Boat denial policy

Sen considers the boat denial policy to have been a cause of the famine. (Sen, op cit, Ref 2,1984, p 4611; 1980b, p 619. See, however Sen, op cit, Ref 2, 1976, p 1279, where he expresses the opposite view.) In May 1942, orders were issued for the removal of boats capable of carrying more than ten passengers from the coastal areas of Bengal, in order to deny them to the Japanese if they invaded. The Famine Commission was critical of the Bengal government for their operation of the scheme as it reduced fish catches and made transport difficult, hampering relief measures, and making normal trade impossible. (Famine Commission, op cit, Ref 2, pp 26-7.) It slightly reduced the quantity of food available, and to this extent it was a cause of famine. Sen accepts the general view that the boat denial policy was of little importance in reducing total supply. However, since Sen believes that transport problems were overstated, and since he believes that anything hampering transport from the starving country areas to be the overfed towns was a good thing, it is difficult to see why he considers it to have been harmful. Both the Indian government and the Bengal government considered that physical distribution was a serious constraint on relief measures. Indeed, the main effect of Wavell's intervention with the army was that four times as much per week was distributed (see Famine Commission, op cit, Ref 2; Aykroyd, op cit Ref 9; Wavell, op cit, Ref 18; and Mansergh, op cit Ref 18, p 361). Undoubtedly, it meant that some areas were worse hit than others, but, as Sen makes clear when dismissing Alamgir's criticisms of his thesis, this is irrelevant to the thesis - there was some starvation in all areas so bad regional distribution will not explain why the famine occurred. (Sen, op cit, Ref 2, 1981, p 63; M. Alamgir, Famine in South Asia: Political Economy of Mass Starvation Gunn and Hain, Oelgeschlager, Cambridge MA, USA,1980, and Sen, op cit, Ref 2,1980b, p 619.)


Rice denial policy

Among the factors working negatively on the supply of rice', Sen talks of:

a cunning British policy of rice denial' to the oncoming Japanese [which] led to the removal of rice stocks from three coastal districts in Bengal in 1942 (without causing much anxiety to the Japanese, since they failed, for other reasons, to show up).'(Sen, op cit, Ref 2,1984, p 461.)

The exchange entitlement mappings took deep plunges, forcing these occupa tion groups into starvation. The story is made grimmer by. . . the removal of rice stocks from three districts. . . These added to the entitlement decline. . . but this was an added impetus in a movement that was leading to a famine anyway.'(Curiously enough, elsewhere (eg Sen, op cit, Ref 2, 1977, p 45; 1982, p 67) he quotes some of the facts directly from the Famine Commission, and concludes merely that it did contribute to local scarcities'. Elsewhere, too, (1976, p 1279) he states that it did not contribute to the famine (though stating that it did result in a loss of food).)

The facts in Sen's source contradict him flatly. Less than 40 000 tons (0.34% of the total) were bought from a surplus area nearly a year before the famine hit, and were distributed to deficit areas weeks before the cyclone. (Famine Commission, op cit, Ref 2, pp 25, 26, 29.) Since it was removed from an area where many grain stores were destroyed by the cyclone, it actually increased Bengal's supplies marginally.


What the Bengal government did

The main thrust of Sen's argument is that the Bengal government adopted the FAD approach. As a result, it failed to adopt the policy measures necessary to prevent inflation and redistribution; it failed to recognize the famine when it occurred, and it failed to take the necessary measures to deal with it.(Sen, op cit, Ref 2,1977b, p 75.) The sources are agreed that this is untrue. Like Sen, the government believed that there was no real shortage (until, when the famine reached its peak, they had to recognize that there was a major shortage). They had virtually the same views on famine causation: inflation, speculation and hoarding. They recognized the need for measures to deal with shifts in purchasing power and acted accordingly, adopting the measures that Sen recommends. In fact, both Sen's diagnosis and his remedies were put to the test by the Bengal government. The result was a famine in which three million people died. This misrepresentation of the facts by Sen is discussed in detail in Bowbrick 1986. The approach taken by the Bengal Government is set out by the Famine Commission (op cit, Ref 2, pp 12,13, 30, 33, 36, 38-9, 52, 55.) Surprisingly, in support of his claim that the Bengal government was obsessed by the FAD approach, Sen gives two pages of evidence showing just the opposite: that the Bengal government was firmly con vinced that there was adequate food available, and that the hunger was due to changes in distribution (Sen, op cit, Ref 2, 1977, pp 53-54; 1981, pp 80-82)

If the Bengal Government had held the FAD view, their logic would have been as follows: There is widespread hunger and starvation. The FAD approach recognizes only one reason for this, shortage of food. Therefore we must import one and a half million tons of rice. Whether their analysis was right or wrong, their response would have saved three million lives.


Monitoring the shortage

Sen is indignant that the government should have spent any time at all on monitoring available supply, once it had been decided that the famine was due to maldistribution:

The government's thinking on the nature of the food problem, while encompassing a variety of factors, seems to have been persistently influenced by attempts to estimate the size of the real shortage' on the basis of requirements' and availability'; it was a search in a dark room for a black cat which was not there.' (Sen, op cit, Ref 2, p 53.)

I must disagree in the strongest possible terms. Any responsible government should constantly reconsider its initial diagnosis and its assessment of supplies in case the degree of food shortage is worsening. Making up one's mind at the beginning of the season and sticking to one's diagnosis in the face of the evidence is a recipe for disaster.

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