Chapter 7 The State and Agriculture during the British Era: The Evolution of the Agricultural Policy of the State – Indian Economy


The State and Agriculture during the British Era: The Evolution of the Agricultural Policy of the State

The Need for Government Action

In India, the policy of the Government has always been, and still is, an important factor. The illiteracy of the masses, the ignorance of the landed gentry, the absence of an educated middle class interest ed in agricultural improvements and the inability or unwillingness of the people, on the whole, to take risks made the peasants look to the Government for initiating any departure from the old lines. This tendency was greatly increased by the prestige of the Government which had succeeded in maintaining peace and order for a considerable period of time. The Government of India under the British Rule however, was wedded to a policy of individualism and laissez faire, and viewed with disfavour any suggestion that the State should take the initiative in promoting agricultural improvements. But it recognized that with the increasing disappearance of manufactures in India, new raw exchangeable products must take their place, should India maintain her prosperity. No definite policy however, was formulated until several famines and their tragic effects opened the eyes of the administrators to the need for a positive policy.

Policy of Laissez Faire and Indifference to Agricultural Improvement 1860–1880

The year 1870, the Government did practically nothing for the improvement of agriculture. But  private, associations of Westerners had interested themselves in agri–horticultural matters. The first of these was started in Calcutta by Dr Carey. Other horticultural societies were after wards formed in Bombay, Madras and other places. The Government helped them with a small annual grant and free land for experimen tal purposes. Later, the Government also started Botanical Gardens run by an ‘expert’ and some bad experimental farms attached to them. The aim of these private societies and Government-owned Botanical Gardens was the introduction of new plants and exotics. The develop ment of tea and the successful introduction of potato and cinchona were the results of these efforts. Attempts to improve staple crops such as the cotton and indigo were made, but the only fairly successful attempt was the introduction of an American variety of cotton in Dharwar.

In the meanwhile, famine after famine ravaged the country and its tragic results opened the eyes of the administrators to the inadequacy of the policy of laissez faire. The idea of establishing a Department of Agriculture was first mooted by the Commission that inquired into the great famine in Bengal and Orissa in 1866. The Manchester cotton industry advocated such a move especially for the improvement of cotton cultivation. Finally in the year 1870, the Department of Agriculture, Revenue and Commerce was created by the Government of Lord Mayo but it was abolished in 1878 because of financial stringency and absence of cooperation from the provincial governments. The other attempt made during this period was in the direction of experimental farms. These were opened at Saidapet (1871), Poona (1880), Cawnpore (1881) and Nagpur (1883) to demonstrate the advantages of improved methods and appliances to the Indian agriculturists. But this proved a failure owing to the appointment as farm managers of men who had no agricultural training or were ignorant of Indian conditions.

The Formative Period in Government Policy 1880–1905

The Famine Commission of 1880, which had been directed, among other matters, to investigate the question of practical improvements in agriculture and the best means of giving impetus to the efforts of the State to encourage agriculture, held that improved agriculture was one of the best safeguards against the failure of food supply in the future and recommended the immediate estab lishment of the Departments of Agriculture both in the Imperial and in the provincial governments. It also advocated the collection of agricultural statistics and emphasised the need for a patient study of Indian conditions before any improvement was introduced. In consequence, Department of Agriculture was started in some provinces.

In 1889, Dr Voelcker, of the Royal Agricultural Society, was appointed to enquire into, and report on, the improvement of Indian agriculture. His valuable report appeared in 1893. Following his advice, some trained agricultural experts were appointed to conduct research into the problems relating to agriculture. The Provincial Departments of Agriculture were also developing at this time but the want of experts was everywhere felt. In fact, the main functions of these Departments were the collection of agricultural statistics and the organization of famine relief. Burdened with this work, the Departments could make little progress in the organization of agri cultural research.

