Bengal: Agriculture in A.D. 1900

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This article has been extracted from



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



The general characteristics which distinguish agricultural conditions in Bengal are a regular and copious rainfall, a fertile soil, and a dense population subsisting on the produce of the land ; . but within the Province conditions are by no means uniform, and the important factors of soil, surface, and rainfall vary widely in different localities. The soils may be classed as either gneissic, old alluvium, or recent alluvium, the first two classes being found for the most part to the west, and the last to the east, of the 88th degree of longitude, which passes a few miles west of Calcutta and Darjeeling. The gneissic tract comprises the Chota Nagpur plateau and portions of the neighbouring Districts. Laterite soils are to be found sloping upwards towards the interior from beneath the old alluvium of Orissa and of West Bengal, and overlying part of the Chota Nagpur plateau. For agricultural purposes the whole of this western tract, comprising the sub-province of Bihar with the exception of Malda District*, the Chota Nagpur Division, and the Burdwan Division with the exception of Hooghly and Howrah Districts, may be distinguished from the eastern tract of recent alluvium which includes the excepted Districts, the Rajshahi*, Presidency, and Dacca* Divisions, the greater part of the Chittagong Division*, and the coast-line of Orissa. Hie gneissic, laterite, and old alluvial soils are alike mainly dependent upon artificial manures to maintain their fertility, whereas the recent alluvium is periodically fertilized by fresh deposits of silt from the overflowing rivers. The latter process is most active in Eastern Bengal, in the deltas of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, whose waters possess the fertilizing properties of the Nile.

The conformation of the surface in the old and the new alluvium is widely different, the former being in process of denudation and the latter of formation. In the tract covered by new alluvium the periodical deposits of river Silt maintain a perfectly level surface, which is eminently

VOL. VII. R adapted for rice cultivation. The surface of the old alluvium, on the other hand, is broken by the scouring action of the rivers and of surface drainage, and the level of the country rises and falls in parallel waves at right angles to the watershed, the crest of each wave lying midway be- tween two rivers. In order to make this undulating surface fit for rice cultivation, an elaborate system of small terraces and low embankments has to be constructed to hold up the rain-water. Where the gradient is steep, the expense of this terracing is prohibitive, and on such slopes rice is generally replaced by some less thirsty crop.

There are of course local exceptions to this broad classification of soils and surface conditions. In North Bihar, for instance, there are numerous saucer-shaped depressions, sometimes of considerable extent, in which rice thrives. The soil in these depressions is generally a strong clay, with a much smaller admixture of sand than is found in the higher uplands which mark the deposits of some ancient river. Again, in the broad belt of hilly country which surrounds the Chota Nagpur plateau, rice can be grown only in the valleys. The hill slopes are steep, and are covered with forest and dense undergrowth, except where they have been artificially cleared. Scanty crops of millets and pulses are raised in patches on the hill-sides ; and where the forest has been recently cleared, the primitive form of nomadic culture known as jhum is practised, as it is also in the Chittagong Hill Tracts*.

East and West Province

The distinction between the east and west of the Province, due to the difference in soils and surface, is accentuated by the unequal distribution of rainfall, which is generally far less regular and copious in the west than in the east. The annual fall in the western tract averages only 52 inches, as compared with 73 inches in the east. Rain commences much earlier in North and East Bengal than it does farther west, and heavy showers in April and May facilitate the cultivation of jute and early rice. Moreover, the average yearly humidity in the east, including Orissa, is 86 per cent., as compared with only 74 per cent, in the west of the Province.

Not only do the eastern Districts receive a great deal more rain, but, owing to the annual overflow of the great rivers that traverse them, they remain practically under water for six months in the year, and the people live on little island mounds and can move about only by boat. The surface of this tract is low and flat, and much of it is covered with huge marshes where rice and jute luxuriate. In fact, in the east of the Province rice and jute are grown almost exclusively, the former occupy- ing two-thirds, and both together no less than three-fourths, of the gross cropped area.

In the west all this is changed. Rice is still the principal crop, but the rainfall is often insufficient to bring it to maturity, and has to be supplemented by artificial irrigation ; fortunately the broken surfaceadmits of water storage, and there are numerous small streams which can be dannned. The products are far more varied ; there is very little jute, and rice accounts for only half the cultivated area, the other crops most extensively grown being maize, barley, wheat, oilseeds, mania {E/eusine coracana), and gram. The most striking contrast to the monotony of cropping in East Bengal is furnished by West Bihar, where an astonishing variety of staples is raised, and where it is by no means unusual to find four crops, such as gram, wheat, sesamum, and linseed, grown together in the same field.


