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Cornwallis Code


Cornwallis Code Lord Cornwallis, the British Governor General of India, introduced 48 regulations in 1793 which are generally known as the Cornwallis Code. This Code originated from a number of earlier regulations, viz, the orders and regulations introduced between 1772 and 1790, Hindu and Muslim laws, traditional institutions, the regulations of permanent settlement, and the British laws. The aim of the Cornwallis Code was to introduce an institutional code of law and an administrative system suitable for British colonial state. On 1 May 1793, Cornwallis announced his Code. The summary of the Code runs as follows:

Permanent settlement is the main subject of the Cornwallis Code. According to this system, the zamindar (landlord) is the sole owner of land and has full rights to transfer or donate such land. The government revenue was permanently fixed and if the zamindar failed to pay it, the land would he auctioned off to realise the government revenues. (Regulation 1, 2, 8, 14)

Earlier, the District Collector was at the same time the tax administrator, judge and magistrate. Now, a judge is appointed for every district and by separating the judiciary from the administration, judicial and magisterial power is vested with the judge. The revenue/taxation court under the collector is abolished and revenue cases are brought under the jurisdiction of district judge. Simultaneously, the judicial powers of the board of revenue is abolished, and vested under the purview of the civil court (Reg. 2, 3, 4,). In the administrative hierarchy, the district judge is placed higher than the district collector in respect of pay and status. The district collector has only the responsibly of collection of revenue and perform such administrative duties which are not associated with the judiciary. In every district a civil court is established. For judicial purpose four provincial courts of appeal are set up in Dhaka, Calcutta, Murshidabad and Patna (Reg. 4, 5). The sadar civil and criminal courts are set up as highest courts.

Until 1793, a British citizen could only be tried by the Supreme Court of Calcutta, and no Bangali or Indian could file a case against any employee of the east india company. This discrimination was removed, and everyone declared equal in the eye of law. The natives were entitled to file a case against government officials, and even against the government itself (Reg. 28).

Earlier, anyone could act as a lawyer in a court. That practice was annulled, and only professional lawyers could conduct cases in a court. For conducting cases for the government, lawyers were appointed on salary basis, and for conducting private cases lawyers were given licences. To prevent clients from being exploited by the lawyers, the lawyer's fee was fixed and provisions were made for collecting fees for the lawyer from the client by the court (Reg. 7). Native commissioners were appointed to resolve petty cases in the rural areas through arbitration. In the native commissioner's court cases valued upto taka 50 were made acceptable (Reg. 40).

European civilians were prohibited to advance loan to local people, and to purchase land (Reg. 38).

The age-old practice of physical torture on the subjects to realise arrear revenues was prohibited, and all claims of the landlord were to be settled through the courts (Reg. 17).

Instead of following the Hindu/Muslim law of inheritance a few of the zamindar families adopted the tradition of inheriting the zamindari right by the living eldest son of the zamindar. This was done to safeguard the lands from getting fragmented. This tradition was abolished, and for all estates, big or small, the Hindu/Muslim law of inheritance was adopted (Reg. 11).

Civil and criminal courts would try the cases according to the laws of the land. In every court, one Hindu and one Muslim law officer were appointed to assist the European judge in matters relating to Muslim and Hindu laws.

Various types of sayer or commercial taxes prevalent at that time were abolished (Reg. 27).

After renouncing the policing powers of the landlords and by abolishing the system of maintaining zamindari police, every district was divided into number of thanas. One darogah was appointed in every thana under the control of the district magistrate. Each daroga had under him sipahis numbering 20 or above. The responsibility of the daroga was to arrest the criminals violating law and discipline and to place them before the magistrate (Reg. 22).

The native courts of the qazis were abolished as a result of the establishment of new courts controlled by the Europeans. The qazi could only then attest various deeds, and officiate over weddings and other Muslim religious functions (Reg. 39).

To safeguard properties, the system of registration was introduced in case of transfer of land, contact relating to landed property, and mortgage of properties. The collector was directed to maintain a 5-yearly register for keeping the records of any change in ownership of land due to gift, sale and partition on inheritance. A new such register was to be opened after every five years. The aim of maintaining such register was to note any change in the ownership of land (Reg. 37, 48).

All the regulations of the Cornwallis Code evolved around a single system, the Permanent Settlement. The Permanent Settlement regulations declare : 'From now on, the zamindar (landlord) is the sole owner of the land. The landlord can sell, gift or mortgage his lands as he desires, to which no prior permission of the government is required. The revenue payable to the government will neither increase, nor decrease. It is fixed permanently, and no future government is entitled to change this system' (Reg. 1, 8). [Sirajul Islam]