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Environment and History

Fluvial Landscape and the State: Property and the Gangetic Diaras in Colonial India, 1790s-1890s

Nitin Sinha

Environment and History 20 (2014): 209-237. doi: 10.3197/096734014X13941952680990

Looking at the interplay of law and revenue as a means of understanding colonial practices and policies towards diaras, this paper addresses a relatively neglected field in the agrarian-ecological history of South Asia. The constant formation and disappearance of lands due to river shifts raised several issues. Among the most important from the viewpoint of the colonial state were secure revenue extraction and the fixation of proprietorial rights. Using a number of case-studies, the paper argues that, although maximisation of revenue did not necessarily mean the dilution of the idea of the Permanent Settlement, the state throughout the nineteenth century failed to arrive at a standardised set of practices because of its own structural (bureaucratic) incoherency, ideological underpinnings and the ecological settings.

KEYWORDS: Colonial India, agrarian-environmental history, fluvial ecology, diara, lease, Permanent Settlement

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