Monday, 1 August 2016

Inspiring Sir Thomas Munro Governor of Madras Presidency

Sir Thomas Munro.
Among the colonial administrators under the ESI rule and later under the British Crown, some left their foot prints and legacy, not only by working hard but also by introducing innovative reforms and methodology in the areas of revenue collection and administration, taking into considerations the local people's aspirations.. Such reforms and new changes in administration had a grip on the revenue and kept the overall management of the government under check. One such highly talented administrator was Thomas Munro, Governor of Madras Presidency  on whose strong recommendation a Committee of public instruction was formed in 1826, which eventually led to the formation of Presidency College in Chennai that produced a galaxy of great men - administrators and scientists who served our country well.

Sir Thomas Munro, a man of amenable disposition  never failed to show his love and care of the natives and this land. In the city of Chennai (earlier Madras) no visitor  can  miss an impressive and majestic  equestrian statue of Sir Thomas Munro, sitting proud and straight on his horse, sculpted  by one Francis Legatt Chantrey. It is in a busy area and an important land mark in the city. The amazing statue is a silent reminder of colonial legacy and ethos.

Major-general Sir Thomas Munro, 1st Baronet KCB ( May 1761 –  July 1827), son of Tobacco merchant Alexander Munro was a soldier and later  a well-known  colonial administrator of Scottish decent in the employ of East India Company.

Born in Glasgow on 27 May, 1761 and  educated at  the University of Glasgow, Munro  had developed in the early stages of his life itself  amiable character and generous  disposition of mind, besides athletics skill  that stood him  in good stead  in the later years of his career in colonial  India. While with his family's thriving Tobacco business, because of  the inevitable American Revolutionary War (1775–1783 ; armed conflict between Great Britain and thirteen of its North American colonies, which had declared themselves the independent United States of America)  and consequent collapse of the tobacco trade, his  dad closed the business for good. In 1789 at the age of 18, Munro arrived in Madras (now Chennai), India and  joined the EIC as a cadet in an infantry.
Sir Thomas Munro.
In the southern part of India, Hyder Ali and later his son Tipu Sultan gave heart burns to the English and literally blockaded them from  expansion down south. Thomas Munro  proved his ability and tactics during the battles against Haidar Ali (1780–1783),  under the command of his older and distant relation Major Sir Hector Munro.  Later he was with the regiment that for the first time fought against Tipu Sultan (1790–1792) of Mysore. It was at this juncture he got an opportunity to administer  some territories acquired from Tipu. Cornwallis, the Governor-General gave the responsibility of administering the new territory of Baramahal (present day Salem and its surroundings) to Captain Alexander Read and his lieutenant, Thomas Munro. During this military tenure, he learned the   essential principles of revenue survey and assessment which he later  applied throughout the presidency of Madras. From his seven year work he learned that villagers were too poor to  pay taxes. He and his colleague recommended the higher ups to reduce the taxes  to a large extent  and the loss of income could be made up  by many ways one being  better revenue collection system.
After the death of Tipu in 1799 in the final Angelo-Mysore war at Srirangapatna,  he took the duty of restoring law  and order in some parts of Kanara (now Karnataka) and later  for long consecutive years he administered (1800–1807) the northern districts (Northern Circars) ceded by the Nizam of Hyderabad. It was here he  introduced the ryotwari system of land revenue as against Zamindari system; earlier the landlords  fleeced the cultivators. During his long stay in Britain 1807, before the EIC directors  and House of commons he  successfully argued about the new revenue collection methods and the difficulty faced by the cultivators with whom the government had to deal directly without interference from the greedy landlords. Upon EIC' s  approval in 1814, he was back at Madras with the sole purpose of reforming the revenue, judicial and police systems to keep the administration in good nick.

It was Munro who introduced the  district administration with the Collector being the  head of the district and besides his fundamental responsibility of revenue, he had to manage the police and was vested with magisterial powers. Under him worked a large number of   tahsildars. They, besides  revenue collection, also had quasi-judicial powers in their sub-districts.  Munro's simple system of administration became popular and is still being followed. This method allowed good contacts between the government and the people. In time, Munro's methods became an absolute success and were extended all over South India.

Yet another fact that many people are not aware of is Munro strongly recommended the use of local language in the administration and recommended Indians to the judicial posts. Without proper knowledge of the local language, justice system can not be run efficiently. Munro was against  racial superiority among the British. He wrote: “Foreign conquerors have treated the natives with violence and often with great cruelty, but none has treated them with so much scorn as we ..... It seems to be not only ungenerous, but impolitic to debase the character of a people fallen under our dominion”.

 As for independence of India  Munro felt that British rule over India could only be transient. ...."You are not here to turn India into England or Scotland".

In recognition of his success in the  the Pindari War in 1817, he was appointed as brigadier-general to command the reserve division formed to reduce the southern territories of the Peshwa and in 1819 he became  a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). 
 He captured nine ports with a small army of five to six hundred men with some Europeans. Considering the powerful army of the Peshwas, it was a great feat on the part of Munro whose right military strategy proved effective.

His appointment in 1819,  as the  governor of Madras Presidency, again gave him an excellent opportunity  to implement his grasp of  efficient revenue assessment and general administration methods which substantially followed into the twentieth century. He is regarded as the father of the 'Ryotwari system'. His official minutes were so good and effective,  Sir A. Arbuthnot published  them as a manual of experience and advice for the modern civil administrators. The guidelines were useful to the later government officials. 

 Munro was made a baronet in 1825, taking on the name of Sir Thomas Munro of Lindertis from then on. He died of cholera  at Pattikonda, 30 km from Gooty on 6th July 1827. while  on official duty -  touring the Northern Districts The epidemic was raging in the area; his name is preserved by more than one memorial. Munro was buried in Gooty, but four years later his remains were shifted to to Madras and interred in historical St. Mary's Church in Fort St. George.

Munro, the British gentleman who really cared for the poor farmers of India, never failed to do his duties with a spirit of dedication and emulation, thus in letter and spirit he was a true Christian. That is the reason why in places where he worked  more than 180 years ago, people still remember him and his deeds with gratitude.
                          Sir Thomas Munro