Campbell, Sir George

Campbell, Sir George (1824-1892) civilian and Lieutenant Governor of Bengal (1871-1874). Son of Sir George Campbell of Edenwood (formerly a member of the east india company's Medical Service) and educated at the Edinburgh New Academy and Haileybury, George Campbell joined the Bengal Civil Service in 1842. But until appointed the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Campbell seldom served in the province except on two occasions: a judge of the Calcutta High Court (1863-66) and president of the Orissa Famine Commission (1866-67). During his service career he served in various capacities in the North West Provinces, Punjab and Oudh.

George Campbell was an active intellectual. Before he came to Bengal for joining his new assignment as Lieutenant Governor, he was honoured with the DCL degree from Oxford in recognition of his seminal studies, such as, Modern India (1852), Ethnology of India (1868), and Irish Land Tenure (1868), Tenure of Land in India (1870). The appointment was intended to bring a change in the administration of Bengal, a province identified by both the India Office and the Government of India as the most neglected in administration and backward in economic conditions in the whole of British India.

By his intellectual insight, Campbell realised that government needed necessary statistics and information in order to launch and sustain a process of improvement. He issued orders to gather statistics on population, administration, judiciary, education, health, economic activities, agricultural and industrial productions, communications, crimes and crime management, and so on. Campbell's administration undertook a series of projects including population census with statistics on ethnology, faiths, customs, castes etc. It is to be noted that all the statistical series of Bengal administration that originated from Campbell's idea had continued down to the end of colonial rule.

Based on the statistics obtained, Campbell made plans towards administrative improvement. Among those projects were the autonomy for the santals, decentralising provincial finances, introduction of District Road Cess (Road Cess Act of 1871), reform of Calcutta Port Trust (under Act 7, 1871), Census of 1872, extension of municipal administration and local government, extension of pathshala and maktab education, jail management, reform of Calcutta Municipality, flood control measures under Embankment and Drainage Act of 1873, and so on.

Most innovative of his undertakings was the introduction of a Native Civil Service with a view to improving efficiency of the subordinate executive establishments. All subordinate officers were required to undergo academic and administrative tests. A system of examinations at entry point was also instituted. A native Civil Service College was established at hughli for training the subordinate civil servants. This native civil service was the precursor of the subsequent Bengal provincial civil service.

George Campbell's administration was, however, rocked by the pabna peasant uprising of 1872-73. The uprising was directed against the zamindars who were levying abwabs or cesses on raiyats violating all customary practices about rent rates and land rights. Campbell took active measures before the problem got deteriorated into a national uprising. Zamindars and raiyats were persuaded to compromise and restore peace in the countryside. Campbell, an expert on land tenure of India and Ireland, proceeded to reform the land system of Bengal. But pressurised by the overriding factors like laws of permanent settlement, vested zamindari interests, zamindar-controlled press, zamindar dominated middle class, he refrained himself from taking any more positive measure in favour of the oppressed peasantry than an arguable recommendation for land reform in political and economic interest of the province. The end product of his proposal was the bengal tenancy act of 1885.

In appreciation of his immense services to the raj, Campbell was honoured with KCSI in 1873. Continued ill health from early 1873 forced him to retire from service and leave India late in 1873. Campbell was a member of parliament from 1875 to his death at Cairo on 18 February 1892. [Sirajul Islam]