Reference has already been made to the nomadic form of cultiva- tion locally known as jhum. A piece of forest land, generally on a hill- side, is selected in April ; the luxuriant undergrowth of shrubs and creepers is cleared away, and the felled jungle is left to dry till May and is then burnt. At the approach of the rains, small holes are made, and into each is put a handful of mixed seeds, usually cotton, rice, melons, pumpkins, maize, and yams. The crops ripen in succession, the harvest ending with the cotton in October. After a year or two the ground becomes choked with weeds and is abandoned for a new- clearance, where the same process is repeated.

In the Darjeeling Himalayas steep mountain slopes are terraced and revetted with stone for rice cultivation, wherever water is available for irrigation ; elsewhere the mountain-sides are sown with maize or millets. In the Rajmahal hills the level crests are cultivated with the ordinary plains crops, and it is not uncommon in these parts to find rice flourishing on a hill-top.

Supported by agriculture

More than 56 millions, or 71 per cent, of the entire population of Bengal, are supported by agriculture; and of every 100 agriculturists 89 are rent-paying tenants, 9 are agricultural labourers, and 2 live on their rents. The proportion of field-labourers varies widely in different parts, being as high as 16 per cent, of the agricultural population in the Patna Division, and as low as 2 per cent, in the Dacca Division*. The agriculturists are far better off in the east of the Province than in the west. Not only are their profits much higher, especially from the very lucrative jute crop, but they enjoy a far larger measure of rights in the soil.

No record is maintained in Bengal of the cropping of each field from year to year, and accurate statistics of agriculture are not available. The District officers furnish periodical estimates to the Agricultural department of the areas in each District under each of the more important crops, and it is upon these estimates that the agricultural statistics of the Province are based. These are not sufficiently accurate to form the basis of a reliable comparison between the results of successive years, except in the case of such crops as jute and indigo, to which special attention is devoted. Such as they are, they apply to the whole of British territory, excluding the Chittagong Hill Tracts*and the Sundarbans. They show that of the total area' of 146,132 square miles, 76,454 square miles, or 52-5 per cent., were cropped in 1903-4. Of the remainder, 4,372 square miles, or 3 per cent, of the whole, were covered with forests, 35,263 square miles (24-1 per cent.) were not available for cultivation, 19,470 square miles, or 13-3 per cent., were cultivable waste other than fallow, and 10,573 square miles (7-2 per cent.) were fallow. An area of 16,925 square miles, or 22 per cent, of the cultivated area, was returned as cropped more than once in the year.

Food-crops occupy 82 per cent, of the gross cropped area ; 6 per cent, is under oilseeds,per cent, under fibres, and sugar-cane and tobacco each occupy about i per cent. Of the food-crops, rice is by far the most important, as it occupies 54,690 square miles, or 71 per cent, of the net cropped area. Next come various cereals and pulses with 11-^ per cent., and these are followed by maize (4 per cent.), wheat and barley (3 per cent, each), and gram and tnarua (2 per cent, each). Among the non-food-crops, jute (5 per cent.) occupies an area second only to that of rice. Of the oilseeds, rape and mustard, together covering 3,125 square miles, are grown most extensively.

Varieties of rice

There are innumerable varieties of rice, each possessing special characteristics which adapt its cultivation to particular localities. They may all, however, be classified, according to the harvesting season, under three main heads : the winter rice, occupying 42,970 square miles; the early rice, 10,940 square miles; and the spring crop, 780 square miles.

The wanter rice is grown on low land. A piece of high ground is usually selected for a seed nursery, ploughed in May or June after the first rain, and sown broadcast. In July or August the seedlings are transplanted to flooded fields, which have been ploughed and re- ploughed till the whole surface is reduced to mud, and the crop is harvested between November and January. In the swamps of Eastern Bengal, however, a variety of long-stemmed rice is sown broadcast after one or two ploughings ; by harvest-time the fields are several feet under water, and the rice, which rises with the flood-level, is reaped from boats, the ears only being cut. In West Bihar the fields are drained in September when the rice is flowering, and flooded when the grain is forming in October. It is this practice, known as nigarh, which makes

' In Bengal as now constituted, the net cropped area was 54,138 square miles, or 49-1 per cent, of the total area of 110,217 square miles. Of the remainder, 4,419 square miles, or4 per cent, of the whole, were covered with forests, 26,161 square miles (23.7 per cent.) were not available for cultivation, 16,421 square miles (14-9 per cent.) were cultivable waste other than fallow, and 9,078 square miles (8.3 per cent.) were fallow. Altogether 10,369 square miles, or 9-4 per cent, of the net cropped area, were returned as cropped more than once in the yearainfall or artificial irrigation in the beginning of October essential to a successful harvest.

