(Last Updated on : 26/07/2011)
Famines in India became a frequent event mostly during the supremacy of the British in the country. During the British rule under the East India Company, India suffered in from twelve famines and four severe scarcities. The most significant amongst those was the Great Famine of Bengal of 1769-70, which claimed a large toll of lives. The state government did not adopt any relief measures. Rather the company's servants made enormous profits from this scarcity. The years 1781-82 were the period of extreme crisis in Chennai
; in 1784 severe famines afflicted the whole of Northern India. However, during the Chennai famine, the state provided relief to the famine affected areas.
During the year 1803, famine in North western Provinces, including Oudh, the state granted remissions of the revenue, gave loans and advances to the landowners, offered a bounty on all grains imported to Varanasi
. The Guntur Famine of 1833 took a heavy toll of lives. In the year 1837, there was a severe famine took places in the Upper India. However, the work of relieving the helpless and the infirm was left to the charitable public. Under the East India Company no measures were adopted to formulate any general system of famine relief or prevention. However the provincial governments and the Districts officers tried to improve the conditions. They made various experiments to provide relief to the famine afflicted areas, such as the storage of grain by the government, penalties on hoarding, bounties on imports, advancing loans for the sinking off wells etc.
The economic developments of the latter half of the 19th century like the extension of railways and other means of communications and transport, growth of foreign trade etc changed the character of the economic problem in India. The states were made aware about their responsibility for the expansion of the irrigation facilities, enactment of the agrarian legislation and adoptions of preventive measures as well as formulation of famine relief policy to meet possible famines. Under the British Crown, ten severe famines took palace in India. These famines occurred in the areas of Delhi and Agra
in the year 1860-61. During this time the British authorities thought it necessary to enquire into the causes, area and intensity of the famine as well as took measures to cope with the distress.
The famine of 1865 followed by a famine the following years affected Orissa, Chennai
, northern Bengal and Bihar
. In these years, Orissa
became the most affected one. During the severe famine in Orissa, the Government adhered to the principles of free trade and the law of demands and supply. The Government left the work of relief to the charitable voluntary agencies. Since the voluntary agencies could not work like the government they could not provide adequate relief and as a result the Orissa famine claimed a heavy toll of lives. The Orissa famine proved a turning point in the history of the Indian famines. Followings the severe calamity of the Orissa Famine a Committee was appointed under the chairmanship of George Campbell. The Committee decided that the government was expected provide adequate support and relief and take adequate steps to prevent deaths in the famine affected areas. In 1868, when the severe calamity took places in Northern and Central India the worst affected areas were Rajputana and central India. The government following the recommendations of the Committee, adopted measures to relieve the distress.
The great famine of 1876-78 was perhaps the most grievous calamity experienced since the beginning of the 19th century. The calamity affected Chennai
, Uttar Pradesh
. Due to this famine extensive areas were depopulated and large tracts went out of cultivation. This time also the government took reluctant efforts to help the famine stricken, which was more than ineffective and insufficient.
Between the years 1880 and 1896, two famines and five severe scarcities took place. The great famine affected the provinces greatly. The relief operations were conducted with a fair measure of success, except in the central Province. The Government offered extensive relief and support. Following the famine of 1896 and 1897, another calamity came in 1899-1900. This
time also the efforts of the British administration were inefficient.
The Great famine of Bengal took place in 1942-43. The Bengal Famine of 1943
was perhaps the most dangerous calamity under the British. The famine of Bengal took the character of an epidemic. The root causes of the famine was the series of crop failures that Bengal experienced from the year 1938 .The conditions of the World war II was also responsible for the terrible famine in Bengal. The movement of trade and food grains was dislocated. According to the historians, the famine of Bengal was mostly man-made than caused by the natural causes. The opportunists, to create famine and to make enormous profits out of this, had exploited the situation of World War II. Here also, the government relief proved inadequate and the Government of India wanted the Provincial Government to undertake and organise the famine relief.
Thus the British Government of India Gradually exploited the economy of India. The evil effects of the World War II also created a vacuum. Thus regular famines were an inevitable feature of India during the 19th and the 20th centuries.