with full powers to make a complete reformation”. The dictatorial instructions, by which Hastings was guided, however, left much scope for his own discretion of which he made full use.
Hastings’ reforms fall under four heads, namely to:
(1) Deal with the diwani or revenue administration,
(2) Reform of the judicature,
(3) Settlement of land revenue, and
(4) Commercial reforms.
Diwani or Revenue Administration:
The Court of Directors instructed him that the Company must “stand forth as Dewan”, and take over the Civil administration directly in the hands of the Company. This was, in the words of Warren Hastings, “implanting the authority of the Company, and the Sovereignty of Great Britain, in the constitution of the country”. This was only a half-way house measure towards the British Crown’s taking over of their conquests. It continued to remain in this state until the Revolt of 1857 precipitated its completion.
Hasting’s first task was the abolition of the officers of the naib-diwans of Bihar and Bengal and prosecute the naib-diwans Shitab Rai and Muhammad Reza Khan for peculation and tyranny. Hastings had to do all this under instruction from the Directors.
He was also instructed to use Nanda Kumar, former Naib-Diwan who had been ousted by the Company to put in Reza Khan in that position as their representative and was not to be removed by the Nawab without Company’s consent. Hastings was ordered by the Directors to give the whole matter of deposing the naib-diwans an ethical colour by staging a formal trial of the two. This was obviously a political measure to meet any possible opposition to the deposition of the two native high officials. Shitab Rai naib-diwan of Bihar was acquitted honourably and Hastings himself wrote: “Indeed I scarce know why he was called to account”. Muhammad Reza Khan was also ultimately acquitted.
The burden that lay on one man—Warren Hastings—was too heavy to bear. He aptly described the situation as “every part of the Government had been clogged”. But Hastings’ ability-was Herculean and he addressed to the job with ability and efficiency.
He reduced the allowance of the Nawab to sixteen lakhs from thirty-two and this was the third reduction of allowance which was fifty-three lakhs in 1765, reduced to forty-one lakhs in 1766, to thirty-two lakhs in 1769. Hastings, however, cannot be blamed for the third reduction (to sixteen lakhs) for it was done under the orders of the Court of Directors.
Hastings now turned his attention to work out a satisfactory system of revenue administration and to reform the civil justice which was a part of it. In 1769 Supervisors were appointed and they had been given a roaming mission to study the revenue system in their districts.
But they had neither any training nor any inclination to have a clear idea of the revenue system of the time. Hastings appointed a Committee of Circuit which was to visit each district to effect revenue settlement with tax farmers or Zaminders. A preliminary revenue settlement was made for five years, lands being farmed out by auction to the highest bidder, although a few hereditary Zamindars were appointed tax farmers in this process, the system of rack-renting kept most of the hereditary Zaminder houses out, and fortune-seekers became the highest bidders in their eagerness to realize whatever they could within the span of five years without any thought of the ability of the ryots to pay the higher demand of revenue.
Hastings proceeded from the motion that the State was the Supreme landlord which was contrary to Hindu theory, although the Muslim theory was that the land of the conquered belonged to the conqueror. To the English, the status of revenue farmers posed a difficult problem. Under the Mughal revenue system the revenue farmers or Zamindars had become a heterogeneous body of descendants of old Hindu chiefs, court-favourites, farmer officials etc.
But by the middle of the eighteenth century the Mughal system of land revenue had almost completely decayed and the English Company found the revenue System in utter confusion. Hasting’s revenue settlement, therefore, was experimental. He ignored the claims of hereditary Zaminders and strongly objected to the Zamindars being accepted as the owners of (he lands subject to payment of a fixed rent.
He appointed collectors, one in each district, in place of the supervisors. The collectors had no settlement or assessment work to do, for this was done by the Committee of Circuit, Hastings himself accompanying it. The collectors were under strict orders to prevent the Zamindars from raising rents and Indians were appointed to assist them.
A Board of Revenue with the Governor and his Council was constituted with its seat in Calcutta upon which was entrusted the highest authority in revenue matters. The treasury of the diwani was shifted from Murshidabad to Calcutta.
Hastings’ revenue experiment proved a failure largely due to the lack of caliber and power of the Collectors. Physical difficulty in dealing with villages throughout the deltaic plain added to their difficulty. The Collectors only added to the confusion. Defaults were frequent, the evils of settling lands with speculators of poor standing led to the hopeless failure of the quinquennial settlement. Bengal Presidency was put under six Revenue Boards and the system of Collectors was abolished. A Metropolitan Revenue Board was placed upon all these six Revenue Boards.