The early rice is generally sown broadcast in April or May, though it is occasionally transplanted ; the crop is harvested in August or September. Spring rice is grown on the low banks of rivers or on the edges of swamps. The seed is sown in a nursery in October and trans- planted a month later ; the crop is harvested in March and April. The yield per acre of cleaned rice is estimated at 11-02 cwt. for winter rice and 7-34 cwt. for the early and spring crops. This is the average yield for the Province ; in the rich rice swamps of Eastern Bengal the return is at least half as much again, while on the sterile uplands of Chota Nagpur not half this estimate is realized. Unhusked rice or paddy yields about three-fifths of its weight as cleaned rice.


Maize occupies 3,125 square miles, mainly in Bihar and Chota Nagpur, and in Darjeeling District. It is a valuable food-crop, yield- ing 7-34 cwt. per acre; it is sown in June and harvested in September or October. Wheat and barley each cover about 2,344 square miles, and both are grown principally in Bihar, barley thriving best north of the Ganges, and wheat south of that river ; both are sown in November and reaped in March. The out-turn of wheat is estimated at 8-8i cwt. to the acre for Bihar, 7-7 1 cwt. for Bengal, and 4-04 cwt. for Chota Nagpur, the average for the Province being 5'87 cwt. The normal yield of barley is 7-88 cwt. per acre. Gram {Cicer arietmutn) is a pulse which thrives on clay soils, and is grown on over 1,560 square miles, principally in Bihar and Central Bengal. It is in the ground from November to March, and yields about 7-88 cwt, to the acre. Marud is a valuable millet which occupies nearly 1,560 square miles in Bihar and Chota Nagpur. It is sown in July and reaped in November, and the average yield is 7-34 cwt. per acre, /ozvar {Sorghum vulgare) and l>ajra or spiked millet {Pemiisetu?n iyphoideum) are grown in Bihar and Chota Nagpur; they are sown in July and reaped in November-December, and yield about 7-34 cwt. per acre. Jotvdr is grown as a fodder-crop in Central Bengal.

More than 1,562 square miles, principally in Bihar, are under various cereals and pulses, which are sown in November and reaped in March or April. Among these are the china millet {Faniaim 7)iiliaceufn), peas, lentils, kalai {phaseolus radiatus), kiirthi {Dolichos biflorus\ and khesari {Lathyrus saiivus). Some other cereals and pulses are sown in July and reaped in December. These occupy 1,953 square miles, and include rahar {Cajanus indicus), gondii {Panicuin miliare), kodon {Paspalum scrobiculatum a species of kalai, and urd {Fhaseolus Roxburghii).

Cultivation of Jute

Jute is commercially the most important crop in the Province, and its cultivation is developing rapidly. In 1872 it occupied less than 1,560 square miles, while at the present time the normal area is probably not far short of 3,900 square miles, and the exports in 1 900-1, a bumper year, were valued at 14 millions sterling. The tract in North and East Bengal which lies between 23° and 26° 30' N. and 88° and 91° E. is by far the largest jute-growing area in the world. The crop is sown in April and reaped in August, and, after retting, the fibre is baled to save freight. The chief centres of the jute trade and baling are Narayan- GANj*, SiRAjGANj*, and Chandpur*. The average yield per acre is estimated at 10-71 cwt.

The various oilseeds are commercially important, and collectively occupy nearly 6,250 square miles. Rape and mustard account for more than half this area, and are grown extensively in North Bengal and Mymensingh*. Linseed is commonly grown as a catch-crop after the winter rice has been reaped. Other oilseeds are or gingelly {Sesamum indicum), castor, and sarguja or niger-seed {Giiizotia al>Yssi/iica), the latter grown largely in Chota Nagpur. These are mostly spring crops, sown in October and harvested in March. Rape, mustard, and linseed yield about 4-41 cwt. per acre, and the other crops about 3-12 cwt.

