Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official eBook

William Henry Sleeman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,051 pages of information about Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official.

3.  The text refers to what was known as the ‘customs hedge’.  Before the establishment of the British supremacy each of the innumerable native jurisdictions levied transit duties on many kinds of goods at each of its frontiers, to the infinite vexation of traders.  Such duties were gradually abolished in British territory, and few, if any, are now enforced by native states.  Salt cannot be manufactured in British India without a licence, and the Salt (formerly called Inland Customs) Department is charged with the duty of preventing the manufacture or sale of illicit salt.  In its later developments the Customs hedge was used for the collection of the salt duty only.  Sir John Strachey took a leading part in its abolition.  To secure the levy of the duty on salt, he writes, ’there grew up gradually a monstrous system, to which it would be almost impossible to find a parallel in any tolerably civilized country.  A Customs line was established which stretched across the whole of India, which in 1869 extended from the Indus to the Mahanadi in Madras, a distance of 2,300 miles; and it was guarded by nearly 12,000 men and petty officers, at an annual cost of L162,000.  It would have stretched from London to Constantinople. . . .  It consisted principally of an immense impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes . . .  A similar line, 280 miles in length, was maintained in the north-eastern part of the Bombay Presidency from Dohud to the Runn of Cutch.’  In 1878 the salt duties were revised, and the necessary arrangements with the native states were made.  With effect from the 1st April, 1879, the whole Customs line was abolished, with the exception of a small portion on the Indus. (Sir J. Strachey, The Finances and Public Works of India, 1869-81, London, 1882, pp. 219, 220, 225.) Great mines of rock salt are worked near the Indus.

4.  Most people who know India intimately are of opinion that indirect taxation is more suitable to the circumstances of the country than direct taxation.  For municipal purposes, indirect taxation, under the name of octroi, is levied by most considerable towns, and notwithstanding its inconveniences, is far less unpopular and far more productive than any form of direct taxation.  The people have been accustomed to indirect taxation of divers kinds from the most remote times, and hate income tax or any other direct impost, however reasonable it may be in theory.  Since 1895 the general customs duty is 5 per cent. ad valorem on commodities imported into British India by sea. (See I.G., 1907, vol. iv, chapter 8).  The above remarks on the suitability of indirect taxation for India are not intended as a defence of the barbarous device of the ‘Customs hedge’, which was indefensible.

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