Wednesday, February 24, 2010

James Wilson: Progenitor of Financial Budget in India

“He delighted in India and regarded her resources with hopeful interest, her people with sympathy, her scenery with admiration, and her antiquities with curiosity. Nothing, he said could be imagined more intensely interesting than India…” these word would best canopied the sound affiliation of this visionary man with Indian reality which was used by none the other than his understudy and later successor, Sir Richard Temple.
From a Hat maker to the founder of "The Economist" magazine and parent arms of today’s Standard Chartered Bank-further alleviated to the rank of the Board of Trade and lastly in effect, India’s first Finance Minister-amazing yet it was achievable in short span of fifty five years of life; James Wilson did it and this year’s budget which stands 150th since his inaugural financial budget in 1860 deserves a revisiting to the spirits of this pioneer financial planner.

James Wilson gave India’s first Budget speech in his capacity as finance member of the Indian council that used to advise the viceroy of India and held the prestigious post of Indian Chancellor of Exchequer from November29, 1859, when he came to Calcutta to August 11, 1860-until he died there from dysentery.Indeed he was a man of intellectual prudence and sound enterprise that evolved within his persona through tough dwelling yet with modest fortune from ancestral businesses of Hat and later of Indigo business in India-both these ventures imparted him great impetus for trade. Likewise his personnel business, he also taken charge of finance minister when the Indian economy was in financially precarious condition and soon emerged from the heavy military expenditure that incurred on to suppress the mutiny of 1957.

Naturally he was aligned for conservative public finance approach with temporary aim to balance the anatomy of budget and apply taxation for revenue only-he introduced the budgetary system, paper currency albeit remained stood on floating the Income Tax in India. In the wake of Income Tax imposition though in restricted way-than very dominant Marwari traders of Calcutta went on to protest with solid groupings; big land holders {Zamindars}were equally upset because they felt such a tax might disturb the core spirits of the Permanent Settlement introduced by the Lord Cornwallis in 1793. This was tried to form through the Zamindars, a local land holding aristocracy who could be worked as authority favored link between the British rule and Indian farmers besides having right to collect revenue in exchange of rudimentary privileges-at least in short term, Zamindar’s lobby succeeded to vanquished the tax proposal.

Although James Wilson’s budgetary planning also refuted from internal sources, especially Sir Charles Trevelyon {than the Governor of Madras} and a confidant of contemporary Governor General-Lord William Bentick did raised the question mark on introduction of taxes on politically deprived Indian’s. “ Indeed Travelyon had some genuine bond with Indians at large that worried him about the long term consequences of burdening Indians with no chances of political representation {Vikram Doctor, The Economic Times, January28, 2010}”. Despite this Travelyon he was not very rational on other issues like of his vehement opposition to centralization of administration as had been personally a part of distant and alien southern territory, away from the capital of Calcutta. There might be diverse assumption about the work of James Wilson but he deserves to be taken into account while talking of budgetary issues-after all this man had last pronounced…”Take care of my Income Tax” in the capacity of India’s first finance minister.

Atul Kumar Thakur
February21st 2010, New Delhi


  1. Nice to read about the first financial planner of Indian budget,sincerely saying-this was occasion to read on him.I think you deserves credit for social enquiry of collective finances.I hope for more{from you}experiments with social history perspective.Good wishes.