Melghat Tahsil, the northern tahsil of Berar formerly part of the Acalpur district, but since August, 1905 incorporated in the Amravati district, lying between 20° 10' and 21° 47'N and 76° 38' and 77° 40' E has an area of 4004.1 km.2 (1,546 sq. miles). Prior to the transfer of the Ambarva State forest to the Buldhana district the area of the tahsil was 4224.2914 km2. (1,631 square miles). The tahsil is also sometimes called Gangra and consists of that portion of the Satpuda range situated between the Khamla plateau on the east and Jaitgad on the west with the rich valleys and low plateaus lying between the mountains. On the north it is bounded by Harsud and Bhaisdehi tahsils of Betul district, and the Tapi river dividing it from Nimar district, on the south by the tahsils of Jalganv (Buldhana district) and Akot (Akola district) and Daryapur and Acalpur tahsils, (of Amravati district) on the east again by Acalpur tahsil (Amravati district) and Bhaisdehi tahsil (of Betul district) and on the west by Burhanpur tahsil of Nimar district. Melghat tahsil contains the richest of the forest reserves in the whole of the district. Fine quality timber is produced in the forests of this tahsil which has great demand outside and is chiefly exported to Bombay. Forest range offices have been established at suitable places and efforts to extend the forest area and grow duality timber trees are constantly made. The country is extremely rugged and broken into a succession of hills and valleys. In the more advanced portions, such as the neighbourhood of Dharni, and Bairagad when the rabi crops are on the ground, the green fields afford a pleasing and restful view to the eye. But the typical Melghat country consists of barren hills, scrub jungle and stony ground, and is of a most dreary and desolate description. The villages are collections of hovels without any shade and one can well understand the feelings of the subordinate officials who regard the tract as kalapani and whose health requires frequent visits to the Berar plains. There are no navigable rivers in the tahsil unless the Tapi which forms a portion of the boundary may be considered such during the rainy season. The streams that drain the northern face of the range and fall into the Tapi are the following:- The Sipna and the Kundu both have their rise close to the village of Khamla in Betul district, the former running south of Makhla plateau for 13 to 16 km. (8 to 10 miles), takes a northwesterly course and passing through the villages of Harisal and Duni unites with the Taoi to the north-east of Amner; the latter passing through the Katkumb and Savligarh falls into the Tapi. The Garga rises under Vairat, the highest summit of the Gavil-gad hills and running nearly north-west throughout its course
unites with the Tapi immediately under the southern face of the
fort of Amner. The Kapra, the Majri and the Devan are the
other minor streams which fall into the Tapi.
The climate of the tract has a very evil reputation, corresponding in this respect to the Dindori tahsil of Mandla and the Baihar tahsil of Balaghat. A severe type of malaria prevails at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the cold weather. But with the successful implementation of the malaria eradication programme the conditions have considerably improved. In the hot weather the heat in the valleys is intense and the absence of shade, the difficulties of water supply, and the general lack of all the comforts of the plains, make the tract one of the most unpleasant for touring purposes.
The Melghat tahsil is the largest of all the tahsils of the district
in point of size but the smallest of all in point of population. Its population in 1961 was only 72,522.
