238. From 1871 to 1887 a sum of about Rs. 9000
was advanced to cultivators under the Land Improvement Act of 1871
which was in force in Berar till the close of 1885. The money was mostly devoted to the construction of wells. The smallness of the amount advanced was ascribed to the strictness of the rules for recovery and to the delay in disposing of applications for loans. On the 1st January, 1886, the Land Improvement Loans Act (XIX of 1883) was made applicable to Berar. Under this Act during the six years ending 1892-93 the sum of Rs. 43,475 was advanced to the cultivators of the old Buldana District. Of this amount 53 per cent, was devoted to the excavation, construction or repairs of wells; 34 per cent, to the reclamation of land from floods or other damage by water; and 13 per cent, to the construction of field embankments. Taking the District in its reconstituted form, the total sum distributed under the Act for the fifteen years from 1893 to 1908, was Rs. 227,283, of which Rs. 85,877 were spent on the construction of wells, Rs. 34,561 on the reclamation of land from floods, Rs. 76,259 on the improvement of fields and wells, Rs. 13,883 on the removal of stones from fields, and Rs. 16,673 on the raising of field embankments. The largest amount distributed in any one year was Rs. 55,860 in 1907-08. This may be an indication that the loans are becoming more popular. Remissions and suspensions have been of very trifling
amount. The principal scope for land improvements lies in the building of stone walls to prevent erosion, in the construction of fences for field protection, and in the sinking of wells for the irrigation of garden crops and sugarcane. The Berar cultivator has every incentive to sink wells, as it was ruled by the Resident at the last settlement that all increase of assets due to the construction of wells during the currency of the original settlement should be excluded from consideration, and a similar rule will presumably hold good for the future. The Agriculturists' Loans Act XII of 1884 was made applicable to Berar in September 1891, but it did not come into operation till 1893. Between 1893 and 1908 a sum of Rs. 109,481 was advanced, the highest amount being Rs. 50,167 in 1900-1901, which may be ascribed to the famine. Here again remissions and suspensions have been insignificant in amount. The great defect of these loans is that the relief does not reach the cultivators who are most in need of it. In ordinary years it reaches only the more substantial and solvent cultivators who are least in need of it. The cultivator who is struggling in deep waters cannot hope to profit by a takavi advance. He is in debt because
he is poor, and his poverty prevents him obtaining the means of escape from debt. Something might be done to remedy this defect by developing the system of advancing loans on the joint personal security of a number of tenants. This has been tried in the Central Provinces with a certain amount of success. It is supposed to contain within it the germs of the co-operative spirit, capable some day of being expanded into a system of co-operative agricultural banking. Every effort is now made to popularise the loans by quickening the machinery of distribution, as for instance by giving out the money on tour after enquiry on the spot. But
it is now beginning to be recognised that for a variety of reasons it is impossible for Government to compete with the moneylender, and that the main use of these loans is to finance the cultivator at a time of serious failure of crops or serious mortality of cattle.
239. The information given in this section with regard to rates of interest must
qualified by the admission that it is not hard and last; a man's character and standing usually
affect the interest more than what he has to offer as security; some men can borrow at even lower rates than those quoted below, and some despite good proffered security can get no loans at all. Unsecured loans can be obtained by sahukars and rich men at from 5 to 9 per cent. It is not common to make such loans to others, but in the few cases
in which they are made to well-known regular payees the rates are from 12 to 18 per cent. Loans on personal security are given at rates varying from 12 to 24 per cent., but here also the personal element largely affects the transaction, and the would-be borrower must be known and bear a good character. The rate of interest on loans secured by pledge of moveables varies between 7½ and 9 per cent, if the articles pledged are gold and jewellery, and from 12 to 18 per cent, if they are household utensils, carts, cattle, and the like.
