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Grant of Rothiemurchus
Part I - Biographical Sketch - Chapter VI

WHEN, in the spring of 1859, Sir Frederick Halliday resigned the post of Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, Mr Grant was chosen as his successor.

The new Penal Code, originating with Lord Macaulay and improved by generations of legislators, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which was its natural corollary, about this time became law. Grant began his rule by improvements in gaol discipline, by an increase to the salaries of Native Judges in the Courts of first instance, by an improvement in the machinery for collecting the income-tax, a mode of taxation unfamiliar to Orientals and the source of no small amount of irritation, and by a broad and practical scheme for vernacular education, providing for new schools, and grants-in-aid to village institutions already in existence. Trouble had been caused by the incursions of an aboriginal tribe known as the Garos, and by the Kookies on the Eastern Frontier of Bengal, and our relations with these very barbarous and uncivilised tribes were placed on a better footing.

But a great deal of the Lieutenant-Governor’s time was taken up with what became known as the refusal of the ryots in Lower and Central Bengal to continue the cultivation of the indigo plant And for the complete understanding of this subject, it is necessary to explain the process of the cultivation and manufacture of this valuable product Planters and capitalists were usually Englishmen and Scotchmen, with here and there a Frenchman or foreigner, and they resided in the interior of one or other of the Gangetic districts, in a house and factory of their own. Occasionally the planter cultivated the indigo plant by his own servants, on lands which he had rented or acquired by purchase; but, in the majority of instances, he was in the habit of entering into contracts with the substantial tenant - proprietors, who took advances and agreed to deliver the plant at the factory at a fixed price for so many bundles. The manufacture, after the delivery of the raw material, was wholly in the hands of the planter and his servants, and with the delivery of the plant, the contract on the part of the ryot was complete. But the cultivation of indigo was somewhat hampered by climatic and other conditions. The sowing, growing, and reaping in the Bengal districts had all to be done within three months, or certainly within one hundred days. It was not possible to put the seed into the ground before the spring showers that fell at the end of March or the beginning of April; and it was imperative that the plant should be cut and carried in the month of July, or at least before the colouring matter had suffered from the excessive downfall in the rainy season, or the inundation of the Ganges and of what are termed its distributaries, over a wide area. In theory it might appear that the tenant-proprietor should have been left to himself to fulfil his contract, and to make the best of his bargain in his own interests. In practice, however, this was not the case. The cultivating tenant was sometimes lazy and improvident, and was inclined to deceive; or he preferred weeding and cleaning his rice field to weeding the indigo plot This, not unnaturally, led the planter and his assistants to interfere by supervision and remonstrance, and in proportion as the ryot was heedless or defiant, the independent Englishman became more interfering and high-handed. The planters of those years did not originate the system; they merely adopted, and perhaps extended, what had been devised by their predecessors at the beginning of this century. When, however, the ryots, in the spring of i860, showed a disposition to revolt in a body, and when their complaints and alleged grievances attracted the notice of District Officers, a Commission was appointed to take evidence and report on the whole practice of contract, cultivation, and delivery. The Commission was composed of five members. Two belonged to the Civil Service ; one was a prominent merchant of Calcutta; a fourth was a Baptist missionary ; and the fifth a Native gentleman of high caste and position.* After a sitting of four months, and the consideration of a vast mass of oral and documentary evidence, the Commission reported that though, in several instances, the relations between planter and ryot had been friendly, and though the presence of independent Englishmen in the interior of the country was a safeguard against abuse as well as an element of security in disturbance, yet that the system on which indigo was cultivated had broken down because it was, in the long run, unremunerative to the cultivator. He bore all the burden, and he reaped few of the advantages. It is not necessary to go further into this part of the subject. The English community, official and non-official, was still disturbed and agitated by the tragic incidents of the Sepoy Mutiny, and it was not easy to hold the balance evenly between native rights and English claims. But the crux of the whole situation was this. Simultaneously with the appointment of the Commission a law had been passed, to endure for six months, by which neglect on the ryot’s part to complete his civil contract was to be treated as a criminal offence, punishable by fine or imprisonment in the Magistrate’s Court This was politic and excusable under the circumstances, in order to save the crop of that one year, and Grant himself had voted for the Bill. But the report naturally raised the question whether this temporary and exceptional enactment should take its place among the permanent Statutes of the Government. It was, no doubt, desirable to do something for the English capitalist of 1861, who was apprehensive of loss under a system which he had never devised, and which, in several cases, he had tried to administer with kindness and equity. On the other hand, the. proposal to convert the failure of a contract cognisable in the Civil Courts, into a criminal offence, was contrary to the policy which had regulated all such engagements in India or in any other country.

