1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 21-25
21. Government Ignored Forecasts: By end of October 1942, significant shortfall on yield was forecast and traders warned of an impending famine but the government paid no heed to the same. The government stayed callous because previous forecasts were nowhere even close to being accurate.
22. Calcutta Air Raid of December 1942: On December 20, 1942, Japan conducted the first air raid on Calcutta. The air raid took place in broad daylight and hundreds of Japanese planes flew over Calcutta with absolutely no allied resistance. A week-long raid led to thousands of people leaving the city. Because of this, the dealers of food grains closed their shops. The government wanted the ‘Priority’ people to stay fed and hence, they seized stocks from wholesale dealers of rice. That was the impending master stroke of the callous British government and traders lost their faith in government. The food crisis just started!
23. Slight Shortfall: Amartya Sen analyzed the condition and concluded that despite all hardships of 1942, the rice yield and supply for 1943 was only 5% lower in average compared to previous 5 years. On top of that, the yield was 13% higher compared to 1941’s yield when there was no famine at all. In addition to that, there were carryover stocks from previous yield. Together, there should have been enough rice to cover three week’s supply and with some food relief, Bengal could have ridden it out. The situation wasn’t really that bad that widespread deaths would occur because of starvation. The famine was a direct result of policy failure and unequal income and food distribution.
24. Price Shocks and Price Control: The denial policy adopted by British in April, especially boat denial policy led to inflation in south-eastern Bengal. This along with inter-provincial trade barriers led to massive price rice. To control that, the government introduce price control that failed because a black market was created. Government tried to break the black market three times but completely failed. Eventually on 11 March, 1943, price controls were removed but immediate consequence was dramatic surge in rice price. After extreme inflation between March and May, the first death by starvation was reported in Bengal in the month of May.
25. Propaganda Drive: Between months of April and May in year 1943, the government tried a propaganda stating that the food shortage was caused by hoarding arising out of speculation and that there was no shortage in reality. Public didn’t really believe this.
1943 Bengal Famine Facts: 26-30
26. Abolition of Trade Barrier and Food Drive: On 18th of May 1943, government decided to abolish trade barriers to promote free trade. There was a temporary drop in rice prices in Bengal but removal of the barriers led the Bengal traders to rush to Bihar and Orissa to acquire stocks. This pushed up the prices there. In June government started Food Drive in which places were raided to get hold of hoarded stock. Nothing was found by government. A second food drive followed in July and it too was a complete failure.
27. Abolition of Free Trade: Abolition of trade barrier led to rapid increase in rice prices in the provinces that neighbored Bengal. This forced the government to again abolish free trade in late July. In August, price control was again brought in by the government but by late 1943, rice was being sold in black market at 10 times higher prices compared to late 1942.
28. Not Implementing Famine Code: The ruling British government had a Famine Code that was established long time back. The code was however not invoked. Famine was not declared. Failure to invoke the code resulted in failure to acquire seizable aid.
29. Reasons for Not Implementing Famine Code: The Famine Code was not invoked on purpose. Three reasons were sighted by the government. They were:
- Declaring famine would mean undermining the ‘Speculative Hoarding’ propaganda and thereby undermining the political goals during the war.
- Even if famine was declared, the inter-provincial trade barriers in place would have prevented the government from procuring the amount of aid that was dictated by the Famine Code.
- Government provided relief in other forms!!
30. Import Refusal: Starting late 1942 till as early as 1944, many high-ranking government officials in India made repeated requests for food imports to India only to be either turned down or bargained down to useless levels by Britain’s War Cabinet.