The Agricultural Departments, however, made some spasmodic attempts at research and improvements, and the work of the experi mental farms continued, their value depending entirely on the individual superintendents. Some new staples and some slightly improved machinery were introduced. Agricultural shows were organized and studs maintained to improve breeds of cattle and horses but they did not meet with any success. The Government tried to encourage improvements by granting takavi loans under the terms of the Land Improvements Act, 1883, and the Agriculturists Loans Act, 1884. But, in spite of the low interest rate and the easy instalment system, many were not benefitted. These Acts were not widely known and the loans, as is the case even today, could not be got at the proper time. Except where the officer in charge was energetic and sympathetic, the farmer continued to depend upon the money lender for credit.

It must, however, be recognized that the scope of government action was limited. The convincing demonstration of superiority of iron ploughs was lost upon the peasant with half-fed and lean bullocks. Such was also the case with manures and water pumps. The proverbial poverty of the peasant could not be remedied by demonstration farms, improved machinery or breeds of cattle. The farmer, though quick to take up anything profitable, was too conservative and had too little capital to risk any change of methods or implements, and without a patient and exhaustive study of his mentality and circumstances, the European expert could be of little service. Another limitation was due to trade. Because the Indian cotton mills produced only coarse yarn, the finer cotton did not fetch any higher price and the peasant took to the inferior cotton which matured earlier. The introduction of the steam gins also effaced the specia lisation of centuries and spread the use of inferior seeds.

These difficulties notwithstanding, the government evolved a policy of agricultural development. It was discovered that foreign varieties were unsuited to Indian conditions and that a more profit able line of action would be the selection and improvement of indige nous varieties. The same conclusion was reached regarding the methods of cultivation and appliances. Above all, it was realized that the State had a duty to promote agricultural improvements, and during the 20th century, an organization was slowly built up to conduct the necessary research and introduce improvements.

The Reorganization of the Agricultural Departments 1905

The work of the agricultural departments in the various provi nces had been, hitherto, scattered and unorganized. There was no concerted action to solve a common problem. The absence of permanent experts had rendered any well planned, solid work impossible. Therefore, an Inspector General of Agriculture for all India was appointed in 1901 to coordinate the scattered efforts of the various departments. A real forward step was taken in 1904, when Lord Curzon, with the generous donation of Mr Phipps of Chicago, established a Central Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa with an experimental farm, fully equipped laboratories, and a cattle farm. An agricultural college for postgraduate students was attached to the Institute and a staff of scientific experts appointed, including a Director of Agriculture who was also Agricultural Adviser to the government.

The Departments in the Provinces also were reorganized at this time and agricultural colleges were established at Poona, Cawnpore, Nagpur, Lyallpur, Coimbatore and Mandalay. In 1905, an All-India Board of Agriculture was set up and, in the following year, the Indian Agricultural Service was constituted.

After the Reforms of 1919, agriculture became a transferred subject and the Provincial Departments of Agriculture were put in charge of agricultural development. The Imperial Department of Agriculture now concerns itself only with problems of all-India importance and maintains the following institutions: The Agricultural Research Institute which was transferred from Pusa to New Delhi after the Bihar earthquake in 1934; the Imperial Institute of Veterinary Research, Mukteswar, started in 1893 as a small research laboratory and now a world-famous research centre; the Imperial Institute of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Bangalore and Wellington; the Imperial Cattle Breeding Farm, Karnal; the Creamery at Anand; the Imperial Cane-breeding station, transferred from Pusa to Coimbatore in 1934 and the Sugar Bureau at Cawnpore.

The Provincial Agricultural Departments have developed rapidly during recent years. The number of expert agriculturists, agricultural chemists, economic botanists and agricultural engineers has increased. Each Province has now its own Director of Agricu lture and Deputy Directors in charge of the circles into which each province is divided and the experimental, demonstration and seed farms therein. Apart from the colleges, agricultural schools also have been started in some provinces.

