Part Five of the *Presidential address of Rahimatulla Sayani to the Indian National Congress, 1896*

24) Lord Welby and Sir Auckland Colvin on Indian Financial Checks

Lord Welby, President of the Royal Commission now sitting, says:

"Sir David Barbour made a criticism, which I think all officers connected with financial departments must allow as a criticism of general application; namely, that sufficient attention is not given by the departments in India to the financial question. They hardly appreciate the gravity of it, and do not forecast what the financial effect of the measures on which they are bent may be. That, of course. is a defect common to all Governments. The heads of different departments very seldom take a general view of the effect of their administration. They are anxious to carry out measures which they think are important."

Sir David Barbour says :

"I certainly think something is very desirable. that which would ensure greater attention being paid to financial consideration in connection with the Government of India . . . . I think would be better for India, better all round, if more attention were given to the financial question, and if we went more slowly in. periods of great apparent financial prosperity."

Sir Auckland Colvin agrees with Sir David Barbour in the opinion . . . . Lord Welby further says:

"The point to Sir David Barbour's criticism, I think, might be put thus: that in a country like India, where deficits are more dangerous than they would be here, where new taxation is more difficult than it would be here, the Government, as a whole, does not give sufficient attention to what may be the financial results of measures which. it adopts."

Whereupon Sir Auckland Colvin remarks:

"I agree entirely to that, that in a country where the taxpayer is an alien, and is not able to make his voice directly heard, the need of giving close attention to economy in administration is greater than it would otherwise be."

From these remarks, coming as they do from such high authorities, this Congress will be perfectly justified in coming to the conclusion that "the discussion upon the Budget, both in India and in Parliament, needs to be converted from a farce into a reality," and that all thinking and reasonable men will be jnstified in expecting all the races inhabiting British India to join the Congress and cooperate with it in the cause of their country and of themselves. Indeed, I have a presentiment that
in the very near future my co-religionists will not only join the Congress movement, but take active part in moulding it, and will deem it the highest prize of their civic life to be permitted to preside at its sittings.

25) Famine and Poverty

I now come to the most absorbing topic of the hour. After a lapse of twenty years, famine has again overtaken a greater part of the country. The insufficiency of rainfall in Behar, in the North-West Provinces, in the Punjab, in parts of Central India, in many districts of Bombay and Madras, and in Mysore, has already led to distress among those classes who habitually live from hand to mouth. The cultivators, whose impoverished condition is well known, are the greatest sufferers. Next come the class of small artisans and weavers, and then the day-labourers who barely eke out an anna per day as wages. The prices of foodgrains in everyone of the afflicted tracts went up high, in some cases 50 and 100 per cent.

This occurrence was most unusual. It has seldom happened that at the very beginning of the season of scarcity, prices of wheat, rice, bajri, and the jowari have gone up so high as has been the case at present. That such a condition of affairs should have created a panic and led even to looting and rioting, as in Sholapur, in Nagpur, and elsewhere, is not unintelligible. The people seem to have been frightened at the insufficiency of food-grain. They naturally thought that if a limited stock of grain, at the very commencement of the scarcity, should raise prices so high, what might happen when the season advances and the stocks are exhausted?

No doubt, the first impulse was to curse the Bania grain­dealer and lay on his head atl their woes. But as the panic sub­sided, and as it became known that Government would spare no efforts to relieve the distressed, while the long arm of charity may be expected to loyally assist the efforts of State, prices went down a little. This may be taken as the situation at present. The weekly official reports show that upwards of two lakhs of persons in various parts of the country are already employed on relief work, and that as week after week advances, the number will swell till at last it may reach a maximum in April and May, the number of which it is impossible to forecast at present.

Every presidential and provincial Government has been straining its nerve to do its level best to cope with the distress, which really speaks well of the humanity of our Government. British civilisation could not tolerate famine. And the Head of the State has already declared from his place in the Council Chamber that his Government will endeavour to save life at all cost and all hazard. Let us all devoutly hope that it may be so able to achieve its noble intention, without indulging in hope or prospect not founded on the realities or circumstances prevailing in the country.

