AGRICULTURE AND IRRIGATION

FAMINES AND FLOODS

 Early Famines.

The early famine history of Amravati can be traced from various references to famines in Berar, which may be taken to include this district. In the reign of Muhammad Shah Bahmani (1378-1397), Berar, in common with the rest or the Deccan, was devastated by a terrible famine, and the orphanage established by that sovereign at Ellichpur (Achalpur) is one of the earliest recorded attempts to mitigate such a disaster. It is highly improbable that the province escaped the famine of 1417, which affected the greater part of the Deccan. Again in 1472-73, Malwa and the Deccan including Berar were severely affected by a famine which lasted for two years and caused wholesale emigration to Bengal and Gujarat. In 1630-31, there was a severe famine throughout Gujarat, Khandesh. Berar and Daulatabad. It was reported that the flesh of dogs was sold by butchers as goats' flesh, crushed bones of the dead were mingled with the flour exposed for sale, and parents devoured their children. The memories of the famine of 1803 lingered for 50 years afterward and Berar did not escape the famine of 1833 which caused considerable distress. In the great famine of 1839, the distress was very great and no measures of relief were attempted by the local government. The extensive emigration which took place at this period, must have been a powerful factor in reducing the district to its poor conditions at the time of the Assignment in 1853. In 1845 there was distress caused by the high price of jowar, which rose from Rs. 5 to Rs. 20 a khandi, and the enraged populace of Amravati murdered one Dhanraj Sahu. a wealthy trader, who had bought up large quantities of rice with a view to obtaining large profits. In 1853 Amravati with the rest of Berar came under the British rule and there ensued a period of prosperity only broken by the prevalence of high prices in 1878 and 1879. So remote did the idea of famine seem in 1893 that the Commissioner felt justified in reporting that a programme of relief works was not required for Berar. This optimistic attitude was to receive a rude shock during the next few years.

Famine in the plain talukas 1896-97.

The season of 1895-96 had been one of scanty rainfall, only 24 inches 8 cents being recorded, but a bumper crop of cotton was reaped and except for the deficiency in the water-supply the condition of the people up to June 1896 was quite satisfactory. The rains of 1896 opened very favourably and by the beginning of August everything pointed to a bumper crop of cotton and jowar. But suddenly and inexplicably the rains ceased about the 25th August and beyond a fall of 3 inches in November there was no appreciable rainfall again till June 1897. The result of the sudden cessation of the rains was that the rabi crop, owing to the lack of moisture, was almost a total failure. But cotton and jowar, the important crops of this district, showed fair results, a rough estimate putting them at half the normal crop. Unfortunately, the general failure of the monsoon throughout India affected Berar by causing a sudden rise of prices, which paralysed local trade for the time being. Jowar rose from 19 seers for a rupee to 12 seers in October 1896 and varied from 10 to 7 seers from November 18y6 to October 1897. Wheat rose from 13 seers to 8 seers in October 1896 and remained at about 7 seers from November 1896 to October 1897. The Bombay Famine Code was therefore applied, and a programme of relief works was prepared. A sum of Rs. 33,000 was spent on relief works which consisted principally of stone-breaking, road-making and tank repairs. However, the percentage of persons thus relieved to the total population was 0.9 only. Gratuitous relief was mainly given by means of poor-houses and relief-centres. Ten poor-houses were maintained with a daily average attendance of 2,270 and the total expenditure in connection with them was Rs. 16,238. Weekly doles were also given to a number of old and infirm persons; for not only did they have to pay more for their food, but their wages fell considerably due to the influx of workers from the neighbouring provinces. The distress among the weavers of Ellichpur and Anjangaon was met in this way. The opening of cheap grain shops also afforded relief to a number of people. The measures of Government were largely supplemented by the efforts of private charity, which was especially active in this district. A poor-house was maintained at Amravati by private subscriptions at a cost of over Rs. 8.000. A sum of Rs. 35,000 was also raised in the district in connection with the Indian Charitable Relief Fund, and from the charitable funds of all kinds a sum of Rs. 76,000 was spent. The famine operations were complicated by a sudden inrush of paupers from the Central Provinces in July and August 1897. Many of these arrived in an emaciated condition, and there was a considerable mortality from starvation among them, though every effort was made by means of poor-houses and village relief to meet the difficulty. The death-rate of the district compared favourably with that of the previous year till April 1897. when it began to rise and in August and September it reached its highest monthly average of 8 per mille. Cholera prevailed in April and May and in the rains dysentery and diarrhoea of a severe type were common. The death-rate in the district in 1897 was 59.4 per mille. The cultivators were not  severely affected by the distress and the high prices obtained by them for their crops enabled them to pay the land revenue with ease, 99 per cent, of the demand being paid. The availability of a large number of labourers gave them the opportunity of making many cheap improvements in their land. The class that suffered most from the high prices was the class of agricultural abourers, who formed 30 per cent, of the population.