Sugar-cane, with 1,020 square miles, is usually planted in February or March and occupies the ground for ten or eleven months ; the normal out-turn is 22 cwt. per acre. The juice is boiled and sold as gur or jaggery, and is also refined into sugar ; large refineries have recently been started at Ottur in Muzaffarpur, and elsewhere in North- West Bihar, where the cultivation of sugar-cane is to some extent replacing indigo. Tobacco is grown everywhere in small quantities and occupies 780 square miles ; it is cultivated on a large scale in Rangpur* and the neighbouring Districts of North Bengal, whence the leaf is exported to Burma and made into cigars. The produce varies from 4-41 to 8-82 cwt. per acre in Bengal, and from 11-75 ^o i4'69 cwt. in Bihar; it is sown in November and reaped in March.

Indigo occupies 390 square miles, chiefly in North Bihar, though it is still cultivated in Central Bengal ; the area is shrinking, as the natural dye suffers from competition with the artificial substitute. Indigo is sown in March, and the leaf is cut in July and again in September ; the yield of dye varies from 12 lb. per acre in Bengal to 20 lb. in Bihar. The general practice is for the planter to take a lease of a village, and then arrange with the cultivators to grow indigo, assisting them with seed and cash advances, though in some places the villagers grow it independently and sell it to the factory by weight.

The poppy is grown in West Bihar, and to a small extent in Chota Nagpur, and occupies 390 square miles. It is cultivated with the help of Government advances, and the opium is sold at a fixed rate to Government, as will be described in the section on Miscellaneous Revenue. The seed is sown in November, and the crop is collected in March and April ; the yield varies from 10 lb. to 18 lb. per acre. Cotton is little grown ; there is none in the plains of Bengal proper, and else- where it occupies only about 125 square miles. One crop is sown in July and harvested in November, and another is sown in October and harvested in April. Tea is cultivated on a large scale only in Jalpai- GURi*, Darjeeling, and Chittagong* ; in 1903 there were 422 gardens, with a total area of 210 square miles and an out-turn of 51,000,000 lb. The average yield from mature plants is 367 lb. per acre ; but the out-turn varies in different parts, averaging 453 lb. an acre in Jalpaiguri*, 313 lb. in Chittagong*, and 288 lb. or less elsewhere. The value of the crop in 1901 was \\ crores, and the average price per pound in the same year was 5^ annas, compared with 7-| annas twelve years previously. This disastrous fall in prices is due mainly to over- production ; but during the last two or three years there have been very few fresh extensions of tea cultivation, and it may be hoped that better times are in store for this important industry. Gdnja {Cannabis sativa) is a Government monopoly and is grown on 1,100 acres in Rajshahi District*; the yield varies from 10 to 21 cwt. per acre. It is sown in August and harvested in February.

Among non-food-crops grown in the rains are hemp and mulberry, the latter chiefly in Malda*, Murshidabad, Rajshahi*, and Bogra*. In the winter are grown condiments, such as chillies {Capsicum frutescens) and onions, the safflower dye, and oats, which are generally used for fodder. Turmeric is sown in June and harvested in March, and ginger is sown in June and harvested from December to February. The pan creeper {Pipe?- Betle) is planted in May or June in a thatched enclosure, and the leaves are ready for picking in twelve months. Among other condiments are garlic, coriander, cumin, and aniseed. Large areas are given up to thatching grasses, such as 7(lu grass {Imperata arundifiacea) and kiis {Saccharum spontaneum). In the Santal Parganas and parts of Chota Nagpur sabai grass {Ischaemum angustifolitwi) grows on the hilly slopes and is carefully preserved ; it is used locally for twine and rope, and it is also extensively employed in the manufacture of paper. Reeds, such as the hogla {Typha elephantina), nal {Amphidonax Kaika)^ and slialpdti {Phryniiim dicho/o/ninn), are extensively grown and woven into mats.

A strong prejudice exists against night-soil or bonemeal as manure, and chemical manures are practically unknown. Cattle-dung is used wherever it can be spared, but it is largely burned as fuel, and little or no use is made of the urine. The feeding of the cattle is also so poor that their dung is not rich in manurial constituents. House- sweepings are freely utilized, generally in the form of ashes. What little manure is available is mostly applied close to the homesteads for garden crops, and for maize, tobacco, castor, and poppy. Castor and mustard-cake are occasionally used as a top-dressing for sugar-cane and potatoes. In East Bengal rice straw is sometimes burnt as a manure, and sugar-cane, garden crops, potatoes, and tobacco are generally manured, though the quantity applied is very small. In Bihar refuse indigo is used with avidity where it is available in the neighbourhood of factories, and pond mud is very highly valued.

