On Ambedkar's Master's Thesis: Revisiting "Administration and Finance of the East India Company"

Nadimul Islam

Most of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s works discuss the subject of caste and social reforms. However, he also wrote about the key concerns of polity, economy, and administration. One such work is his short book entitled Administration and Finance of the East India Company written in 1915 when he was still a student at the University of Columbia. The text highlights the various administrative rules of the East India Company and analyses its economic structure, particularly various systems of taxation designed by the Company. The copy of this text was secured from Columbia University by Dr. Frank F. Conlon and was presented to Mr. Vasant Moon of Dr. Ambedkar Research Institute, Nagpur, in 1979. The text is included in the Volume of Writings and Speeches of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1979.


In 1773 the Regulating Act passed by the British Parliament brought India officially under the rule of the East India Company and established the framework for the central administration in India. It additionally assigned the governing leader of Bengal as the Governor-General of Bengal. It founded the Supreme Court in Calcutta. It built up an official body to help the Governor-General and the Court of Directors as the overseeing body of the Company. The Court of Directors played out its administrative work by framing different boards of committees, generally significant of which were the Secret Committee, the Select Committee, and the Committee of Correspondence. The Secret Committee managed political issues, the Select Committee managed general regulatory issues, and the Correspondence Committee helped in drafting letters to the Governor-General in Council. Likewise, the different boards of committees are Treasury Committee, Gov. Troops and store Committee, Legal procedures Committee, Military Proceedings Committee, Accounts Committee, Buying Committee, Warehouse Committee, India House Committee, Shipping Committee, Private Trade Committee, Civil College and Military College. The Civil and Military Services were selected from the alumni of the two schools, which were only a burden on the incomes of the Company. Those Court of Directors was chosen by the investors of the Company on an annual premise. The entire body of these investors was known as The Court of Proprietors. In 1784 ‘Pitt's India Act’ arranged a Board of Control by which the crown guaranteed the joint legislature of British India by the Company and the Crown. It was categorized into six different subdivisions to answer its capacities: Accounts, Revenue, Judicial, Military, Secret and Politic, Foreign and Public. A six-part Board of Controllers were set up for political exercises, as Ambedkar writes:


(1) The superintendence and control over all the British territorial possessions in the East Indies, and over the affairs of the United Company of merchants trading thereto. (2) To superintend, direct and control all acts, operations, and concerns, which in any wise relate to the civil or military government or revenues of the British territorial possessions in the East Indies, in the manner hereinafter directed (Ambedkar 3-4).

(In Pic: The Painting of the London-based East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) Sutherland also states in his “The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics”: Indeed, circumstances made Pitt’s East India Act of 1784 almost the first of his Ministry's preoccupations, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the activities of the official Board of Control set up under that act formed the spearhead of the movement towards the more positive view of the functions of government which was to characterize the nineteenth century (15–26).


Ambedkar described the general structure of the administration system of the company rule in the eastern part of India and then focused on the financial systems, especially many kinds of revenue systems. Zamindari settlement by Lord Cornwallis separated East India Company's administration into three branches, Judicial, Revenue, and Commercial. Incomes were gathered by the local landowners who were known as Zamindar. The Zamindars were made innate proprietors of the land under their ownership. They and their replacements practiced all-out authority over the lands. Zamindars could sell and buy lands. The state had no immediate contact with the peasants. The Company’s percentage of income was fixed. with the Zamindars. Zamindars were answerable for collecting revenues from Peasants and paying the Company. Mahalwari Settlement was first presented in 1822 by Francis Hastings. This framework comprised of Zamindars representing the whole Mahal or gathering of villages. Alongside the village authorities, the Zamindars were also responsible to pay the taxes to the Company: "The administration of the village is handed over to a headman elected by the villagers and is subject to their removal... It is difficult to state the proportion of the produce of the village paid to the Government: the authorities know little of the precise property of any of the proprietors; it is not the interest or the wish of the village that the Government should scrutinize and know their possessions, therefore if anyone of the brotherhood fails to pay his proportion, that is a matter for the villagers at large to settle, and they will often come forward to pay it for him, but these are all private arrangements kept to themselves (Ambedkar 9)."


