HC Deb 08 May 1874 vol 218 cc1987-91

, in rising to call the attention of the House to page 30 of the Abstract of Report of Surveys in India, 1871–2, on which it is stated that— The question of the organization of a Meteorological Department in India is still under consideration: the Despatch from the Secretary of State on the subject, dated the 18th May 1871, and enclosing the Report of the Committee of the Royal Society, not yet having been answered; and to ask the Under Secretary of State for India, Whether he will have any objection to lay before the House all Despatches which have passed to and from the Government of India during the last five years, on the subject referred to? said: In the despatch of May 18th, 1871, the Duke of Argyll recommends that India should be apportioned into five local central stations, under one scientific Director—that the instruments used should be uniform, and the method of observing them identical. Mr. Chambers, the Government observer at Colaba, has already made identical recommendations to the Home Government. Mr. Clements Markham in the Blue Book—"Indian Progress and Condition, 1871–2 "—shows that India is naturally divided into five Zones according to their average annual rainfall. (1.) The North West arid Zone, including Scinde and half Punjab with a rainfall of less than 15 inches where irrigation is a necessity of existence. (2.) The Northern dry Zone, a belt 100 to 200 miles wide, including Delhi and Agra, and the Southern comprising the Peninsula between the two Seas from Nasik to Cape Comorin with less than 30 inches, where irrigation is also necessary. (3.) The Upper Valley of the Ganges, Central India and Eastern Madras with a rainfall between 30 and 60 inches, where great distress has been felt from want of irrigation. (4.) The Deltas of the Maharadi and Ganges Rivers with a rainfall between 60 and 75 inches which makes irrigation a luxury; and (5.) Two Zones, one extending from the mouth of the Irawadi River along the Bay of Bengal, up the Brahmaputra River and skirting the Himalaya mountains, the other extending from the west coast between Cape Comorin and Bombay to the summits of the Ghauts, where a rainfall of over 75 inches makes irrigation unnecessary. The Duke of Argyll explaining the conduct of the late Government as regards the famine, stated that he had first implicitly trusted the Indian Government on account of the date at which they first took alarm—namely, the 25th of October. Up to the beginning of September there was no alarm from a previous failure of rain—a deficiency of the ordinary rains in July and August is never fatal if supplemented by rain in September and October, and even a deficiency in the September and October rains is never ascertained till the third week in October. On the 25th of October, Sir George Camphell telegraphed to the Viceroy that there was—beyond the July and August deficiency—an additional failure, and cause for grave alarm. Trusting to these monthly and yearly averages, the Indian Government have spent, and still spend enormous sums of public money on irrigation to obviate drought, and maintains many miles of embankment against the average flooding of rain-fed rivers. Trusting equally to those averages, the English Government delay to provide against the possible starvation of thousands of our Indian fellow-subjects. Surely the records from which these averages are compiled should be, at least, above the suspicion of inaccuracy. In the administration Report 1872–3, Mr. F. H. Bland-ford tells the Government of Bengal that—first, falsification has been deliberately attempted in some cases, and the figures of one year simply recopied for the registers of succeeding years; secondly, that several native observers have been dismissed for carelessness and deception, and have proved untrustworthy without supervision; thirdly, that an observatory at Calcutta and a trained body of observers of a higher class are the only means to remedy these evils. In the Meteorological Abstract of 1872, Mr. Blandford had already complained that the fewness of stations in Madras and Burmah prevent an accurate knowledge of the climate of the Bay of Bengal. In his Memorandum, 1871, he stated that he feared a large mass of meteorological records now accumulating would prove useless—the readings of many barometers being unreduced—their errors and their elevations being unrecorded. He urged the systematic observation of the spring, summer, autumn, and winter rains; of the winds on which they depend; of the barometric pressure which determines and causes the direction of these winds; of the differences in the physical geography of India: and of the variable humidity of the air. Major General Strachey, Mr. Chambers, Dr. Forbes Watson, and Mr. Buchan all agree with these suggestions. India delays to provide against famine—England holds the late Government blameless—trusting to the meteorological observations, which the highest authorities tell us are neither extensive enough nor accurate enough to be entirely trustworthy. Both India and England agree that an extended and reorganized Meteorological Department is necessary. Will the noble Lord tell the House why it is still only under consideration? This is not merely a question of spending public money on pure science. Even our imperfectly obtained inference of Indian meteorology seems to show that famines come in cycles. The North West Famines of 1837 and 1860 both followed several years of climatic irregularity—a phenomenon supposed by Colonel Baird-Smith to be the forerunner of a total failure of the usual rainfall. The Orissa Famine of 1866 arose from the rain ceasing in September, the geographical isolation of Orissa and an inexperience of what was really the famine price of rice, an inexperience now remedied by the Returns of the District Commissioners. Mr. Clements Markham, the distinguished Seceretary of the Geographical Society, from whose public compilations in the few Indian Blue Books so tardily vouchsafed to the English pub-lie, and from whose writings in Ocean Highways I have quoted my facts—himself proves that meteorology can prove a good investment for Government money. Mr. Markham brought—as only a meteorologist could bring—the seeds and plants of the chinchona tree to India from Peru, and millions of chinchona trees now growing on the Nilgiri hills produced a revenue in 1873 of over £13,000, and 33,000 lbs. of bark annually help to prevent the disease that invariably follows famine. My attention was first called to the subject in consequence of myreading a statement which appeared on November 3, 1873, in The Daily News—a paper to which the country is indebted for most talented criticisms in relation to the famine in India—that the average rainfall of the last year was only 42 inches, while the average of the last 19 years was 60 inches. I hope the Under Secretary of State will arrange that the Indian Blue Books are published sooner, and will lay on the Table of the House the despatches for which I have moved.


said, he had no objection to lay on the Table the despatches for which the hon. Member had moved. The last despatch received from Lord Northbrook intimated the noble Lord's intention of organizing a more complete system of taking registers of observations; but he proposed to postpone that system until he had prepared the Estimates, as it would entail some expense. In the Estimates for 1874–5, provision had been made for a system such as that indicated by the hon. Member.