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Question 3

What were the main causes of India’s agricultural stagnation during the colonial period?

Answer

Under colonial rule, India was basically an agrarian economy, employing nearly 85% of its population. Nevertheless, the growth of the agriculture sector was meager. The following are the causes explaining stagnancy in Indian agriculture sector during the colonial rule:
1. Introduction of Land Revenue System:
This was due to the prevalence of various systems of Land Settlement, particularly the Zamindari system. This system was introduced by Lord Cornwallis in Bengal in 1793. Under this system, the zamindars(owners of land) were required to pay very high revenue (lagaan) to the British government, which they used to collect from the peasants (landless labourers, who were actually cultivating). The zamindars were mainly concerned with extracting high revenues from the peasants but never took any steps to improve the productivity of the land. This resulted in low agricultural productivity and worsened the peasants economically.

2. Forceful Commercialisation:
Initially before the British rule, the farmers were practicing conventional subsistence farming. They used to grow crops like rice and wheat for their own consumption. But afterwards, in order to feed British industries with cheap raw materials, the Indian farmers were forced to grow commercial crops (like indigo required by British industries to dye textiles) instead of food crops (like rice and wheat). This led to the commercialisation of Indian agriculture. This commercialisation of Indian agriculture not only increased the burden of high revenues on the poor farmers but also led India to face shortage of food grains, resources, technology and investment. Therefore, Indian agriculture remained backward and primitive.
3. Lack of Irrigation Facilities and Resources:
Besides the above factors, Indian agricultural sector also faced lack of irrigation facilities, insignificant use of fertilisers, lack of investment, frequent famines and other natural calamities, etc. that further exaggerated the agricultural performance and made it more vulnerable.

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