Quinquennial Settlement

Quinquennial Settlement (1772-1777) five-year land settlement replacing the traditional zamindars with the highest bidding revenue speculators. Concluded by warren hastings in 1772, the objects of the experiment were to increase land revenue and collect it punctually. The new rulers, the English east india company, acquired the diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in 1765 by two historic agreements concluded simultaneously: one with Emperor Shah Alam (12 August 1765) and the other with Nawab nazmuddaula (30 September1765). According to these two agreements, the English East India Company was appointed the diwan of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa by an imperial farman with the condition that the company would manage the diwani (revenue administration) and out of the revenues of the Bengal kingdom, the company would pay annually a fixed tribute of twenty-six lakhs of rupees to the emperor, and fifty-three lakhs of rupees to the Bengal nawab to run his nizamat (civil administration).

In undertaking the diwani responsibility the company's plan was to finance its eastern trade out of the revenue surpluses of the kingdom. In order to concentrate on trade and commerce, the company tried to manage the diwani administration through native agents. But the indirect method of diwani administration did not yield the desired income for the company. In 1772, Warren Hastings directly assumed the diwani administration. His administration developed a notion that the resources of the country were concealed from the alien rulers and that such perfidy could be countered by a competitive land settlement.

Hastings thus dismissed two of his naib diwans reza khan and Shitab Ray, and himself assumed the diwani responsibility directly. He shifted the khalsa or revenue headquarters from murshidabad to Calcutta and established, in order to administer diwani, a Committee of Revenue with himself as its president. Hastings, who was in charge of the revenue settlement, announced his plan of revenue administration on 14 May 1772. According to the plan, a Committee of Circuit (himself being its chairman) visited various provinces of the country and concluded the Quinquennial Settlement with the revenue farmers.

The traditional zamindars, which were stripped of revenue collection responsibilities, were compensated by an annual allowance of ten percent of the revenue to be actually collected by revenue farmers. Revenues were to be collected by European agents, now designated as District Collectors. The Committee of Circuit completed the settlement by September 1772.

The operation of the Quinquennial Settlement revealed that great many farmers failed to pay revenue due to sheer over-speculation. Many of them even ran away to avert arrest and confinement. In many parganas the oppressed raiyats resorted to open resistance to oppressive farmers. Most of the farmers were unacquainted with the craft of land management and they took it up with high hopes of striking an El-Dorado. But they were utterly disappointed. They tried to recover the capital invested in revenue farming by resorting to various sorts of exaction and oppressive measures. As a result, the economy of the country was declining and the law and order situation deteriorating fast. All the provincial councils, set up as new colonial institutions to govern the countryside, reported on the disastrous effects of the farming system. Warren Hastings was subjected to severe criticism for his revenue policy. In fact, one of the major circumstances that led to his impeachment was his revenue policy.

However, the court of directors advised the Calcutta government to abandon the farming system of revenue settlement in future and make a settlement with the zamindars, instead. Accordingly, a revenue settlement was made with zamindars on a short-term basis on the expiry of the failed Quinquennial Settlement in 1777. [Sirajul Islam]