A fierce controversy arose over the proposed Bill. The claims of the Planters and of great mercantile houses in Calcutta were urged with much force in high and influential quarters; but while Mr Grant fully recognised the propriety of inducing men of energy to invest their money in commercial and industrial enterprise, he stated the objections to the Bill with such force and clearness, that Sir Charles Wood, then Secretary of State for India, refused to turn the temporary Land Act into a permanent statute. At the end of six months it was allowed to expire.

The project has never been seriously revived, even when a contract law was considered by Lord Lawrence in 1864.

By his action in this controversy, Grant incurred great unpopularity with the unofficial public, both in India and England, but he received the hearty support and approval of Sir C. Wood, who wrote to him as follows on 4th March 1861—

“I must write you a line to say with what satisfaction I have read your Minute on the Report of the Indigo Commission.

“It is a most able document, and completely establishes the case as between planter and ryot I am sorry for the individual planters, who will suffer by the change of system, but that such a system should go on is quite impossible.

“Upon the whole, I think the conduct of the ryots is very commendable, and the scene, as you steamed down the river, must have been very curious and interesting.”

"Your order against violence on the part of the ryots is very judicious.”

Lord Canning also wrote to Grant at a previous date, 31st December i860, from Camp Amarpathan, as follows:—

“I must say with what pleasure I have read your minute on the Indigo Commission. I never saw a better State paper, whether in matter, argument, or tone. It goes home just in time.”

It must not be thought, however, that the Lieutenant-Governorship was entirely taken up with the indigo controversy, and was barren of other administrative results. These may be summed up briefly as follows:—

Much was done to facilitate intercourse and to expend judiciously the imperial and local resources in the construction of roads. Railways met with his earnest support, and civil engineers were delighted at the capacity for mastering the details of their business which the Lieutenant-Governor evinced. The improvement in gaols and gaol discipline went on with steadiness. Fresh rules were laid down for the examination of pleaders in the Civil Courts, and means taken to prescribe standard works for all candidates, and to have such works translated into the vernaculars. A great but important change in the Civil Courts of first instance was effected, by which, without increase of expenditure, superfluous officials were removed, and better salaries were given to the real doers of the work, who were receiving a remuneration wholly inadequate to their maintenance, whilst exposed to manifold temptations. The whole machinery for the imposition and collection of the income tax was organised, and the tax itself was collected with as little general discontent as was possible in the nature of things. Act X. of 1859, the Charter of the Agriculturists, was improved, and a law for the extension of the Zamindari postal service was brought well-nigh to completion. Local resources, especially those raised for the conservancy and police of large towns, were husbanded, and the Lieutenant-Governor went on several of those tours of inspection which tend so much to the real despatch of business, and have the merit of making rulers and subjects acquainted with each other, to their mutual benefit A broad and business-like scheme for vernacular education, capable of an expansion which has no limit but the wants of the people and the demands on the State purse, was submitted to the Government of India. It was approved, and has been extended by successive Lieutenant-Governors of Bengal.

In April, 1862, Grant left India, having previously been made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and for some years enjoyed a period of rest, varied by those occupations to which retired civilians are wont to give their attention and time. But in 1865 his services were suddenly required in one of our West Indian colonies.

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