An ordinary cultivator can usually obtain a loan to the extent 01 about 50 per cent, of the value of the property mortgaged at rates of interest varying from 12 to 24 per cent. The rate varies according to the capacity of the borrower to repay the loan. A common practice among the tenants or agricultural labourers is to raise loans in small sums usually not exceeding Rs 100 in amount on bonds with a stipulation for repayment; within one year with sawai or 25 per cent, added to the
principal. The Kunbi rarely pays up in time and consequently finds himself called upon to pay a penal rate of interest which runs as high as 36 or 37½ per cent, per annum. Loans for seed-grain are generally taken in kind. The cultivator borrows the seed he requires from the moneylender and returns it at the next harvest with the addition of 25 to 50 per cent. Advances for food made while the crops are in the ground are generally repaid in kind at a rate lower than that prevailing in the market at the harvest time. In the Chikhli taluk it is not uncommon for the moneylender to advance petty sums to the cultivators when sowing or weeding operations are in progress, and to receive from them at harvest time a certain quantity of cotton at a fixed rate per rupee. In bargains of this nature the moneylender reaps a profit of much more than cent, per cent. The practice of selling the crop before the harvest has now gone out of fashion. In some parts of the District, especially the more backward portion, Rohilla moneylenders are established, who advance petty sums to the poorer classes at exorbitant rates. The rate of interest charged by them varies from one to 2 annas a rupee per month for sums repayable within three months; or sometimes the whole amount is recovered within the above period with sawai, thus bringing up the rate to 75 or 150 per cent, per annum.
240. The District being purely agricultural cannot
boast of any large and influential
banking houses. The moneylenders,
whose annual profits from their
business exceeded Rs. 1000, numbered 641 at the close
of 1907-08. Of these,. 449 possessed incomes varying
from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 2000, 161 incomes varying from
Rs. 2000 to Rs. 5000, 25 incomes varying from Rs. 5000
to Rs. 10,000, and 6 incomes varying from Rs. 10,000
to Rs. 20,000. Vishnusa Balkrishnasa Saoji (Lad Bania)
of Malkapur heads the list, but Khamgaon, the leading cotton mart of the District, contains the largest number of capitalists, the principal being Shriram Ramgopal. Ganeshdas Bhatta, Kasturchand Bhikamchand, Lakshmandas Mihidas, and Jasraj Shriram. The banking firm of Buti from Nagpur has branches at Khamgaon and all over Berar and do a large business on loans, advancing sums on personal security at 2 per cent, and payable by monthly instalments. Almost every village has moneylender, who does business on a small scale. The principal money-lending castes are Marwaris, Kunbis, Lad Banias, Lingayat Banias, Brahmans, and Muhammadans. The Marwaris predominate, forming 62 per cent, of the total number.
241. A comparison of the condition of the cultivating classes at different epochs is
not an easy matter Changes of
dynasties and chronicles of wars
attract the historian, but the uneventful lives of the patient masses are passed by in silence. Of the condition of the cultivator in pre Muhammadan days we know absolutely nothing, and it would be vain to attempt a guess. During the period of independent Muhammadan dominion in the Deccan from 1300 to 1600 A.D., Sir Alfred Lyall conjectures that the peasantry as a class were much above the mediaeval serfs and villeins of Europe, and altogether that they were at least as well off under the Bahmani and Imad Shahi rulers as the people of any outlying counties of England during the great wars of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Probably the peasants of France were worse off up to the end of the seventeenth century. In the early part of the Mughal period the settlements of Akbar and Malik Ambar are great land marks in the Land Revenue Administration, but from 1650 A.D., when Aurangzeb became Viceroy of
the Deccan, until the hour when he died at Ahmadnagar in 1701 A.D., Berar underwent its share of fire and sword, Maratha plundering and Mughal rackrenting, for the Emperor's long wasting wars soon broke down his revenue system; his finances were ruined by the exactions of the Marathas and their pillage of his country, so that the cultivator must have suffered heavily towards the end of his reign. The period of double Government (1724 A.D. to 1803) and that of the Nizam's Government (1803-1853 A. D.) form a dark age of misrule which has been sufficiently described elsewhere. The cultivators sowed their crops in sorrow and tended them in fear, and all contemporary writers agree that at the time of the cession Berar was in a very depressed condition. Colonel Meadows Taylor who was put in charge of part of the ceded territory (since restored to the Nizam) wrote as follows in 1854: ' I found the district in shocking order, no proper accounts and no confidence among the people, a ruined, impoverished set of pauper cultivators, who have been so long oppressed and neglected under the Arab management that they are, I imagine, blunted to all good perceptions. Murder, robbery, attacks on villages, plunder of cattle, and destruction of crops had got to such a height last year, that civil war could not have had a worse effect upon the people or on the revenue; and all agreed that if British rule had not come in this year, the whole district would have been utterly ruined and wasted.' This may be taken as typical of Berar as it is certain that one part did not differ much from another. Writing in 1870 Sir A. Lyall states that, 'until within the last few years the cultivator of this part of India was a somewhat miserable and depressed creature. He was deeply in debt.' Three circumstances combined to lift the ryot from the depth to which he had sunk. These were the Land Revenue
