The Greatest Civil Servants -

who redefined the way we live.


Sir Thomas Munro - The People's Administrator

Thomas Munro was, like so many other administrators of Madras Presidency, a Scot. Born in 1761, he had studied at the University of Glasgow and come to Madras in 1789 having secured an Infantry cadetship here. He was to see action in the war against Tipu Sultan that ended in 1792 with the latter having to cede districts of South India to the British. Cornwallis, the Governor-General and the man who had led the war from the British side, gave the responsibility of administering the new territory of Baramahal (present day Salem and its environs) to Captain Alexander Read and his lieutenant,Thomas Munro. Both men embarked on the task of assessing the revenue of the area and Munro was to write, "this is so teazing abusiness that it leaves room for nothing else. One man had a long story of a debt of thirty years' standing contracted by his father. Anothertells me that his brother made away with his property when he was absent during the war; and a third tells me that he cannot afford to pay his usual rent because his wife is dead, she used to do more work than his best bullock."

Having surveyed the territory completely, Munro came to the conclusion that the 'King's share of revenue' from the land was too high, an assessment that was to shock his masters. He demanded a reduction in the rents to be fixed, arguing that what was lost that way would be more than compensated by better collection methods and 'more exactness in accounting'

He argued that there were no zamindars in the South and any new system should not to create a new class by simply auctioning lands to the best bidders. He argued forcefully for a contract between the cultivator and the Government without the interference of the landlord. During the years that the merits of the two systems were being debated, Munro was in England, having gone there on leave in 1807. There, he impressed the Directors of the East India Company and the members on the Select Committee of the House of Commons before whom he gave evidence. Munro's recommendations were accepted in full (which was famously called as Ryotwari System) and he returned to Madras in 1814, as Head of a commission charged with reforming the Judicial System and the District Administration.

In 1820, he was appointed Governor of Madras where Munro laid the foundations of a form of District Administration that has survived with some changes to this day. The Collector was made head of the District and besides his fundamental responsibility of revenue, was also in charge of managing the police and was vested with magisterial powers. Under him came a large retinue of Tahsildars who apart from revenue collection, also had quasi-judicial powers in their sub-districts. Over the years, Munro's systems became an absolute success and were extended all over South India. Read More