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|The British Salt Tax. India's salt works.the-generalist.info|
Collection of a small tax on salt had been in force in India in the earlier times. The Rann of Kutchi (in present day Gujarat), mostly marshland on the west coast of India, is known to have produced salt for more than 5000 years. Similarly salt is produced on a large scale on the coastal areas of Odisha and Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), a major harbor now and Vedaranyam in Nagapatnam district (earlier it was part of Tanjore district) account for major production of salt. Since the time of Chandragupta Maurya, salt has been taxed. The 'Arthashastra' mentioned about special officers to collect salt tax. During the Mogul period, the Hindus had to pay 5% tax, while Muslims only 2.5% on salt.
However, during the British East India Company rule over Indian provinces, salt tax was increased. In1759 after the Battle of Plassey -1757, the company came into possession of some salt works near Calcutta. Money minded as they were, they immediately increased the rent and transit charges for transportation.When the entire Bengal and part of Odhisa and Bihar came under their control, including the Diwani rights (after the Battle of Buxer -1764), they increased the salt tax several times. Further, salt from coastal Odhisa and Bihar had better quality and there was a great demand in India and abroad. So, it was a big money-spinning business and the British controlled the entire revenue from the vast Bengal province as well as Bihar and Odhisa.
The funny, but highly disgusting aspect of the company rule (rather misrule) was, soon after the return of ''the Emperor of Corruption'' Robert Clive as Governor-General in 1765, he coolly made the sale of tobacco, betel nut, and salt, besides essential spices and condiments commonly consumed by vast majority of Indians, the monopoly of the senior officers of the British East India Company. In plain language, the company officials under the British Crown were openly allowed to moonlight as private traders on the side lines. Benefit: Income from two ways, illegal as well as legal ways.This will facilitate them to buy big estates and villas back in England at the cost of strangulating millions of poor Indians.
When the British company authorities in London were alerted about the East India company's misrule by the corrupt officials under the blessings and patronage of Clive, they were outraged. Robert Clive, a shrewd, born manipulator went one step further tried to entice them that, if allowed, the higher ups in London would take a big cut from the mark-up without sweating it out like wild hogs. But, it was a vein attempt. The London officials felt:
'We consider it too disgraceful, and below the dignity of the present situation, to allow such a monopoly.'
Subsequently 1767- 1768 the monopoly of betel nut, etc., stopped and later, the salt tax was annulled for good. It was in 1772, Warren Hastings, Governor general of India, who brought the salt tax under the government control and at later period the whole - sale price increased to an exorbitant level. During the period, the salt regulations had a lot of holes and both Zamindars (land owners or lease holders) and workers were victims. As for the company, they kept making profits. When smuggling of salt became a menace, the British company established a Customs line along the salt producing east coast and guarded the entire area by 12,000 men and petty officers. They also erected natural barriers like thick thorny bushes, trees etc to control the access to the salt pans.
In 1835, patriotic British rulers, to improve their balance of trade with impoverished India and to increase the importation of salt, purposely imposed higher tax on Indian salt, resulting in huge dividends for the traders of the British East India Company. Salt was imported from Liverpool, England, and Indians had to cough up a big price on foreign salt. At the same time, salt production was made illegal and would attract six months jail, if violated. India's salt imports reached 2,582,050 metric tons by 1851. Imported salt was not affordable by the people and this resulted in various ailments due to Iodine deficiency. The quality of salt was also poor. Till 1940s the salt tax was not reduced by the British government under the crown.