Thompson and Garratt are reluctant to put the blame for the failure of the quinquennial settlement on Warren Hastings on the grounds that he was not responsible for legal chaos produced by the Regulating Act of 1773; he had to satisfy the rapacity of the Court of Directors at London who had an unusually exaggerated notion about the wealth of Bengal which forced him to assess the revenue too high. Further, he had not the staff, Indian or English, under him who had the knowledge, probity or willingness to carry out his scheme.
It is also contended by Thompson and Garratt that the criticism of Hastings in ignoring the claims of the hereditary Zamindars is untenable because according to them due to the anarchy in the early eighteenth century a large proportion of the Zamindars were adventurers, many of whom had secret link with gangs of robbers, dacoits and river pirates. Hastings indeed failed to provide an alternative policy but Thompson and Garratt pointed out that the Zamindars did not justify the later policy of Permanent Settlement “by their services to the country-side or their treatment of the tenantry”.
Yet we cannot lose sight of the facts that the system of settling land by auction to the highest bidder brought in fresh horde of speculators who, not sure of a renewal of tenancy, exploited to the utmost. The Company’s servants themselves also participated in the bidding at the auction through their banians or servants. Warren Hastings also cannot escape the charge of corruption. There was a grant of land registered in the name of a ten-year old son of Can-too Bamboo (Krishna kanta Nandy), a banian of Warren Hastings, inordinately high assessment, despite pressure from Directors for it, should have been resisted by him. This, added to the harshness of collection, contributed to the failure of Hasting’s revenue experiment. “Hastings failed, but his policy is important because it marks the first tentative effort to evolve the district system and the district Officer”.
After the expiry of the term of quinquennial settlement in 1776, Hastings reverted to annual revenue settlement on the basis of open auction to highest bidder. Preference was, however, given to Zamindars in settling land. In the same year (1776) Hastings appointed the A mini Commission for gathering information about the land revenue system of Bengal and on the basis of this abolished the six Provincial Councils of revenue and reappointed the collectors, one to each district in 1781.
According to Penderal Moon all the members of the abolished Provincial Councils had to be provided with job under direction from the Directors and Hastings had to absorb many of these former members of the Provincial Councils as collectors and judges of Diwani Adalats. Quanugos who had been an important Mughal revenue staff and who had ceased to function were reappointed and the supervision of the entire revenue system was centralized in the hands of the Committee of Revenue at Calcutta.
Hastings’ Judicial Reforms:
Under the Mughal system, the diwan was in charge of the revenue collection of the Subah and to decide all cases related to land and land revenue. With the grant of the Diwani (1765) the Company also obtained the responsibility of the civil justice. With the change in the revenue system, therefore, change in the system of civil justice was inevitable.
The Criminal justice was, however, the responsibility of the Nizamat, as such the Company had no right to effect any change in the criminal law a criminal justice. But the Company did not regard this legal distinction in the powers of the Company and the Nawab in civil and criminal justice.
It may be mentioned here that judicial system in Bengal before Hastings’ reforms was very unsatisfactory. The Zamindars were in charge of both the civil and criminal justice in their own areas and arbitration rather than judicial trial was the popular method of justice. “Every decision is a corrupt bargain with the highest bidder. Trifling offenders are frequently loaded with heavy demands and capital offences are as often absolved by the renal judge.” (Verelst) Interference by the Company’s servants or their servants made the situation worse still. With Company’s obtaining the grant of Diwani the Civil Justice became the responsibility of the Company and it was defrayed through the naib-diwan of the Company.
Warren Hastings addressed himself to the task of reform of judicial system immediately after the new revenue Settlement in 1772. On the recommendation of the Committee of Court he set up a Diwani Adalat and a Faujdari Adalat in each district and called them Mofussil Diwani Adalat and Mofussil Faujdari Adalat.
Mofussil Diwani Adalat:
This court was presided over by the Collector of the district, and. it was competent to decide relating to inheritance relating to Zamindary and taluqdari. It also decided all cases relating to landed property, caste, marriage, debts etc. If the litigants were Hindus, the Hindu Law and custom would be applicable and in the case of Muslims, the Muslim law and custom. This court was competent to deal with cases up-to the value of Rs.500. An-appeal against the decisions of the Mofussil Diwani Adalat would, however, lie to the Sadar Diwani Adalat at Calcutta which was constituted of the Governor and two members of his council assisted by Indian Officers.