1899-1900.

The effect of four years of deficient rainfall began to be felt on the water-supply, and the scarcity of drinking water caused much inconvenience and distress. The season of 1899-1900 opened fairly well in June, a rainfall of 3.84" being recorded; but July and August recorded a rainfall of 75.44 mm., and 62.48 mm. (2.97 and 2.46 inches) only. The menace was aggravated when the rains ceased altogether in the third week of September. The result was a complete failure of both the kharif and rabi crops. The normal outturn of the principal food crops, jowar and wheat, for the preceding ten years, exclusive of 1896-97, had been about 1306.340 q. (35 lakhs of maunds); the actual outturn of 1899-1900 was about 5225.36 q. (14,000 maunds). The loss represented by this difference was estimated to have been about 164 lakhs of rupees. At the end of September, the price of the staple foodgrain, jowar, went up to famine point, selling at 13 to 15 seers a rupee. It rose in October to 9 seers and fluctuated between 11 and 8 seers from November 1899 to May 1900, when there was a further rise, and the highest price reached was 7 seers in July 1900. From August 1900 the price began to fall again but it did not reach the normal till some months later. But for the large imports of Bengal and Rangoon rice at the beginning of the famine, the price would have risen still further.

In November (1899) large relief works under the charge of the Public Works Department were undertaken. These works mainly consisted of stone metal collections, construction of new roads and repairs to existing roads, carriage of stone metal from quarries to roadside, construction of new tanks and cleaning of old tanks. The number of workers engaged varied from 6,000 to 7.000 during the quarter ending November 1899; by April the number reached 46,000, and in June the panic caused by the holding off of the rains sent up the number to 48,000. In July there was a rapid decrease in this figure and by the end of September there were only 1,112 people on the works. The total expenditure on the works was nearly 11 lakhs of rupees, whereas their cost at normal rates would have been only 4 lakhs.

Besides these relief works, the Government launched a policy of opening village works with a view to providing temporary employment to people near their homes until they could find suitable work on the field. The work done consisted chiefly of improvement to village sites and local roads, and the collection of kankar (limestone nodules) for road repairs. The maximum number of workers on relief work was 25,000 in July 1900. The expenditure on these works amounted to Rs. 1,04,608.

Special measures were also taken for the relief of the weaving community in the Ellichpur tahsil. Advances were made to middlemen, who were supposed to employ only distressed weavers and the cloth thus produced was purchased by Government from the middlemen.

Gratuitous relief was given to the poorer sections or the community under three heads: [For details refer Central Provinces District Gazetteers, Amravati District, Volume A, 1911.]

(1) relief of non-working children and other dependents of

relief workers on large works;

(2) grain doles or cooked food given to persons eligible under the Famine Code; and

(3) relief in poor-houses.

The famine affected the cattle very severely. There was heavy mortality among the cattle due to non-availability of fodder and grass. Many owners of cattle were compelled either to sell their cattle at nominal prices or to send them into the Melghat where fodder was available. Vigorous efforts were made by the Government to save the cattle. But, in spite of all the efforts, about 55 per cent of the cattle perished.