To entertain sanguine prospects which may not only be not realised but which may end in heavy mortality, otherwise preventible, would be grievous. For when we recall to mind the disastrous mortality which took place in 1877-78, when according to official accounts over 50 lakhs of human beings perished, we cannot but contemplate with the gravest apprehension what may befall unhappy India at this dismal juncture, should the efforts and energy of the State, with all the ample resources and most perfect organisation at its command, be found to be not so satisfactory as the people have been led to expect. I do not mean to say that these efforts and energies will be wanting. But it is not unlikely that here and there, owing to more sanguine estimates of food and fodder and other optimistic views, the same care and attention may not be paid. You may have on paper the most perfect Famine Code; but unless those entrusted with its work, from the highest to the lowest, do not fall short in carrying out its provisions by a variety of causes, it is not unlikely that mortality, otherwise preventible, may ensue.

It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen and public body to heartily second the efforts of our benign rulers in saving life. The press, too, is doing an invaluable service in placing before the public from day to day all intelligence regarding the famished in various parts of the country. It is discharging a noble duty worthy of its sacred functions, and we cannot but express our gratitude to it for its enterprise which enables us to give such wide publicity to all intelligence in connexion with the famine. Its argus eyes can detect neglect, indifference, or mismanagement anywhere, and enable the authorities concerned to set matters right at once. The primary and essential function is to see that relief is given in time, that it is not allowed to be too late when it may become impossible to save lives.

26) Government and Famine

That the Government, as the Hon'ble Mr. Woodburn observed the other day, is in a better position today to cope, and cope effectively, with famine, than it was 20 years ago, is no doubt perfectly true. We have had two crores of irrigation works and seven crores of protective railways constructed since 1880 out of the Famine Fund. Facilities of communication have been vastly increased; many a tract of the country has been brought within the radius of our railways, both trunk and branch. All these are reassuring elements in connection with the present famine which were wanting in 1877-78.

But while admitting these facts, we should not forget that despite branch or feeder railways, despite increased communications, despite other facilities of transit, if there be no sufficient food-stock in the country to move from the locality where it may be a surplusage, to one where it may be most wanted, then these appliances and resources are unhappily of no avail.

27) Stock of Grain in India

Thus the most pressing question of the hour is not irrigation or railways, but the stock of food in the country. For your own province, I was rejoiced to see the other day from the note issued by your public-spirited and energetic Lieutenant-Governor, that though there was an insufficiency of rice, the surplus of the Burma crops, plus importations from Singapur and Saigon, might able to be supply it.

The Upper Provinces, under the able administratorship of the equally energetic Sir Antony Macdonnel, are a wheat-consuming country. Though wheat has been less exported from those provinces last year for purposes of [foreign] exports, it is not impossible that there may yet be a deficiency, and if that is so, wheat may be imported from Persia, and Russia, and even America though at a dear rate. Thus the wants of that populous, but very poor, province might be fairly supplied. It is needless for me to inform you that the N.-W. Provinces and Oudh have a population numbering 4 3/4 crores. But it is so poor on the whole that according to the weekly reports, the largest number of persons gratuitously relieved are to be found in that province, and it also has the largest number of persons employed on relief works.

But as regards the food supply of the Central Provinces, Bombay, and Madras, I have not yet noticed full and detailed official estimates being placed before the public, and if that is so, I hope it will soon be done; for you will agree that an approximate knowledge of the stock vastly helps private enterprise and private charity between them to import grain and pour it into those localities where it is most

28) Statistics of the Food-Stock

But this question of the stock of grain shows clearly that India lives from hand to mouth. A leading weekly journal in Bombay, the Champion, grave statistics a few weeks ago, based on the figures of the out-turn of food per acre as given by the Famine Commissioners, showing that with a population of 22 crores in British India, the total quantity of food required, at the rate of 1 1/2 lbs. per day per head, was 5.80 crores of tons, while the actual out-turn of food-crops could not be estimated at more than 5.76 crore tons, taking 18.60 crore acres as the whole area cultivated for these, and computing the out-turn at 3.1 ton or 694 lbs. per acre.

These statistics would lead us to infer that the outturn of food just sufficed for the population. But there is an average export of 25 lakhs of tons beyond the sea. If, then, exports were taken into account, the quantity actually retained for home consumption would be pro tanto diminished; that is to say, while the food required was 5.80 crore tons, the quantity available was only 5.51. This would signify a deficiency of 29 lakhs of tons, which would mean insufficiency of grain for a crore of the population.

If these statistics are wholly or even approximately correct -- and we have no reason for thinking they are not, as they are founded on official figures -- you may imagine how perilous is the situation. The late Sir James Caird observed that India had no food-stock surplus to last even for ten days. Since he made that statement, which has never been contradicted, population has vastly increased, while the area annually cultivated for food-crops is barely enough.

