THE BENGAL FAMINE.
Entom era SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.] North Behar, Tune 13, 1874. THROUGHOUT the last week heavy rain has fallen continuously. It has been general throughout Bengal and Behar. Rain-gauges mark from three to seven inches in different localities. As I write, the patter on my tent-roof is unceasing. This very early and general heavy rain has led the natives, always on the qui vice for an alarm, to fear that the superfluous supply now falling will be met by a corresponding deficiency later on, when very heavy rain is wanted. They have, by the bye, the most primitive ways of reckoning rain-fall. A alight shower is said to be a " single-cloth " one, that is to say, enough to wet a man exposed to it if he had only a thin cloth to protect himself with. A heavier shower is said to be a " double-cloth " one, while heavy rain is described as a condition of things in which the water "runs in streams along the roads and gutters."
I have recently passed along the borders of Behar close to the Nepal frontier, and everywhere the early rice and other crops now in the ground give magnificent promise. In previous years, the extra yield of the heavy winter rice crop had led to an amount of land quite unsuited to such cultivation being put under that crop. Last year's disaster has checked that evil tendency, and land for the last few years cultivated with a crop which could only under very favourable contingencies yield well, but would then yield largely, has reverted to its proper cultivation of the earlier autumn rice. This gives a 50-per-cent. lighter out-turn, but requires much less moisture, is therefore more suitable for the higher lands, and is a much shorter time in the ground.
The rains have not yet perceptibly increased the distress. Gratuitous relief is indeed being administered to larger numbers, but the increase has not been more rapid than was the ease before the rains. Many of those now receiving gratuitous relief are of classes such as the following official description depicts,— " Old women with a grand-child or two. Their worldly posses- sions are a dilapidated hut, and their ordinary existence depends on chilling grass (cutting it up by the roots) for some neighbour's cow." While this is a true description of a large number, many are those who in ordinary times are fairly well-to-do labourers, or petty artisans, and their families,—people who'll* customarily paid their way by their handiwork, and who could either earn or borrow enough to afford an occasional week's idleness, when ill-health, inclement weather, or want of will led them -to seek it.
Many of the 300,000 or upwards now so relieved in the Famine districts still remain emaciated. They have not yet got over the pinching they underwent before relief reached them: That it in many cases came too late is shown by such facts as the following : —In one Relief circle or charge, with a population of 1,10,000 per- sons, about 15,000, or 14 per cent., are being relievedgratuitously. The relief takes the shape of a month's supply of raw food, which the recipients take away to their own homes, and is replenished every month. Out of 5,000 of those so receiving relief, 20 are reported to have died during the month of May. This is alto- gether apart from some 200 cases deemed fitting for hospital treatment,—indeed, merely those who by reason of emaciation were deemed fitting objects for relief. Some of them ate too freely of the long-absent food, and were unable to digest their hearty meals. Others in vain lingered on, trying to recover, but they had fallen already too low. Others, old and weak by nature, could not stand the strain of great want put -on their waning strength, could not even exert themselves to eat, and so passed away, perhaps some five years sooner than they otherwise might have done.
How bad the famine is, how uncontrollable it would have been in some bad tracts, is shown by the figures have just given, and by those that follow :-14 per cent, relieved gratuitously, another 25 per cent. relieved on earth-work, two per cent, relieved by spinning and weaving, givei a total of 41 per cent, of the popula- tion receiving direct from the Government their daily subsistence in grain. Added to this are a large number relieved by native landlords on private works, while another 44 per cent, are daily purchasers at the Government granaries. In this circle it may, then, roughly speaking, be asserted that the whole population is on the hands of the Government, for 85 per cent. are actually drawing their daily supply of food from its stores. This circle comprises the north-western corner of Bhaug,ulpore District. I have no doubt that the north-eastern tracts of Tirhoot which lie alongside of it are equally badly off.
If these were the figures for May, there is every possibility of June showing some small further increase ; the present large per- centage of the population renders a large increase impossible. In my last letter, just after its despatch, I discovered a strange error. I had written of two and a half millions receiving relief on works or gratuitously. This was a clerical error for one and a half millions. The numbers before the heavy rain of the present month began to fall were even higher than that. There were one and a half millions of workers and 300,000 non-workers. It must be remembered that on an average each worker probably supports at least one non-worker. Very large additional numbers—more than another million—were obtaining their grain from the Government granaries, owing to the absence of supplies. These four millions of May, directly or indirectly subsisting on Government impor- tations, will, I believe, during the months of June and July not fall short of five millions, and will in all probability reach a still higher figure.
On the subject of the prospective numbers to be relieved, Sir R. Temple writes :—" The numerical increase will probably not be in- the heading of relief labourers ; they may ultimately amount to one million and a half, but there are many reasons for thinking that all or nearly all of those who would naturally resort to labour for relief have already been attracted to the works, large and small, which are now well within reach of every village. The number of those on charitable relief will increase, no doubt, and may soon exceed a quarter of a million, and may further increase. But unless some new circumstances should develop themselves during the rainy season, we may hope that this category will not swell to such a degree as to affect the totals. It is rather under the head of purchasers of grain from Government stores that the increase is to be expected." This was written towards the end .of May; e, considerable portion of it has been already verified.
