204. The earliest famine in the Nagpur District of which
record-remains was that of 1818-19. The immediate cause was the failure of the monsoon followed by excessive rain in the cold weather. Acute distress and famine conditions prevailed, resulting in serious loss of life. Many of the poorer cultivators of Nagpur are said to have sold their children into slavery. In 1825-26, according to oral tradition, famine attended with loss of life occurred in Nagpur, and it is said that many people died after eating the cooked food doled out to them at the Raja's palace. The cause of the famine was a deficiency of rainfall. Grain was sold at 6 seers a rupee. In November 1831 there were heavy falls of rain at the time when the autumn crops had been cut and gathered but had not been threshed and harvested. The grain was severely injured, while the continuous rains prevented the spring sowings and caused such seed as had been sown to rot in the ground. The remains of the spring harvest were finally destroyed by blight. The outturn of both harvests was very poor, and severe famine appears to have ensued for a period of 8 or 9 months. The price of grain rose to 8 seers to the rupee in April 1832. Distress was acute and was not alleviated by any special demand
for labour, while starving refugees from Berar and Khandesh. flocked into the District. It was recorded that many people; changed their caste to obtain food and parents sold their children for 10.lbs. of wheat. The death rate for the famine period was locally estimated at a fifth of the population;. Cooked food was doled out by the Bhonsla administration at Nagpur to 5000 people daily, and alms houses were; established at central places. Grain was distributed without interest, from granaries at Nagpur, Chanda and Bhandara.
The export of food Stuffs was strictly forbidden, and a price was fined for sate, pressure being directed to cause the holders of stocks of grain to retail them at fixed rates. In the city of Nagpur 5000 persons are said to have died from want of food. On the whole, the Bhonsla administration did as much as any native government would consider its duty toward the relief of its distressed subjects, but it must be remembered that the country had just had the advantage of twelve years of British rule under the Regency of Sir Richard Jenkins, concluding in 1830, and the Maratha officials who had acted under English officers were still carrying on the government according to the methods which they had then learnt. In 1868 the rains ended abruptly a month before time, but an opportune shower in September saved the situation over the greater part of the country. Only slight distress was experienced in the Nagpur District.
205. Abnormal rain fell in September and October 1892,
and it was followed by excessive
rainfall in the first three months of
1893 when 8½ inches were received
as against an average of 1½. This caused rust in the wheat,
but as the rain fell when the crops were ripening, the
damage was not very serious and the wheat harvest was 75
per cent, of normal, while the autumn crops were excellent.
In the autumn months of 1893, 16 inches of rain were
received as against an average of 11 inches; the sowings of
the spring crops were delayed and the seedlings swamped.
The climatic conditions in the cold weather months were also unfavourable to these crops. The sky remained clouded and
the atmosphere moist. Wheat and linseed were spoiled by
rust and the pulses were destroyed by insects. Juar gave an
outturn of 90 per cent., and linseed of only 68 per cent. The
total outturn was 83 per cent, of normal. The year 1894-95
brought no return of prosperity. Excessive rain (21 inches
as against 11 inches in an average year) fell in the autumn
of 1894, causing great damage to the autumn crops and
greatly impeding the sowing and germination of the spring
crops. Although the cold weather rainfall was normal,
both the harvests were very poor Juar gave an outturn
of 45 per cent., cotton of 30 per cent., and linseed of 23
per cent., the average harvest being 54 per cent, of
normal. It is noticeable that this was worse than the harvest
of the following or famine year, 1896-97, when the outturn
was 67 per cent, of normal. Although the poorer classes
felt the want of food, the distress did not become general
and the people had sufficient sustaining power to tide over
the year. Famine conditions did not prevail in the District,
but the people were distinctly impoverished. The birth-rate
was normal at 35 in 1894, and 34 per mille of population in
1895; but the death-rate increased to 38½ in 1894 and 35 in
1895 as against 25 in 1892 and 1893. The special feature
of the cycle of wet years was that damage was done to the
best lands, while the poorer cultivators did not suffer so
much. In 1895-96 the autumn rains were very short, being
only 4½ inches as against an average of 11. The monsoon
however had been satisfactory up to the end of August and
the autumn crops yielded excellently; the sowings of spring
crops however were short and their yield deficient, wheat
and gram each giving only half the normal harvest.
206. In 1896-97, the famine year, the monsoon rains
had been abundant and up to
August prospects looked brilliant
but in the critical months of September and October,
which determine to a great extent the nature of both the
harvests, less than 2½ inches were received, the result being
the partial failure of the autumn harvest and a further
shrinkage in the area sown with the cold-weather crops.
This amounted to 514,000 acres in 1896-97 against 615.000
in 1894-95. Juar and wheat, however, yielded fairly, and the
all round outturn was 67 per cent, of normal. The District
thus escaped fairly easily as compared with most others
and such distress as existed was due to the cumulative effect
of a succession of bad years and was accentuated by the high prices resulting from the famine condition prevailing over a large part of India. In September 1896, the price of juar rose from 18 to 14 seers, that of rice
from 12 to 9 seers, and that of wheat from 14 to 10 seers to the rupee. It is interesting to note in passing, that what were then famine rates are now, ten years later, little more than the standard prices. In addition a number of weavers had been thrown out of employment, owing to the year being Singhasta or one in which Hindu marriages were forbidden. The people became alarmed and accused the dealers of having combined to raise prices. The Koshtis, always inclined to be turbulent, were joined by the lawless classes of the town and began looting the markets and grain shops.
