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Famine+ had been a recurrent feature of life in the Indian sub-continent+al countries of India+, Pakistan+ and Bangladesh+, and reached its numerically deadliest peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Historical and legendary evidence names some 90 famines in 2,500 years of history. Lancaster|1990|p=233 The drought of Maharashtra+ in 1970–1973 is often

The Odisha+ famine of 1866–67, which later spread through the Madras Presidency+ to Hyderabad+ and Mysore+, was one such famine. Roy|2006|p=363

The large-scale loss of life due to the series of famines between 1860 and 1877 was the cause of political controversy and discussion which led to the formation of the Indian Famine Commission. This commission would later come up with a draft version of the Indian Famine Code. It was the Great Famine of 1876–78, however, that was the direct cause of investigations and the beginning of a process that led to the establishment of the Indian Famine code. The next major famine was the Indian famine of 1896–97. Although this famine was preceded by a drought in the Madras Presidency, it was made more acute by the government's policy of ''laissez faire+'' in the trade of grain. For example, two of the worst famine-afflicted areas in the Madras Presidency, the districts of Ganjam+ and Vizagapatam+, continued to export grains throughout the famine. These famines were typically followed by various infectious diseases such as bubonic plague+ and influenza+, which attacked and killed a population already weakened by starvation.

The first major famine that took place under British rule was the Bengal Famine of 1770. About a quarter to a third of the population of Bengal starved to death in about a ten-month period. East India Company's raising of taxes disastrously coincided with this famine Following this famine, "Successive British governments were anxious not to add to the burden of taxation." The rains failed again in Bengal and Odisha+ in 1866. Policies of ''laissez faire'' were employed, which resulted in partial alleviation of the famine in Bengal. However, the southwest Monsoon made the harbour in Odisha inaccessible. As a result, food could not be imported into Odisha as easily as Bengal. In 1865–66, severe drought struck Odisha and was met by British official inaction. The British Secretary of State for India, Lord Salisbury+, did nothing for two months, by which time a million people had died. The lack of attention to the problem caused Salisbury to never feel free from blame.|group=fn Some British citizens such as William Digby+ agitated for policy reforms and famine relief, but Lord Lytton+, the governing British viceroy+ in India, opposed such changes in the belief that they would stimulate shirking by Indian workers. Reacting against calls for relief during the 1877–79 famine, Lytton replied, "Let the British public foot the bill for its 'cheap sentiment,' if it wished to save life at a cost that would bankrupt India," substantively ordering "there is to be no interference of any kind on the part of Government with the object of reducing the price of food," and instructing district officers to "discourage relief works in every possible way.... Mere distress is not a sufficient reason for opening a relief work."

In 1874 the response from the British authorities was better and famine was completely averted. Then in 1876 a huge famine broke out in Madras. Lord Lytton's administration believed that 'market forces alone would suffice to feed the starving Indians.' Balfour|1899|p=204|group=fn The results of such thinking proved fatal (some 5.5 million starved), so this policy was abandoned. Lord Lytton established the Famine Insurance Grant, a system in which, in times of financial surplus, INR 1,500,000 would be applied to famine relief works. The result was that the British prematurely assumed that the problem of famine had been solved forever. Future British viceroys became complacent, and this proved disastrous in 1896. About 4.5 million people were on famine relief at the peak of the famine.

Curzon+ stated that such philanthropy would be criticised, but not doing so would be a crime.|group=fn He also cut back rations that he characterised as "dangerously high," and stiffened relief eligibility by reinstating the Temple tests. Between 1.25 and 10 million people died in the famine. The famine during World War II+ lead to the development of the Bengal Famine Mixture+ (based on rice with sugar). This would later save tens of thousands of lives at liberated concentration camps such as Belsen+.

British famine policy in India was influenced by the arguments of Adam Smith+, as seen by the non-interference of the government with the grain market even in times of famines. Keeping the famine relief as cheap as possible, with minimum cost to the colonial exchequer, was another important factor in determining famine policy. According to Brian Murton, a professor of geography at the University of Hawaii, another possible impact on British policy on famine in India was the influence of the English Poor Laws+ of 1834, with the difference being that the English were willing to "maintain" the poor in England in normal times, whereas Indians would receive subsistence only when entire populations were endangered. Similarities between the Irish famine of 1846–49 and the later Indian famines of the last part of the 19th century were seen. In both countries, there were no impediments to the export of food during times of famines. Lessons learnt from the Irish famine were not seen in the correspondence on policy-making during the 1870s in India.

