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Board of Revenue


Board of Revenue apex administrative body, active very active during the colonial state formation period until 1830s. Originating as the most powerful administrative organ of the colonial government, the Board of Revenue kept changing its set-up, jurisdictions, powers and functions until the end of the British rule.

It was with the establishment of the Calcutta Revenue Council and Patna Revenue Council in 1770 by warren hastings that the colonial state formation processes began. The two councils were planned to be co-ordinated by an apex body called the Board of Revenue in Calcutta. The system of 1770, which aimed at controlling revenue settlements and collections centrally, was discarded in 1773. The Board of Revenue was soon abolished and so was the system of district collectors. Instead, the country was divided into six provinces, each governed by Provincial Council. Their affairs were regulated by a central department called the Committee of Revenue which was chaired by the governor general himself until 1786. The other members of the Governor General in Council were its members. In other words, the Governor General in Council was the Committee of Revenue when it transacted the revenue businesses of the new state.

The colonial state acquired considerable breadth and complexity during the regime of Warren Hastings. After his departure in 1785, the governmental organisation was again restructured. The whole country was divided into districts and European collectors were appointed to administer them. In 1786, the Committee of Revenue was renamed as the Board of Revenue. The reformed Board of Revenue consisted of five members, including a president. Instead of the governor general, a junior member of the Council became the president of the Board. William Cowper, a junior Council member, was thus appointed the first president of the Board of Revenue. There were four other members who were all civilians. Thus the Board got disassociated constitutionally from the Council and emerged as a separate administrative body. The Board of Revenue was provided with an accountant general who worked as the Board's secretary as well as its financial watchdog.

Under the Regulations of 1793 (commonly called the cornwallis code) the constitution of the Board of Revenue was further reformed. It was separated completely from the supreme government by abolishing the provision for making a Council member president of the Board, which was now to be headed by a senior civil servant. The system of 1793 empowered the Board to appoint and transfer district collectors and recruit non-covenanted officers. The Board had the power to summon any officer to the Presidency to explain and justify his conduct, to impose a fine not exceeding a month's salary, and to suspend him from office. The entire civil administration in general, and the revenue administration in particular, was vested in the hands of the Board of Revenue. The Board also worked as the Court of Wards, which was to look after the welfare of the minor and other landholders disqualified by law.

Up to 1822, the jurisdictions of the Board of Revenue extended to the whole of the Bengal Presidency. Until then it had been working as the highest administrative body vested with almost unlimited powers delegated by the Council. With the rapid extension of the empire from 1800 and consequent increase of workload, the set-up and jurisdictions of the Board had to be reorganised in order to maintain the administrative efficiency of the colonial state. The territorial jurisdictions of the Board of Revenue were thus reduced. Under the Regulation of 1822, the Board was shorn of its control over the Western Provinces and Central Bengal for which purpose two additional Boards were created. Territorially, the parent Board of Revenue was left with only deltaic or Lower Bengal (Eastern Bengal). Institutionally, the Board of Revenue underwent a major restructuring under the Regulations of 1829. william bentinck's administration perceived that the Board was too preoccupied with the details of judicial and revenue administration and that the centralised structure of the revenue administration would have to be reformed by giving increasing responsibilities to district authorities. A new tier of supervisory authority was created between the Board of Revenue and the district collectors. Bengal was apportioned into eleven divisions, each under a divisional commissioner. The district collectors were henceforth placed directly under the divisional commissioners and the latter under the Board of Revenue.

Administration under the Raj was reorganised according to the principle of departmentalisation. Much of the Board's powers and functions were transferred to various central and local departments according to the departmental reorganisation of 1861. In 1889, the Board was thus reduced to a two-member organisation with two secretaries. Each member was empowered to exercise the whole power of the Board, one in matters of general revenue, and the other for miscellaneous revenue, such as opium, stamps, and excise. The Board henceforth exercised general powers of control and sanction and regulated the procedure and conduct of official business in all revenue departments. Yet the Board exercised enormous powers in supervising officials, reviewing decisions and orders, sanctioning settlements made by district collectors, controlling sales for arrears of revenue, controlling of land registers, immigration, customs, embankments, salt, opium, excise, the court of wards, stamps, and many other matters.

In 1912, the re-united Bengal was made a governor's province like Bombay and Madras with an executive council. Many of the executive powers hitherto exercised by the Board of Revenue were now put under the jurisdictions of the Governor's Council and Secretariat. Under the changed circumstances, the Governor in Council recommended to the India Council for the total abolition of the Board of Revenue. But instead of abolishing it altogether, the Secretary of State for India directed the Bengal Council to reduce the Board to a one-member body with a single secretary. From 1913, the Board of Revenue thus began to operate as a single member Board with a junior civilian as its secretary. This structure of the Board remained for a while even after 1947.

With the acquisition of all rent-receiving interests including those of the Ward estates under the provisions of the east bengal state acquisition and tenancy act 1950, most of the old land and revenue laws were repealed or made defunct. As a result, the Board of Revenue lost its significance even further. To all intents and purposes, the Board outlived its utility. Under the circumstances, a Presidential Order of 1973 abolished the Board of Revenue and its remaining functions were assigned to divisional commissioners and relevant departments of the Ministry of Land. [Sirajul Islam]