Lord Cornwallis and Consolidation of British Rule!
Warren Hastings’ departure was followed by one year and eight months’ rule by Sir John Macpherson, the senior member of Governor-General-in-Council.
His rule was described by Lord Cornwallis who replaced him as Governor-General as “a system of dirtiest jobbery”. He was described by Cornwallis as “guilty of basely degrading the national character, by the quibbles and the lies which he made of”.
Cornwallis, on the other hand, was the “first honest and incorruptible Governor India ever saw, and after his example, hardly any Governor has dared to contemplate corruption”. Cornwallis though fresh from his defeat at America where he commanded the British forces, had not lost credit with the British Government. His success in the campaigns of the Seven Years’ War stood him in good stead.
His appointment was signed by the Company indeed, but he was nominated by the British Ministry. He was given the military command along with Governor-General-ship and was made independent of his Council. All this shows a new spirit in the Indian affair as also it brought India one stage nearer to the empire of British Government.
Cornwallis was fortunate in getting the advice and services of men like John Shore, James Grant and his cousin Charles Grant, Jonathan Duncan etc. who had expert knowledge and experience about Indian revenue matters as also of administration. He was equally fortunate to have the help and advice of Sir William James, a man of practical ability, who was a great oriental scholar and had devoted many years in the study of Law, and judicial matters.
Cornwallis was not a man of genius, but he possessed great qualities and stood for important principles. He was not a time server and had no pettiness of ambition; he left behind him a tradition of loyal service and integrity which had been of abiding value in the Indian administration.
He upheld national and private traditions of the British. But it must be pointed out that his service was to the British Crown, not to the people over whom he ruled. With his invincible honesty and desire for the public good, he brought a soldier’s sense of duty to his superiors.
When in 1786 Lord Cornwallis was appointed Governor-General the idea was common in England that any one appointed from the Company’s servants who had been under the corrupt influence of the Company would make no improvement in the Indian affairs of the Company.
The choice was, therefore, Lord. Cornwallis who was a close friend of Prime Minister Pitt and very much trusted by Henry Dundas, the President of the Board of Control.
By the terms of the Pitt’s India Act, 1784, Cornwallis was:
(i) To refrain from expansion of empire in India,
(ii) Not to wage any war except when protection of the British interest would make waging of war imperative,
(iii) To effect necessary reforms in every branch of administration,
(iv) To find out a satisfactory solution of the land revenue system,
(v) To establish an honest and efficient judicial system and to initiate a movement of purification and economy in it.
In 1786 when Cornwallis assumed charge as Governor-General the system of Company’s administration was “complicated, illogical, wasteful and suspected of being corrupt. Cornwallis justly received instruction to simplify, to purify and to cheapen the administrative system”.
The Secret Committee in a letter, to Cornwallis dated April 12, 1786, pressed on him the urgency of removing corruption and abuses in the Company’s service. Cornwallis’ first task, therefore, was to remove these from the Company’s service which had assumed the proportion of scandals. The Resident at Benares had a salary of Rs.1,000 per month but he earned at least four lakhs a year illegally besides the vast gains from the monopoly of Commerce.
Purification of Company‘s Service:
Lord Cornwallis was soon convinced that there was no enough control exercised over Company’s servants who were paid low salaries and were practically allowed to supplement their income by corrupt and illegal methods. Once satisfaction of greed by such means was rather overlooked the greed exceeded all limits and corruption assumed scandalous proportions.
Cornwallis raised the salaries of the Company’s servants; a Collector was to receive Rs.1,500 per month, a Resident Rs.5,000 per month, a Collector was also to receive 1% on the total revenue collected by him. Acceptance of bribes, presents, or any indulgence in private trade by the Company’s servants was strictly prohibited.
It may be noted that his attempt to purify the Company’s administration was not given up by him even towards the end of his tenure. Before he left India, he required each officer of the Company to declare on oath his properties. Some of the officers who resisted were dismissed by him. Doing all this, Cornwallis established, what has been recognized as the beginning of the famous Indian Civil Service.
Soon after Cornwallis’ assumption of charge as Governor-General every week information poured in as to the methods, difficulties and corruption of the Company’s trade. Cornwallis became convinced of the need for cleansing the establishment. He also saw that while commerce on Company’s account was not earning profits in European markets, the private trade of the Company’s servants earned huge profits.