Clay soils grow winter rice year after year ; occasionally a catch-crop of khesdri is taken as a fodder, or, if the land continues moist until harvest time, it may be ploughed and sown in East Bengal with kalai, and in Bihar with gram and peas or barley. Lighter soils generally bear two crops in] the year — in the rainy season, early rice or jute in North and Lower Bengal, and maize or some of the inferior millets in Bihar or Chota Nagpur ; in the winter a pulse or an oilseed in Bengal, and a mixture of various pulses and oilseeds with wheat or barley in Bihar. Potatoes often follow maize in Bihar, and jute or early rice in North and Lower Bengal, and jute itself is sometimes rotated with early rice. Sugar-cane is an exhausting crop and is generally rotated with rice. The mixture of pulses and cereals serves the purpose of rotation, as the pulses belong to the leguminous family and enrich the soil with nitrogen.

Among the cultivated fruits are the mango {Mangifera i/idiai), plantain {Musa sapientu/n), pineapple {Ana?iassa sativa), jack -fruit {Ariocarpus integri/olia), guava {Psydium pomiferum), custard-apple {A?iona squa- mosa), llchl {Nephelium Litchi), and several varieties of fig and melon. Many parts of East Bengal are studded with coco-nut plantations. The mangoes of Darbhanga and Malda* enjoy a high reputation. Vegetables are everywhere cultivated in garden plots for household use, and also on a larger scale in the neighbourhood of large towns. The favourite are the egg-plant or baigiai {So/anian Melongena), ground-nut [Trichosanthes dioicd), pumpkin {Lagenaria vulgaris), gourd {Betiincasa cerifera), and anon {Colocasia Antiqiwruvi) grown in the rains, while in the winter potatoes, yams, melons, and radishes are largely cultivated. Cauliflowers and cabbages are also common, and spinach and onions are universal. Potatoes are extensively grown on the rich soils bordering the Ganges in east Bihar, and in the Hooghly and Burdwan Districts of West Bengal; they yield about 2 tons to the acre.

There has been a steady increase of cultivation during the last twenty years, but the earlier statistics were so defective that they do not afford evidence of this increase. Tillage is extended by felling the forests on upland tracts and in the submontane tarai, by reclaiming the sandy islands which are constantly forming in the big rivers, by embanking lands in the littoral tracts, and by cultivating the swamps of Eastern Bengal, the level of which is being gradually raised by silt deposits.

Agricultural Institute under the (Government of India

An Agricultural Institute under the (Government of India has been opened at POsa in Darbhanga District. Experimental farms under the superintendence of the Agricultural department are established at SiBPUR, BuRDWAN, and Dumraon, and demonstration farms have recently been started at Chittagong* and Angul. Experiments have been made with improved varieties of rice, wheat, sugar-cane, and potatoes, and with manures for these crops ; the cultivation of potatoes has been extended, and Burdwan sugar-canes have been introduced into Bihar. Useful work has been done in the direction of stimulating the out-turn of raw silk, by training the rearers to eradicate pebrine and other diseases of the silkworm. An agricultural class is attached to the Sibpur Engineering College, but it has not been successful ; it is to be moved to Pusa. The department has recently extended its sphere of activity in many directions. Special investigations have been made into the alleged deterioration of jute, efforts have been made to extend the cultivation of cotton, aid has been given to indigo research operations, and an experimental farm has been started at Cuttack to show cultivators what can be done with water always at command. Besides this, agri- cultural associations, working in co-operation with the department, have been established in order to help it with advice, to disseminate agricul- tural knowledge by communicating the results of its operations to the people, and to awaken further interest in the development of the agriculture of the Province. A Central Association has been formed at Calcutta, and Divisional and District Associations are being formed in the interior, which will work in concert with this central body.

Loans are rarely taken from Government, and in 1903-4 the total sum amounted to only 3-6 lakhs, of which nearly half was advanced in Palamau District. It is too early to pronounce an opinion on the prospects of the Agricultural banks which have recently been started ; but 58 banks are now in existence, and some of them seem to be working successfully.