Settlement, the American Civil War, and the opening up of the country by railway communication with Bombay. By the settlement the cultivator was converted from a mere rent-paying subject of a native Government, evictable at the caprice of village and pargana officers without rhyme or reason, into a proprietor of a transferable and valuable right of occupancy. The assessment was moderate and the cultivator found his credit largely increased. The accident, of the American Civil War by raising the price of cotton and pouring into the ryot's hands what appeared to him untold wealth, enabled all who were not' utterly
reckless and extravagant to free themselves from the meshes of the money lenders. The penetration of the railway into Berar also brought the ryot into more direct contact with the merchant and left him less at the mercy of the middleman. The remarks of some of the early Settlement Officers in this connection may be quoted. Writing in 1862 of the Malkapur taluk, Major Anderson remarks that it is a common saying that not more than one-third of the people are now in debt while two-thirds were involved eight years before. Of the Balapur (Khamgaon) taluk the same officer wrote in 1864: The condition of the people of late years since the great rise in prices has greatly improved, debt which is said to have been prevalent five years ago has almost vanished among the agricultural classes '; and in 1865 of the Jalgaon taluk: The revolution that has taken place during the last two or three years in the cotton and grain market has entirely changed the relation between the ryot and the moneylender. The former has at last become independent, and the latter is obliged to divert his capital into more legitimate channels to prevent its becoming idle and profitless. Within the last year or two the ryots have been rapidly freeing themselves from the bonds
of the moneylender, and if prices remain for some year- longer as high as they still are, there will be little fear of the sahukar ever obtaining the absolute power he had previously exercised for centuries past over the ryot. In 1866 the cultivators of the Chikhli taluk are said to be as a rule in very good circumstances and are evidently benefiting by the general prosperity with which the agricultural classes are now favoured. Debt is now disappearing rapidly from amongst them, and the cultivator will soon hold a more independent position in the country than could ever have been anticipated by the most sanguine reformer. A few years ago the cultivating classes were becoming more and more deeply involved and scarcely able to keep their heads above
water. The cotton crisis has swept this away and a healthy tide has set in, which there is every hope may
continue to last for years.' Unfortunately for the cultivators, prices did not remain at their high level and a reaction set in. A different note is struck
in the Mehkar Settlement Report of 1868, the author of which, Major Elphinstone, writes as follows: ' The fall and fluctuations in the price of cotton have told rather seriously upon some of the smaller farmers. Many of the cultivators who had become very independent during the high prices, appear to have fallen back into the money- lenders' clutches. For this, however, they have only to thank their own improvidence. The 'way in which they squandered their money, when they had more than they knew what to do with, was perfectly unpardonable. They seemed quite to have lost sight of the value of money. A cloth worth Rs. 5 was recently bought for Rs. 20, a pair of bullocks which was not worth more than Rs. 80 was greedily bought for Rs. 250,
and so on. I heard of several instances in which as much as Rs. 600 had been paid for a pair of bullocks
not that there was any scarcity of cattle, or that thest prices were the market value; far from it, as I
find on enquiry, a few knowing ones took advantage of an anomalous state of things to put fancy prices on their goods and evidently found ready dupes. Sudden affluence had so temporarily affected people's brains that their naturally penurious and shrewd character became completely reversed, and they actually seemed to take a pride in being lavish with their rupees They regret it now that those bright days are past, and many a cultivator has acknowledged to me that he had bitterly repented, when it was too late, of his foolish
extravagance.' It is clear from the latter extract, with which other accounts agree, that the sudden change in their position was too much for many Berar ryots; they failed to take advantage of the splendid opportunity offered them for emancipation from debt and some of them could find no better outlet for their wealth than the replacement of their iron ploughshare and cart wheel tires by shares and tires of silver.