The Famine Commission of 1880 observed that each province in British India+, including Burma+, had a surplus of food grains, and that the annual surplus amounted to 5.16 million metric tons. The product of the Famine Commission was a series of government guidelines and regulations on how to respond to famines and food shortages called the Famine Code. These had to wait until the exit of Lord Lytton+ as viceroy, and were finally passed in 1883 under a subsequent more liberal-minded viceroy, Lord Ripon+. They presented an early warning system to detect and respond to food shortages. Despite the codes, mortality from famine was highest in last 25 years of the 19th century. At that time, annual exports of rice and other grains from India was approximately one million metric tons. Development economist+ Jean Drèze+ evaluated the conditions before and after Famine Commission policy changes: "A contrast between the earlier period of frequently recurring catastrophes, and the latter period when long stretches of tranquility were disturbed by a few large scale famines" in 1896–97, 1899–1900, and 1943–44. Drèze explains these "intermittent failures" by four factors—failure to declare a famine (particularly in 1943), the "excessively punitive character" of famine restrictions such as wages for public works, the "policy of strict non-interference with private trade," and the natural severity of the food crises.

There was a threat of famine, but after 1902 there was no major famine in India until the Bengal famine of 1943+. This famine was the most devastating; between 2.5 and 3 million people died during World War II. In India as a whole, the food supply was rarely inadequate, even in times of droughts. The Famine Commission of 1880 identified that the loss of wages from lack of employment of agricultural labourers and artisans were the cause of famines. The Famine Code applied a strategy of generating employment for these sections of the population and relied on open-ended public works to do so. The Indian Famine Code was used in India until more lessons were learnt from the Bihar famine+ of 1966–67. The Famine Code has been updated in independent India and it has been renamed "Scarcity Manuals." In some parts of the country, the Famine Code is no longer used, primarily because the rules embodied in them have become routine procedure in famine relief strategy.

The failure to provide food to the millions who were hungry during the famines of the 1870s has been blamed both on the absence of adequate rail+ infrastructure and the incorporation of grain into the world market through rail and telegraph+. Davis notes that, "The newly constructed railroads, lauded as institutional safeguards against famine, were instead used by merchants to ship grain inventories from outlying drought-stricken districts to central depots for hoarding (as well as protection from rioters)" and that telegraphs served to coordinate a rise in prices so that "food prices soared out of the reach of outcaste+ labourers, displaced weavers, sharecroppers and poor peasants." Members of the British administrative apparatus were also concerned that the larger market created by railway transport encouraged poor peasants to sell off their reserve stocks of grain.

Rail transport, however, also played an essential role in supplying grain from food-surplus regions to famine-stricken ones. The 1880 Famine Codes urged a restructuring and massive expansion of railways, with an emphasis on intra-Indian lines as opposed to the existing port-centred system. These new lines extended the existing network to allow food to flow to famine-afflicted regions. Jean Drèze (1991) also finds that the necessary economic conditions were present for a national market in food to reduce scarcity by the end of the 19th century, but that export of food continued to result from that market even during times of relative scarcity. The effectiveness of this system, however, relied on government provision of famine relief: "Railroads could perform the crucial task of moving grain from one part of India to another, but they could not assure that hungry people would have the money to buy that grain".

A famine weakens body resistance and leads to increases in infectious diseases, especially cholera, dysentery, malaria, and smallpox. Human response to famine could spread the disease as people migrated in search of food and work. On the other hand, railways also had a separate impact on reducing famine mortality by taking people to areas where food was available, or even out of India. By generating broader areas of labour migration and facilitating the massive emigration of Indians during the late 19th century, they provided famine-afflicted people the option to leave for other parts of the country and the world. By the 1912–13 scarcity crisis, migration and relief supply were able to absorb the impact of a medium-scale shortage of food. Drèze concludes, "In sum, and with a major reservation applying to international trade, it is plausible that the improvement in communication towards the end of the nineteenth century did make a major contribution to the alleviation of distress during famines. However, it is also easy to see that this factor alone could hardly account for the very sharp reduction in the incidence of famines in the twentieth century".

