Karl Marx in The New-York Tribune 1853

Sir Charles Woods’ East India Reforms

Source: the New-York Daily Tribune, June 22, 1853;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.


London, Tuesday, June 7, 1853

The last India Bill of 1783 proved fatal to the Coalition Cabinet of Mr. Fox and Lord North. The new India Bill of 1853 is likely to prove fatal for the Coalition Cabinet of Mr. Gladstone and Lord John Russell. But if the former were thrown overboard, because of their attempt to abolish the Courts of Directors and of Proprietors, the latter are threatened with a similar fate for the opposite reason. On June 3, Sir Charles Wood moved for leave to bring in a bill to provide for the Government of India. Sir Charles commenced by excusing the anomalous length of the speech he was about to deliver, by the “magnitude of the subject,” and “the 150,000,000 of souls he had to deal with.” For every 30,000,000 of his fellow-subjects, Sir Charles could do no less than sacrifice one hour’s breath. But why this precipitate legislation on that “great subject,” while you postpone it “for even the most trifling matters?” Because the Charter of the East India Company expires on the 30th April, 1854. But why not pass a temporary continuance bill, reserving to future discussion more permanent legislation? Because it cannot be expected that we shall ever find again “such an opportunity of dealing quietly with this vast and important question” — i.e., of burking it in a Parliamentary way. Besides, we are fully informed on the matter, the Directors of the East India Company express the opinion that it is necessary to legislate in the course of the present session, and the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, summons the Government by an express letter by all means to conclude our legislation at once. But the most striking argument wherewith Sir Charles justifies his immediate legislation, is that, prepared as he may appear to speak of a world of questions, “not comprised in the bill he proposed to bring in,” the

measure which he has to submit is, so far as legislation goes, comprised in a very small compass.”

After this ‘Introduction Sir Charles delivered himself of an apology for the administration of India for the last twenty years. “We must look at India with somewhat of an Indian eye” — which Indian eye seems to have the particular gift of seeing everything bright on the part of England and everything black on the side of India.

“In India you have a race of people slow of change, bound up by religious prejudices and antiquated customs. There are [...],in fact, all obstacles to rapid progress.”

(Perhaps there is a Whig Coalition party in India.)

“The points,” said Sir Charles Wood, “upon which the greatest stress has been laid, and which are the heads of the complaints contained in the petitions presented to the Committee, relate to the administration of justice, the want of public works, and the tenure of land.”

With regard to the Public Works, the Government intends to undertake some of “the greatest magnitude and importance.” With regard to the tenure of lands, Sir Charles proves very successfully that its three existing forms — the Zemindari, the Ryotwari, and the Village systems — are only so many forms of fiscal exploitation in the hands of the Company , none of which could well be made general, nor deserved to be made so. An idea of establishing another form, of an altogether opposite character, does not in the least preoccupy the mind of Sir Charles.

“With regard to the administration of justice,” continues he, “the complaints relate principally to the inconvenience arising from the technicalities of English law, to the alleged incompetency of English judges, and to the corruption of the native officers and judges.”

And now, in order to prove the hard labor of providing for the administration of justice in India, Sir Charles relates that already, as early as 1833, a Law Commission was appointed in India. But in what manner did this Commission act, according to Sir Charles Wood’s own testimony? The first and last result of the labors of that Commission was a penal code, prepared under the auspices of Mr. Macaulay. This code was sent to the various local authorities in India, which sent it back to Calcutta, from which it was sent to England, to be again returned from England to India. In India, Mr. Macaulay having been replaced as legislative counsel by Mr. Bethune, the code was totally altered, and on this plea the Governor-General, not being then of opinion “that delay is a source of weakness and danger,” sent it back to England, and from England it was returned to the Governor-General, with authority to pass the code in whatever shape he thought best. But now, Mr. Bethune having died, the Governor-General thought best to submit the code to a third English lawyer, and to a lawyer who knew nothing about the habits and customs of the Hindoos, reserving himself the right of afterward rejecting a code concocted by wholly incompetent authority. Such have been the adventures of that yet unborn code. As to the technical absurdities of the law in India, Sir Charles takes his stand on the no less absurd technicalities of the English law-procedure itself; but while affirming the perfect incorruptibility of the English judges in India, he nevertheless is ready to sacrifice them by an alteration in the manner of nominating them. The general progress of India is demonstrated by a comparison of the present state of Delhi with that under the invasion of Khuli-Khan. The salt-tax is justified by the arguments of the most renowned political economists, all of whom have advised taxation to be laid on some article of first necessity. But Sir Charles does not add what those same economists would have said, on finding that in the two years from 1849-'50, and 185 1252, there had been a decrease in the consumption of salt, of 60,000 tuns, a loss of revenue to the amount of 415,000, the total salt revenue amounting to 2,000,000. The measures proposed by Sir Charles, and “comprised in a very small compass,” are:

1. The Court of Directors, to consist of eighteen instead of twenty-four members, twelve to be elected by the Proprietors, and six by the Crown.

2. The revenue of Directors to be raised from 300 to 500 a year, the Chairman to receive 1,000.

3. All the ordinary appointments in the civil service, and all the scientific in the military service of India, to be thrown open to public competition, leaving to the Directors the nomination to the Cadetships in the Cavalry-of-the-Line.

4. The Governor-Generalship to be separated from the Governorship of Bengal, and power to be given to the Supreme Government to constitute a new Presidency in the districts on the Indus.

5. And lastly, the whole of this measure only to continue until the Parliament shall provide otherwise.

The speech and measure of Sir Charles Wood was subjected to a very strong and satirical criticism by Mr. Bright, whose picture of India ruined by the fiscal exertions of the Company and Government did not, of course, receive the supplement of India ruined by Manchester and Free Trade. As to last night’s speech of an old East-Indiaman, Sir J. Hogg, Director or ex-Director of the Company, I really suspect that I have met with it already in 1701, 1730, 1743, 1769, 1772, 1781, 1783, 1784, 1793, 1813, etc., and am induced, by way of answer to his directorial panegyric, to quote merely a few facts from the annual Indian accounts published, I believe, under his own superintendence.

Total Net-Revenues of India
Loss of Revenue within three years, 348,792
Total Charges
1849-'50 16,687,382
Increase of expenditure within three years, 1,214,284
Bengal oscillated in last four years from3,500,000to 3,560,000
North West oscillated in last four years from4,870,0004,900,000
Madras oscillated in last four years from3,640,0003,470,000
Bombay oscillated in last four years from2,240,0002,300,000
 Gross Revenue
in 1851-52
Expenditure on Public
Works in 1851-52
Out of 19,800,000not 166,300

have been expended on roads, canals, bridges and other works of public necessity.

Karl Marx