Famine Policies and Factory Acts

Famine policies:

What is the topic all about?

The topics talks about various famines that struck India during the British rule, what were the policies adopted by the rulers and their impact.

What were the major famines during the British rule?

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 19th centuries.

The major famines during the British Rule are as follows:

Year Name of Famine Regions affected
1769-70 Great Bengal Famine Bihar, Northern and Central Bengal
1783- 84 Chalisa Famine Delhi, Western Oudh, Eastern Punjab region, Rajputana and Kashmir
1791-92 Doji Bara Famine Hyderabad, Southern Maratha Colony, Deccan, Gujarat and Marwar
1876-78 Great Famine of 1876- 78 Madras and Bombay
1943-44 Bengal Famine of 1943 Bengal

What were the causes of these famines?

Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on climate: a favorable southwest summer monsoon is critical in securing water for irrigating crops. Droughts, combined with policy failures, have periodically led to major Indian famines

The 1883 Indian Famine Codes, transportation improvements, and changes following independence have been identified as furthering famine relief.

The famines were a product both of uneven rainfall and British economic and administrative policies.

Colonial polices implicated include

  • rack-renting,
  • levies for war,
  • free trade policies,
  • the expansion of export agriculture, and
  • neglect of agricultural investment

Indian exports of opium, rice, wheat, indigo, jute, and cotton were a key component of the economy of the British Empire, generating vital foreign currency, primarily from China, and stabilising low prices in the British grain market.

Export crops displaced millions of acres that could have been used for domestic subsistence, and increased the vulnerability of Indians to food crises.

Scholarly opinions:

  • Florence Nightingale pointed out that the famines in British India were not caused by the lack of food in a particular geographical area. They were instead caused by inadequate transportation of food, which in turn was caused due to an absence of a political and social structure

  • Amartya Sen implies that the famines in the British era were due to a lack of a serious effort on the part of the British government to prevent famines.

What was the impact of these famines?

  • In India, traditionally, agricultural labourers and rural artisans have been the primary victims of famines. In the worst famines, cultivators have also been susceptible.

  • Millions of people died or were displaced.

  • 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.

What was the British response?

In the beginning the colonial rulers did not accept the responsibility of these famines though the process of the emergence of famines had started with the establishment of British rule in Bengal but for almost 100 years the British rulers never tried to understand the causes of these famines and did not formulate any policy to check the recurrence of these famines.

When a serious famine struck Delhi – Agra region in 1860-61 the government appointed Col Baird Committee to investigate the causes of famine but this committee performed no function and did not put forward any significant recommendation. As a result, the basic factors and forces responsible for the famine remained intact.

In 1866 a great famine struck many parts of India but its impact was felt in Orissa. The Government appointed George Campbell Commission to investigate the causes of famine and to recommend measures to prevent recurrences in future.

The Committee held government system responsible for creating the famine like conditions and suggested that the government during famine times must organize the relief measures. The committee also recommended that steps should be taken for employment generation immediately so that the impact of famine could be mitigated.

The recommendations of Campbell committee were not given much attention and consequently a serious famine reoccurred in many parts of country including Punjab, UP and Madras in 1876. Its maximum impact was felt in Madras Presidency. The government appointed another commission in 1880. The Commission recommended

1. A famine code should be formulated.

2. Irrigation facilities should be developed.

3. Collection of land revenue should be suspended immediately during famines and land revenue should be remitted.

4. Data should be collected about the conditions of Indian peasantry and agriculture.

5. A famine fund should be set up.

In accordance with the recommendation of Strachey Commission a famine fund with amount Rs 1 crore was set up and famine code was also formulated in 1883.This code has 4 parts.

  • The first part of the code dealt with the government measures during the normal times.

  • The second part dealt with relief campaign.

  • The third part dealt with the duties of officials during relief measures.

  • The fourth part dealt with the division of famine-affected areas.

In spite of the formulation of famine policy and its implementation a number of famines struck India repeatedly. A severe famine occurred in 1896-97 and another famine occurred in 1899-1900.The government of Lord Curzon appointed Anthony McDonald Committee in 1900 to suggest measures to counter the famine effectively.

The Committee recommended the famine code should be revised, transportation facilities should be improved, and irrigation network should be developed. A famine commissioner should be appointed and the government should take moral responsibility of the welfare of people during famine times. In accordance with these recommendations steps were taken to improve irrigation to increase the agricultural production.

In 1942-43 a severe famine struck the Bengal region. The government appointed John Woodhad Committee. The Committee recommended that all Indian Food Council should be set up. The department of food and agriculture should be merged and steps should be taken to increase agriculture production.


Though British government initiated number of steps but these steps failed to improve the condition of Indian masses in any way.

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. Amartya 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.

Factory Acts:

What is this topic all about?

This topic talks about various factory acts passed during British Rule.

What is the objective of the Factories Act?

The object of the Factories Act is to regulate the conditions of work in manufacturing establishments coming within the definition of the term “factory” as used in the Act.

What are its various manifestations in India?

The first Act, in India, relating to the subject was passed in 1881. This was followed by new Acts in 1891, 1911, 1922, 1934 and 1948. The Act of 1948 is more comprehensive than the previous Acts. It contains detailed provisions regarding the health, safety and welfare of workers inside factories, the hours of work, the minimum age of workers, leave with pay etc. The Act has been amended several times.

The Act is based on the .provisions of the Factories Act of Great Britain passed in 1937.

What were the various Factory Acts passed during British Rule?

A committee was appointed in 1875 to inquire into the conditions of factory work in the country. The committee had favored some kind of legal restrictions in the form of factory laws.

First Factory Act 1881

  • To improve the labour conditions,
  • India’s Viceroy : Lord Ripon

Following this act, a Factory Commission was appointed in 1885.

Factories Act, 1891

  • India’s Viceroy : Lord Lansdowne

Royal Commission on Labor was appointed in 1892. The result of these enactments was the limitation on the factory working hours. This was an answer of the Government to the pathetic conditions of the workers in the factory, wherein, only when a laborer exhausted, new laborer was to take his/her place.

What is the Factory Act, 1948?

Purpose and Object:

Factories Act, 1948 has been enacted to regulate the working conditions in factories and to ensure provision of the basic minimum requirements for safety, health and welfare of the workers as well as to regulate the working hours, leave, holidays, employment of children, women, etc.


It extends to whole of India

Also, applies to factories as defined under the Act.


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