Farrukh Siyar’s Farman

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Farrukh Siyar's Farman (1717) was a grant giving concessions to the English east india company and allowing them tax-free monopoly trade specially in the Mughal subah of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It was the outcome of prolonged efforts by the company with the sole objective of avoiding the payment of usual taxes and tolls. Many employees of the company were simultaneously private traders as well and they tried from the outset to procure permission from the Mughals to carry on duty-free trade, paying only a yearly fixed amount (pexkash). The imperial farman (1650) of shahjahan exempted the company from the payment of the customary road taxes (rahadari) in the provinces of Agra, Oudh and adjoining areas.

With the extension of the company's commercial activities in Bengal, where the main commodities could not be purchased from the coastal areas but had to be procured from the interior intersected by numerous waterways, the company was subject to payment of tolls at various custom-posts and also to vexatious demands by the zamindars and local officers. To ameliorate their grievances, the company succeeded in procuring a nishan from Subahdar shah shuja in 1651 which granted the privilege of trading in return for a fixed sum of Rs 3000 as yearly duties. However, the passage of the company's goods either by land or water was not free from hindrances since the local officers often checked and demanded extra duties on the allegation of private business carried on in the name of the company. On the plea of the company, the subahdar in 1656 issued a nishan instructing the concerned people to allow the English company to carry on their trade unhindered. Despite all these official instructions, the company's agents in most parts of Bengal, Bombay and Madras were occasionally subjected to demands from the local customs-officers and their goods were seized.

The history of the expansion of the English East India Company's trade and influence in India took a new turn during the early 18th century. In 1715 the company sent an embassy to the Mughal court with a view to securing trade and related privileges throughout India and some villages around the newly acquired zamindari of the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kalikata (Kolkata), where the future city of Calcutta was founded.

The Surman Embassy, named after its chief, John Surman, included an Armenian Khwajah Sarhad as the interpreter, Edward Stephenson, the secretary and Dr Hamilton an accompanying physician. The initial attempts of the delegation to achieve its objective of securing the confirmation of all the privileges, hitherto enjoyed by the company throughout the empire failed. However, in the long run, when Dr Hamilton succeeded in curing Emperor farrukh siyar from a serious ailment, the latter granted separate farmans for each of the three presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras. A number of hasb-al-hukums (instructions) covering all the demands submitted by the embassy, were also issued under the seal of the prime minister, Sayyid Abdullah Khan.

Farrukh Siyar's Farman of 1717 relating to the Subah of Bengal included the privileges listed below: (1) That all the goods and necessaries carried by the agents of the English company either by land or water would be free of custom-duties on payment of the yearly peshkash of Rs.3000; (2) If the goods of the company be stolen, every measure should be taken to recover the lost goods and punish the thief; (3) In their attempt to establish factories at any place, they should be provided with every assistance: (4) In the event of any native merchant or weaver becomes indebted to the company's factors (agents), the amount should be paid back; (5) Measures should be taken so that the boats owned or hired by them are not molested by anyone; (6) That the villages bought by the company remain in their possession and the Diwan of the subah shall accord permission for renting of some adjoining villages; (7) If the silver coins minted at Madras be as good as the ones coined in the port of Surat, no discount should be demanded of them; (8) In case a servant of the company being debtor wants to escape, he be seized and handed over to the chief of the factory; (9) If the company's goods are lost in shipwrecks, special care should be taken of the belongings of the company.

In addition to the above important privileges granted by the farman of the emperor, the hasb al-hukum issued by the prime minister, contained some additional privileges such as (a) Issuing of dastak (pass) by the chief of the factory, which would ensure the free passage of goods under the name of the English company without being checked at the customhouses; (b) The coining of the company's gold and silver in the Murshidabad mint may be allowed for three days a week if it is not against the interest of the nawab; (c) The possession of the villages with zamindari rights in and around Calcutta along with the permission of farming some other villages petitioned for should be allowed with the permission of the diwan of the Subah.

The imperial farman of 1717 had far reaching consequences on the subsequent history of the subcontinent. It was a great diplomatic success for the English East India Company. It paved the way not only for the expansion of the company's trade in the province of Bengal but also an increase of the influence of the English in the political arena of the country. Termed as the 'Magna Carta' of the English trade in Bengal, the farman granted undue advantages to the English over other traders. It also proved to be a serious drain upon the imperial revenue. Despite the rapid increase in the volume of the company's trade, the amount of the peshkash payable to the government was not raised.

murshid quli khan, the able and experienced subahdar of Bengal immediately objected to the transfer of 38 villages with zamindari rights to the English. The use of the Murshidabad mint was also objected to. Moreover, the lukewarm support of the provincial officials to the privileges granted to a foreign trading concern put the company at odds with the implementing authorities. Such a conflicting attitude gave rise to increasingly strained relations between the English and the rulers of Bengal, which in its turn affected the politico-economic history of the country. [Shirin Akhtar]