The appointment of Lord William Bentick as the Governor-General of India marked the dawn of a new era in the annals of British rule in India. He continued as Governor-General from 1828 to 1835 in India.
Bentiek was a man of peace, discipline and of economy. He was a liberal reformist who took active part in the reform movement of England.
He had a firm faith in the programme of peace retrenchment and reform.
Macauley in the eulogistic language deceribes him, “Bentick infused into oriental Depotism the spirit of British freedom; who never forgot that the end of the government is the welfare of the governed.”
Lord Bentick was a great reformer. He was the first Governor-General who was sympathetic towards the Indian people and also tried to remove difficulties of the Indians. After Cornwallis it was Governor-General Lord William Bentick who paid attention to any new administrative reforms and introduced some changes in the sphere of administration.
He started the practice of appointing Indians in Company’s service. Cornwallis had stopped appointing Indians in administrative service as he had low opinion about the character, ability and integrity of the Indian people. So he sought to reserve all higher posts for the Europeans.
It offended the Indians very much. But Bentick gave up that policy in order to establish closer contact between the ruler and the ruled. Therefore, Bentick appointed Indians in government service. Now the educated Indians were also appointed to the post of Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector. Thus Bentick took a remarkable step towards the Indianization of the government service.
Bentick had introduced land revenue settlement in the North Western province. Taking ten years to complete, its principle was that of a semi-permanent settlement for thirty years which would both encourage the tenants to make improvements and enable the state to get some of the benefits.
After a proper survey of the land the settlement was made with large land holders, cultivators or village communities according to the locality. Due to this arrangement the revenue of the state increased.
The Presidency of Bengal was divided into twenty divisions. A commissioner was appointed over each division. The Commissioner also decided the cases which were previously dealt by the judges of the courts of appeal and circuit in the provinces. They had also the right to supervise the working of the District Magistrates and Judges.
The Provincial Courts of appeal and circuit had been largely responsible for the huge arrears of cases. The judicial procedure followed in these courts often resulted in delays and uncertainties. Bentick abolished these courts. He established different grades of courts to avoid delay in the trial of cases. He established a Supreme Court in Agra. The civil and criminal appeals were heared in this court.
In 1829 magistrates were empowered to award punishment up to two years. A separate Sadar Diwani Adalat and Sadr Nizamat Adalat were set up at Allahabad for the convenience of the people of Delhi and Upper Provinces. Bentick also reduced the severity of the punishment. The system of beating a man with whips was abolished by Bentick.
So far, Persian had been the language of the court. Both the public and the Judges were ignorant of Persian. So Bentiek ordered the use of vernacular language in place of Persian. In higher courts persian was replaced by English as the court language. Qualified Indians were appointed as Munsiffs and Sadar Amins.
The Burmese war had depleted the treasury of the company. Due to the reduced income and increase in the expenditure, the company was facing a deficit of about one crore. So Bentick’s first duty was to economize. His economies measures were extensive and severe.
Bentick appointed two committees, one Military and one civil to enquire into the increased expenditure of the company. According to the recommendations of the Committee, Bentick reduced the high salary of the civil Servants. He also reduced the allowances of both the civil and military officials. He made provision for the reduction of bhatta by 50% at all stations within four hundred miles of Calcutta. As a result of this measure a saving of £ 20,000 a year was effected.
During those days opium was produced in Central India and was sent to China from Karachi. Bentick changed the route of the trade from Karachi to Bombay which gave the company a share in the profits in the form of duties.
Public institutions and individuals enjoyed rent free land in Bengal since the acquisition of Diwani. Bentick ordered the collectors to make inquiries into the rights of those who held free grants of land. It was found that in most cases the title deeds were forged.
The Government resumed the management of these rent free lands in Bengal and Bombay. This step of Bentick also increased the revenue of the company. The land revenue settlement of North Western Provinces also yielded more revenue.
Bentick also enhanced the income of the company by appointing Indians in administrative posts. The Indians were paid less salaries in comparison to their European Counterparts. The result of these economic measures was that the deficit of one crore per year was converted into a surplus of 2 crores per year.
Bentick’s great achievement was his intellectual reform. Charter Act of 1813 had provided one lac of rupees annually for the revival and promotion of education in India. But this money went on accumulating as no proper arrangement could
Prior to the arrival of Bentick a great controversy was going on regarding the medium of education in the schools and colleges. Was it to be given through the Indian language or through English language? The orientalists led by Heyman Wilson and H.T. Princes expressed their opinion in favour of Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian as the medium of education. The Angliasts led by Sir Charles Trevelyan supported by Indian liberals like Raja Rammohan Ray expressed their views in favour of English Language.
Lord Macauley, the law member of the Council gave a definite shape to the controversy. On his recommendations the decision was taken that the amount which was kept for education should be spent on the education of the Indians and the education be imparted through English medium.
Macauley’s proposals were accepted by Bentick and embodied in a resolution of March 7, 1835, which declared that, “His Lordship in council is of opinion that the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India and that all the fund appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education alone.” Schools and colleges were established to provide English education. English language also became the official language and it helped the people of India for exchange of ideas.
William Bentinck is famous for his social reforms in Indian. By the abolition of the systems of ‘Sati’ and human sacrifice he freed the society from two of the worst superstitions. By the suppression of the system of Thugee he freed the people from one of their worst fears. By the end of 1834 Thugee System was completely stopped.
From some remote past the system of sati or the burning of the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband prevailed in the Hindu Society as a deep routed superstition. With deep desire to enjoy heaven as Sati many widows died on the funeral pyre of their husbands willingly.
But in some cases they had also to die against their will in order to escape public criticism. On one side there was the fear of death on the other-side there was the fear of the society. At some places the ignorant relatives forced the widows to die in order to uphold their own social prestige.
There were also the shameless motives of greed of collecting valuable ornaments of the widows of rich families. Among various ceremonies rituals and hymns that inhuman act was committed. On observing these evils Bentinck wanted to abolish this system to save the lives of many widows and therefore abolished the system of Sati by the proclamation of a regulation.
Raja Rammohan Ray the great Indian reformer supported this pioneering Venture of Bentinck. He even wants to England to plead in favour of the abolition of the system before the British Government. The next achievement of Bentinck was the abolition of the system of human sacrifice prevailing among hill tribes.
Bentick left India in 1835 AD. He holds the highest rank among all the Governor-Generals in India due to his various reforms. His seven years rule came to be known as an “Age of Reforms”. Dr. Ishwari Prasad writes, “Bentick’s glories were the glories of peace. His reign stands in sharp contrast to the years that preceded or those that followed it.”