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LAND REVENUE SETTLEMENTS, REVENUE SURVEYS AND
THE GENESIS OF CARTOGRAPHY IN NORTHERN INDIA

DR. R.S. TOLIA, IAS
Principal Secretary & Commissioner,
Forests & Rural Development,
Government of Uttaranchal.

 

 

Honoured Guests, distinguished delegates of XX INCA International Congress, ladies and gentlemen, When General Ahuja entrapped me into delivering the Raja Todar Mal Memorial Lecture for XXth INCA International Congress I had hardly realised the significance and/or gravity of my commitment. Having entered the same line of service, which Raja Todar Mal had helped in shaping during our middly ages; some thirty years ago, I honestly believed that I was perhaps being summoned to deliver one of those lectures which we very often tend to accept very casually. It is only later, much later when I came across the brochure announcing this great event, that I realised my own constraints. At the very outset, therefore, I would request all of you to kindly forgive me if you do find the next hour or so throwing up any new information meriting any serious notice.

However, it remains my singular privilege to share with you all, whatever little information I am able to relate to you, in this very brief span of time.

What I propose to share with you, ladies and gentlemen, is a very brief resume of the settlement history of these parts of the country, which has become the twenty seventh state of this great country, i.e. Uttaranchal. Incidentally, some people tend to see this new administrative, sub-national political entity, as also the tenth Himalayan State. Perhaps, at least to my mind, this is its true significance; its real identity. And, its very birth, its shaping and moulding as well; has very familiar circumstances. Interestingly, Uttaranchal's parent state, Uttar Pradesh, also started taking its present shape exactly 200 years ago, to be very precise in the year 1801.

It may even sound a bit too coincidental but it is an equally interesting fact that it was again in the month of February, the same month in which you all have assembled here, that a historical conference of all Collectors of Land Revenue and Commissioners of Circuit was summoned at Allahabad; the place where almost 50 millions of Hindus have recently taken the Holy Dip at the Confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna, which give a definite shape to the Land Settlements operations, accompanied by correction of the records of rights and maps. This Great February Conference, summoned by the then Governor General, Lord William Bentinck, in 1832 is regarded as the event which provided us all a system to follow, a new system of our land revenue management. During 1801-1832, our settlement operations were tentative or halting at their very best, and it was during these three decades that several experiments were undertaken by various revenue officers, all over the province. Peter Penner, a Canadian Historian, has very lucidly recounted the great contribution made by William Merttins Bird and his disciples, in his eminently readable book, the Patronage Bureaucracy. To the historians amongst those present here, I strongly recommend this piece of work.

It was the post-1830 period which brought to light great revenue practioners like William Mertinns Bird and his disciple James Thomason, who later on took over the mantle of overseeing the operations of the Bird-Thomason school of revenue officers, who were great land reformers of their own times. The Back-Process, the Mahalwari system of the assessing land revenue, drastically cut short the period taken in land settlements. This discovery dispelled all doubts, an hang-over of the Permanent Settlement followed in the Bengal Presidency initiated by Lord Cornwallis, way back in 1793. If I am asked to name an eminent successor to the great Raja Todar Mal, at least for the region to which we are referring, I would unhesitatingly name William Bird. The credit goes to Bird first and, of course, equally to James Thomason. Bird and Thomason improved the land settlement system of a region, Oudh, which was the birth-place of Raja Todar Mal. Those of you, who may have heard of the Roorkee Engineering College, may perhaps be aware that it was very appropriately dedicated to Thomason. The Great Ganga Canal was also envisioned by him. The vernacular school system was his brain-child, to name just a few contributions made by this great administrator.

Reverting back to our main theme, as the time is too short to recount all the fascinating details of those innovative years, the land revenue operations were suddenly pushed to an unprecedented pitch. These were the days or years which laid out several systems, in our revenue administration, which persist even to the present times! The winter-camps, khatuani (record of rights), Khasara (field books) and the shajara (the field-maps) verification, valuation of crops et cetra hark back to those very days. One suddenly finds that the revenue survey teams are reporting work from within the deep jungles of Turai-Bhabar. This place, where we are deliberating the shape of things to come during the present century, was covered by such thick sal and mixed-forests that one of the Superintendents of Dehra Dun once reported that it would take centuries for the mankind to clear the forests! To get a taste of the forests Sir John Shore Junior was mentioning about today you have to just visit the thick and alluring Sal forests of Sela Kuin. Of course, those of you who have come by road must have seen a sample of such forests which ring around our Rajaji Elephant Parks.

The need to speedily cover the newly acquired territories through land settlements gave rise to the great revenue surveys. This was carried eminently, very eminently indeed, by our great surveyors during 1830s to late 1850s, consolidated in the shape of the Great Trinometrical Surveys (the GTS). These Revenue Surveys have been published officially, some through the "Selections" series and some otherwise. The Magnetic Survey of India work, which could not be carried to the great Himalayas, was very imaginatively and courageously completed by that famous trio of German brothers, the Schlag int weit brothers. Sponsored by the East India Company and patronized by the Prussina King, these brothers completed a nearly impossible task. What is more significant to me they worked very closely with the revenue officials of these regions. The modern survey instruments they carried with themselves was naturally a novelty for those times in colonial India. The valiant efforts of these German brothers did not go in vain, despite the fact that the oldest amongst them lost his life somewhere near Kashgar, in 1856 or so.

