Akola District

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts.Many units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Akola District

District in Berar, lying between 20 degree 17' and 21 degree 16' N. and 76 degree 24’ and 77 degree 27' E., with an area of nearly 2,678 square miles. In 1905 the District was altered considerably, and a brief description ol the new area will be found at the end ol this article, which deals with the District before the change. It is bounded on the north by the Melghat hills ; on the east by the Daryapur and Murtazapur taluks ; on the south by the Mangrul, Basim, and Mehkar taluks ; and on the west by the Chikhli and Malkapur taluks and the Nimar District of the Central Provinces.

The District is flat, and the scenery generally uninteresting ; but a small strip of the Melghat hill country, containing the fort of Narnala (3,161 feet), is included in the District; and in the south, in the neighbourhood of Patur, the ground begins to rise towards the Balaghat.

The river system consists of the Purna, which traverses it from east to west, with its affluents from the Melghat hills on the north and the Balaghat on the south, described in the account of Berar. The surface soil is nearly everywhere a rich black loam, sometimes of great depth. Where this does not exist, murum and trap are found, with a shallow upper crust of inferior light soil ; but sometimes the underlying murum is covered with a not unproductive reddish soil, the depth of which varies.

The District, with the exception of the very small tract of hilly country on the north, is situated entirely in the central valley of Berar, the Payanghat, the geology and botany of which are generally described in the article on Berar. The most common wild animals are the antelope, wild hog, nilgai, and leopard. Tigers are not often found now, but wild dogs and wolves are occasionally seen.

The climate is also described in the article on Berar, Akola being one of the two stations for which statistics of rainfall and temperature are given. For three months of the year intense heat prevails. when the rains break, in June, there is a marked fall in temperature ; but the combenation of moisture and heat is somewhat enervating.

The months of November, December, and January are usually cool and pleasant. The redeeming feature of the hot season is the coolness of the nights. The fort of Narnala in the Melghat hills might form a suitable site for a small sanitarium. The climate is similar to that of Chikalda, but space is more limited ; for instead of the rolling plateau, which is a feature of Chikalda scenery, Narnala has only narrow hill-tops.

The annual rainfall for the last twenty-five years averaged 34 inches. The District suffers greatly in years of drought, which have fortunately not been frequent, the mortality among cattle being very great at such periods.

As Akola has Never been a separate political entity, its history consists chiefly of important events which have happened within its limits, such as the battles of Argaon and Balapur, and the two sieges ol Narnala. In the reign of Akbar, the whole of the present District was included in the sarkar of Narnala, Akola itself being a.pargana town.

Before the assignment, in 1853, the exactions of the farmers of the revenue and of the Nizam's officials led to frequent outbreaks. In Mogal Rao planted the flag of the Bhonslas on the walls of jamod in the north of the District. In 1844 a serious religious disturbance took place at Akola, which was only checked by the prompt action of a British officer from Ellichpur. More dangerous outbreaks occurred in 1849 under Appa Sahib, and had to be put down by military force.

At the assignment Berar was divided into two Districts of West and East Berar, the head-quarters of which were at Akola and Amraoti. In 1864 the District of South- West Berar, subsequently called Mehkar, and later Buldana District, was separated from Akola; and in 1875 Basim, which had previously been an independent subdivision, was constituted a District. From 1867 to 1872 Berar was divided into the two revenue Divisions of East and West Berar, and during that period Akola was the head-quarters of the latter.

The most interesting antiquities in the District are the forts at Narnala and Balapur ; the chhatri or pavilion at the latter place; two viharas or cells cut in a rocky hill at Patur ; and various Hemadpanti temples, the best of which is at Barsi Takli

The number of towns and villages in the District is 976. The population at each of the last four enumerations has been: (1867) 481,050, (1881) 593,185, (1891) 574,964, and (1901) Population 582,540. This was the only District of Berar of which the population decreased during the decade ending 1891 and increased during that ending 1901. These changes seem to have been caused by emigration and immigration, for the natural conditions prevailing are similar to those in the rest of the Province, where the movement of the population was in the contrary direction. The District was divided into the five taluks of Akola, Akot, Balapur, Kham gaon, and Jalgaon, with their head-quarters at the towns from which each is named. The chief towns are the municipalities of Akola, Khamgaon, Akot, and Shegaon.

The table on the next page gives the statistics of area, &c, according to the Census of 1901.

The District stands second in Berar as regards both number and density of population. The vernacular of the people is Marathi, but the Musalmans speak Urdu.

As in every other District of Berar, the Kunbis largely outnumber every other caste. They are here more numerous than elsewhere., numbering 187,000, or 32 per cent, ol the total.

The Mahars with 71,000 come second in number, the Malls (58,000) third, and the Musalmans (54,000) fourth. Brahmans number 19,000. Other castes which appear in strength are Dhangars and Telis. Agriculture supports 71 per cent, and industries 14 per cent, ol the population. There are two Protestant missions in the District, the Alliance Mission and the Peniel Mission. The former has established an industrial school which is doing good work. Of the 618 Christians enumerated in 1901, 487 were natives, about half being Presbyterians.

