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Land and Law in Colonial India

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The East India Company’s conquest of various territories in India typically brought one issue to the forefront right away: How would land taxes, the principal source of governmental revenue, be collected? But taxation was not a thing unto itself; it was inextricably linked with “ownership” and indeed with the entire structure of land rights. For this reason, among others, the Company also created/adapted legal systems that would adjudicate the disputes that, inevitably, followed in the wake of its land-rights interventions. The legal and land tenure arrangements chosen also affected credit markets: to the extent land ownership is secure and transferable, land can be used as collateral, or seized in lieu of repayment of debts or other contractual obligations. Land, law, and credit in colonial India generated a huge (and ongoing) discussion: debates preceding policy choices; later commentary within the colonial administration; “nationalist” criticisms from the late 19th century onwards; and current research linking present-day economic outcomes to colonial era choices. In this paper we provide an overview of this literature, focusing on the period 1765-1900. In the interest of brevity and coherence we focus two regions, Bengal, which was first conquered (1757-64), and the Bombay Deccan, which was annexed in 1818, though we make references to other regions as well.

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File URL: http://web.williams.edu/Economics/wp/SwamyLandAndLawInColonialIndia.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Williams College in its series Department of Economics Working Papers with number 2011-01.

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Length: 21 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2010
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Publication status: Published in Debin Ma and Jan Luiten Van Zanden eds. Long-term Economic Change in Eurasian Perspective, Stanford University Press, 2011.
Handle: RePEc:wil:wileco:2011-01

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  1. Kranton, Rachel E. & Swamy, Anand V., 1999. "The hazards of piecemeal reform: british civil courts and the credit market in colonial India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 1-24, February.
  2. Abhijit Banerjee & Lakshmi Iyer, 2010. "History Institutions and Economic Performance: The Legacy of Colonial Land Tenure Systems in India," Working Papers id:2811, eSocialSciences.
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