Mofussil Faujdari Adalat:
The Mofussil Faujdari Adalat was competent to try all criminal cases. Only in cases where the accused was awarded capital punishment, the punishment had to be sent to the Sadar Nijamat Adalat which was presided over by the Nawab. Nawab’s confirmation was necessary for Capital punishment or confiscation of property. The Mofussil Faujdari Adalat was presided by an Indian Officer of the Company who was assisted by a Qazi, a Mufti and two Maulavis. The Collector of the district had power of supervision over the Mofussil Faujdari Adalat and he could see that the evidence was duly considered and impartial judgment arrived at.
From the Mofussil Faujdari Adalat appeal would lay to the Sadar Nizamat Adalat at Murshidabad. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat was presided over by the Nizam who would be assisted by the Chief Qazi, Chief Mufti and three expert Maulavis. The President and Council at Calcutta exercised right of control and supervision over the Sadar Nizamat Adalat.
Supreme Court at Calcutta:
In 1773 Regulating Act was passed by the British Parliament in order to control and regulate the affairs of the East India Company in India. Besides provisions relating to general administration etc. this Act provided for, the establishment of a Supreme Court at Calcutta with a Lord Chief Justice and three puisne judges under him. This court was competent to by all British subjects. Over Calcutta and the English factories the Court exercised jurisdiction over all persons European or non-European.
But outside this jurisdiction if parties would agree, their case might be heard by this Court. The Supreme Court administered English laws. It may be mentioned here that the Sadar Dewani Adalat and Sadar Nizamat Adalat with their subordinate Adalats administered justice according to Hindu and Muslim laws, supplemented by the capacity.
The Supreme Court claimed jurisdiction and actually did exercise it over all persons and not only ignored the authority of the Company’s courts but even entertained cases against the judges of those\ courts, by cases again which had already been tried by other courts. This court began to exercise jurisdiction over Zamindars and others who were neither British subjects nor servants of the British subjects All this was being done taking advantage of the failure of the Regulating Act in defining the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This was also responsible for the conflict between the Supreme Court and Supreme Council which will be discussed elsewhere.
Other Reforms of Hastings:
Hastings’ reforming hands touched a variety of subjects. As the Company’s Courts, i.e. the district and Sadar Courts used to deal many cases according to Hindu and Muslim laws, Hastings caused a translation of the Sanskrit, i.e. Hindu Laws in a Code called Code of Gentoo Laws was published in 1776.
He also introduced:
(i) The system of preserving the records of judicial cases,
(ii) That cases would become time-barred if not instituted within twelve years from the time of the cause of action,
(iii) The debtor could not be tortured after taking him to the house of the creditor,
(iv) Prohibited imposition of heavy furies by courts,
(v) Rate of interest was fixed at Rs.100/-,
(vi) Application of the Hindu laws in cases of the Hindus and Mohammedan law in cases of the Muslims was formally accepted, and
(vii) Abolished the system of acceptance of fees by the Qazis, Muftis etc. from those who would seek justice and instead he introduced payment of salaries to them.
Hastings found that free movement of Trade and Commerce was hindered by innumerable customs within Zamindaries. These were all abolished and only five customs houses or stations at Calcutta, Hooghly, Murshidabad, Dacca and Patna were retained. Customs duty was lowered down to 2 ½ % payable by all merchants and misuse of dastaks was checked with a strong hand. Exploitation of weavers by the Company’s agents was suppressed. Hastings, reformed the currency system and thereby removed the mismanagement of the currency of the time.
Hastings tried to expand the Company’s trade to Tibet and through Tibet to Nepal and Bhutan. To this end he had sent George Bogle in 1774 to the court of Pashi Lama in Tibet as an emissary. He also had sent Abdul Qader mission to Nepal for prospecting the future of a trade relation with Nepal and the Company.
Supreme Court and Supreme Council: Their Conflict:
In 1773 the British Parliament enacted the Regulating Act finding that the earlier charter was not adequate to meet the exigencies of the situation and to prevent the corruption among the Company’s servants.
This Act vested the administration of British territories in India in the hands of a Governor-General with a Council of four members. The Governor of Bengal was given the name of Governor-General of Bengal. The four members of the Governor-General’s Council were named in the Act, they were Clavering, Monson, Barwell and Philip Francis.
The Council was appointed for a term of five years but could be removed from office earlier on the recommendation of the Court of Directors. Over the Councils of Bombay and Madras the Governor-General and Council had supervisory power in matters of declaration of war and signing of peace.
The Governor-General was to preside over the meeting of the Council and matters were to be decided by majority votes. The Governor-General had no over-riding power, he had only a casting vote in cases of tie. Three members formed the quorum. Of the four members of the Council named in the Act, Barwell was already in the Company’s service in India, others came from England.