The practice at the time was that the Company would purchase Indian goods through European contractors. The European contractors were mostly Company’s servants. This practice was going on since the establishment of Board of Trade by Warren Hastings in 1774. The agents, i.e., the contractors who supplied articles to the Board of Trade were of inferior quality and of higher prices since the agents raised the price in order to keep a good margin of profit for themselves.
The members of the Board of Trade instead of functioning as a check with regard to quality and price, themselves got involved in corruption, taking bribes and commissions for purchase of the stuff supplied by the agents. The “warehouses at Calcutta”, remarked Cornwallis, “were a sink of corruption and inequity”.
Cornwallis gave up the method of purchases through the contractors and introduced the system of direct purchase through Commercial Residents and direct from the native agents. This led to purchase of goods at a much reduced rates thereby enhancing the Company’s profits. Some corrupt members of the Board of Trade were eliminated and the number of the members was reduced to five in place of eleven.
The new system of Commerce was enforced by strict regulations. There was to be no oppression of the Indian producer, Indian or foreign trader. Formerly the Indian weavers were compelled to sell all their produce to the Company and were prevented from undertaking any other work.
This was done in order to squeeze out all Indian trade for the Company. This was now revoked and the weavers were to work only for the amount of produce as was advanced for by the Company. It may be mentioned here that the commercial reforms of Cornwallis were among his lasting achievements and the system he set up was not materially changed after him.
Two most important tasks of Cornwallis were the reforms of the commercial revenue and land revenue. Cornwallis found that Macpherson had created thirty-five revenue districts, each under a European Revenue Collector and almost all of them were in collusion with some relative or friend engaged in commerce and were after earning money through questionable means.
The Board of Revenue had the able and efficient man John Shore as its President. In accordance with the scheme drawn up by the Board of Revenue the revenue districts were reduced to twenty-three from thirty-six. The Board of Revenue was the new name for the Committee of Revenue.
The Board was to supervise the work of the Collectors. Revenue was settled annually, as before, till 1790 when Cornwallis made a settlement for ten years with the Zamindars and recommended to the Court of Directors that the decennial settlement of 1790 be made permanent, recognizing Zamindars as the proprietors of the land. The Court of Directors having consented to Cornwallis’ proposal for permanent Settlement, the decennial settlement was declared permanent in 1793.
Reforms of the Police System:
Most of the reforms undertaken by Cornwallis had their beginnings earlier. But the chief new reform undertaken by him was the reorganization of the Police reforms. Cornwallis had long realized that the Police system was in a bad state and was thoroughly defective. But action was long delayed. Calcutta itself which was the seat of the Government was infested with bad characters and near lawlessness prevailed in it. After sunset movement within the city was at the risk of one’s life.
In areas outside Calcutta Jungle-law was prevalent. Police, even the Police Superintendents were corrupt. In mofussil areas the zamindars were in charge of the maintenance of law and order and for this purpose they used to retain a small police force. Lord Cornwallis by his Regulation of 1791 defined the functions of the Police Superintendents. Under the new systems the Police Superintendents had to maintain law and order, to arrest suspected persons. In order to induce honesty among the police officers, their salaries were increased. Arrangements for reward for the detection of, and apprehension of criminals, murderers and burglary in particular, to the Police Officers were made.
In the villages the zamindars were deprived of their responsibility for police administration. Their police forces were disbanded. The control of the district police was placed in the hands of the district magistrates. Four hundred square miles of a district was placed under one Police Superintendent with a number of constables under him. For the maintenance of peace, law and order was placed in the hands of a Police Superintendent. In each district small areas were to be portioned off and placed under a daroga. Police officers were all appointed from among the Europeans.
Judicial Reforms: Civil Jurisdiction:
Civil jurisdiction was connected with the revenue system and naturally when collectors were to be responsible for revenue collection in 25 districts they were also given civil jurisdiction. They were made the judges of the District Diwani Adalat. In their magisterial power they were to try criminal cases up-to certain limits.
In 1793 when Permanent Settlement was made effective Cornwallis separated the civil jurisdiction from the revenue department and created a hierarchy of courts of civil jurisdiction from the lowest Court to the highest.