The Bengal famine of 1943 reached its peak between July and November of that year, and the worst of the famine was over by early 1945. Famine fatality statistics were unreliable, and it is estimated up to two million died. According to the Irish economist and professor Cormac Ó Gráda, priority was given to military considerations, and the poor of Bengal were left unprovided for. The Famine Commission of 1948 and economist Amartya Sen+ found that there was enough rice in Bengal to feed all of Bengal for most of 1943. Sen claimed the famine was caused by inflation, with those benefiting from inflation eating more and leaving less for the rest of the population. and blamed. These studies, however, did not account for possible inaccuracies in estimates or the impact of fungal disease on the rice. De Waal states that the British government did not enforce the Famine Codes during the Bengal famine of 1943 because they failed to detect a food shortage. The Bengal famine of 1943 was the last catastrophic famine in India, and it holds a special place in the historiography of famine due to Sen's classic work of 1981 titled ''Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation''.

Any imports to alleviate the famine would have had to come from Australia, North America or South America. Some supplies from Australia entered the region. The main constraint was shipping. The Battle of the Atlantic+ was at its peak from mid-1942 to mid-1943, with submarine wolf packs sinking so many ships that the Allies were on the verge of defeat, so shipping could not be spared for India.

Since the Bengal famine of 1943, there has been a declining number of famines which have had limited effects and have been of short durations. Sen attributes this trend of decline or disappearance of famines after independence to a democratic system of governance and a free press—not to increased food production. Later famine threats of 1984, 1988 and 1998 were successfully contained by the Indian government and there has been no major famine in India since 1943. Indian Independence in 1947 did not stop damage to crops nor lack of rain. As such, the threat of famines did not go away. India faced a number of threats of severe famines in 1967, 1973, 1979 and 1987 in Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Gujarat respectively. However these did not materialise into famines due to government intervention. The loss of life did not meet the scale of the 1943 Bengal or earlier famines but continued to be a problem. Jean Drèze finds that the post-Independence Indian government "largely remedied" the causes of the three major failures of 1880–1948 British famine policy, "an event which must count as marking the second great turning point in the history of famine relief in India over the past two centuries".

Central bank
|bank_name =National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development|The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD)

NABARD headquarters in Mumbai, India
Mumbai+, Maharashtra, India
12 July 1982
Rupees (INR)
(31 March 2009)

Deaths from starvation were reduced by improvements to famine relief mechanisms after the British left. In independent India, policy changes aimed to make people self-reliant to earn their livelihood and by providing food through the public distribution system+ at discounted rates. Between 1947–64 the initial agricultural infrastructure was laid by the founding of organisations such as the Central Rice Institute+ in Cuttack, the Central Potato Research Institute in Shimla, and universities such as the Pant Nagar University+. The population of India was growing at 3% per year, and food imports were required despite the improvements from the new infrastructure . At its peak, 10 million tonnes of food were imported from the United States.

In the twenty-year period between 1965–1985 gaps in infrastructure were bridged by the establishment of The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development+ (NABARD). During times of famines, droughts and other natural calamities, NABARD provides loan rescheduling and loan conversion facilitates to eligible institutions such as State Cooperative banks and Regional Rural Banks for periods up to seven years. Between 1985 and 2000, emphasis was laid on production of pulses and oilseed, as well as vegetables, fruits, and milk. A wasteland development board was set up, and rain-fed areas were given more attention. Public investment in irrigation and infrastructure, however, declined. The period also saw a gradual collapse of the cooperative credit system. In 1998–99, NABARD introduced a credit scheme to allow banks to issue short-term and timely credit to farmers in need via the Kisan Credit Card+ scheme. The scheme has become popular among issuing bankers and the recipient farmers with a total credit of made available via the issuing of 23,200,000 credit cards . Between 2000 and , land use for food or fuel has become a competing issue due to a demand for ethanol.

In 2001 the Government of India began working on an emergency plan to address regional food shortages after reports that bamboo flowering and bamboo death would occur again in the near future. John|Nadgauda|2002|p=261-2 In 2001, the local administration tried to prevent the impending famine by offering local villagers the equivalent of $2.50 for every 100 rats killed. The botanist H. Y. Mohan Ram of the University of Delhi+, who is one of the country's foremost authorities on bamboo, considered these techniques outlandish. He suggested that a better way of solving the problem was to teach the local farmers to switch to cultivating different varieties of crops such as ginger+ and turmeric+ during periods of bamboo flowering since these crops are not consumed by the rats.

Similar beliefs have been observed thousands of kilometres away in south India in the people of Cherthala+ in the Alappuzha+ district of Kerala+ who associate flowering bamboo with an impending explosion in the rat population.