A riot developed, but was promptly suppressed by the aid of the military and the volunteers, and the ringleaders were severely punished. Slight disturbances broke out in other towns, following the example of Nagpur, but were soon put down. Towards the end of 1896 the usual migration of labourers occurred from Balaghat and Bhandara into Berar; but finding no work there, many of these wandered back into Nagpur, while other refugees came down from the north, where matters were much worse than in Nagpur. It was estimated that about 16,000 persons entered the District, of whom 4000 settled here.
207. Relief works were opened in November, but the distress was never very serious. Up
till January the numbers on works
were quite insignificant and the maximum on all forms of relief was reached in May with 18,000 persons or 2½ per cent, of the population. The circular road round Ambajheri was constructed and the Nagpur-Umrer, Umrer-Bhiwapur and Kalmeshwar-Katol roads were improved. Poor-houses at Nagpur and Kamptee were opened by private subscription in the autumn of 1896, and were afterwards
taken over by Government, and poor-houses
and kitchens were supported by private subscriptions at various other centres. Special relief was given to the weavers of Nagpur, Kamptee and Umrer, advances being made to middlemen who supplied thread to the workmen, while the cloth produced was purchased by Government. The net expenditure amounted to Rs. 80,000. The total expenditure on famine relief was Rs. 5 lakhs, and about a lakh was distributed from the
Indian Charitable Fund. No revenue was Suspended. The birth-rate for 1897 showed no substantial decline, while the death-rate was 50 per mille or
hot exceptionally high. Prices reached their maximum in July and August 1897, when wheat was 8 seers and juar 8½ seers. There was a marked increase in both serious and petty offences against property, the number of cases of this category reaching 3300 in 1897, as against about 1500 in the two preceding years. The famine was accompanied by a scarcity of fodder and water, which, caused serious losses of cattle. The bulk of the mortality of stock occurred after the rains had set in, and was no doubt due to the famished and weakened animals surfeiting themselves on the new and damp grass which was unfit for consumption.
208. In the following year 1897-98, a bumper harvest
was reaped, but in 1898-99 there
was no rain between the end of
September and the not weather, and though the autumn harvest was a good one the spring crops were short. On the whole however the harvest was 92 per cent. of normal. In 1899 April and May were cloudy and rainy and this was regarded as an ominous sign. The monsoon failed completely, the rainfall of the period June-August being only II as against an average of 32 inches while from October to January none was received. The annual fall was less than a third of the average in each tahsil except Ramtek, where
it was about a half. In spite of the scanty rainfall cotton and juar gave 45 per cent, of an average outturn and the
Katol tahsil was not severely distressed. The other crops naturally failed completely. The Dongartal tract in the north was most affected, the people here being poor and without resources, and next to this came the greater part of Umrer. Relief operations commenced from September and were developed in extent as the distress increased. Road-works, kitchens and village relief were the three principal methods employed for supporting the destitute classes. Under the Public Works Department 11 camps in all were opened, and the highest number of workers was 39,000, the average being about 15,000. The Ambajheri, Telinkheri and Juma Talao tanks were deepened, and new roads were made from Nagpur to Bishnur, Patansaongi to Khapa and Bhiwapur to Pauni. Other roads were improved. The distribution of cooked food in kitchens commenced on a small scale and was gradually extended, till in the rains 213 kitchens were open and 67,000 persons were being given food. Village relief was also begun on a small scale in the Deolapar tract and the Umrer tahsil, and was gradually extended over the whole District during the hot weather and rains. The maximum number in receipt of cash doles was 12,000 in September. Help was given to weavers in the town on the same system as in 1897 but on a much more lavish scale, the total expenditure being 6½ lakhs, but in return for this cloth of the nominal value of nearly the same amount was obtained. The total number of persons relieved increased gradually to 66,000 in the beginning of July, when it rose sharply to 90,000 at the end of July and 108,000 in August, this last figure being equivalent to 14 per cent, of the population. The total famine expenditure was Rs. 19½ lakhs and the loss to Government on account of suspensions of revenue and forest and other concessions was about 7½ lakhs more. About 2 lakhs were distributed from the Indian Charitable Fund for the purchase of seed-grain,
blankets and clothing.
209. The mortality of 1900 was the highest on record
for the District, being nearly 58 per
mille, but there is no reason to suppose that any part of it was due to direct privation. But the inevitable results of exposure and unsuitable food especially in the case of children, which no efforts of Government cart avert, lowered the physical condition of the people and made them an easy prey to the attacks of disease. The water-supply was insufficient and therefore necessarily polluted, and a fertile source of disease. The year was exceptionally unhealthy and the famine was accompanied by epidemics of plague, cholera, small-pox and malarial fever. The birth-rate was normal, indicating the absence of any marked physical deterioration. Although the supply of juar fodder was fairly adequate, a quantity of this was exported, and the grass withered. Cattle suffered heavily from want of food and water and the mortality amounted to about 36,000 head, being considerably higher than the average. Wheat averaged about 9 seers a rupee and juar a little over 10 seers from September 1899 to October 1900, At the commencement of the famine an outbreak of petty offence's against property occurred, but proved
to be only temporary, and the number of cases of this class was less than 2000 as against 3000 in 1897.
210. From 1900 the District has enjoyed a succession of
fairly prosperous seasons, and the
large profits reaped from the cotton
crop, together with the demand for labour caused by the development of mining and factory industries and the extension of communications has raised wages to a level never before dreamt of and enabled the poorer classes to enjoy an unprecedented degree of comfort. At the time of writing another failure of crops is being experienced owing to the short monsoon of 1907, but it seems unlikely that a single bad year can now produce serious distress over the District as a whole, or unless it should be followed by
others, seriously retard its development.