The relations between the money-lending and the agricultural classes have formed a frequent subject of discussion in India and have given rise to much difference of opinion. In handing over valuable rights in land without any check on alienation to an ignorant and improvident peasantry there is always the risk that the latter will not understand the value of the gift and will recklessly throw it away. Instead of the capitalist cultivator hat the system is expected to create, in too many cases the sahukar's serf has been the result. Into this question, as it affects Berar, two enquiries have been held, in 1874 and in 1896. In both enquiries the lack of all data is very remarkable. The absence of a record of rights in
Berar makes it exceedingly difficult to give any statistics howing accurately how far the occupation of land is
being transferred from the cultivating to the money-lending classes. The revenue record does not give the required information in any useful form. Mutation of names is not compulsory and nothing short of a field-to-field enquiry would suffice to tell us really the extent to which the occupation of land is changing hands. We know from registration records the names of registered sales or mortgages; we can give details of litigation and the recorded number of sales in execution of decrees, but we have no records from which we can extract information of any value which goes to prove the number of fields held by non-agriculturists as opposed to agriculturists, or enable us to say that at present so much land is held by agriculturists and so much by non-agriculturists as compared with similar figures at a former date. The conclusion come to at the enquiry in 1874 was that the condition of the ryots was not such as to call for any interfence on the part of Government with respect to their transactions with moneylenders. Indebtedness did exist, but the evil was not general, and it was noted that the large capitalists, who in other parts of India greedily bought up estates, in Berar were deterred from thus investing their money by the ryotwari system of settlement. A capitalist who wished to purchase an estate of 1000 acres in Berar could not find a twentieth part of that area in one block—his estate would consist of 40, 50 or 100 separate fields, many of them miles apart, and the worries and trouble of management would be considerable. The enquiry held in 1896 led to almost identical conclusions. Observations
showed that the exercise of the right of alienation had not resulted in the transfer of land to any dangerous extent from the agricultural to the non-agricultural classes. The surplus profits which remained to the cultivator after payment of the land revenue amounted in good years to a considerable sum.
That the Berar cultivator is able to look after his interests better perhaps than the ryots of some other parts of India is shown by the forcible method he adopted on one occasion about 20 years ago to show his displeasure at some land-grabbing propensities of the Marwari. In a part of the Jalgaon taluk ' the Marwaris were boycotted and for a time there was a good deal of excitement. Any man working for a Marwari was put out of caste, and where that was not sufficient other threats were used and a kind of
picketting resorted to great sequence was that the Marwaris were reduced to great straits and suffered much
inconvenience and loss. ' Their crops were left unfathered, and one man had a ' large garden ruined for want of water. He could get
no one to work the wells. The Marwaris and Kunbis
' were called together by the Deputy Commissioner, and the Marwaris having promised not to press their claims to the bitter end, the Kunbis stopped boycotting, quiet was restored.' After the famine of 1899-1900 this question of the transfer of lands from the agriculturists to other classes again became
prominent, and the result of the discussion was the passing of an amendment to the Land Revenue Act restricting the alienation of land newly given out for occupation. No change was made in the tenure of land already occupied, and such a change may now be treated as outside the range of practical politics. A certain amount, of land under the restricted tenure has been taken up in the Mehkar and Chikhli taluks, but the effect of the
change of tenure is not yet apparent. In spite of the two famines of 1896 and 1890, Berar has prospered greatly since 1896,and it is doubtful whether there has been any very large and general transfer of land from the agricultural the non-agricultural classes. The Kunbi is exceedingly tenacious of his land, and in the plain talaks the amount of land so
transferred is probably very small. There have been more transfers in the upland taluks of Mehkar and Chikhli as this part of the District suffered more severely in the famines, and the soil is distinctly poorer than in the plains; there too sahukars have a much larger hand in the financing of the ryots.
