Reforms of Lord Bentinck, 1828-1835, British India - Informative & researched article on Reforms of Lord Bentinck, 1828-1835, British India
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Reforms of Lord Bentinck, 1828-1835, British India
Lord Bentinck`s Reforms were truly honest towards natives, facing resistance from the British camp.

Lord Bentinck after completing his education had served in the House of Commons for some years. Soon after, he was appointed the Governor-General of India in 1827. His primary concern was to take the loss-making British East India Company to new heights, in order to ensure that its charter would be improved by the British government.

Lord William Bentinck Bentinck engrossed himself in an extensive range of cost-cutting measures, welcoming the persistent enmity of many military men whose wages were cut down. Although his financial management of India was quite impressive, his modernising projects also included a policy of westernisation, influenced by the policy of utilitarianism. Reforming the court system, he made English, rather than Persian, the language of the higher courts. Lord Bentinck also promoted western-style education for Indians in order to provide more educated Indians for service in the British officialdom.

Although his reforms met with some resistance among native Indians during that time, it was argued that they brought on a general feel of displeasure, which ultimately led to the legendary Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. His reputation for callous financial efficiency and disrespect for Indian culture led to the much-retold story that he had once plotted to demolish the Taj Mahal and sell off the marble.

During the years of 1828-1831, Lord William Bentinck, the then Governor-General of India, had also sponsored several judicial changes and reforms. The reforms included the introduction of Indian judges in positions formerly held by Englishmen, increased status and pay for Indian Judges, establishment of greater control over revenue and judicial officials by placing them under the supervision of divisional commissioners, removal of police supervision from duties of the district judge and shifting from Persian to English as the Company`s official language.

In 1828, on the Batta Pay day, the Court of Directors of the British East India Company ordered Lord Bentinck to execute their instructions for the elimination of double batta, or extra pay, to the officers of the Company`s army. On November 29, Lord Bentinck issued the orders to reduce batta allowance for the officers posted to Dinapore, Barrackpore, Berhampur, Dum Dum and Ghazipur. Due to the level of objection, this matter appealed to the Company in London which on March 30, 1830 upheld the reductions. The savings were realised to 20,000 pounds per year.

In 1829, with Regulation I of that year, Lord Bentinck reorganised the local governance of the Mofussil by adopting the programme conceived of by Holt Mackenzie. He divided the Bengal Presidency into twenty divisions, each led by a Commissioner of Revenue and Circuit. Each division consisted of three or four districts. The Commissioners replaced the Provincial Boards of Revenue and took on the administration of police. Additionally the Commissioners sat as Judges of Circuit and Session, replacing the Provincial Courts of Appeal. A chief Board of Revenue was established in Calcutta under the control of the Divisional Commissioners.

On 4th December, Lord Bentinck issued the Regulation XVII, which prohibited and made illegal in Bengal the practice of sati, or widow burning. In 1830, the provisions were extended to Madras Presidency and Bombay Presidency. In June 1832, the Privy Council in London upheld Bentinck`s measure. In response to Bentinck`s abolition of sati, the Hindus of Calcutta organised the Dharma Sabha to resist this reform.

In January 1833, Lord Bentinck published the Regulation IX, which established a revised land revenue scheme called the Mahalwari Settlement to be applied for the next twenty years by Robert M. Bird (1788-1853) in the Western Provinces of northern India. This land settlement measure represented a synthesis of Cornwallis`s zamindari and Metcalfe`s Delhi System. Further, Lord Bentinck effected the union of the functions of the collector and magistrate, but kept separate those powers of the judge.

In 1834, Bentinck`s Merit Fostering Minute proposed a uniform salary structure including incremental scales, efficiency ratings and greater levels of supervision in the Company`s army. Except for the establishment of maximum salary levels, the Court of Directors rejected the remainder of Bentinck`s programme. In 1835, Lord Bentinck abolished flogging in the Company`s army.

In February 1829, Bentinck proposed to take his Council with him on tour of Upper India, first establishing them at Meerut and then permanently in Delhi. Bentinck however denied he was relocating the capital to Delhi. On 29th December, in an infamous case of administrative corruption in Delhi, the Company dismissed Sir Edward Colebrooke, British Resident, from its service. The charges had sprung from his young, but fearless, First Assistant, Charles Edward Trevelyan (1807-1886).

During the period of 1830-1833, Lord Bentinck conducted an extensive tour of northern and central India. In October 1831, at Rupar, Lord Bentinck held talks with Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), ruler of Punjab. Their negotiations resulted in an alliance which held throughout the period of the 1838-1842 Afghan War. In the summers of 1831 and 1832, Lord Bentinck resided at Shimla, setting a precedent followed by later Governor-Generals of India.

In 1830, Lord Bentinck had begun a programme to build the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Delhi. A segment of the road was re-routed to higher ground, other portions drained and hundreds of bridges were built. The road was metalled, or paved and trees were planted every sixty feet along the roadway. By 1850, over 800 miles of the road was completed.

Lord Bentinck also named a commission headed by Colonel Sir William Sleeman (1788-1856) to suppress thugi and dacoits, ritual Indian murderers and robbers operating in central and northern India. In August, Lord Bentinck delivered his decision in support of using the Red Sea route over that of the Cape for the transportation of official despatches, letters and news to and from England. This decision encouraged the work of Thomas Waghorn (1800-1850) who had advocated the use of steamboats in the Red Sea and was to subsequently offer twenty-two day service.

In 1831, due to increasing levels of corruption and internal violence, the Company took over the administration of the State of Mysore.

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(Last Updated on : 28/01/2009)
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