The Imperial Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) 1929

The Royal Commission on Agriculture (1926) recommended an Imperial Council of Agricultural Research to promote, guide and co-ordinate agricultural, including veterinary, research in India and to link it with research in the other parts of the British Empire and other foreign countries, so that the work in India might be rendered more fruitful and duplication of efforts avoided. The Council was established in 1929 and worked through two organs, namely, the Governing Body, to manage all the affairs and funds of the Council and an Advisory Board, consisting mostly of experts, to examine proposals for research and submit them to the Governing Body. Originally the Secretariat of the Imperial Council was constituted into a separate Department of the Government of India. From 1939, it functioned under the Department of Education, Health and Lands. At the same time, two expert Officers of the Council were designated the Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Commissioners with the Government of India.

The Government of India had helped the Council liberally with funds. Apart from an initial lump grant of Rs 25 lakhs, a fixed minimum annual grant of Rs 7.25 lakhs was promised, but actually during the six years following the inauguration of the Council, the government had given more than a crore of rupees for research, including Rs 20 lakhs for research on sugar, Rs 25 lakhs for marketing schemes and Rs 6 lakhs for a new dairy research institute. In addition, Rs 14 lakhs had been granted annu ally for the Institute of Sugar Technology at Cawnpore. To strengthen the finances of the Council, an Agricultural Produce Cess Act was passed in 1940 providing for a levy of a cess of ½ p.c. ad valorem exports of 21agricultural commodities, including cereals other than rice, wheat, pulses, butter, ghee and oilseeds. The cess was expected to yield Rs 14 lakhs in normal years. Several Indian States including Hyderabad, Mysore, Baroda, Cochin and Travancore had become members of the Council, thus not only extending the scope for the Council but also increasing its finances by donation of Rs 1 lakh and more.

As recommended by the Royal Commission on Agriculture, provincial research committees had been formed in all the provinces. These were work in co-operation with the Imperial Council and report on any applications to the Research Council for grants, besides promoting and co-ordinating research directed towards rural improvement within the province.

In 1936–37, the work done by the Council was examined by two specialists from England and their report contained useful recommendations for bridging the gulf between the research worker and the cultivator. Other recommendations were related to the methods of tackling insect pests, dry farming research schemes, the establish ment of a Soil Conservation Committee and a Crop Protection Committee, the development of education and advisory services relating to dairying and cattle improvement. Increased financial assistance to the Council was strongly recommended with a view to enabling it to complete its investigations and expand its researches.

To draw up and execute plans of agricultural improvement, a detailed and comprehensive knowledge of the then prevalent conditions was found necessary but the information available was incomplete, inadequate and extremely defective. The Central Banking Enquiry Committee (1931) recommended the formation of Provincial Boards of Economic Enquiry consisting of officials and non-officials to collect the necessary data for the formulation of programmes of agricultural advance. Such a Board had been formed in the Punjab as early as 1919. There was also a Board of Economic Enquiry in Bengal, and other provinces were advised to establish these Boards of Enquiry.

The Development of Agriculture

As now constituted, the Agricultural Departments include a complete organization for bringing to the villages the results of the application of science to agriculture. At one end are the agricultural colleges and research institutes and, at the other, thousands of village demonstration plots, where the effects of improved seeds, methods, implements and manures are shown under the cultivator’s own conditions. Intermediate links in the chain are the experimental farms, where scientific research is translated into field practice, demonstration and seed farms and seed stores. The area under improved varieties of crops is about 23 million acres. Scientific methods of cultivation and manuring and the use of improved implements are steadily spreading. Better facilities for credit and marketing have been organized. The pace of develop ment, however, has been slow. But this is not surprising when we remember the vastness of the country, the smallness of the holdings, the poverty and ignorance of the Indian peasant and the variability of the seasons. In fact, under the circumstances, the ascertained results of the work of the Agricultural Departments are striking enough, and more may be hoped for in the future. The following summary will give some idea of the work done by the State for agriculture in India.


The Government has conferred on the agriculturist a secure title to the land and has passed many legislative measures for the protection of the tiller of the soil from the landlord. The State has constructed huge irrigation works, extensive roads and railways and encouraged permanent agricultural improvements by advancing takavi loans and through other credit facilities. In its efforts to secure to the cultivator the full benefits of his labour, it has abolished the Zamindari System.

