Famine Commissions in India

Campbell Commission, 1866

  • In 1865-66, a famine engulfed Odisha, Bengal, Bihar, and Madras and took a toll of 20 lakhs of lives with Odisha alone losing 10 lakh lives.
  • Since the famine was most severe in Odisha; it is called the Odisha famine.
  • It was followed by the appointment of a committee under the chairmanship of Sir George Campbell.
  • It blamed government machinery for the tragedy.
  • Sir John Lawrence was the Viceroy.

Strachey Commission, 1880

  • Great famine of 1876-78 was the most grievous calamity experienced since the beginning of the 19th century.
  • Affected Madras, Bombay, Uttar Pradesh & Punjab and about 5 million people perished in a year.
  • The Government made half-hearted efforts to help the famine stricken.
  • In 1880, Lytton appointed a commission under Richard Strachey to formulate general principles and suggest measures of preventive or protective character.
  • Commission recommended adjusting wages from time to time to provide sufficient food for a labourer’s support.
  • Secondly, it should be the duty of the state to provide gratuitous relief to the poor and list the category of persons entitled to receive it.
  • It made suggestions regarding suspensions and remissions of land revenue and rents.
  • The cost of famine relief was to be borne by the provincial governments. However, central assistance was to be made available whenever necessary.
  • The Government accepted in general, and commission’s recommendation and steps were taken for the creation of a famine fund.
  • In 1883, the provisional famine code was formulated which formed a guide to and basis for the provincial famine codes.

Lyall Commission, 1896

  • Closely following the last famine came the famine of 1896- 97.
  • It affected almost every province though in varying degrees of intensity and the total population affected was estimated at 34 million.
  • A commission presided over by Sir James Lyall, ex-Lt Governor of Punjab, adhered to the views expressed by their predecessors in 1880.
  • Suggested some alterations to impart greater flexibility to the maxims then adopted. The commission recommended the development of Irrigation facilities.
  • Lord Elgin II was the viceroy.

McDonnell Commission, 1900

  • Following famine of 1899-1900, Lord Curzon appointed a famine commission led by MacDonnell.
  • In its report in 1901, it summarized principles of relief suggesting variations wherever necessary.
  • The commission emphasized the benefits of a policy of moral strategy, early distribution of advances for the purchase of seed and cattle and sinking of temporary wells.
  • It also advocated the appointment of a famine commissioner in a province when relief operations were expected to be extensive.
  • Emphasized the enlistment of non-official assistance on a larger scale.
  • The commission also stressed the deniability of better transport facilities, opening of agricultural banks, improvement of irrigation facilities, and vigorous measures to faster improve methods of agriculture.
  • Most recommendations of the commission were accepted and before Curzon left India, he had taken various measures to prevent and combat famine.
  • However, most measures were conducted half-heartedly.
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