Regarding agriculture, soil, area under different crops and the
revenue system that existed then, the old Gazetteer of 1911 gives the following account. "In the valleys of the Tapi, Satpura and Gangra, especially in the neighbourhood of Dharni or Bairagad, rich stretches of black soil are to be found, and a visitor to either of these places who sees spread out before him an unbroken expanse of wheat and gram, is liable to get a very misleading impression of the tract as a whole. The remainder of the tract is of a very hilly and rugged description, though here and there pockets of black soil are met with in the valleys. The soils have never been thoroughly classified but in 1897 Colonel Garrett's party classified a few typical fields in each village and worked out the average value of the soil for each village. The soil as a whole is of the poorest description. Of the 338 villages 3 were valued at 12 annas per acre, 11 villages at 11 annas, 117 at values varying from 6 annas to 9 annas, and the remaining 193 fell below 6 annas. In 1860-61 Mr. J. Mulheran in his statistical report on Gangra stated that rice and gram are the principal productions of Gangra and are grown expressly for export. The former is much prized by the people of Berar and Burhanpur, particularly the finest kind which resembles that grown in the Pilibhit district. Gram is exported principally to Burhanpur though large quantities are brought into Berar through all the passes by the people from Jalgiinv, Hivarkhed, Anjanganv, Acalpur and other places south of the range. Jovar grows very luxuriantly near Kalambhar and other places in the Sipna and Garga valleys and also upon some of the lower plateaus. Bardi, rala, margi, kodon kutki and one or two other hill grains are grown upon more elevated slopes and plateaus and are used chiefly if not entirely by the Gonds. Potatoes are not cultivated by the Korkus of Gangra although that vegetable would pay them better than any other. That sold at Cikhaldara and Acalpur is grown by the Gavlls residing at Cikhaldara, Sapur, Mota and Bori and by the Hindu inhabitants of the fort of Gavilgad. At this time the area under cultivation
obtained by outlining and subsequent computation was 39,398.400
hectares (97,280 acres). In 1864 Captain Pearson refers to the rich
soil and good cultivation of the plains near the Tapi and the
Gangra, and the Gazetteer of 1870 states that thirteen different
kinds of grain were produced in the Melghat of which the most
valuable were the finest wheat and rice, grown in large quantities.
In 1906-07 the returns showed that out of a total of 672,667.280
hectares (1,663,376 acres) occupied for cultivation 57,645.270
hectares (142,334 acres) were under crop. Of this cotton occupied
17,158.760 hectares (42,392 acres), jovar 5,618.345 hectares (23,749
acres) and wheat 3,342.870 hectares (8,254 acres). The area under
rice was only 1,318.680 hectares (3,256 acres) and the total irrigated
area was 20.23 hectares (50 acres). These figures do not include
those for inam, leased and jagir villages, and it is to be noted
that they are not the result of accurate measurement but are
derived from the statistical calculation of 16 acres per plough."
"The tract has a curious and interesting revenue history. Cultivation is permitted by the Tahsildar on a yearly tenure subject to certain conditions and land revenue is assessed on the yoke of oxen, the rates differing in different villages. For statistical purposes only, the area cultivated by one plough is taken to be 16 acres and to obtain the total acreage under cultivation, the number of ploughs should be multiplied by 16. The yoke rate system is a cheap and simple method of colonizing a backward tract but it is no longer suitable for a considerable portion of the Melghat and the introduction of a regular and scientific assessment is urgently required. Proposals for settlement have been made at various times but have always proved abortive. A special enquiry was made in 1907 and orders regarding the settlement of the most advanced portion of the tract have recently been issued. In 1907-08 the land-revenue demand including cesses was Rs. 57.227".
It goes without saying that the complicated systems of land records, vital statistics and the like in force in the plains do not exist in the Melghat. There are Circle Inspectors and patvaris in existence, and each with a circle of villages, carries on such land record work as is necessary. The tahsil forms part of the Acalpur police circle and contains two police stations at Cikhaldara and Dharni, respectively. There are also two road posts at Bairagad and Ghatang. A great change has taken place since 1870 when Sir A. Lyall wrote that none of the passes from the Melghat were practicable for wheeled traffic and that there were no made roads in the Melghat. The opening out of the Melghat was begun in 1874 and has continued ever since with the result that especially in the reserves a most excellent system of communications has been established.
The P.W.D. maintains roads from Ghatang to Cikhaldara, the Gugumal forest road (Akot to Selu) and the Semadoh to Dharni road. These are first class roads with muram, partially bridged and drained. There are a good many roads maintained by the Forest department. Perhaps the most important of these is the road running from Bairagad
to Jhiri, 90.16 km. (56 miles) in length. It is the principal line
of export for the western portion of the Melghat, its claims for
improvement deserve consideration. With a few exceptions every
village in the Melghat is in cart communication with some main
road: the tracts are rough and stony hut they serve their purpose
sufficiently well. The Khandva-Akola railway line passes through
the south-western corner of the tahsil.