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The Fifth Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on The Affairs of the East India Company

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The East India Company, established in the year 1600 for the purpose of trade in India, found itself in the role of an administrator or ruler in 1765 when it acquired the Diwani (that is the right of revenue administration) from the then reigning Mughal Emperor Shah Alam.

The East India Company discovered itself into a new role which the British Parliament (The House of Commons) set up its Select Committee to examine along with the revenue administration in ‘our India possessions’. The first four reports prepared by the Select Committee discussed the various establishments created by the East India Company for the internal administration of India offering some account of the nature and history of those establishments and of the circumstances under which they grew to their present scale. These establishments were divided into four departments Political, Military, Revenue and Judicial. The Fifth Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company submitted on 28 July, 1812 is exclusively devoted to the establishments directly concerned with the revenue and judicial departments. The authorship of the Fifth Report is attributed to Samuel Davis and Officer of Engineers and who in 1784 had accompanied Turner on the latter’s Mission to Tibet as far as Bhutan .


Major recommendations made in the Fifth Report may better be summarized under three heads. The first part is a summary of the different systems introduced for the management of the revenues, and the administration of justice in the East India. Company’s territorial possessions, noting the successive modifications, they have undergone since the acquisition of the Dewani in 1765 to the year 1786, when the affairs of British India were brought under the over-view of British Parliament, the Directors of the John Company transmitted orders to the supreme government in India for inquiry to be made into the condition of the landholders and other inhabitants residing under their authority, and for the establishment of permanent rules for the settlement and collection of the revenue and the administration of justice, founded on the ancient laws and local usages of the country.

The second part of the Report deals with the measures pursued in consequence of the forgoing orders, which led to a settlement of the land revenue in perpetuity, and to a code of regulations for the guidance of the courts of justice, formed and established during the government of Lord Cornwallis. The last part ventures into an inquiry into the ‘practical effects’ of the revenue and judicial system established by Lord Cornwallis in order to ascertain whether they have proved inadequate or defective whether means have been used to remedy those defects and supply those deficiencies and what further measures may appear necessary for the accomplishment of the professed objects both of the East India Company and the British Parliament. In India the time-honored practice in agriculture is for the state to collect a fixed amount of the produce in kind or cash from the cultivator of the land and the manner in which the amount if fixed is known as settlement which is made at regular intervals of time. Lord Cornwallis made the settlement in 1790 which was to remain valid for ten years. Lord Cornwallis favored making fixation of land revenue unchanged for perpetuity called permanent settlement his motive being to promote agriculture in territories under the Company’s territories. At this time nearly one third of the cultivable land under the Company’s possession laid waste as farmers were simply not interested in tilling because of arbitrarily fixed crushing revenue system. If farmers could be assured of security of tenure they would be motivated to make durable improvement in farming, being assured that the fruits would be solely theirs. Secondly, a general increase of revenue would be assured by the growth of population and the material development of the country. In 1792, the decennial settlement made in 1790, was made permanent. The Fifth Report Quotes the Court of Directors of the East India Company: ‘If ever there was a great question of administration decided upon what seems at the time to be sound economic arguments, it was the Permanent Settlement*’.

(* The Fifth Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company, 1812, Vol.3, P xvii)

The Fifth Report is the most authentic on land settlement but it also covers many other aspects of life in India : it chronicles even the habits and customs of the people. The Report comprises of three volumes.


The East India Company became India’s ruler in 1765 with the grant of diwani by Emperor Shah Alam. A pressing task before the new ruler at that time was to know more about this newly pave sated country. The outcome was this Report. The Report presents a most authentic account of the evolution of revenue administration in India. Published in three volumes, the work is an essential reading for those curious to know about India’s revenue administration, particularly permanent settlement.

Written by upsc aspirants

January 20th, 2012 at 9:56 am

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