Another well-known Ryotwar System was introduced by Sir Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras during that period: "The Ryotwar Settlement is applicable in every state of things: where there are proprietors it may be concluded with farmers or cultivators: it may be equally made for the largest or for the smallest quantity of land, for millions of acres or only a few. The owner of a single field may make his terms directly with the Government, and turn to his cultivation, knowing that he cannot be called on to pay more than a certain sum (Ambedkar 9)."

The revenue on Salt had been in India for many years, yet this duty was significantly expanded when The East India Company set up its reign over the states in India. Rann of Kuchh on the west shoreline of India has been the producer of salt for thousands of years. This salt is gathered by workers called Malangas on the east coast. There has consistently been an interest for Orissa salt in Bengal When the British assumed control over the organization of Bengal, they also felt its need and went for salt trading. In 1772, Company took total control of salt productions in India. In Madras, salt was produced for the total benefit of the Government. In Bombay, the salt production was given over to the people under the particular systematic arrangement. Company Handled the salt mine of Punjab on their own. Dr. Ambedkar also talked about The Stamp Duties formed in 1797, The Mint Revenue, The Marine Revenue, and various subsidies formed by the Company. Describing the Public Works of The East India Company, Dr. Ambedkar mentioned Mr. John Bright’s statement on the Company’s works. He writes: "With regard to public works, if I were speaking for the natives of India, I would state this fact, that in a single English country there are more travelable roads than are to be found in the whole of India; and I would say also, that the single city of Manchester, in the supply of its inhabitants in the single article of water, has spent a larger sum of money than the East India Company has spent in the fourteen years from 1834 to 1848 in public works of every kind throughout the whole of its dominions. I would say that the real activity of the Indian Government has been an activity of conquest and annexation" (Ambedkar 9).


This means that the East India Company was not that much of a responsible government to the people of India and it is much of a truth that their activities have always been of ‘conquest and annexation’. A significant part of the organization was directed in different manners in the Presidencies. There was, ‘The public work office under the leading body of revenue, The Superintendent of Roads and The Military Board. The work mainly included The Canals, The Truck Roads, The Railways, and The Electric Telegraph System. The Ganges Canal, Yamuna Canal, and the Punjab canal were built. Truck roads connecting Calcutta-Peshwar, Calcutta-Bombay, Bombay-Agra, Bangalore-Madras were made up. One of the most recognized works of the East India Company was the formation of the Railway system. Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay Railways were started. Although East India Company kept up to get India far from English governmental issues, they often endured extraordinary mortification at the British Parliament. Anyway, the British Parliament was completely resolved to nullify The East India Company rule in India and quickly take the Indian government under the Crown. They substituted direct government for twofold government. In this context Belmekki says: "Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the happenings of 1857 were not the only reason for bringing an end to the English East India Company. In fact, according to some scholars, there had been growing popular outrage in Britain itself against the Company’s misrule as well as the malpractices of its agents in India prior to the uprising. This made the British Government try to find a way to take such a ‘big empire’ from the hands of a ‘trading company’. Thus, the Revolt of 1857 came as a godsend to the authorities in London to take the right action against the East India Company (111–124)."

English Parliament passed the ‘Government of India Act’ on the second of August 1858 to end the Company Rule. It was given that India from this time forward was to be administered by, and for the sake of, Her Majesty. It changed the Governor-General of India to the Viceroy of India. He was the immediate delegate of the British Crown in India. Charles Canning in this way turned into the first Viceroy of India.


Ambedkar made a remarkable commitment as an Economist, Sociologist, Anthropologist, Educationist, Journalist, as an expert on relative religion, as a policy producer, as an overseer, and as a parliamentarian. He was an eminent Jurist. ‘This book was submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of his degree of Master of Arts’ in the University of Columbia, though it is a prominent source of pure highlights of the administration system, financial arrangements of the British East India Company and the post revolt situation of India.


Works Cited

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. Administration and Finance of the East India Company. Samyak Prakashan, 2016.

Belmekki, Belkacem. “A Wind of Change: The New British Colonial Policy in Post-Revolt India.” Atlantis, vol. 30, no. 2, 2008, pp. 111–124. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41055330.

Sutherland, L. S. “The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics.” The Economic History Review, vol. 17, no. 1, 1947, pp. 15–26. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2590689.


Author Information

Nadimul Islam studies English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. He is interested in studies concerning Islam and Christianity, as well as a comparative study between the Quran and the Holy Bible.



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