The taxation system in Sikkim dates back to 1730’s. It was started after the appointment of Rabden Sarpa by the Tibetan Government as a regent to Namgyal Phuntsog (1733-1780) the Fifth ruler of Sikkim. The said regent began to collect taxes from all of the Sikkimese subjects like the Rongs, Tsongs Magars and the Bhutias. The form of taxes includes granules, maize, millet, local beer etc.
Bhutia and Lepcha version of the Declaration
The collection of taxes in the form of cash or kind was commenced in Sikkim after the advent of the Nepalese. Few tribes of this community were already residing on the western part of the Sikkimese territory which was taken over by them on their march towards Sikkim in 1789. During their endeavor, the Gurkhas annexed the territories of Sikkim up to Teesta River. For nearly 25 years, Pemayangtse and all the South and West of Teesta tract paid their rent to Nepal until, they were expelled by the British in 1815.
It was during the reign of Sidkeong Namgyal (1863-1874) the Patta for the Nepalese were issued whereby they began to possess land for the Thika or contracts. Those pattas were initially issued only for few influential Nepalese like Taksari Chandra Bir Pradhan and Lakshmi Das Pradhan. The Newar brothers began to bring bands of the Nepalese from Nepal to work at the barren lands of Sikkim as the tenants. During Sir Thotub Namgyal’s reign, few Sikkimese Kazis like Tseepa Lama settled Nepalese in Chakhung for his personal benefits. His example was soon followed by Lasso Athing, Phodang Lama and Khangsa Dewan. The only motive of those Kazis in the bringing the Nepalese into Sikkim was to fill their treasuries. They (the Kazis and the Nepali Thikadars) made a rampant taxation among those browbeaten new comers for their individual gains. Further, the Lepchas and the Bhutias were also not spare from paying taxes by them in their materialistic ventures.
With the appointment of J C White as the Political Officer in 1889, Sikkim witnessed his self styled Zamindari System. A number of Lessee Landlords were created throughout Sikkim with untold powers to mortgage or to confiscate the lands of the innocent peasants. Further, with the help of his Sikkimese protégés Claude White board upon a policy of obliterating the ancient economy of Sikkim. This paved a way for the birth of Kaziism, Thikadari system, and all the other forced labours like Kuruwa, Kalobhari, Jharlangi, Theki-Bethi, Ghar-Lauri etc.
The accession of Sridgkyong Trulku (February 1914- December 1914) as the tenth ruler of Sikkim was indeed the enlightened epoch of the History of Sikkim. Even before his coronation, he made an order in 1913, to abolish the imprisonment as a penalty for non-payment of debts. But most unfortunately, he could not adopt a new revenue system in Sikkim due to his premature death.
The taxation system has observed a colossal change during its Reformist Ruler Sir Tashi Namgyal (1914-1963). He became active after the withdrawal of the British from India for an all round development of his Kingdom. No doubt, he made many reforms in the judiciary during the hegemony of the British. But, the task of eliminating the forced labour and taxation were done only after the departure of the Colonial Government from India. A trigonomic survey of all lands in his dominion was made and the land assessed to the peasants according to this survey. He realized doing away with the previous system of assessing rent based on approximation of the quality of seeds required for a piece of land in 1958.
This document pasted here with this post belongs to the same year when the Declaration was made by His Highness Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal to eliminate the previous form of revenue system. The earlier page of this document is lost but still we can get an idea about the various provisions integrated into the Declaration. This document reveals the fact that on 30th of August 1956 the Maharaja had set up a Committee about the imposition of the new lenient taxation among his subjects. Clause (3) of the Declaration has focused on the deduction of 50% of the tax from the Sikkimese Subjects. It is said in the document that while implementing such taxation system His Highness has taken two major aspects into consideration and they are- (A) The Economic condition of the Durbar (B) The arrangement of money for the constructive schemes among the Subjects. Clause No (4) of this Declaration deals with the new taxation system implemented after 1958 according to this a Nepali peasant had to pay Rs. 4 and 4 Aanas for one acre of Pani Kheti (Paddy Field). Similarly, a Bhutia or a Lepcha had to pay 3 Rs. and 6 Aanas for the same tract of land. Further, for the possession of a Sukha (dry) Land a Nepali peasant had to pay 1 Rs and 14 Annas per Acre. Likewise, a Bhutia or a Lepcha had to pay 1 Rs. and 3 Annas for an acre of Dry Land.
Thus, the history of taxation system in Sikkim has come across many monopolistic phases. Though, few attempts were made by the Sikkimese rulers to reframe the cartelistic taxation system but, their attempts went futile due to the immense pressure from the Political Officers. It was only due to the enlightened ideas of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal; the Sikkimese peasants remained able to enjoy the relaxed taxation policy.
The document was printed at Durbar Press Gangtok and was published by its coordinator. The stamp of a Tahsildar suggests that it was issued to the commoners by the Office of the Tehsildar. I am grateful to Mr. B.B Lohrung Rai of Namchi Kazitar for sharing this piece of information with me.
The above post has been published on Rajen Upadhyaya’s blog
About the author:
Rajen Upadhyay from Namchi, Sikkim is an Assistant Professor of History in the Namchi Government College. A passionate reader and sports enthusiast Rajen is working to revive the History of Sikkim. You can read his blog sikkim-historyhunter
Read other posts by Rajen Upadhyaya:
The Charismatic Figure of Sikkim: Maharaja Sidkeong Namgyal
Sikkim at the Delhi Durbar of 1903
Frederick Williamson- Sikkim’s Photographer ICS
Lease Deed between Pathing Kazi Thondok and Kazi Nandalall
How cognizant are we to preserve our heritage of Sikkim?