The Bihar famine of 1966–7 was a minor famine with relatively very few deaths from starvation as compared to the famines of the British era. Drèze|Sen|1991|p=59 No significant increase in the number of infant deaths from famine was found in the Bihar famine.

The annual production of food grains had dropped in Bihar from 7.5 million tonnes in 1965–66 to 7.2 million tonnes in 1966–1967 during the Bihar drought. There was an even sharper drop in 1966–67 to 4.3 million tonnes. The national grain production dropped from 89.4 million tonnes in 1964–65 to 72.3 in 1965–66 — a 19% drop. Rise in prices of food grains caused migration and starvation, but the public distribution system, relief measures by the government, and voluntary organisations limited the impact. On a number of occasions, the Indian-government sought food and grain from the United States to provide replacement for damaged crops. The government also set up more than 20,000 fair-price stores to provide food at regulated prices for the poor or those with limited incomes. A large scale famine in Bihar was adverted due to this import, although livestock and crops were destroyed. Other reasons for successfully averting a large scale famine were the employing various famine prevention measures such as improving communication abilities, issuing famine bulletins over the radio and offering employment to those affected by famine in government public works projects.

The Bihar drought of 1966–67 gave impetus to further changes in agricultural policy and this resulted in the Green Revolution.

After several years of good monsoons and a good crop in the early 1970s, India considered exporting food and being self-sufficient. Earlier in 1963, the government of the state of Maharashtra asserted that the agricultural situation in the state was constantly being watched and relief measures were taken as soon as any scarcity was detected. On the basis of this, and asserting that the word famine had now become obsolete in this context, the government passed the "The Maharashtra Deletion of the Term 'Famine' Act, 1963". American Association for the Advancement of Science|Indian National Science Academy|International Rice Research Institute|Indian Council of Agricultural Research|1989|pp=379

Large scale employment to the deprived sections of Maharashtrian society which attracted considerable amounts of food to Maharashtra. The implementation of the Scarcity Manuals in the Bihar and Maharashtra famines prevented the mortality arising from severe food shortages. While the relief programme in Bihar was poor, Drèze calls the one in Maharashtra a model programme. The relief works initiated by the government helped employ over 5 million people at the height of the drought in Maharashtra leading to effective famine prevention. The effectiveness of the Maharashtra was also attributable to the direct pressure on the government of Maharashtra by the public who perceived that employment via the relief works programme was their right. The public protested by marching, picketing, and even rioting . Drèze reports a labourer saying "they would let us die if they thought we would not make a noise about it."

The drought of 1979–80 in West Bengal was the next major drought and caused a 17% decline in food production with a shortfall of 13.5 million tonnes of food grain. Stored food stocks were leveraged by the government, and there was no net import of food grains. The drought was relatively unknown outside of India. The lessons learnt from the Maharashtra and West Bengal droughts led to the Desert Development Programme and the Drought Prone Area Programme. The intent of these programmes was to reduce the negative effects of droughts by applying eco-friendly land use practices and conserving water. Major schemes in improving rural infrastructure, extending irrigation to additional areas, and diversifying agriculture were also launched. The lessons from the 1987 drought brought to light the need for employment generation, watershed planning, and ecologically integrated development.

In March 2013, according to Union Agriculture Ministry+, over 11,801 villages in Maharashtra were declared drought affected+. red worst, next to the another one in Maharashtra in 1972.

Deaths from malnutrition on a large scale have continued across India into modern times. In Maharashtra+ alone, for example, there were around 45,000 childhood deaths due to mild or severe malnutrition in 2009, according to the ''Times of India''. Dhawan|2010|p=1

Growing export prices, the melting of the Himalayan glaciers due to global warming, changes in rainfall and temperatures are issues affecting India. If agricultural production does not remain above the population growth rate, there are indications that a return to the pre-independence famine days is a likelihood. People from various walks of life, such as social activist Vandana Shiva+ and researcher Dan Banik, agree that famines and the resulting large scale loss of life from starvation have been eliminated after Indian independence in 1947.|group=fn However, Shiva warned in 2002 that famines are making a comeback and government inaction would mean they would reach the scale seen in the Horn of Africa+ in three or four years.

* Drought in India+
* Famines, Epidemics, and Public Health in the British Raj+
* Great Irish famine+
* List of famines+
* Timeline of major famines in India during British rule+
* Bengal famine of 1943+

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Social issues in India:

Famine in India+ Famine had been a recurrent feature of life in the Indian sub-continental countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and reached its numerically deadliest peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.