Little attention has been directed in Bengal to the subject of the indebtedness of the cultivators, and in the Province generally the question has never reached an acute stage. In a great part of Bengal proper a system akin to peasant proprietorship prevails, and the rich profits of jute cultivation are shared by all the cultivating classes. In Bihar and Chota Nagpur the peasantry are as a class impoverished, but there is little evidence to show the extent of their indebtedness. In Chota Nagpur and the Santal Parganas, the Bengali money-lender at one time threatened to oust the improvident aborigines from their lands ; but land transfer to Bengalis has now been prohibited, and the prohibition is strictly enforced at the time of rent .settlement. In various parts of the Province a survey and record-of-rights are in progress, which aim at securing to the ryots the fixity of status and the immunity from arbitrary enhancement which the Tenancy Act prescribes, and the Settlement officers have made careful inquiries as to the extent of indebtedness in Gaya, Champaran, and Muzaffarpur Districts, where, if anywhere in the Province, it might be expected to be serious. The inquiries in Muzaffarpur and Gaya show that cultivators owe on the average Rs. 2-6 a head and cultivating labourers Rs. 1-5, and that indebtedness is decreasing. In Champaran the tenantry are badly off, and, during the decade preceding the settlement, 1-4 per cent, of the cultivators' holdings had been sold or mortgaged to money-lenders. The people are thriftless, and the majority are in debt to the mahdjan. In Saran only one-fifth of the cultivators are in debt, and their total indebtedness is estimated at less than a crore, whereas the net profits of cultivation amount to over 3^ crores. In the whole Province only 7,000 holdings were purchased by money-lenders in 1902, and there is no indication that the peasantry as a body are in danger of losing their lands to money-lenders. A common rate of interest is 36 per cent, per annum.

The implements in universal use are the plough, harrow, sickle, and hoe, and they vary in size and shape according to the strength of the draught cattle in use, the texture of the soil, and the description of cultivation practised. The ploughs in Bihar are generally heavier and more effective than in Bengal, and work the soil to a depth of 5 inches, whereas those in use in North Bengal scratch the surface to a depth of only 2 inches. The Cuttack and Noakhali* ploughs are very heavy, and the two sides are shaped like mould-boards, giving them the appearance of ridging ploughs. The Bihiya sugar-cane mill, made in Shahabad, and a similar type of mill made at Kushtia in Nadia are the only improved implements which are really popular ; they have largely superseded the native wooden mills.

The cattle are generally poor, especially in the east of the Province, where pasture is deficient ; in the north-west some improvement has been effected by crossing with bulls imported from the United Provinces. The chief breeds of cattle are the Patna, Sltamarhi, Bachaur, and Bhagalpuri in Bihar, and the Siri and Nepali in Darjeeling. These are worth from Rs. 30 to Rs. 40 a head, though the Patna milch-cattle, which were crossed half a century ago with an imported short-horn strain, sell for Rs. 80. Good buffaloes are to be found in the forests and swampy island flats, and are much prized for their milk. The only horses bred in Bengal are the weedy indigenous ponies or iats^ which are found everywhere and are worth from Rs. 50 to Rs. 60 each. Goats abound, but are very small. Sheep are bred in Bihar and Chota Nagpur ; the Patna breed is the best.

Pasture is plentiful in the neighbourhood of the few forests and on the river islands ; but it is very scanty elsewhere, especially in Bengal proper, where every inch of land grows rice and the cattle have to be content with such scanty herbage as the roadsides, tank banks, and field boundary ridges afford. Cart bullocks and plough bullocks are partly stall-fed on chopped rice straw when at work, and milch-buffaloes are carefully tended ; but the cattle generally are under-fed and miserably housed, and no attempts are made to improve the breed. In Bihar and elsewhere dedicated bulls roam the countryside and feed on the fat of the land, but they are not selected for breeding. The cattle suffer from rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, haemorrhagic septi- caemia, and malaria, and occasionally from anthrax. The Civil Veterinary department trains young men at the Bengal Veterinary College at Belgachia, and distributes them to the District boards and other bodies requiring their services ; the total number of passed students from this college who were employed as veterinary assistants or in other capacities under these bodies and under Government in 1903-4 was 46.

A large number of cattle and horse fairs are held, the largest being those at Sonpur, Sitamarhi, Suri, and Kalimpong. At these fairs cattle shows are held, and prizes are given for the best specimens exhibited.