With regard to the indebtedness of the cultivator it is admittedly very general, but this is the natural condition of an agricultural population. Agriculture, like other industries, is supported on credit. ' The sahukar is as essential in the village as the ploughman,' said the Secretary of State in reviewing the Report of the Deccan Riots Commission, and the statement is still true. But the sahukar or Bania, instead of being a help to agriculture, tends to become in some places an incubus upon. it. The usurious rates of interest he charges, and the unfair advantage he takes of the cultivators' necessities and ignorance, sometimes place a burden of indebtedness on the cultivator which he finds impossible to bear. The desire of all those interested in the welfare of the ryots is to prevent an excessive proportion of their profits going to the moneylender, and to do this it is necessary to devise some system whereby he can be provided with money at a reasonable rate of interest. Many think that in the establishment of Co-operative Credit Societies lies a large hope for the future of agriculture in India. The object of these Societies is to teach the ryot the lessons of thrift and self-help without which no measures that Government can devise can be of any permanent advantage. The movement has been started with some success in the Central Provinces, but ground has not yet been broken in the Buldana District, which might be thought to afford an excellent field for such an undertaking. An application for registration was, it is true, made from a Village in the Chikhli taluk
in 1907, but when the patwari, its chief supporter, died, the movement collapsed, and no further progress has been made.
It is sometimes recklessly stated that the heaviness of the land-revenue demand is partly responsible for the indebtedness of the cultivator. In the Report of the Famine Commission of 1901 it is stated that the land revenue in Berar falls at R. 1-2-9 per cultivated acre, and that a reasonable estimate would point to a revenue incidence of about 7 per cent, of the gross produce. No one seriously contends that in ordinary years this is anything but a very moderate demand. The importance of suspensions and remissions of revenue is now fully recognised by Government, but there is some difficulty in Berar with regard to suspensions. It has been found on various occasions that the cultivators prefer to pay their revenue rather than keep it in suspense. If the demand is small, even the poor tenant can and desires to pay it; if the demand is large, the khatedar is either a rich cultivator or a moneylender, who has acquired his land through money-lending, and neither of these classes require relief. But as the Famine Report says the root of the matter goes deeper. The true remedy and preventive of indebtedness will be found in the promotion of education; in the development of proper and popular institutions for organised credit and thrift at the very doors of the cultivator, and in the advancement of agricultural efficiency in all its branches. With all these remedies Government is now concerned, but no Government in the world can alter the economic conditions of a people unless the latter take the initiative themselves. The ostentatious expenditure on marriage and other social ceremonies is a fruitful cause of insolvency or hopeless indebtedness. But there are encouraging indications that the necessity of cutting his coat according to his cloth is forcing itself on the cultivator's attention. In the
Malkapur taluk, for instance, the caste of Pajne Kunbis exercises a strict control over all social expenditure of its members. There is no reason to be pessimistic with regard to the condition of the cultivating classes. Many of them are well-to-do; some have taken up money-lending in addition to agriculture, and are said to be worse Shylocks than the professional moneylenders. The famine of 1896-97 and 1899-1900 increased the general indebtedness, but the good seasons of 1901-05 enabled many to pay off their debts and make substantial savings. From 1906 onward there has been a series of bad years, and the indebtedness has again increased, but there is every reason for believing that a few good harvests will put the majority of the cultivators on a sound basis of prosperity. The poor, the thriftless, and the stupid will always remain, and it is perhaps not undesirable that their land should pass into the hands of others better able to manage it.