Licchavi Lyceum


Licchavi Lyceum

Why was there a sudden spurt in famines in colonial India since the mid-eighteenth century? Give reasons.

Q. Why was there a sudden spurt in famines in colonial India since the mid-eighteenth century? Give reasons.

Ans: The sudden increase in famines in colonial India since the mid-eighteenth century can be attributed to a combination of social, economic, political, and environmental factors, many of which were exacerbated by colonial policies and practices.

Key reasons for the spurt in famines during this period

  1. Land Revenue Policies: The colonial British administration introduced land revenue policies that often heavily taxed agricultural production. This led to excessive economic pressure on farmers, leaving them with limited resources to invest in agricultural improvements and making them more vulnerable to crop failures.
  2. Commercialization of Agriculture: British colonial policies encouraged the commercialization of agriculture, with a focus on cash crops like indigo, cotton, and opium for export. This shift away from food crops reduced the availability of staple foods for local consumption and made communities more reliant on monocultures that were susceptible to crop failures.
  3. Loss of Traditional Safety Nets: Traditional Indian agrarian societies had mechanisms to cope with local food shortages, such as community support networks, grain reserves, and customary practices. However, colonial policies disrupted these systems, leaving communities more exposed to food shortages.
  4. Transportation and Infrastructure: The British colonial rulers did not prioritize the development of transportation and infrastructure, which hindered the movement of food from surplus to deficit regions during times of scarcity. Poor transportation systems made it difficult to distribute food efficiently, exacerbating famine conditions.
  5. Crop Commercialization and Monoculture: The emphasis on cash crops and monoculture reduced crop diversity and weakened the resilience of agricultural systems. When a single crop failed due to natural factors like drought or pests, entire regions were affected by food scarcity.
  6. Excessive Taxation and Debt: British land revenue policies often resulted in high taxation and mounting debts for Indian farmers. This financial burden left them unable to invest in agricultural improvements, leading to reduced productivity and vulnerability to food shortages.
  7. Economic Exploitation: The extraction of wealth from India by the colonial administration drained resources from the country and contributed to economic instability, making it harder for local communities to cope with food crises.
  8. Environmental Factors: Natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and crop diseases became more devastating due to the lack of infrastructure, poor agricultural practices, and weakened agricultural systems.
  9. Lack of Government Response: The colonial authorities often responded inadequately to famine situations. Relief efforts were often delayed or insufficient, aggravating the impact of famines.
  10. Social Disruptions: The displacement of rural populations due to British economic policies and the expansion of plantations disrupted traditional social systems, leading to further vulnerability in the face of food shortages.
  11. Population Growth: Rapid population growth during the colonial period put additional pressure on available resources and increased the risk of food shortages during crop failures.
  12. Decline of Craft Industries: The decline of indigenous craft industries due to colonial economic policies led to reduced employment opportunities, pushing more people into agriculture and intensifying pressure on the land.

Overall, the spurt in famines in colonial India was a result of a complex interplay of factors, including exploitative colonial policies, economic transformations, environmental challenges, and disruptions to traditional systems. These factors collectively created a vulnerable environment where even relatively minor shocks could trigger devastating famines.

UPSC CSE 2022 Mains GS 1 Paper Model Answer