Debt Relief and Rural Credit

Many measures have been initiated by the State to relieve the indebtedness of the cultivators and prevent the exploitation of the illiterate by the village money lenders. The co-operative credit system has been developed to provide cheap credit for agricultural needs.


New varieties, superior in respect of yield, germinating power ability to resist diseases or suitability to given areas, have been evolved from indigenous seeds by selection and hybridization or from foreign varieties acclimatized to Indian conditions. Seed farms and seed stores have been established and seeds are supplied through the co-operatives and registered commission agents. The Cotton Transport Act of 1923 has been applied in certain parts of Bombay and Madras presidencies to prevent the import of inferior seeds into specified areas and the Cotton Ginning and Pressing Factories Act, 1925 seeks to prevent adulteration.

Eventually more than 80 per cent of the sugar cane acreage, 50 per cent of jute, 21 per cent of wheat and 20 per cent of cotton are under improved varieties. In the case of rice, however, out of a total acreage of 834 lakhs, only acreage of 36 lakhs, i.e., less than 5 per cent is cultivated with the improved seeds and in the case of dry crops it is not even 1 per cent. This shows that the commercial crops have benefited more than the food crops. The ignorance and indifference of the cultivator, the lack of propaganda and organized agencies for the distribution of improved seeds account for this difference in the spread of better, varieties. The Departments should pay more attention to the improvement of paddy and dry crops such as ragi, bajra, etc.


The Indian soil is deficient in nitrogen, and farmyard manure is considerably wasted, because of its use as fuel. The Government is encouraging the use of night soil, compost, green manure crops and leguminous crops. With regard to artificial fertilizers, the use of ammonium sulphate and nitrate of soda is being extended through the efforts of the Departments and private agencies and the Govern ment has recently decided to establish five factories for the production of these fertilizers. The Sindri Fertilizer Factory has reached in 1953 its target production of 350,000 tons per annum.

Prevention and Control of Pests and Diseases

Research has been undertaken in regard to pests and diseases both by the Imperial and the Provincial Departments, but their eradication is not possible without the co-operation of the farmers.


Cheap and simple implements alone can suit the poor, ignorant farmers and their weak bullocks. Certain types of improved iron ploughs, seed drills, winnowing machines, oil presses, sugar cane crushers, small pumping machinery and water lifts have been evolved by the agricultural engineers and private businessmen and are being used by the more well-to-do cultivators. Tractor ploughing has proved very effective in eradication of deep-rooted weeds in the UP and Bombay and also in some other Indian States. One notable develop ment in this connection is the manufacture of improved types of implements by village craftsmen.

Methods of Cultivation

Experiments in the rotation of crops in several centres have helped to discover the best programme of rotation for given tracts.

Cattle Improvement

The Departments are paying special attention to cattle breeding. They maintain pedigree bulls and sell them at low prices and lend their services at nominal rates. The Imperial Research Institute (now at Delhi) carries on experiments for the purpose of evolving strains of cattle with better milking capacity and suited to Indian conditions. The cultivation of fodder crops is encouraged and certain forest areas are made accessible for grazing purposes. The Civil Veterinary Departments are concerned with the prevention and control of cattle epidemics such as rinderpest and foot-and-mouth diseases. There are five veterinary colleges, and a well-equipped research centre at Mukteswar, manufacturing large quantities of serum and vaccine. Serum institutes have now been opened in Madras and Bangalore.

Subsidiary Rural Industries

To occupy the spare moments of the farmers and increase their income, suitable supplementary industries such as cattle breeding, dairy farming, the processing of agricultural produce, for example, production of jiggery from sugar cane and Palmyra juice, paddy husking, hand ginning, hand spinning, fruit canning and rope, mat and basket making, bee-keeping, poultry farming, lac and sericulture, etc., are encouraged. The All India Village Industries Association, established in 1935 under the auspices of the Indian National Congress, has served to focus attention on the need for developing cottage industries. The Government gives loans to small industries under the State Aid to Industries Acts and helps the development of the handloom and sericulture industries by means of grants. Experience has shown that certain factory industries such as soap, match and paper making can be developed as cottage industries. If suitable industries are selected and developed, they will be a great boon to cultivators.