A further comparison shows that the area sown for non-food crops is relatively larger, as may be seen from the following table:

In crores of acres,
In crores of acres,
of increase
Total food-crops 16.62 18.62 12
Total non-food crops 2.15 3.90 81

Thus while the acreage of food-crops has only increased 12 per cent in fifteen years, the acreage of non-food crops has in­creased 81 per cent, or almost doubled. Though it is a matter of satisfaction to know that the area for merchantable crops has increased almost double, that the area for food-crops should not show the same growth is a matter not only for regret but for deep reflection by everyone interested in the better welfare of the country, so far as the annual food-supplies are concerned.

29) Land Revenue

To us, again, it is a further matter of regret that the substitution of the system of paying the land revenue in cash for that in kind, is having its pernicious effect on our ryot. Whatever may be the merits of the cash system, it is to be feared [that] it is not exactly suited to the cultivators of the country. The in-kind system previously in vogue was automatic in its incidence, and so far was most conducive to the happiness of the ryot. Whatever the condition of the crops, he had enough food-grain to last him for domestic consumption.

If the crop was 16 annas, he paid in proportion to the State in kind. If it was 8 annas, the proportion to be paid to the State would diminish. Thus, the State dues fluctuated according to the condition of the crops, while the factor of food for annual domestic consumption remained constant. This system in a great measure tended to alleviate distress at the very outset of the scarcity. The cash system is wanting in this element, and so far is defective.

30) Agrarian Problem

This leads me to rivet your attention on the great danger looming in the near future in connection with our agrarian problem. It is, I admit, a gigantic problem, and has been staring our rulers in the face for many a year past. Now and again palliatives have been applied by means of legislation. But palliative measures, you will admit, are after all no permanent solution of the problem. A broad, comprehensive, and practical solution is imperative, and it will require the bighest experience and statesmanship to devise a remedy wbich may cure the disease, which is growing year by year and deepening in its intensity.

I entreat you all to reflect on this grave situation, for to my mind, the greatest danger to our country, in the near future, is what may arise from agrarian agitation. There is nothing like the rebellion of the belly. Government has been for years most unwisely spending millions against the so-called external danger. The expenditure is said to be an insurance against invasions, and yet we have a terrible invasion arising from hunger within the country itself, while there is no serious effort yet made to build an insurance against such internal danger. This must be, to all of us, a matter of the deepest regret. Let it be our endeavour, to the best of our power and ability, to assist the Government in its arduous task by suggesting suitable remedies.

Two years ago, Sir Antony Macdonnell, as the Home Secretary of the Government of India, informed the public from his place in the Supreme Legislative Council, that Government had on the anvil such a broad and comprebensive solution of the agrarian difficulty. Let us hope that as soon as the hands of the Government are free from famine, it may devote all its ability and energy on this important topic. Let it be the good fortune of our present Viceroy, the liberal and sympathetic Earl of Elgin, to inaugurate such a practical agricultural reform as may restore agricultural prosperity to India, and extricate her ryots from their present impoverished and distressed situation, and earn for his lordship a deep and lasting gratitude.

31) Civil and Military Expenditure

The next subject of importance is that of the growing expenditure of the Administration, both in its Civil and Military branch.

The famine has conclusively demonstrated, beyond all other facts and all other statistics, the existence of the poverty of India, to which our patriotic Grand Old Man, Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji, has been persistently drawing the serious attention of our rulers. That one main source of that poverty is the annual drain of millions of the national wealth, is now admitted everywhere. None can deny the fact, however plausibly it may be explained away.

When we come to analyse the cause of that drain, we are confronted with the enormous expenditure incurred in England on Civil and Military pensions, India Office Establishments, and what are generally called, Home Charges. More or less, they are undoubtedly the outcome of the costly foreign agency in the administration -- a subject on which the Congress has continued to express its emphatic opinion from time to time during the twelve years of its existence. I do not propose to enter here into the detail of this grave economic phenomenon.

But to us it is a matter of some satisfaction to know that in respect to the costliness of the administration, there is now sitting a Royal Commission to investigate the whole subject -- a Commission which is the direct fruit of the agitation by this Congress, and by none more than Mr. Dadabhai Naoroji and Sir William Wedderburn. None can deny that but for their strenuous exertions in Parliament to have this Commission appointed, India today would have been still without any inquiry. The last one was in 1874. But the Fawcett Committee, as it was called, concluded its sittings without a report.