(1) At the bottom he set up the Court of Amins and Munsiffs. These Courts used to hear small and simple diwani, i.e., Civil cases involving disputes up-to Rs.50.
(2) Next came the Court of Registrars which could try cases involving up-to Rs.200.
(3) Above the Amin and Munsiff Courts were the District Diwani Adalat. Each district Civil Court was under a European-judge. He was to adjudicate cases with the help of Indian legal experts.
(4) Above the district civil courts there were four Provincial Courts. These were placed at Calcutta, Dacca, Murshidabad, and Patna. These were also presided over by European judges. The Provincial Courts would hear appeal against the decisions of the district Civil Courts.
(5) Above the whole civil jurisdiction was placed the Sadr Diwani Adalat. Governor-General and his council used to hear appeals from Provincial Courts in cases involving Rs.1,000.
(6) Appeals in-cases involving £ 5000 or more would lie to the King-in-Council in England. In case of the Hindu, Hindu law and in respect of the Mohammedan, Muslim law used to be applied. Europeans were also brought under the jurisdiction of the Civil Courts and even Governments were made answerable to the Civil Courts for acts done by them in their official capacity. Sovereignty of law in India was proclaimed by Cornwallis.
Cornwallis’ reforming hands also touched the Criminal justice of the Country.
(1) Hastings had placed the Sadr Nizamat Adalat, i.e., the highest Court of Criminal justice, at Murshidabad. This Court was now transferred to Calcutta and in place of the Nawab, its administration of justice was given into the hands of the Governor- General-in-Council (1790). A Qazi and a Mufti were appointed to advise the Governor-General-in-Council in matters of Indian laws and customs. The Governor-General was empowered to grant pardon or commute punishment.
(2) Cornwallis abolished the District Faujdari Adalats which were presided over by Indian Officers. Instead, he set up four Circuit Courts under the Sadr Nizamat Adalat. Each Circuit Court was composed of two European judges. Qazis and Muftis were to assist the European judges in interpreting the native Taws and customs. The Courts of Circuit had to visit the districts twice in a year and hear criminal cases. The Circuit Courts could sentence a criminal to death subject to the confirmation by the Sadr Nizamat Adalat.
(3) District judges were given magisterial powers in order to arrest criminals and disturbers of peace. While petty criminal cases used to be heard and decided by the District judges, in more serious cases the offenders were committed to the Courts of Circuits.
(4) Formerly homicide was not regarded as a Crime against the Society or the State. As a result the murderers could easily get off either by payment of compensation to the relations of the deceased or by intimidating them. Cornwallis declared that murder was a crime against the society and the state and the trial of the offender .would not depend on the willingness or otherwise of the relations of the deceased. This was done for the good of the society.
(5) Cornwallis also made certain changes in the law of evidence. Formerly no Muslim could be punished on the evidence of a Hindu witness. Further, the evidence of two Hindu witnesses was considered equal to the evidence of a Muslim witness. Cornwallis by Regulation DC of 1793 amended the law of evidence which provided that the religious persuasion of the witness would not be a bar to the conviction of criminals. The arbitrary distinction between witness and witness on the basis of religion was done away with.
In his judicial reforms Cornwallis was guided by Western concept of justice. He set up the Indian judicial system on the basis of the principles of equity and sovereignty of law. Religious law or the personal law of the native ruler was substituted by secular law. Laws of evidence were changed on the basis of equality of individual witness uninfluenced by religion. Apparently all these reforms were both reasonable and desirable.
Yet the reforms led to certain undesirable effects:
(i) The elaborate Cornwallis Code with its unfamiliar and complicated system left the common people rather bewildered and they could not benefit by the well-intentioned reforms of Cornwallis,
(ii) Justice became very much expensive and gave opportunities to the clever men to exploit the uneducated and poor men who could not understand the complicated and unfamiliar system of justice set up by Cornwallis. The cunning and chicanery of the class of people who arose as a result of the unfamiliar system produced by the reforms, earned money at the expense of the unlettered people.
(iii) Litigation increased largely and as the courts could not cope with the pressure, inordinate delay took place in the disposal of cases,
(iv) Substitution of the Indians by Europeans as judges who were ignorant of the laws and customs of the people often led to miscarriage of justice.