The soil is a rich black loam everywhere, except in the extreme north and south, where the District borders on the Melghat and Balaghat. In the north and south it is, as already described, of varying quality, but in all cases very much poorer than the loam. Agricultural conditions generally are described in the article on Berar, and no local peculiarities are to be noticed.

With the exception of 42 jagir villages, Akola is entirely ryotwari.

The staple food-grain is jowar, or great miliet, the area under which was 779 square miles, or 37 per cent, of the net area cropped. The principal crop is cotton, which covered no less than half of the net area cropped. The area under pulses was 90 square miles, and the only other product worthy of notice is wheat (41 square miles).

Very little unoccupied land has been available for cultivation for many years. Akola is one of the most fertile tracts in the Province, and all available land was taken up soon after the assignment. But little advance has been made in agricultural practice. The fine long stapled cotton, for which Berar was formerly well-known, has been gradually replaced by a coarser variety of short staple, less valuable but more productive. The cultivators take hardly any advantageof the Land Improvement Loans Act.

The Khamgaon, or larger variety of Berari cattle, is the principal breed in the Khamgaon, Balapur, Jalgaon, and part of the Akot taluks, the Umarda, or smaller variety, being found elsewhere in the District. Owing to loss of cattle during recent famines importation has been extensive, and cattle of the Nimari, Sholapuri, Hoshangabadi, Malwi, Gujarati, and Surati breeds are not uncommon. Buffaloes are chiefly of the Nagpuri strain; but since the famine of 1899-1900, animals locally known as Malwi, having smaller heads and horns than the native stock, have been imported from Central India. The poniesbred locally are weedy and inferior, and the sheep and goats are also poor. Goats of the Gujarati breed, said to be good milch animals, are found in the towns.

Only 11 square miles of land were irrigated in 1903-4. This was chiefly garden land, supplied from wells; but some portion of it, in all taluks except Akola, was irrigated by channels from tanks and streams. Forests, in so rich an agricultural District, are naturally unimportant ; and the fact was recently recognized when the Akola Forest division was abolished as a separate charge and united to the Buldana division. the two Districts forming one forest charge under an officer with head- quarters at Buldana. Forests reserved for the production of timber and fuel are distributed between three tracts.

On the north and south, where the soil becomes poorer in the submontane tracts of the Melghat and the Balaghat, there are forests in which salai (Boswellia thurifera), khair (Acacia Catechu), aonla (Phyllanthus Emblica), and, more sparingly, teak (Tectona graudis) are found, with other species. In the Purna valley are a few babul bans, or groves of Acacia arabica, interspersed occasionally with linear (Acacia leucophloea) and two or three other species. Other forests or ramnas cover 13 square miles, and grazing lands 112 square miles.

Brine-wells in the Prima valley formerly provided inferior salt for local consumption, and a trifllng revenue was realized from the pro- duct; but after the opening of the railway the salt so obtained could not compete with that imported from Bombay, and the industry died a natural death.

Arts and manufactures are unimportant. cotton carpets are woven at Akot and Balapur, but are being ousted by imported articles of superior quality. The principal industry is the preparation ofcotton for the market, and the District contains 42 ginning factories and 18 cotton-presses, all worked by steam.

The trade, though important, may be very briefly described. It consists chiefly of the export of raw cotton by rail to Bombay, the principal centres of the trade being Akola, Akot, Khamgaon, Singaon, Jalgaon, and Balapur. Cotton is ginned in steam factories at all these places, and is pressed in all of them except Balapur. From Akot and Jalgaon cotton is sent by road to Shegaon and Jalam on the railway. The imports consist principally of grain and pulse, coal and coke, salt, and sugar.

The Nagpur branch of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway runs from east to west, its length in the District being about 50 miles. From Jalam a branch railway, 8 miles in length, constructed by the state but managed by the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company, runs to Khamgaon.

The length of metalled roads is 84 miles, and of unmetalled roads 127 miles; 66 miles of metalled and 81 of unmetalled roads are' maintained by the Public Works department, and the rest by the District board. The chief roads are that from Akola town towards Basim, the Akola- Akot road, and that from Khamgaon towards Chikhli.

Akola cannot be differentiated from the rest of Berar in respect of its liabelity to famine. As there is no irrigation worth mentioning, it follows that the crops of each year are wholly depen- dent on the rainfall ; but, though deficient rainfall occasionally causes some distress, famine is fortunately of rare occur- rence.

The District suffered from famine, with great mortality among cattle, in 1862, and again in 1896-7, and was very severely affected by the famine of 1899-1900. In June, 1900, 89,880 persons were on relief works and 22,642 in receipt of gratuitous relief, and it is estimated that about half the cattle in the District died during the famine.