It is not enough if the cultivators are enabled to produce more but they must also be helped to reap the full benefit of their enterprise by an economical system of marketing the produce. At present there are many difficulties. The indifferent quality of the produce brought to the market, the inadequate facilities of transport and communication, the multiplicity of intermediaries, the lack of storage and warehouse facilities and fraudulent practices in the market are some of the main defects, and various steps have been taken by the Government to remedy them. The establishment of regulated markets is one of the remedies. The Berar Cotton and Grain Market Law (1897) and the Bombay Cotton Markets Act (1927) aim at removing the existing evils of marketing conditions. Similar laws have been passed in Madras (1933), the Central Provinces (1935) Mysore, NWFP and the Punjab (1939). Honest dealings, standard weights and measures, prevention of unlawful charges, licensing of brokers and dealers and the provision of warehouse facilities are some of the common provisions of the Acts. In recent years, co-operative marketing has also developed in Bombay, Madras, the Punjab, UP and other provinces, in connection with the sale of cotton, tobacco, chillies, paddy, areca nut, sugarcane, potatoes, etc. Considerable success has attended these efforts and with more expert advice, knowledge of market conditions and trends, more finance, storage facilities, etc., the peasants would realize good prices and trade would be encouraged.

The Agricultural Commission recommended the appointment of expert marketing officers and a survey of the marketing conditions of the various commodities. In 1934, this was given effect to by the appointment of A. M. Livingstone as the Marketing Adviser to the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research. In 1939, Provincial and Central Marketing Staff Organisation was set up to investigate the existing markets for the Indian produce and explore new ones, grade the commodities so as to secure better prices for better goods and give information regarding prices, etc.

Rural Reconstruction

That all the efforts mentioned above have their place in the promotion of the welfare of the Indian peasant, no one can doubt. The success of these various methods has been also varied and, with greater experience and organization, it may be reasonably hoped that the benefits would be multiplied and extended. But, unless the peasant is made to realise his position and enabled to help himself, all these efforts would be of little avail. Efforts must be made to integrate all these methods and change the outlook of the man behind the plough so that the peasant will not only appreciate but profit by the various schemes initiated by the State.

Education and Propaganda

Education and propaganda through the cattle and agricultural shows, the demonstration farms, the cinema, the magic lantern, radio broadcasts, etc., have been undertaken. The Rural Reconstruction Movement attempts at an organized and well-integrated plan of village uplift with a view to creating psychology favourable to progress and corporate effort. The Gurgaon Experiment of Mr M. L. Brayne is the most outstanding example of such an effort. Other provinces also have undertaken such intense work for village improvement, special departments have been created and funds set up. This will, no doubt, help to bridge the gulf between the State activities and the ordinary village. Community Projects is the name for the latest rural uplift schemes. Inaugurated on 2 October 1952 and involving an estimated cost of 38 crores with some US loans, they aim at rousing up the spirit of the villagers to help themselves and bringing about an all-round improvement.

The successes and shortcomings of these efforts have taught an important lesson, the need for leaders. The Agricultural Com mission expects this from the educated classes but this appears to be an empty dream, for the ideal of selfless service is almost completely absent, and unless the spirit of self-sacrifice and service, the only true basis of leadership, is developed the solution of the problems of Indian agriculture will be as remote as ever.

Discussion Questions

7.1. Trace the evolution of the Agricultural policy of the Indian government between 1860 and 1947. What kind of impact it had on the development of Indian agriculture?

7.2. Write short notes on:

(i) The reorganization of the Agricultural Departments 1905.

(ii) The Imperial Council of Agricultural Research 1929?

7.3. What were the different facts of the development of Indian Agriculture found during the British period?