Permanent Settlement, 1793:
Lord Cornwallis came as the Governor-General with the mandate to effect a satisfactory solution of the land revenue system of Bengal to ensure the company’s interests as also those of the cultivators.
When Cornwallis addressed himself to this task he also remembered the uncertain nature of the revenue collections which made impossible the drawing up of budgetary estimates. He himself was a landlord and his idea of the ownership of the lord’s demesne was uppermost in his mind.
It must, however, be noted that Cornwallis was not the first to moot the idea of a permanent settlement of land revenue in India. During the rule of Warren Hastings the question of settlement of land revenue on a permanent basis was discussed and Sir Philip Francis, member, Governor General’s Council, was particularly in favour of a permanent settlement.
It was due to the efforts of Sir Philip- Francis that the Court of Directors were seized of the question of permanent settlement of revenue. Pitt’s India Act, 1984 in its clause No. 39 recommended Permanent Settlement of revenue of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa “settling and establishing upon principles of moderation and justice according to the laws and constitution of India, the permanent rule by which their respective tributes, rents and services shall be in future rendered and paid”.
When Cornwallis came as Governor-General in 1786, the Company’s servants were not thoroughly conversant with the revenue system of Bengal. It was due to this lack of clear knowledge on the part of the Company’s servants that Cornwallis agreed to annual settlement of land revenue in 1787 and 1788.
In 1787 Cornwallis directed’ the Collectors to collect information about:
(i) The amount of revenue collection in their respective districts,
(ii) With whom land should reasonably be settled, and
(iii) To suggest means of protecting the ryots from the oppression of the tax farmers.
The collectors took two years for collecting these information and on the basis of the information furnished by them Cornwallis prepared to settle land with the Zamindars for ten years in 1789. But it was not until 1790 that the decennial Settlement took effect. He also assured the Zamindars that should the Court of Directors agree; the decennial settlement would be made permanent.
On the issue of settling land permanently with the Zamindars there arose a great controversy between Sir John Shore and Lord Cornwallis:
(i) Shore was of the opinion that with the state of knowledge and experience of land-revenue of Bengal, acquired by the Company by then, it would be too hasty to make the settlement permanent. It was necessary to obtain more detailed knowledge about the system of land revenue as well as experience about revenue matters before revenue was settled on a permanent basis. Shore was also against making: any commitment about making the settlement permanent at the time of decennial settlement.
Cornwallis, however, thought that the knowledge and experience already acquired by the Company were sufficient for the purpose of making the Settlement Permanent.
(ii) While Cornwallis believed that permanent settlement of revenue was necessary for inducing the zamindars to make improvement of land one-third of which had been turned into jungle due to the great famine of 1770 which had wiped out one-third of the population of Bengal. Unless lands were settled on a permanent basis the zamindars uncertain of their tenure would not feel encouraged to effect improvement of their land and reclaim more lands for cultivation.
Shore, on the other hand, thought that the zamindars who enjoyed annual tenure and maximum five years tenure would find sufficient inducement to improve land and bring more land under cultivation when lands are settled with them for ten years.
(iii) John Shore was also against giving any promise to the zamindars at the time of decennial settlement that in future the decennial settlement would be made permanent. He argued that in the case of the Court of Director’s rejecting the suggestion of a permanent Settlement on the basis of the decennial Settlement, the zamindars would lose confidence in the Company’s assurances.
But Cornwallis pointed out that the Court of Directors themselves had specifically instructed settlement of land revenue on a permanent basis and emphatically asserted that the Court of Directors would approve of the permanent settlement on the basis of the decennial settlement.
(iv) Shore was not in favour of making the Settlement Permanent on the basis of the decennial Settlement on the ground that the decennial settlement of 1790 was exhorbitant and was not the fair revenue of the land settled with the zamindars. He, therefore, was of the opinion that a survey of the land and its productivity must precede any settlement which was to be permanent. Further, if the zamindars were recognized as the owners of the land, then the Company would have no right to interfere in case of oppression of the ryots by the zamindars. This might lead to greater oppression and ejectment of the ryots.