The taluks have already been mentioned 1 . The Khamgaon and Jalgaon taluks constitute the Khamgaon subdivision under an Assistant Commissioner, who holds his court at Khamgaon; but this subdivision has, since 1905, formed part of Buldana District. There is a tahsildar at the head-quarters of each taluk. The superior staff of the District consists of the usual officers, except that, as has already been mentioned, the District shares a Forest officer with Buldana.

For judicial purposes this District and Buldana now form the Civil and Sessions district of West Berar. A District and Sessions Judge has his head-quarters at Akola, and is assisted by Subordinate Judges and Munsifs at Akola and Basim. Dacoities, house-breaking, and cattle- thefts fluctuate in numbers, as elsewhere, with the state of the season, but are not more than usually common. Jealousy is the commonest motive for murder.

1 The District now (1907) contains six taluks. It appears from the Ain-i-Akbari that the parganas included in the District of Akola, as constituted before 1905, paid a revenue of nearly 24 lakhs, including suyurghal— slightly more than that foi 1903-4.

After making due allowance for the extension of cultivation since the. sixteenth century, when Berar was frequently the seat of war, and for the rise in the price of agricultural produce since that time, it is safe to say that the slight actual fall in the land revenue demand represents a very great relative fall. The extent to which the District suffered from the wars and maladministration of the latter part of the seventeenth, the eighteenth, and the early part of the nineteenth century is clearly indicated by the fall in the land revenue demand in these same parganas, which in 1853 amounted, including Jagirs, to little more than 8 lakhs. With the extension of cultivation after the assignment the revenue rapidly improved, and between 1864 and 1869 the District was regularly surveyed and assessed. The demand amounted to 17.8 lakhs in 1894, before the revised rates had been introduced in any taluk. The revision survey took place between the years 1894 and 1899, and the present demand is nearly 24 lakhs.

The maximum, minimum, and average assessments per acre are Rs. 2-12-0, Rs. 1-10-0, and Rs. 1-12-0 re- spectively. Garden lands irrigated from wells were formerly assessed at special rates ; but lands irrigated from wells sunk before the original settlement are now assessed at the maximum ' dry ' rate of the village to which they belong, while those irrigated from wells sunk later are treated in all respects as ' dry ' lands, and assessed accordingly. A maximum combened soil and water rate of Rs. 8 per acre is applied to lands irrigated from streams and tanks, and rice land is uniformly assessed at Rs. 6 per acre.

Outside the four municipalities of Akola, Khamgaon, Singaon, and Akot, local affairs are managed by the District board and the five taluk boards subordinate to it. The expenditure of the District board in 1903-4 was Rs. 2,57,202, the principal heads being education (Rs. ,35, 000 ) and public works (Rs. 89,000).

The District contains 19 police stations, 2 outposts, and 2 road-posts, besides one railway police station at Singaon and 5 railway outposts, 2 of which are within the limits of Buldana District, but are under the control of the District Superintendent of Akola. The District and railway police number 603 of all ranks.

The Akola District jail serves also as a Central jail for the Districts of Akola, Buldana, and Basim, and, so far as regards the collection of convicts to be dispatched to the Andamans, for the whole Province. The jail contained a daily average of 286 inmates in 1904.

Akola stands third among the six Districts of Berar in the literacy of its population, of whom 5.2 per cent. (9.9 males and 0.5 females) are able to read and write. In 1903-4 the number of public schools was 153, and aided and unaided schools numbered 105 and 7 respectively.

The public schools contained 10,659 pupils and the other schools 2,943 pupils. Only 1,121 were in secondary schools. Girls at school numbered 780. Of the male population of school-going age nearly 14 per cent., and of the female population of the same age 1.3 per cent., were under primary instruction in 1903-4. There is a special school for Mahars and Mangs, which was founded at Akola by a well-to-do Mahar. The total expenditure on education in 1903-4 was 1.6 lakhs, of which Rs. 18,000 was derived from fees and Rs. 63,000 was contri- buted by local bodies.

The District possesses one civil hospital and eight charitable dispen- saries, containing accommodation for 58 in-patients. In 1903 the number of cases treated was 60,650, of whom 587 were in-patients, and 1,920 operations were performed. The expenditure was Rs. 20,083, the greater part of which was met from Local and municipal funds.

In 1903-4 the number of persons successfully vaccinated was 39 per 1,000, the mean for the Province being 36.6. Vaccination is com- pulsory only in the four municipalities.

In August, 1905, the six Districts of Berar were reconstituted, and the limits of Akola District were considerably altered. It received the taluk of Murtazapur from Amraoti and the taluks of Basim and Man- grul from Basim, which ceased to exist as a separate District. On the other hand, the taluks of Khamgaon and Jalgaon were transferred to Buldana.

The present area of Akola District is 4,111 square miles, and the population of this area in 1901 was 754,804.

[Taluk Settlement Reports; Major R. V. Garrett, Akola (1896), Akot (1897); F. W. Francis, Malkapur, Khamgaon, and Jalgaon (1892), Balapur (1895).]

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