Understanding the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879: Historical Overview and Impact

The Parliament enacted the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879 on 29th October 1879, which came into force on 1st November 1879. The Act aims to prevent peasants from arrest, detention, and imprisonment in the case of delinquency to repay loans. The Act is an incremental and systematic result of the Deccan Riots Commission. This Act was a response to the dire economic conditions encountered by farmers due to recurring droughts, crop failures, and oppressive money lending practices.

History Behind the Enactment of the Act

The Britishers had introduced the Ryotwari Settlement in the Bombay Deccan Region as a land revenue system. Under the plan, the land revenue was collected annually, and the agreement was only between the government and the cultivator (ryot) directly.

Farmers generally obtained loans from moneylenders. However, cunning moneylenders levied steep interest rates entrapping farmers in a vicious network with the moneylender as the leading beneficiary. The indebtedness of poor peasants became a notable hardship in the rural area.

The condition of the peasants even deteriorated because of the following reasons:

  • Crash in cotton prices after the end of the American Civil War, 1864,
  • The government’s decision to increase the land revenue by 50% in 1867, and
  • A succession of bad harvests.

After these circumstances, a civil war broke out in the United States in 1861. The United States was one of the largest cotton suppliers to Britain, and due to the war, demand for cotton from India shot up and led to a surge in cotton cultivation in India. When the war in the USA ended, the demand for cotton from India declined suddenly, which reduced cotton cultivation and adversely affected farmers’ lives. Furthermore, moneylenders refused to grant loans to the farmers.

This tension between the moneylenders and farmers in 1874 resulted in a social boycott movement by the ryots against moneylenders. The uprising started in Supa Village of Poona District. The ryots refused to buy from the shops and cultivate in their fields. Even barbers, washermen, shoemakers, and other workers stepped out. This social boycott soon transformed into agrarian riots with systematic attacks on the moneylender’s shops and houses.

The motive of the farmers in this riot was to exterminate the account books of the moneylenders. Farmers seized and burnt the debt bonds and deeds from the moneylenders. The movement continued for 2 months and spread over 30 villages. The movement also received assistance from the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, co-founded by M G Ranade.

After mounting pressure, the government began repressing the movement and framed the Deccan Riots Commission to deliver a report to the British Parliament in 1878.

In 1879, the Agriculturists Relief Act was passed to protect farmers from arrest and imprisonment when they could not repay loans. The Modern Nationalist Intelligentsia of Maharashtra took up peasants’ cause and supported the movement.

Extent of the Act

Section 1 of the Act extends only to the districts of Poona, Sholapur, Satara, and Ahmednagar. Still, it may sometimes be extended wholly or partly by the State Government to any other district or districts in the territories.

Several provisions of the Act have been repealed by the State of Bombay, with effect from the 27th May 1950, by the Bombay Agricultural Debtors’ Relief Act, 1947.

Agriculturists to be Sued Where they Reside

According to Section 11 of the Act, when any suit has been brought under this Act against any agriculturist defendant, the lawsuit is instituted and tried in a court within whose local jurisdiction such defendant resides.

In case of more than one defendant who is an agriculturist, the suit may be instituted and tried in a court within whose local limits of jurisdiction any such defendant resides.

Agriculturist Instruments: Validity via Village Registrar (Section 56)

Any instrument that claims to make, change, pass on, show, or end an obligation for repaying debt or a charge on any property, or claims to be a conveyance or lease deed, and is made by a farmer living in an area where a village-registrar is appointed. After this Act is enacted, such an instrument cannot be used as proof for anything by someone authorised by law or agreement to collect evidence.

No authority can act upon this instrument, regardless of whether it is an individual or a government officer unless it is written and verified by a village registrar or done under their supervision. The provisions of this section do not bar the admission of any instrument in evidence in any criminal proceeding or apply to any instrument executed by an agriculturist merely as a surety.

Act’s Registration: Equivalent to Indian Registration Act (Section 60)

According to Section 60 of the Act, every instrument registered and executed pursuing the preceding provisions shall be deemed registered per the requirements of the Indian Registration Act 1877. Each document shall be considered to be duly executed before a Village Registrar if it has been duly registered by any officer appointed under the Act, working in any public office, or authenticated by any public officer.

Exemption of Government Instruments (Section 62)

This section is not applicable to cases in which, in any instrument, the government or an officer of the government in his official capacity is a party. In such cases, the instrument shall be deemed to be duly executed by the Village Registrar.

Advantages of Enacting the Act

The following are the benefits of enacting the Act:

  • Protection of peasants- By enacting the Act, agriculturists are protected from imprisonment and detention for non-payment of land revenue. This helps agriculturists dodge a vicious cycle of debt and poverty.
  • Interest rates are reduced- The Act regulated the interest rates to reasonable levels, preventing exploitative lending practices that typically resulted in increased interest rates and made it difficult for farmers to repay their loans.
  • Renegotiated debts between moneylenders and peasants- The Act facilitated the negotiation and repayment of debt between farmers and moneylenders. This allowed farmers to work out more manageable repayment plans, which helped subside the financial burden and entitled them to recover economically.


The Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879, also known as the Deccan Agriculturists’ Debt Relief Act, was an enactment by the British colonial government in India to provide relief to indebted farmers in the Deccan region. This Act is one of the oldest Acts to mend laws relating to agriculturists, understanding their vulnerability to thereby protecting their interests in society.

FAQs on Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act, 1879

What was the objective of enacting the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act of 1879?

The Act aimed to provide relief to heavily indebted farmers in the Deccan region of India by formulating interest rates, preventing land loss due to debt, and facilitating debt renegotiation to alleviate their economic distress.

How did The Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act regulate interest rates?

The Act introduced provisions limiting the interest rates moneylenders could charge farmers. This Act aimed to prevent exploitative lending practices that resulted in exorbitant interest rates, rendering it difficult for farmers to repay their loans.

How did the Act prevent land loss due to debt?

The Act included provisions to protect farmers from losing their agricultural land in loan default cases. This safeguarded farmers' primary source of livelihood and prevented them from becoming landless because of their indebtedness.

What impact did The Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act have on rural economy stability?

The Act contributed to stabilising the rural economy by reducing the financial burden on farmers, preventing land loss, and promoting sustainable debt repayment practices. This Act helped maintain agricultural production and avert social unrest resulting from economic distress.

Was The Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act uniformly effective in its implementation?

The effectiveness of the Act's implementation could vary based on local conditions, enforcement mechanisms, and the attitudes of moneylenders. Although the Act relieved some farmers, challenges and shortcomings remain in ensuring consistent and equitable outcomes.