Cornwallis who had the idea of the English landlordism uppermost in his mind, where landlords were proprietors of the land Tinder them took the zamindars as the proprietors of the land under them. The very term malikana by which revenue was called, itself, according to Cornwallis, meant ownership. Cordwallis therefore regarded the zamindars as owners of land but kept the right of determining the relation of the ryots with the landlords in the hands of the Company.
Cornwallis was for introduction of a new order of things, which should have for its foundation, the security of individual property, and the administration of justice, criminal and civil, by rules which were to disregard all conditions of persons, and in their operation, be free of influence or control of the government itself. Cornwallis was determined in putting these views into practice.
He fixed the amount payable to the government permanently thereby limiting the interference by the Company’s officials which took place when revenue demand varied from year to year. Cornwallis essentially believed that the executive should be separated from the judiciary and the executive should be subject to the rule of law. This revolutionary suggestion has been the principle which the government of India has been trying to fulfil even during the post-Independence days.
The Collectors of revenue possessed judicial powers which Cornwallis wanted to put a stop to. In the preamble to Bengal Regulation II of 1793, Cornwallis wrote that the collectors must be divested of the power of deciding upon their own acts as judges and also be themselves rendered amenable to the court of judicature. They were to collect public dues subject to public prosecution for every exaction exceeding the amount they were authorized to demand on behalf of the Government.
Cornwallis rejected the objections of Sir John Shore and decided that the decennial settlement which came into force on February 10, 1790 would be made permanent if the Court of Directors would agree. On September 19, 1792 the consent of the Court of Directors to make the decennial settlement permanent reached Cornwallis who declared the decennial settlement permanent with effect from March 22, 1793.
The Permanent Settlement of 1793 was not an unmixed blessing. It had some good points indeed but it had also some serious disadvantages.
(i) The Company, Cornwallis or the Court of Directors was not un-ware of the possible disadvantages of the permanent settlement. But the consideration that weighed with them was the certainty of a fixed sum of revenue independent of a monsoon or no monsoon. This would facilitate the preparation of the annual budget. All this can be already understood from Shore-Cornwallis Controversy and the correspondence between Cornwallis and the Court of Directors.
The greatest advantage of the permanent settlement was the facility of preparation of the annual budget. This was the chief merit of the permanent Settlement.
(ii) It cannot be gainsaid that permanent settlement had induced some of the zamindars to improve not only the condition of the ryot but the land under them also. There are many instances where the zamindars of Bengal set up schools, dug ponds, constructed roads and established hospitals for the benefit of the ryots. Many of them had supported the ryots during famine or pestilence by spending huge sums.
(iii) There were instances of the zamindars patronising the establishment of small and cottage industries in villages.
(iv) The class of Zamindars that had emerged due to the permanent Settlement were lnyal and good supporters of the Company’s government. This was a political gain of the Company.
(v) The Permanent Settlement had freed the Company’s servants from the dual burden of revenue collection and judicial service. This set free the ablest of the Company’s servants for judicial service.
(vi) The evils of short-time settlements such as harassment of the ryots, eviction of cultivators and realization of extortionate rates of revenue etc., were largely removed.
Setun Karr’s observation is that the “political benefits of the settlement balance its economic defects”. But the balance was soon overturned and the Permanent Settlement turned into an engine of oppression. It created a fedual system with the powerful zamindars at the top and the serfdom of the ryots at the bottom. The high hopes entertained about the advantages of the Permanent Settlement soon proved illusory.
(1) During the first few years the Permanent Settlement served some political and economic purposes but soon the Settlement period to be a curse. The rate of revenue having been very high, money of the zamindaries were sold out for revenue falling into, arrear.’ Some of the Zamindar houses some-how saved their estates by resorting to sub-infeudation. The zamindary of Burdwan may be cited as instance. Many zamindaries changed hands for there were frequent sales of zamindaries.
(2) The Permanent Settlement was responsible for retarding the economic progress of Bengal, for the hopes that once the zamindars were regarded as the owners of their estates in perpetuity they would take measures for the improvements of land under them. It was also hoped that the one-third land of Bengal which had been converted into jungles due to the loss of one-third of the population as a result of the famine of 1770. World be reclaimed if the zamindars were of the famine of 1770 would be reclaimed, if the zamindars were regarded as owners of their estates. But the hope was futile.
