HC Deb 17 February 1944 vol 397 cc334-5
38. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for India what further progress has been made in dealing with food shortage in India; the weekly amount of rationed foods allowed per head; whether free food distributing centres are still operating; the extent of the spread of diseases caused or aggravated by food shortage; and official figures respecting deaths and hospital treatment of the victims of the famine.

Mr. Butler

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 20th January by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for India to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White). The situation has further improved with the harvesting of the winter crops. Measures for the all-India control of prices have been agreed with the Provinces in respect of millets and are under active consideration for wheat and rice. Rationing in the towns has been put into operation on a wide scale, and the Calcutta scheme came into operation at the end of January. There is no universal ration scale for British India but the cereal ration generally approximates to that of one pound a day advocated as a minimum in the Foodgrains Committee Report. Food Centres are continuing in operation where necessary but are progressively closing down.

The cholera and malaria situations are improving, but incidence is still abnormally high. Smallpox also presents a problem. Reliable figures are still not available of the number of deaths in India from starvation and resulting diseases. I have no complete figures for cases treated but up to 29th January over 2,000,000 cholera inoculations and over 1,500,000 vaccinations had been reported.

Mr. Sorensen

Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman when the Secretary of State for India is likely to have figures regarding deaths from starvation?

Mr. Butler

It is difficult to give exact figures but I am endeavouring with the aid of my right hon. Friend to obtain them.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

The hon. Gentleman was speaking of British India, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give us any information about the situation in Southern India—Cochin and neighbouring States?

Mr. Butler

A high priority has been given for quotas of grain to Travancore and Cochin, and there ought to be certain movements there which will make things better.

Sir Frank Sanderson

Have any steps yet been taken to see that the available food is taken out of the hands of the moneylenders and distributed among the people who need it?

Mr. Butler

That, of course, is one of the greatest problems in the present situation. I am satisfied from inquiries I have made that the Government of India are doing their very best in the way of control and distribution in order to meet the needs of the people.