Warren Hastings Plan of 1772 – Development of Adalat system

Warren Hastings Plan of 1772 – Judicial Reforms of Warren Hastings – Development of Adalat System

Warren Hastings:

Warren Hastings was an English Statesmen who was the First Governor of The Presidency of Fort William (Bengal). He was also The Head of the Supreme Council of Bengal, and thereby the first de facto Governor-General of Bengal (1772-1785). He is credited along with Robert Clive for laying the foundation of the British Empire in India.

Need for the plan:

The need for the plan was felt when The East India Company came into India it had to deal with a lack of a Uniform Judicial System and thus the need for reforms was felt. Before the establishment of an efficient system for the administration of justice in India, there was an extremely backward system in place. People could neither access judicial institutions easily and neither could they depend on this system to give them a fair, equitable and just judgement. Also, there was no Retributional Justice i.e. there was no proportion between the offence committed and punishment awarded.

Along with these issues, there was also the issue of Corruption which was very much already present and local law officers (known as Nawab and the Diwan who handled matters of military and criminal justice and law order while the Diwan handled mattes about revenue collection and administration of civil justice and revenue cases or disputes respectively in The Mughal System)), were known to give judgements in favour of those who could bribe the officers. Thus, there was bias in the system itself along with the fact that these officers were not competent enough to carry out Justice. Thus, the need was felt.

Background before Warren Hasting’s Judicial Plan of 1772:

After the East India Company attained the Diwani Rights (The Right to adjudicate Civil and Revenue matters, collect Revenue and keep any surplus which was left), the Company felt the need to turn things around and create a uniform system, a system that would be people friendly and serve justice according to the natural principles of justice. Furthermore, they needed a system, which was simple, and efficient to serve the following two purposes:

  • Collection of revenue for The East India Company.
  • Creating a uniform and an easy system of justice that was people-friendly. Thus, came in Warren Hastings with his Judicial Plan of 1772 which today is also known as The Adalat System.

Warren Hastings came in a situation where already there was turmoil and disarray concerning judicial institutions and their administering of justice. The institutions that existed were corrupt and inefficient.

The courts had become the instruments of power rather than of justice, useless as means of protection but apt instruments for oppression and to adopt such regulations and measures as shall at once ensure every possible advantage to the Company and free the Peasants from the oppression of Zamindars. This was the situation that Warren Hastings came in and his mission was to establish Justice in an efficient and yet simple manner. His attempts to reform the judicial system were categorised in two plans:

Warren Hasting’s Judicial Plan of 1772:

Warren Hasting’s Judicial Plan of 1772 involved restructuring of The Justice System. These were the methods he undertook-

  • He divided Bengal, Bihar and Orissa into small units-District with The Servant of the Company categorized as the collector of that particular district for collection or Revenue. There was a Basic Small Cause Adalat, set up to deal with petty cases /disputes up to the value of Rupees Ten. At each district, the head farmer (the eldest farmer of the district) was given the duty of adjudicating and delivering justice for these disputes.
  • Above this Small causes Adalat a court known as the Mofussil Diwani Adalat was established in each of the above districts, which was presided over by the collector. The decisions of the court up to the monetary value of Rupees Five Hundred was final and binding. This court had the responsibility of handling all civil cases. It handled matters such as property, marriage disputes, inheritance related disputes, debts, contracts and settling accounts. However, Cases of Succession related to Zamindari and Talukdar property were dealt with by the Governor-General and Council.
  • Along these lines, The Mofussil Fozdari Adalat and The Mofussil Nizamat Adalat was set up. These courts were to deal with the administration of Criminal Justice. The Collector was expected to supervise, see that justice was administered, sessions of the court were held and the given judgements were impartial and not unfair. But over and above this, the Muslim law officers were to interpret and apply Mohammedan Law to the Cases. They were to pronounce the Proclamation/Fatwa and give the judgement.
  • Above these courts were The Sadar Diwani Adalat and The Sadar Nizamat Adalat. The Sadar Diwani Adalat heard appeals from The Mofussil Diwani Adalat of cases valuing over Rupees Five Hundred. It was presided over by the Governor and the members of the council. The appeal had to be made within two months of the decision being given by The Mofussil Diwani Adalat. The Sadar Nizamat Adalat’s main function was to:
    1. Approve the death sentences and property forfeiture.
    2. Re-look and if need be revising decisions of The Mofussil Nizamat Adalat and, for a death sentence, the warrant for such a sentence was prepared here and given to the Nizam, who was the head of the court, for his signature.

Revenue Administration: The whole revenue system was reorganized under the Hastings Judicial Plan of 1772. The Revenue Boards at Murshidabad and Patna were abolished and a supreme authority called the Board of Revenue was set up at Calcutta which had the Governor and all the members of the Council. The Treasury also shifted to Calcutta. Further, the district supervisors were appointed as Revenue Collectors.

With regards to what law would be followed, it was decided that Muslim law would be followed for the Muslims, Hindu law for the Hindus. It was also stated that the Kuran would be followed for Muslims and the Shastras would follow for the Hindus. To assist the Englishmen who acted as the collectors in administering the respective laws (as they were traders by profession) there were the local law officers instituted to aid them. These law officers were the Kazis and the Pundits.

Advantages of Warren Hasting’s Judicial Plan of 1772

The following are The Advantages of The Judicial Plan of 1772

  • The Judicial Plan of 1772, contained provisions for separate laws to be used while dealing with cases.
  • There was an Office of the Remembrancer who had to record all cases at all levels and was under the direct supervision of the Governor-General.
  • There was a pre-set court fee amount, set by the government to ensure easily accessible justice, prevent corruption among the judges and also, it was to ensure that the judges charge reasonable amounts and not exorbitant rates.

Shortcomings of Warren Hasting’s Judicial Plan of 1772

The following are the Shortcomings of The Judicial Plan of 1772

  • There was too much concentration of power in the hands of The Collector which was not a very good thing as there could be a misuse of power by the collector which would defeat the concept of justice.
  • Over Centralization of power was present in the collector as he had to deal with the problems of administrator, revenue collector, civil judge and a magistrate in his district and thus there was reduced efficiency.
  • The Functions of Revenue Collection and Civil Administration were combined in a single official, the Collector. There was no separation between the rules of Revenue Collection and Civil Administration. The Collector naturally paid more attention to revenue collection than the civil administration.

Author: Samar Jain,

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