The Zamindars being sure of an income on a permanent basis left their villages and began to live a life of luxury and ease in cities leaving the revenue collections to gomosthas who perpetrated oppression on the cultivators. Absentee landlordism was a curse to the whole system of revenue Settlement of 1793. Even where land was reclaimed by clearing it of jungles, the rent on such land was settled at a very high rate.
(3) The Sun-set Law, that is, the law that revenue must be deposited in the government treasury before sun set of the last date fixed for such payment brought ruin to many a zamindar. The defaulting zamindaries were auctioned. In 1797-98 zamindaries covering 17% of the total revenue had been sold out by auction. The Sun-set Law proved a curse to many a zamindar and did not allow any concession for the temporary difficulties of the zamindars. This was contrary to the traditional practice of the nature of zamindary system.
(4) The social effects of the Permanent Settlement were extremely prejudicial to the interests of the cultivators. The Permanent Settlement placed the zamindaries at the mercy of the zamindars as it did neither recognize the ownership nor occupancy rights of the cultivators to the land under them. Eviction from the land was absolutely the discretion of the zamindars. Bengal Tenancy Acts had to be passed in later times in order to save the ryots from the oppression of the zamindars and to prevent eviction.
(5) The Permanent Settlement had deprived the Government of the unearned income from the soil. With the passage of time value of land increased without any effort on the part of the zamindars. With construction of roads, growth of population, etc., the value of land appreciated. But Government having settled the revenue in perpetuity could not share the benefits of the appreciation of the value of the land. It is in 1955 that the government by the Bengal Acquisition of Estates Act abolished Zamindary System in Bengal to undo the evils of the Permanent Settlement.
(6) The Permanent Settlement of 1793 was ill-advised and misconceived. In order to find a practical solution of the revenue problem Lord Cornwallis only kept in his mind the English System of stable tenure, and confiscation of the defaulters. He destroyed the whole tradition of hereditary occupation of land without giving the ownership of land to the Zamindars. In his endeavour to fix the land-revenues of Bengal upon a firm and profitable footing, Lord Cornwallis perpetuated one of the greatest wrongs, committed one of the most enormous blunders, that is to be found on record. He pronounced a scheme by which the Proprietary right in the whole soil of Bengal was to be vested in the zamindars or hereditary superintendents of land, not for one year, or ten years, but forever.
They bad been fanners of land-tax for years past, they stood in that capacity between the Government and the village proprietors and cultivators; but to suppose that therefore they possessed any claim to the land yielding that tax, was a monstrosity reserved for conception of this very amiable noble man.
The scheme, hollow and unrighteous as it was, seemed to promise such security to the revenue by creating the large class of landed aristocracy by a mere stroke of pen, that the authorities at home were deceived into compliance and they went forth by which twenty millions of small land holders were dispossessed of their rights, and handed over, bound and foot to the tender mercies of a set of “rack-renters”. Such was the observation of John Copper in his Three Presidencies of India.
The long series of regulations passed by the Supreme Council in 1793 is collectively known as Cornwallis Code. The Permanent Settlement was the first of the series. Most of the reforms embodied in Cornwallis Code were his earlier works which had been either elaborated or reversed while embodying in the Code.
The chief reforms embodied in the Cornwallis Code were:
(1) The Permanent Settlement.
(2) The Police System which extended the Police administration to small parts of districts under a daroga and in Calcutta the Police Superintendents were only to maintain law and order, and no longer to perform any judicial or magisterial function. The principle of appointing Europeans in the police administration down to the daroga was enforced and the native Zamindars were divested of their police duties and had to disband their police force.
(3) The regulations dealt with commercial system also.
(4) Civil and criminal justices were also embodied in the Code. One important change effected by the regulation was separation of the judicial from the revenue administration. The Board of revenue and the Collectors were deprived of all judicial powers. Each provincial court was to have three European judges.
With the Cornwallis Code the work of Cornwallis was ended. It set up a machinery or at least it made the beginnings of a machinery which remained substantially unaltered for the next twenty years.
The Chief feature of the Cornwallis Code was an explicit distrust in the honesty and efficiency of the Indians and too much reliance on inexperienced Europeans placed in positions of trust in every branch of the administration.