The three members who came from England were greatly prejudiced against Warren Hastings and the Company’s government which they thought were utterly corrupt. Clavering, Monson and Francis formed a triumvirate and were out to find fault with Warren Hastings who had a lone supporter in Barwell. The defect of the Regulating Act in not providing the Governor-General, who was the President of the Council with overriding power made the situation extremely difficult from the very start. On their arrival the members of the triumvirate complained of “mean and dishonourable” reception accorded to them, and even imputed motive in Warren Hastings’ failure to show befitting courtesy in receiving the members of the Council. This was a bad augury for things that were to follow.
The first meeting of the Council showed the shape of things to come. The Councillors, except Barwell, demanded all papers relating to Hastings’ transactions with Nawab Wazir of Oudh and all correspondence with Middleton, the English Resident at Lucknow to be placed before the Council.
They also wanted to examine the propriety on the Company’s part in the Rohilla War. Warren Hastings Who knew his own weak points refused to place the papers demanded by the majority, before the Council whereupon the majority recalled Middleton from Lucknow and appointed Bristow in his place as President and arrived at the conclusion that Company’s involvement in the Rohilla War was unjust and impolitic. The majority comprising Clavering, Monson and Francis entered into a new treaty with the. Nawab of Oudh known as the treaty of Fyzabad. Asaf-ud- daulah was now the new Nawab of Oudh who succeeded his father.
By this treaty the Nawab was required to pay an increased amount of rupees two lakh sixty thousand in place of two lakh ten thousand for the maintenance of Company’s troops in Oudh. The Nawab had also to cede permanently Benares to the Company. The majority criticized the quinquennial settlement of 1772 as it was unrealistic as the amount of revenue fixed by auction with the highest bidder was extremely exhorbitant and beyond the power of the tax fanners to pay.
Hastings’ reforms of the criminal justice was also objected to by the majority inasmuch as the power of the Nawab was curtailed. By a resolution all rights of the Nawab with regard to criminal justice were restored. Mohammad Reza Khan was reinstated in his position at naib-subah. In external affairs as well the majority did not endorse Warren Hastings’ policy of interference in the internal disputes of the Marathas and objected to policy of territorial expansion.
For the period from 1774 to 1776 Warren Hastings was in an uncomfortably embarrassing situation because all his powers and authority had been virtually usurped by the majority in the Council which was hostile to him. But the situation changed in the same year when Monson died (Sept. 25, 1776). With his casting vote Hastings now had a majority in the Council.
But in 1775 when Warren Hastings was having a very hard and trying time with the hostile majority in the Council, he wrote to Colonel Macleane in London desiring to be relieved of his post. His desire was conveyed to the Court of Directors who accepted Hastings’ resignation and appointed Clavering as the Governor-General in his place (Nov., 1776). Edward Wheeler was appointed a member of the Council of the Governor-General in place of Hastings.
But in the meantime (Sept. 1776) died Monson which gave Hastings majority in the Council with his casting vote changed the situation for Hastings and he informed the Court of Directors of his intention to continue as Governor-General. Early in 1777 instruction had reached Calcutta about Clavering’s appointment as Governor-General and Clavering took oath as Governor-General on June 20, 1777. Hastings however did not make over charge to Clavering and the matter was referred to the Supreme Court which decided in Warren Hastings’ favour. Wheeler arrived in Calcutta and it was apprehended that he would toe the line of Philip Francis. But again luck favoured Warren Hastings, Clavering died (Aug., 1777) leaving Hastings in the majority. Francis was too intelligent and firm a person to relax his criticism and opposition to Warren Hastings.
Philip Francis’ conflict with Warren Hastings was both a conflict of personalities as well as of principles. Both differed in principles, and policy matters of the Company. Francis was an honest, puritanic type with whom conviction was more important than convenience. He had started from England with the conviction that Warren Hastings was an oppressing tyrant with whom human consideration was out of question. Francis’ letter to Lord dive bears out this attitude about Hastings. “Mr. Hastings wholly and solely has sold and ruined Bengal” wrote Francis. Francis was also not without age or ambition.
It was his conviction that it was he alone who could save- Bengal and in order accomplish that he needed power and it could be had by removing Hastings from office. As such there were occasions when his attack of Warren Hastings or criticism of his work and policy was unmerited. Thus far the conflict between Warren Hastings and Francis was of personalities.
But the difference in principles and policy between the two was deeper and of a fundamental nature.
Philip Francis was an ardent believer in the French Philosophers and honestly and sincerely thought that Bengal could not thrive under a European Government. His idea was that in order to put an end to the prevalent corruption the British Government should assume sovereignty of Bengal which was to be restricted to defence of Bengal and receipt of a tribute. The Government of the country should be felt with the Nawab with no mandatory power over him from the British side.
