The British East India Company (EIC) had established a salt tax in its Indian territories in 1780. In the hot climate of the subcontinent, salt was essential to prevent dehydration. To control the supply of salt, was to control India. The Company passed laws that only the EIC could produce salt and a levy of 1 rupee per 10 kg of salt was charged. As the only legitimate source of salt, the EIC became even richer.
The tax was not at all popular with the Indian population, however, and evasion was common. Some people processed their own in illegal salt pans. Others would raid Company warehouses and steal what they needed. Yet others would smuggle salt from areas outside of EIC control. Illegal production and outright theft were risky and could bring stiff punishment and even death. But smuggling, at least initially, was relatively risk free.
The Company soon realised that the smuggling was damaging their revenues. They therefore set up customs stations along access roads to halt the illegal trade. All this accomplished was to drive the smugglers off of the roads. Overland routes were far more difficult for the Company to monitor.
In 1843, G. H. Smith, the British Commissioner for Customs in India, set out to abolish the illegal import. He conducted a study to establish where the crossing points were. He then set up the Inland Customs Line. This consisted of raised paths which marked out the boundary between British and Indian controlled lands. At mile intervals, crossing points were set up, each manned by an Indian army officer and a detachment of ten soldiers.
In 1858, the British took total control of India, and Smith’s boundaries were extended. This led to the joining up of the barrier to create a 2504 mile long Tax Line.
Later in the 1840s, a hedge was planted along parts of the boundary. In 1867, Allan Hume was tasked with ensuring this thorny hedge grew the whole length of the barrier. In the end the obstacle was between 2.4 and 3.7 metres tall, and 1.2 to 4.4 metres thick.
It is amazing what people will do to control the price of salt.