The chief aims of the reforms of earlier period were economy, simplification and purification. Cornwallis had a set idea that holders of office in the Company’s administration must be Englishmen and adequately remunerated. But it soon turned out that there was need for safeguarding of the Indians from oppression by the European Officers.
The police administration also showed that corruption and bribery were no less rampant under the English officers than what they had been under the native officers. Here also there was the need for reversal of Cornwallis’s implicit belief in the honesty of Englishmen. He did not see the need of a code of law to be followed by the courts of law.
Cornwallis’s system had swarmed Bengal with Englishmen in commercial and administrative offices. He had a lurking suspicion that this would lead to oppression of the Indians by the English Officers. He, therefore, brought them under the jurisdiction of the law courts and effected separation of revenue and judicial systems. But all such measures did not mean any real guarantee to the oppression of the English Officers and their tendency towards corruption.
Estimate of Cornwallis:
Writers have not been fully unanimous in their opinion about Cornwallis. Mr. Penson does not credit Cornwallis with originality. He built on the foundation laid by his predecessors, especially Warren Hastings. Every aspect of his reforms had been foreshadowed by Hastings and what he did was to give it consolidation. Penson is, at least, willing to credit Cornwallis with half the praise reserving the other half for Warren Hastings. Thompson and Garratt are of opinion that Cornwallis’s main task was to reinstate the British reputation, which, he did. They call him “the first honest and incorruptible Governor India had ever seen, and after his example hardly any governor has dared to contemplate corruption”.
Seton Karr while would not rank Cornwallis with, Wellesley or Dalhousie yet his tribute to him is sufficiently high. Cornwallis’s contempt for jobbery and corruption and his determination to purify the Company’s administration led to the transformation of the merchants into administrators. “In his anxiety to protect natural rights and interests, in constructive ability and in tenacity of purpose he may challenge a comparison with some of the eminent men who have ruled India.”
According to Aspinal Cornwallis “possessed many qualities of mind and heart which inspired confidence in others, devotion to duty, modesty, perseverance, moderation, the art of conciliation, willingness to accept the advice of those who possessed a more expert knowledge of a subject than himself”.
That Cornwallis was honest and incorruptible and sought to disabuse the Company’s servants of the jobbery and corruption cannot be gainsaid. His record of reforms certainly gave him a position of unprecedented distinction and his many sided innovations and reforms set up a consolidated administration which continued unaltered for subsequent twenty yean or more. He left a definite imprint on the administration which was claimed to be perfect during the contemporary time.
Yet it cannot be overlooked that his idea was largely that of an English mind and what be sought to do and actually had largely done was to find solution of Indian major reforms for which Cornwallis is best remembered, namely, the revenue reforms, judicial reforms and police reforms. He was guided by his ideas of his native land and he implanted British institutions in India in these three major fields. He pursued the policy by making everything in India as English as possible but it seldom occurred to him that India resembled England in nothing.
While we may look upon the revenue settlement of 1793 as a benevolent blunder for it was well intentioned although ill-advised, and while we may praise the reorganization of the judicial system, particularly bringing the English officers within the purview of the courts, some of his reform measures were most unfortunate from the Indian point of view. He proceeded from a set notion that purification in Indian administration was possible by placing Englishmen in every position of trust and responsibility.
He had Europeanized the higher services of the Company, thereby depriving the most efficient and incorruptible section of the Indian Officers to attain the highest position in the administration. This continued almost up-to end of the British rule in India. His depriving the Zamindars of their police duties did not mean all good, for the English Officers proved more corrupt than the Indians.
Cornwallis while introduced Anglicized reforms in Indian judicial administration did not find it necessary to have an Indian code of law, rather he allowed the imperfect judicial reforms on the basis of English law to be implanted in India. While he did much of Anglicizing the reforms, he did not think it was also necessary to introduce the English idea of social equality and civil liberty in India.
Cornwallis’s administration was marked by a deliberate denigration of the Indian whom he kept not in one of responsible positions in the administration.
Lastly, it must also be pointed out that in his reforms some share of credit should, in all fairness, go to his officers like John Shore James Grant, George Burlow etc. who advised and assisted him in his activities.