32) Royal Commission and Apportionment of Home Charges

This Commission, however, has had now thirty sittings, and has already recorded the evidence of expert officials, both in active employ and in retirement. Among the latter are two distinguished ex-Finance Ministers, Sir David Barbour and Sir Auckland Colvin, and Captain Hext. It is a gratification to see from their evidence that they have made out a strong case for greater control over the expenditure of the Government of India, speciaIly Military and Naval; the two ex-Finance Ministers are of opinion that, with a pro-Military viceroy, the chances of his dominating his whole Council and incurring any amount of Military expenditure of an irresponsible character, in league with the Military element in the Executive Council, are many, which can be hardly said to be conducive to the interests of the already overburdened taxpayers.

These retired officials have also given their opinion that the limits of taxation have been already strained, and pointed out the danger of further taxation. Sir David Barbour, again, has admitted that Parliamentary control over all expenditure, as wisely suggested by Sir William Wedderburn, is expedient. He will not, however, give his unqualified concurrence to the scheme, which requires modification.

So far it may be observed that the evidence is satisfactory, and in the very direction the Congress has for years been pointing out. Again, it must be said that the evidence of Sir Edwin Collen has completely established the contention of the Congress regarding the appalling growth of Military expenditure, even after making allowances for necessary and unavoidable increases. Mr. Stephen Jacob, whose evidence wa.s exhaustive, has made out a case as to the unfair character of expenditure which the Home Office foists on India. You are aware that the Congress. as well as the Government of India, are at one on the question of the apportionment of Home Charges. And Mr. Jacob's evidence is therefore eminently satisfactory in this respect.

Let us, Gentlemen, do all in our power to further strengthen the hands of our Indian Government by once more placing on record our opinion regarding the financial injustice from which India has been suffering for many years past. If the Royal Commission does nothing else but recommends a fair apportionment of the charges to be borne by India and England respectively, it will have rendered the greatest service to this country and justified its appointment.

Lastly, it is a pleasure to notice that, thanks to the persistent efforts of the representatives on behalf of India -- Sir W. Wedderburn and Messrs. Dadabhai Naoroji and Caine -- the Commission has at last allowed reporters to attend its sittings. Publicity adds to the value of public enquiry. The Congress owes a deep debt of gratitude to these gentlemen for their disinterested exertions throughout in this matter. Let me add here that my indefatigable friend Mr. D.E. Wacha has been elected by the Bombay Presidency Association to proceed to England and to give his evidence before the Royal Commission, and I have no doubt whatever that, zealous and hard.working as he has been throughout his life in the cause of our country, and a master as he is of the facts and figures regarding Indian finance, his evidence will be of very great use to us and assist the Commission in coming to the right conclusion.

33) Dividing the Council on the Indian Budget

I will now proceed to another important topic on which not only the Congress has expressed its own views, but every Provincial Conference in the country has done the same. I mean the reform, which is absolutely necessary and expedient, in connection with the discussion of Imperial and Provincial Budgets. Though we all appreciate the privilege conferred on the expanded Legislative Councils to discuss the Budget, there is no power to move amendments and vote on it. So far all life is taken out of these Budget debates. And for all practical purposes, the discussion is purely academic. Though this is the fourth year of the expanded councils, the most pungent criticism on the Budget in the Imperial Council makes no difference whatever, and has no practical effect. Though the representatives of the public give voice to public opinion in the Council Chamber, their utterances go unheeded. This is not a satisfactory State of matters.

If Budgets are to be popular, and if the people and the Press are to influence these for good, it is essential that the Budgets should be voted upon. Otherwise, Budget discussions will remain the farces that they are, and it is to be earnestly hoped that our rulers will see their way to instituting an early reform in this matter. The fear that the Government may be over-ridden is groundless. There is not a Council in the Empire in which the official element does not preponderate, and it is absurd to expect that Government could at all be swamped. It is a curious anomaly that, though in Local Self-Government the representatives of the People can discuss their Civil finances, and divide [=vote] on them, they cannot do so on the larger subject of the finances of the Province and the whole Empire. I repeat, therefore, the hope I have already expressed, that the Government will at an early date see the reasonableness -- aye, the justice -- of our demand, and grant us the same, as conducive to the greater welfare and contentment of the people.

34) Tribute to the Dead

Since our last sitting at Poona, the cruel hand of death has deprived us of several of our most energetic workers, friends and sympathisers. Foremost among them stands the name of the late Mr. Mano Mohan Ghose, an enthusiastic and steady worker from the early years of this movement. His great abilities and rare legal acumen; his special study of Indian questions, especially the urgent need of the separation of judicial from executive functions; his untiring zeal and moderation; his great powers and readiness in debate, and widespread influence, combined to make him best fitted to espouse his country's cause. His sudden removal from our midst leaves a blank which it will be hard to fill, but his services to the Congress will keep his memory always green in the annals of this movement.