Famine in Melghat Tahsi1 1896-97.

The famine history of the Melghat, differing as it does in  respect from the rest of the district, requires a separate notice. This tract is populated every almost entirely by the aboriginal Korkus and similar tribes, a people of the poorest condition, shy and diffident, living from hand to mouth, with no resources and extremely averse to any work except fitful labour in the forests. The prosperity of the tract depends on three factors in the following order of importance; first, prosperity in Berar and consequently a good demand for Melghat forest produce; secondly, a good crop of cereals locally; and thirdly, a good season for wild fruits. At the close of the rains in 1896 the distress in the plain talukas caused the demand for timber to fall considerably, and the Melghat exporters found their income from this source reduced to one-fourth of the normal. Moreover, the local harvests in the Melghat had been bad for three or four years previously, and in 1895 there had been a partial failure of crops. In 1896 the early cessation of the rains caused a total failure of the crops on the light red shallow soils, which formed the bulk of the cultivated area. There was also a rapid rise in the prices of foodgrains. which by November 1896 were double the normal. Thus at the close of 1896 the Korku, with no stock of grain to draw on and with no market for his forest produce, found himself face to face with starvation. Small bands of them began to appear in the plains searching for work. The situation was. however, retrieved by the Forest Department, in charge of the Melghat region, which in December 1896 took measures to cope with the distress.

Relief measures in the Melghat region differed considerably from other parts of the district due to its peculiar topography and the special character of the aboriginal inhabitants.

Provisions under the Famine Code were altered to suit the conditions of the area. Small and scattered works were opened; but the Officers in charge tried to exact a fair day's work from the labourers by moral persuasion and patience, Food for the workers had to be imported from the plains. Most of the relief works consisted of road construction, but in addition wells were deepened, tanks cleaned and roads repaired.

Gratuitous relief was given at about 20 relief centres where foodgrains were distributed. The incapacitated were given doles. In addition, the export of forest produce was encouraged by making liberal concessions. The duty on headloads of firewood was suspended; the rates for small and inferior timber, for bamboos and for charcoal, were reduced, and grazing fees were remitted except in 23 well-off villages. Cheap grain shops were opened at numerous centres.

1899-1900.

The harvest in 1897 was below normal in consequence of the famine of 1896-97. In 1898 the area sown and outturn were generally normal, but a portion of the tract was still suffering from the effects of the famine. In 1899 the rainfall from June to September was only 482.60 mm. (19 inches) or 33 per cent, of the average, and the regular rains stopped at the end of July The result was a complete failure of the crops. The aboriginal inhabitants were in even a worse position than in 1897, as the distress in the plain talukas was much severer. No field work was available and sales of forest produce practically ceased. In September 1899 relief measures were sanctioned.

The period following the year 1910 saw less frequent occurrence of famines. The distress and suffering which used to be typically acute during the previous famines were also reduced to a considerable extent. This can be attributed to improved means of communications, quicker transport, mobility of labour, diversification of occupational structure and conscious and timely relief measures undertaken by the Government. Volun-tary social service institutions and men of public zeal also rendered invaluable service for the amelioration of the famine stricken.

The nature was also merciful. The rains were either fairly adequate or at least not grieviously short. The inadequacy or shortage in rains sometimes was covered by the farmers by irrigation through wells with the help of water pumping sets; whereas a few farmers resorted to horticulture to obviate vagaries of rains.

However, conditions of widespread scarcity prevailed some-times. They were in variably reflected in the high prices of foodgrains and shortage of drinking water and fodder.

Locusts infected the district in 1957. However, the situation was brought under control by timely measures and by the use of the latest equipment to combat the menace. Compensation was given for the damage caused, by the grant of loans and gratuitous relief to the sufferers.

Floods.