The copious and regular rainfall renders irrigation far less essential than in other parts of India, and it is almost unknown in a great part of Bengal proper. Statistics are available only for the areas irrigated from Government canals ; and in 1903-4 less than 2 per cent, of the rice crop and only about 2 per cent, of the wheat crop were supplied with water from this source. The principal crops irrigated are winter rice, wheat, barley, poppy, sugar-cane, and potatoes. Of these, winter rice is by far the most important. It is not irrigated in East or North Bengal, and but .seldom in the Presidency Division, while in North Bihar it is only irrigated near the foot of the Himalayas, where the hill streams can be dammed without much difficulty. In Orissa there are large irrigation works, but they are not much resorted to in normal years. In the Burdwan and Chota Nagpur Divisions, however, and in South Bihar, the natural supply of rain-water is insufficient, and rice can be grown only with the aid of artificial irrigation. This is chiefly necessary in October ; but if the rains are late in starting, water is also required for the seed-beds, and again at the time of transplantation. Wheat and barley are commonly grown without irrigation, except in the vicinity of homesteads in North Bihar, where they get two or three waterings from wells in November and December. The poppy is generally irrigated from wells and requires weekly watering. Sugar-cane is irrigated, except in North Bihar and North Bengal ; it is watered once a fortnight during April, May, and June, and once a month in November and December. Potatoes are irrigated once a fortnight in Burdwan, Hooghly, Patna, and Cuttack, but not usually elsewhere.

Bengal possesses three important systems of irrigation canals — the Son, the Orissa, and the Midnapore. The Son Canals in Bihar are fed from the Son river by means of a weir at Dehri ; they supply water to Shahabad District on the west and to Gaya and Patna Districts on the east. The system comprises (1903-4) 367 miles of main and branch canals, of which 218 are navigable, with 1,217 miles of distributaries, and 3,237 miles of village channels which are private property. The supply of water available for the kharlf or autumn irrigation is about 6,500 cubic feet per second. For the rabi or spring crops the supply is always ample. The demand fluctuates greatly according to the rainfall in September and October ; the area irrigated in 1903-4 was 790 square miles, compared with 756 square miles in 1902-3. In the hot season the supply of water is very limited, but there is usually sufficient for the irrigation of about 25,000 acres of sugar-cane.

The Orissa Canals are fed mainly from the MahanadI river, but derive part of their supply from the Brahmani and BaitaranI, there being in all seven anicuts or weirs. The country served by these canals lies chiefly in the delta of the MahanadI, and, being liable to inundation, it has been necessary to protect the irrigated tracts by marginal flood embankments. Four main canals — the Taldanda, the Kendrapara, the Machgaon, and the High Level — comprise 301 miles of main and branch canals, of which 205 miles are navigable, and 1,166 miles of distributaries. There are no village channels. The supply which can be given in the kharlf season is 4,550 cubic feet per second. During the rabi season there is very little demand for water. Sugar-cane is little cultivated in these parts.

The Midnapore Canal is supplied from the Kasai river. It is 72 miles in length and is navigable throughout, and possesses 267 miles of distributaries and 30 miles of village channels. The capacity of discharge is 1,500 cubic feet per second. The supply at the end of the khafif season is, however, uncertain, and in a dry autumn there is frequently difficulty in meeting the demand for water. There is little irrigation in the rabi season.

In the north-west corner of Champaran District the Tribeni Canal is being constructed as a protective work. It is designed to carry enough water to irrigate about 178 square miles.

Table III at the end of this article (p. 346) gives the principal figures connected with these systems of canals ; the falling off" in navigation tolls is due to the development of railways.

The ' minor ' irrigation works maintained by Government are the Saran, the Eden, and the Tiar or Madhuban canals. The Saran canals have a head sluice on one of the side channels of the Gandak river. There is no weir, and, owing to alterations in the main channel, it is very difficult to feed the canals, which for the present are closed. The Eden canal takes off from the Damodar river in Burdwan. It was intended primarily to supply fresh water to some old river-beds as a sanitary measure, but it is also used for the irrigation of about 42 square miles. The Tiar canal in the north of Champaran is supplied from the stream of the .same name, and can irrigate 9 square miles.

