Land exchanged with Indentureds for return passage

Ravi Dev for Indian Heritage Month

We have seen that one of the conditions of the indentured contract was a guaranteed return passage to India, which in the early days cost $60 and with inflation increased later. There have been persistent claims by some that the Indian indentured immigrants “got” land – implying the land was given free. This is absolutely untrue – there were no free lands to Indentureds. What happened is that the planters did not want to bear that cost and did everything they could to avoid it.
As early as 1850 they influenced the local legislature to pass ordinances to exchange the return passage for land. Court of Policy No. 21 – British Guiana – 1850, Appendix, No.14 “An ORDINANCE further to Regulate and Encourage the Immigration of Coolies”
Preamble 8; – And be it enacted, that where any Cooly immigrant shall be desirous to commute his right to a free passage for the value in land to the amount of the cost of such passage, and the Governor shall see fit to grant to such immigrant out of the Crown lands of the colony a piece or parcel of land equal in value, at the upset price of Crown lands, to the amount of the cost of such return passage, such immigrant shall have the same in lieu of his right to a free passage.
The first effort to exchange land for return passage was in 1860. Mr Mohammed Shahabudeen, in “From Plantocracy to Nationalisation”, commented: “here the idea had been around since 1850, but its implementation started only in the 1860s, and then with the almost absurd suggestion that a portion of the somewhat “gelatinous territory” at Plantation Best, West Coast Demerara be allocated in one-acre grants.” In his footnote, Shahabudeen noted, “…the provisions were not acted upon and were omitted from subsequent ordinances.” Carl Greenidge, in his book, “Empowering a Peasantry in a Caribbean Context: the case of land settlement schemes in Guyana (1865-1985)”, agreed with Shahabudeen.
By 1869 30,000 indentureds were eligible for repatriation and another attempt was made at Plantation Nooten Zuil, ECD as a “settlement”, but was abandoned because of poor drainage. The efforts were renewed between 1880 and 1903, and five settlements were launched, but by the following year, all the settlements were dubbed as “failures”.
In total, out of the 163, 964 indentureds who remained and were eligible to exchange their return passage for land offered, only 3853 or three per cent took the offer and were granted a total of 4240 acres. Invariably, the average cost to develop these lands were always LESS than the return passage. In these settlements, when the complaints were later addressed, Indians purchased plots at market prices.

Return Passage exchange: Location, Area and Population of Land Settlement Schemes

LESLEY MARIANNE POTTER : PhD Thesis, Mc Gill: 1975
*Added from Dwarka Nath. A History of Indians In Guyana, 1950