THE ECONOMICS OF A BENGAL DISTRICT.*
Brrnaten 1906 and 1910 a body of volunteers, officials and others, collected statistics as to the economical condition of the deltaic distriot of Faridpur, which lies where Padma and Brahmaputra meet to form the great alluvial chars on which is found the best pig-sticking in India. Some of these statistics Mr. Jack brought to England with him, but, as will often happen to a hard-worked official taking his holiday, he put them on one aide. It was of course impossible to dismiss them wholly from his mind, and it was perhaps fortunate that his subconscious- ness was at work on them without deliberate effort. Then came war. Mr. Jack, like other junior officials on leave, obtained a commission, and, rather than let his facts and figures fall into oblivion, was happily inspired to spend five strenuous days in writing this deeply interesting little book. He accomplished a literary feat such as is performed every year in April by many compilers of annual administrative Reports. He plied a swiftly running pen, and has provided a clear and compre- hensive comment on economical facts which present no particular complexity. He claims justly that they are unique, " as no similar inquiries have ever been made in India or elsewhere over so large • tract of country and so large a population, or by an agency so well adapted to the work." The result is not so surprising as he supposes. Those who know the Indian countryside are aware that, far from being overtaxed, the Bengali peasant is more lightly, far more lightly, taxed than his kind in any civilized country. In the final chapter an instructive comparison is drawn between village administration in Italy and in Faridpur. The conclusion is simply that in Bengal local taxation is an insignificant burden upon the resources of the people, and that the provision of local conveniences and material benefits is in consequence very inadequate. Water supply, dispensaries, roads, bridges, schools, are stinted. The Road and Public Work cess is only 6 per cent. imposed upon rent, half paid by the landlord, half by the tenant. The Chokidari Tax, assessed by the village headman (nominally, though Mr. Jack does not say so, the head of the village panchayat or Council of five), comes to less than a penny in the pound on income.
Evidently this local taxation must be and will be enhanced to meet growing local needs, and Mr. Jack indicates how this can be done without devising new machinery or imposing intolerable burdens. He has the candour and courage to say, what most officials know, that members of the subordinate Executive Service are in a position to estimate the income of every ordinary family. He suggests, what has often been proposed in this country, the division of the income by the number of persons it supporta, thus arriving at an income per head. He thinks that it would be possible to double the present assessment ; it would equalize incidence, and it would keep pace with every change in the value of money.
At present, the average income in Faridpur annually is fifty-two
rupees, the average debt eleven rupees, and the average taxation from all sources only two and three-quarter rupees. With a total population of 2,122,000, this comes to a total income of £7,957,000, a debt of £1,188,320, and a taxation, Imperial and local, of only £364,625. The figures are interesting, but not surprising to those who know rural Bengal. Mr. Jack's account of how the income is earned is full of interest, and his description of the details of rustic life, of the village industries and amusements, is the most delightful comment on such novels as Tarok Nath Ganguli's Svarna Lata, a translation of which by Mr. Dakshinat- charan Roy was published in 1914 by Messrs. Macmillan.