The sale of water for irrigation is regulated by Act III (B.C.) of 1876, which provides that it shall only be supplied on a written request. For rice, leases are entered into for a term of years in which the lands to be irrigated are specified in detail ; the quantity of water to be given is not mentioned, but there is an implied obligation to supply what is needed. In charging for the irrigation of rabi and sugar-cane, it is not practicable to determine beforehand precisely which lands are to be supplied, and the principle of the Northern India Act is adopted, i.e. an acreage rate is charged on those fields which are actually irrigated.

The principal private irrigation works are reservoirs and water channels. This form of irrigation is mainly practised in the gneissic and old alluvial tracts, where the broken surface facilitates water- storage. In hilly country the reservoir is made by throwing an embankment across a drainage channel, but on more level ground the surface-water is confined in an artificial catchment basin, of a more or less rectangular shape, by an embankment raised on three sides of the rectangle. Artificial channels are dug parallel to the beds of rivers which have a steep gradient, to irrigate high lands down stream ; many of these are large works with numerous branches and distributaries. Comparatively little use is made of wells for irrigation, though a good deal of land along the banks of the Ganges ia Patna and Muzaffarpur Districts is watered from earthen wells, and small masonry wells are to be found near the houses in Bihar, and are used for irrigating poppy and other crops. The cost of a masonry well varies from Rs. 100 to Rs. 300 and of a kachchd well from Rs. 2 to Rs. 5. Tanks are used to a considerable extent for irrigating rice, especially in Burdwan.

Numerous water-lifts are used, such as the lever and bucket or skin bag, the swing-basket, and the spoon irrigation lever. The first- mentioned lever is fitted to a forked tree or masonry pillar, and counterpoised by clods of earth. When bullocks are used, they are yoked to a rope which passes over a pulley carried on a cross-beam, supported on two masonry pillars. The basket is swung by two men with the aid of ropes tied to the corners, and is used for raising water from a river or tank. The spoon irrigation lever is a canoe-shaped dug-out working on a pivot. When the level of water is very low, two or more successive lifts are required.

The importance of the Bengal fisheries may be gauged from the fact that 1-6 per cent, of the population is engaged in catching, curing, and selling fish, a percentage which rises to 2-6 in the Presidency, Rajshahi* and Dacca* Divisions ; moreover, one cultivator in every twenty is returned as a fisherman also. The waters of the Bay, the rivers, and swamps swarm with fish, and every ditch and puddle furnishes small fry to eke out the frugal diet of the people. The best salt-water fish are the hekti, tapsi or mango-fish, mullet, pomfret, and sole. Inland the hilsa {Clupea ilisha) is found in shoals in the Ganges, while the rohu {^Labeo rohitd) and the katdl {Catla btichanani) abound every- where, as do also innumerable other varieties much esteemed by the Bengalis ; prawns and crabs are caught in myriads. The mahseer is found in the higher reaches of the rivers which debouch from the Himalayas, and in some of the rivers of the Chota Nagpur plateau.


The Bengali is a very clever fisherman. In the Bay of Bengal he practises deep-sea fishing, drying his catch ashore on stakes driven into some sandy beach. The larger rivers are trawled from a sailing boat, and the smaller streams are fished from weirs. The tanks and ditches are periodically dragged, the fish at other times being angled or caught in a cast-net. Every streamlet is studded with hundreds of wicker fish-traps, while prawn cages are ubiquitous. The wonder is that any living fish escapes, so persistent and remorseless is the hunt for the finny tribe. Every other interest is subordinated to its pursuit, and not only is navigation impeded, but the drainage of the country is blocked by the obstruction of every channel and outlet.

The right of fishery in all but the largest rivers has generally been alienated by Government to private persons, having been included in the 'assets' on which the permanent settlement of estates was based, but in some cases the fishery itself is a separate 'estate.' In tanks the right of fishing vests in the owner or occupant ; in the Bay and large rivers fishing is free to all.

See also

For a large number of articles about Bengal, extracted from the Gazetteer of 1908 (as well as other articles on Bengal) please either click the 'India' link (below, left) and go to Bengal (under B) or enter 'Bengal' in the 'Search' box (top, right). Bengal, 1908 Bengal: A history, by British Raj writers Bengal: Agriculture in A.D. 1900 Bengal: Arts and manufactures, 1908 Bengal: Commerce and trade, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Famines, 1769-1899 Bengal: Forests, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Mines and minerals, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Physical aspects, c. A.D. 1900 Bengal: Population, A.D. 1901

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