The incidence of floods has been on an increase since the last decade. Large areas of cultivated land were devastated and eroded by iunous floods. Daryapur tahsil, where the incidence of damage due to floods was considerable, experienced heavy floods in 1930-31, 1940-41, 1944-45, 1950-51. 1956-57 and 1959-60. These floods caused damage to cultivated land, houses and cattle. In 1957, the entire district suffered considerably due to floods.

The extent of damage in Amravati tahsil amounted to Rs. 55.050. Cultivated land measuring 854.955 hectares (2,111 acres) in Chandur tahsil and 453.600 hectares (1,120 acres) in Daryapur tahsil was submerged in flood waters. Morshi tahsil lost two human lives. The damage to land and property amounted to Rs. 1,23,000 in Morshi tahsil.

In September 1959, there were heavy rains causing floods which affected 179 villages in the district. Damage was caused to villages along the banks of the Pedhi in Amravati, the Belmandi and the Kholat in Chandur and the Chandrabhaga and the Shahanur in Daryapur tahsils. Houses were washed away and an area of about 7,399.350 hectares (18,270 acres) with standing crops was also completely swept away by floods. Thousands of acres of standing crops were submerged in water for a number of days. The floods not only damaged the existing crops but also eroded the soil and rendered it barren. The estimated damage to crops was to the tune of Rs. 12,86,476. In Daryapur tahsil alone 86 villages were affected, and the loss amounted to Rs. 6,15,680. The damage in Amravati and Chandur tahsils was estimated at Rs. 2,60,811 and Rs. 2.96,700. respectively. The floods, however, did not affect the Melghat and Morshi tahsils.

The following statement gives the damages due to floods in terms of loss of human life, cattle, houses, property and agricultural lands in the district in 1959-60, 1961-62 and 1962-63.

Particulars

1959-60

1961-62

1962-63

Human lives lost

10

1

2

Heads of cattle lost

177

70

--

Villages affected

409

108

100

Houses-(i) Damaged

1,275

562

88

(ii) Destroyed

1,718

457

10

Value of loss (other than crops)- (i) Public

Rs. 6,92,937

Rs. 2,34,769

Rs. 6,922

(ii) Government

Rs. 9,000

--

--

Crops damaged (i) Area

11,991.645 hec. (29,609)

2,655.090 hec. (6,558)

1,918.890 hec. (4,738)

(ii) Value

Rs. 18,74,655

Rs. 1,38,075

Rs. 1,95,160

Figures in brackets are in acres.

To alleviate the distress, speedy measures were taken by public and private bodies and the Government, by opening relief cen- trees, granting loans, subsidies and building materials, Besides tagai loans and subsidies, clothes, food and cash were received from the Government of India and the Prime Minister's Relief Fund for distribution among the distressed. The following statement gives the statistics of relief measures from various sources.

Particulars of relief

1959-60

1961-62

Amount of relief including loans-

Rs.

Rs.

Ordinary tagai loans

7,16,307.86

2,39,030.00

Loans under Non-Agricultural Loans Act

27,000.00

9,250.00

Subsidy to the flood stricken

20,050.50

14,700.00

Gratuitous Relief

1,09,095.00

16,619.99

Total

8.72,453.36

2,79,599.99

Building materials

56,468.00

60,000.00 (approximately)

Seeds for sowing

65,390.00

N. A.

Clothes, cloth, utensils and milk powder

N. A.

N. A.

A High Level Committee on floods has been studying pros and cons of the threat of floods and protective mea: to be undertaken in the district. All susceptible areas of 1 have been clearly demarcated and active steps are being t to ensure that the Gaothaiis (village sites) are changed to; safer sites free from the incidence of floods. The dangerous rivers and nalas are suitably channelised to allow flood water pass without being obstructed. New Gaolhans are provided the vulnerable villages. The rural housing scheme is being implemented to provide loans for construction of new house in the flood-stricken villages. Special facilities arc made available to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward ' people for their rehabilitation.

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