Sudden distress has been reported in Kooch Behar and Southern Sonthalia ; the former is likely to be permanent for the rains, the latter is said to have been already rectified. Distress in Western Burdwan is said to have increased. On the other hand, in Gya and Shahabad distress is almost nil, while in Rajshahi and Chota. Nagpore (which includes Maunbhoom) matters have much improved.
Large private importations continue, and are likely to do so. The Punjab still holds a large amount of grain purchased for 'Behar, and the private importers are rapidly bringing it down. In this way, during the month of May, about 85,000 tons of grain found their way into Behar. Nevertheless, in Northern Chumparun, Tirhoot, and Bhaugalpore the demand for the Government grain is largely increasing. In Saran, South Chum- parun, South Tirhoot, and Patna private trade is very active.
It. may be interesting to note the immense rise in prices which • has occurred this year in some of the great rice-producing districts. Where obtainable, private stores are now selling in Dinagepo-re at 8f lbs. for the shilling ; Rungpoor, 8 lbs. ; Bogra, 9 lbs. ; Bhaugulpore, 9 lbs. ; Tirhoot, 81- lbs. These rates are about three times that of an ordinary year. At these rates, too, it is with great difficulty that local rice is procurable, notwithstanding the large amount. of grain issuing from the Government storehouses. At the end of April, when the Government had not yet opened its stores to any considerable extent, the average price of common rice throughout what are called the Famine Districts was 9 lbs. for the shilling. Last year, at the same period, the average price in those districts was 20 lbs. Throughout that large area food was thus this year costing more than twice the price that ruled last year, and in some of the worst districts the actual price was fully three times as high. Eastern Bengal, par excellence the rice- producing country, also showed an immense rise in prices. To such an extent had it drained itself of stocks and exported them elsewhere, that where rice is ordinarily obtainable at the end of April at 30 lbs. for the shilling, it this year at that time ranged from 13 lbs. to 15 lbs. The cultivators and agricultural com- munity had made large gains by their exportations, and so were able to meet the local rise tolerably well ; but many of the poorer non-agricultural classes must suffer, at least, Much inconvenience from such high prices. In Orissa, where last winter's rice crop was a bumper one, exportation to the famine districts had raised the price from 35 lbs. to 27 lbs., in the Central Provinces from 20 lbs. to 16 lbs. Madras, owing to ex- portation, shows a rise in prices of 25 per cent., namely, from 17 lbs. to 13i lbs. Bombay alone, for some strange reason, con- nected, it is said, with America and cotton, shows a uniform fall in the prices of all edible grains ; rice has there fallen from 10 lbs. to 13 lbs. for the shilling.
• In looking at these rates, it must be remembered that in many parts of India rice is not the grain in ordinary use among the people. It is frequently purely a foreigner, or an innovation of late years, brought into existence on a small scale by artificial irrigation. Thus, at Bunnoo, in the Punjab, rice sells ordinarily at 7 lbs. for the shilling, but barley, the food-staple of the country, at 52 lbs. .
The figures for Bengal and the Famine districts show the extent to which drought and exportation have depleted the greater portion of North-Eastern Bengal.
As regards the importation of Government grain, the following is the account given by Sir R. Temple towards the end of May : —" Out of 346,911 tons to be transferred to the North of the Ganges, about 6,000 tons now remain. The transport by rail, once a matter of some anxiety, is now concluded. Besides their ordinary traffic, the East Indian Railway carried 320,000 tons of Government grain within the space of six months, and the Eastern Bengal 66,000 tons within the space of five months." Of the various lines and routes of inland transport, the only one where anything remained to be done was that of Eastern Tirhoot. Out of 154,000 tons to be carried there from the North of the Ganges, 77,000 had been stored, 58,000 were on their way, and 19,000 still were at the Ganges.
It is estimated that up to the end of April, 20,000 tons of grain had been consumed out of the 390,000 allotted and provided. While the first fortnight in May saw 30,000 tons consumed, the consumption in the latter fortnight could hardly have been less than 40,000 tons, making a total consumption of 90,000 tons up to the 1st of June. A nominal balance of 300,000 tons thus remains, but in fact, this is not more than 270,000 tone, after de- ductions for wastage in transit and other causes. Of this, the consumption will be, I estimate, at the rate of 80,000 tons a month for June and July ; 60,000 tons for August ; 30,000 during September ; and 20,000 during October. This accounts for the whole stock. If this estimate is verified the country will not be safe without an additional supply of 50,000 tons from the amount held by the Government in reserve. That the Government is, as regards transport, well provided with the means of storing any such additional amount before the end of September, should the consumption of June and July show such a course to be desirable, may be gathered from the following extract from a recent report by Sir R. Temple :—
"That portion of the reserve which consists of camels and ponies, collected in Northern India from great distances, may not unnaturally have attracted some notice, and may, perhaps, appear at first sight to involve unnecessary labour and trouble. But reflection on the nature of the case will show the expediency, almost the necessity, of so arrang- ing that with so large a number of animals in service the whole should not be of one kind. Otherwise, an epidemic might have simultaneously prostrated most of the animals on any line of transit, and there have been apprehensions especially of such disease breaking out among the bullocks. When the main transport work is over these ponies and camels will be most useful during the rains, in distributing supplies among the villages when all the bullocks of the country are required. for agriculture."
So that on that score there would appear no cause for apprehension.