Francis was against Company’s rule in Bengal because from its very nature, the Company would try to enhance profit, extort money, resort to every type of corruption. He also did not endorse the Company’s standing forth as the diwan. He wanted the administration to be left with the Nawab. It was due to this conviction of Francis that the majority restored the power of the Nawab in matters of criminal jurisdiction. Francis also suggested a plan for permanent settlement of revenue and was highly critical of the quinquennial settlement of Warren Hastings (1772).
Warren Hastings, however, had enough experience of the affairs of Bengal and was aware of the evils of the dual government He believed that the miseries of the people of Bengal could be removed if the system of responsibility without power on the part of the nawab and power without responsibility on the part of the Company was abolished.
He also believed that the prevailing administrative confusion and inefficiency and the financial corruption among the Company’s servants could best be tackled by assuming direct responsibility of the diwani and by relegating the Nawab into the background. He also realized that a weak Nawab of Mirjafar’s type or a strong and” independent Nawab of Mir Qasim’s character was not conducive to the interests of the Company and therefore, the Company must assume the position of a trustee in respect of its Indian conquests on behalf of the British nation.
Again Warren Hastings believed that the Indian system of administration was decadent and disorganized and the only way to infuse life and efficiency in it was to undertake a programme of reforms and render it workable. Francis who was against British interference in Indian affairs on the other hand thought that the English should not undertake the responsibility of making the Nawab’s government workable, on the contrary if the Company would let the Nawab freedom of action the Nawab’s administration would be reformed on native initiative.
While Hastings contended that the Sadar Diwani Adalat, Sadar Nizamat Adalat with district civil and criminal courts under them were necessitated by the assumption Diwani and by the need for better administration of justice, Francis, a theoretician fed in the school of French Philosophy was opposed to the reform of native judicial system by the Company.
He was critical of the abolition of the judicial function of the Zamindars in their own estates. According to him the traditional despotic system of government in India could not be mixed up with the enlightened system of English jurisprudence and Hastings’ judicial reforms was an interference in the traditional judicial system of the natives. About the judicial reforms of Hastings Francis remarked that Hastings had “rashly forced the accumulated wisdom and experience of ages to yield to the crude ideas of a few foreigners”. Out of this conviction the majority in Council passed a resolution to abolish the Sadar Diwani and Sadar Nizamat Adalats and to restore the Nawab’s criminal jurisdiction. To Francis the establishment of the Supreme Court alt Calcutta was an outrage on the native prejudices and institutions.
The revenue arrangements made in 1772 for five years had been criticized by Francis on the ground of its narrow commercial outlook of raising as much revenue as possible by settling land with adventures who had given the highest bid in the auction of land settlement. Francis also did not agree with Hastings’ view that conquests had made the Company proprietor of the soil.
He was for a permanent settlement of land with the Zamindars. He wanted to reduce the Company’s interference in the district revenue administration by abolishing the Six Provincial Revenue Councils and reverting to the system of supervisors as under the dual government. Hastings, however, refused to agree with Francis’ points of view.
In foreign policy Warren Hastings believed in the principle of expansion in the circumstances of the Indian political situation at the time. He also believed in the principle of extension of British influence on territories on the borders of Company’s dominions.
In pursuance of this policy Hastings created Oudh a buffer state against any possible attack by the Marathas, Rohilla or Maratha attack and made Oudh dependent on the British support. Francis wanted no further extension of British control beyond Bengal and vehemently opposed Hastings’ policy, which he described as, one of extirpation, annihilation and extermination of the native powers on the borders of the British territories.
Francis regarded Oudh as a dangerous rival of the Company and it was at his instance that the treaty of Fyzabad in 1775 superseded the treaty of Benares which according to him corrected the imbalance between Oudh and the Company effected by the treaty of Benares. It was also the idea of Francis to reinstate the Emperor to his position as the emperor of India and to turn his help to the Company’s advantage. Francis also opposed Hastings’ policy of offence as a means to defence.
The personalities and principles of the two antagonists Philip Francis were not reconcilable. While Hastings’ policy was dictated by exigencies of the situation and was pragmatic, and his policy ruthless and domineering, Francis’ policy was more theoretical and at the same time dogmatic.
Although it would not perhaps have been altogether impossible to bring about a harmony between the policies and principles of the two and effect a common approach to the problems of the time but the difference in personalities made it impossible. Despite attempts at reconciliation between the two and temporary cessation of conflict, no permanent understanding or reconciliation was possible and in 1780 the personal differences reached such a point of mutual vendetta that both met in a duel under the pipul tree outside the gates of Fort William in which Francis received a pistol shot and he left for home.