For Northern India, these were very turbulent years. It was the year of the first ever concerted efforts to resist the imposition of a foreign power, the East India Company, the year of the so called Sepoy Mutiny. The murder of one of the Schalgintweit brothers and the great uprising put a full stop to the survey efforts of 1830s through 1850s. Cartography was perhaps at its very best, coupled as it was with several unheralded mountaineering feats by these pioneer cartographers-surveyors, who had taken scores of measurements from atop 20,000 feet plus summits! Kenneth Mason very aptly salutes the efforts of these German brothers and those early surveyors cum cartographers by mentioning that even a summary account of their real efforts would take years to compile! Fortunately, the Indian archives, the regional and the national, have maintained the primary accounts of these early efforts at revenue surveys. My narratives and anecdotes are essentially drawn from these primary sources.

The aftermath of the great Uprising of 1857 brought the East India Company rule to an end and brought in the direct British Crown Rule to these parts. This cataclysmic event was precipitated in the main by the usurpation of Oudh Kingdom by the East India Company. Oudh, incidentally had become the mainstay of the fast diminishing Mughal Empire, which Raja Todar Mal had served so well. Ironically it was Oudh again, the home-place of the Raja, annexation of which caused the end of both the warring parties, the East India Company as well as the Great Mughal Empire! Raja Todar Mal had held charge of the Agra Sarcar and therefore the land revenue system which he built for the Great Mughals was entirely home-grown. It is therefore no wonder that the system which he designed has lasted so long, rooted as it was in the local customs and traditions.

Incidently, the first ever map of the northern-parts of this region was published in 1810, a map of the Bhagirathi river-course, by that redoubtable surveyor of the Royal Engineering Corps, Lt. Webb. It was published in the Asiatic Researches or the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, JASB in brief. The same Lt. Webb was at hand when it came to ascertain the claims made by the Nepal Court, in 1823, about the real location of a few villages, alleged to have been occupied by the British. Lt. Webb sealed the issue by describing the tradition by which the Indians have been naming their rivers and thereby identifying the source of river Kali, called Mahakali in Nepal. This great tradition has continued through the surveys conducted during the Great Trignometrical Survey era to the present day topographical maps of the Survey of India. The credit for introducing the great Himalayas to the modern world goes to the Survey of India. The Survey of India charter today embraces fields of geodesy, geographical studies, seismicity, indigenisation of instruments/equipments and now even creation of Digital Cartographical Data Base of topographical maps on 1:250,000 and 1:50,000 scales. Like in the olden days, now the digital data being produced by the SOI, is being used by various agencies for planning and GIS purposes. I do, however, wonder if Lt. Webb's map has so far found its rightful place in SOI's Antique Map Series?

General Ahuja, the present Surveyor General, while presenting a map of Uttaranchal on its day of creation, 9th November, 2000, was only emulating what was done by Lt. Webb, way back in 1810! I take this opportunity to compliment him for this thoughtful gift to the new State.

Thus, Cartography as a discipline, at least in these parts of India, essentially owes its origin to the rapid land revenue settlement operations which were initiated, as has already been mentioned, way back in 1830s. These operations were systematised and the basic principles were enunciated in the first ever compendium of publications brought out by our Board of Revenue, and are called the Directions for the Settlement Officers. These Directions were supplemented by the Directions for the Collectors of Land Revenue, in the North Western Provinces, in mid-1840s.

This publication of 1840 vintage contains several terms and expressions, of Persian origin, which directly descend from the days when the ground-rules for such a work were being laid out, by perhaps the greatest of all Finance Ministers the Middle Ages have produced, and after whom this Memorial Lecture has been very aptly named, Raja Todar Mal. This publication is undoubtedly the best contemporary version of which has been described by Abul Fazl in the Ain-e-Akbari. While I was heading the Academy of Administration, as its Director, I could not simply resist the temptation of reprinting this gem of a government publication. I have made available a copy of the reprint to the hosts of this Conference for the benefit of those delegates who may like to have a look at it. I am sure it would prove to be a real source of inspiration to all of you who have assembled here to prepare a route-map for the new Millenia.


RAJA TODAR MAL


Raja Todar Mal was born in Laharpur, in Oudh, and rose to become the Finance Minister in Akbar's Darbar. He was made in charge of Agra and settled in Gujarat. Later he was made in charge of Gujarat as well. He also managed Akbar's Mint at Bengal. Also served in Punjab. Todar Mal once took leave of Akbar but was recalled. He died on 8th November, 1589 in Lahore. It is commonly said that Todar Mal made a settlement of Kashmir but Henry Beveridge doubts it.

Beveridge records that Raja Todar Mal had got leave from Akbar and was on his way to Haridwar but he received a letter from Akbar in which the latter is said to have said that " it was better to go on working and doing good to the world than to go on a piligrimage." When Todar Mal died his body was burnt and Raja Bhagwan Das, his colleague in the charge of Lahore, was present at the ceremony. Of his two sons, Dhari was killed in a battle in Sindh. Another Kalyan Das was sent by Todar Mal to bring in the Kumaon Raja.

(The Akbar Nama : Abu-I-Fazl : Translated from the Persian by Henry Beveridge, ICS. Pages : 61-62. Vol. III)