In the death of Rao Bahadur H. H. Dhruva of Gujarat, a scholar of European reputation, who represented H. H. the Gaekwar at the Norway and Sweden Oriental Congress, our movement loses another worker whose zeal and enthusiasm for the Congress knew no bounds; he went from village to village pleading the Congress cause, and spared neither time nor money in its advocacy. He was a District Judge on our side of the country, but as soon as he was freed from the trammels of office, the first thing he did was to attend the Karachi Provincial Conference in the scorching heat of May last, and died within a fortnight of his return from that place. Western India, especially Gujarat, will long mourn his loss.

By the death of Mr. C. Narayanaswami Naidu, of Nagpore, the Congress has lost another staunch supporter, to whose enthusiasm the entire success which attended the Nagpore Congress was due.

35) Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria

You are all aware that the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen Empress of India has recently exceeded in duration that of any of Her Most Excellent Majesty's predecessors, and that this auspicious event is to be celebrated in or about June next. Whatever may be the differences between the different races inhabiting this vast country on political or other grounds, the whole of India is unanimous in the opinion that Her Majesty has throughout her reign been ever anxious for the welfare of all her Indian subjects, and has ever treated them with the same kindness, and with the solicitude, with which she has treated all her other subjects.

To Her Majesty, all her subjects are equal, without any distinction of caste, creed, race, or colour. She is the ever-affectionate mother of all her subjects, and all her subjects, whether near her or far away from her, are to her, her children. Whatever might be the political views of Her Majesty's Ministers for the time being, whoever might be in authority under Her Majesty in India, Her Majesty has throughout thrown the great weight of her high authority in favour of equal treatment of all her subjects alike.

You are all aware of the great Proclamation from Her Majesty to the people of the country, and which Proclamation is rightly regarded by the people of this country as their great Charter and cherished accordingly. You are all aware that Her Majesty issued the said Proclamation unasked, and thus did an act of a signal, illustrious, very rare, and unrivalled magnanimity, an act fraught with seeds of deep and abiding value. That she, the august Sovereign of an Empire over which the sun never sets; that she, the constitutional ruler of a country that leads the advanced guard in the march of liberty and of civilization, should deign to look over and care for us, who have fallen back among stragglers in the rear, is in itself a proof of her high generosity. It is not for us, and in this place, to pass in review the important incidents of her long, glorious, and illustrious reign. Suffice it to say that the Victorian era will be ever remembered throughout the British Empire with deep feelings of pride and pleasure, and in the rest of the world with those of wonder and admiration.

Let, therefore, this Congress of delegates from all parts of India humbly offer its dutiful and loyal congratulations to Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen Empress on her memorable beneficent and glorious reign, exceeding in length of time the reign of any of her predecessors, and heartily wish her many more and happy years of rule over the Great British Empire. Let us all fervently pray that benign and merciful Providence may shower over her its choicest blessings, and guider her in [the] future, as it has guided her in the past, in the path of duty and of righteousness, and that she may be enabled to complete her glorious work in India by bestowing on her grateful Indian subjects the same rights and privileges as are enjoyed by her British subjects, by removing all disabilities which still cling to us, notwithstanding Her Royal Mandate to the contrary.

By conferring on us the boon we ask for in fulfilment of her own gracious Proclamation, Her Majesty will not only command the prayers of her Indian subjects, but also secure the sympathies of the whole civilized world. Her sagacious clemency will ever live in the hearts of her Indian subjects and will, indeed, assure the prosperity, as well as the continued and devoted loyalty, of India. The English nation is well known for its manliness, and manliness is associated with love of justice, generosity, and intellect. It is the force of character, as also the force of circumstances, that have given Englishmen their present power. In fact, they are masterful men, and we trust they will, therefore, join with us in our prayers to our and their Sovereign on this auspicious occasion, and thus assist in inaugurating a truly liberal measure of reform, and thereby earn credit and achieve a reputation of which all manly hearts ought to be proud.

It now remains for me to say that in the discussion of the several important matters that will be placed before you for consideration, you will show the same moderation, both of language and thought, as you have hitherto displayed. May merciful Providence guide us all, both you and myself, in the discharge of our duties on this important occasion, and may our deliberations contribute to the benefit of all concerned.

*Sayani 1896 index page* -- *Glossary* -- *FWP's main page*