HL Deb 01 August 1889 vol 339 cc37-41

in rising to ask the Secretary of State for India if his attention has been called to the Report of Mr. Bolton, collector, on the distress in the Diamond Harbour sub-division, and to the fines of two rupees or a week's imprisonment on nine starving men, and of one rupee on a woman, inflicted by Mr. Maguire, the Joint Magistrate of Alipore, for a breach of the Revenue Laws, they having scraped some salt from the earth to add to their meal of tamarind seeds and stalks of the water-lily; and to ask the Secretary of State what portion of the Reserve Famine Fund has been devoted to the famine in Ganjam and Orissa, said: My Lords, before putting the question which stands on the Notice Paper in my name, I wish to mention the great good which has resulted from the efforts of Lord Connemara, the Governor of Madras, and from his personal inspection of the district at the northern extremity of the Presidency, regardless of the hot season, when it is usual to take refuge in the hills at Ootacamund. Besides establishing relief works, the Governor of Madras has directed gratuitous relief to be given to women and children, who, but for that, must have perished; and local liberality has been encouraged by the presence of the Governor. The Indian Press is full of praise of Lord Connemara, not only for his exertions, but also for the way in which he has avoided the mistakes made in former famines; and it also states that he has received a message of commendation from Her Majesty the Queen. I hope that the noble Viscount the Secretary of State will be able to confirm the truth of that Report. The questions which I wish to ask the Secretary of State for India are —first, whether his attention has been called to the Report of Mr. Bolton, collector, on the distress in the Diamond Harbour sub-division. He went there, but he was there for so short a time that the people were not aware that he had been at the place until he was gone. In his Report he minimises the distress, it is said on insufficient information, and states that it is the proper policy not to demoralise the people by giving them food. It must be remembered that there is no Poor Law in India, and that the Government alone can relieve distress. I do not ask the Secretary of State to censure Mr. Bolton, but I ask him to disagree with that gentleman. Perhaps the best way of showing disagreement would be for the Indian Government to circulate Lord Connemara's Minute in other famine districts, if it is really as able a document as it is said to be. It has been stated that Lord Connemara has had experience of former famines, and has avoided the mistakes then made. As to Mr. Maguire's sentences for breach of the Revenue Laws by starving men, I hope the Secretary of State will be able to say that this Magistrate has been directed to exercise more discretion in future. The nine men who were imprisoned by him for a week not being able to pay the fine were perhaps benefited, as they must have been fed whilst in prison; but the woman said that if she were sent to prison her two infant children would starve. A Hindoo pleader who was present, speaking merely as amicus curiœ) besought the Magistrate to dismiss her with a nominal fine, but without success. At last the Magistrate said to the woman, "you are fined a rupee which this Baboo will pay." The Baboo paid the fine, and the woman was let go. One feels somewhat curious to know whether Mr. Maguire, like most Irishmen in India, is a Home Ruler or not. If a similar occurrence took place in Ireland, what an outcry there would have been from the whole people and Press of Ireland at the conduct of the Magistrate. With regard to the last question in my notice, I may say that I have seen statements in the Press to the effect that the Reserve Famine Fund has been swept away or swallowed up in the North-West frontier; but I cannot believe that those statements are correct, because I find that in his Despatch of April 12, 1888, sanctioning the raising of the Salt Tax, the Secretary of State has written the following paragraph:— There is another reason of great moment for endeavouring to keep the duty on salt as low as practicable. One of the objects at which the Government of India aimed in the reforms that were instituted, of which great political and financial importance was foreseen, was to place a reserve in the hands of the Administration, for the purpose of meeting any serious emergency, and to enable them to obtain temporarily a considerable addition to the Revenue by an increase of duty, of which the mass of the people would be hardly aware. This extract from a Despatch of April of last year would indicate that precau- tions must have been taken to reserve a fund for the emergency of the famine which has now occurred. From what has transpired in another place I am afraid the noble Viscount will not be able to give a satisfactory account of what has become of this fund, but it is clear from a telegram I have seen, stating that a total number of 80,000 people in Ganjam are receiving gratuitous relief, that the Indian Government has not regarded the disappearance of the fund, but must have supplied money from the equivalent in India of the Consolidated Fund. Lord Ripon lowered the Salt Duty a short time ago: it has been raised again, and the people of India are suffering very much in consequence. The last Medical Reports say that salt is required as a preventative against cholera, and there is no doubt also that the cattle suffer from murrain for want of salt. I think, my Lords, that before long the noble Viscount will have to look about for some other means of raising Revenue.


My Lords, with regard to the action taken by Lord Connemara in regard to the distress existing in the Presidency of Madras, I think you will agree that it is impossible to speak too highly of it. The Governor of Madras sent one of his most trusted officers at the earliest possible opportunity to examine into the whole question; and then, although the weather was extremely hot and the season far advanced, he thought it was wise to go to the district affected and make searching inquiry himself. The results have been most satisfactory. Lord Connemara has undoubtedly by this action given enormous encouragement to all those who are engaged in relieving the distress which exists, and has done a great deal to alleviate the sufferings of the people. It is quite true that Her Majesty has sent a message to Lord Connemara approving of his conduct, and unquestionably that high compliment the Governor of Madras has fully deserved. I have not yet received an official copy of the Report of Mr. Bolton, and therefore I must decline to discuss that matter at present. Neither have I received any information as to the alleged punishments referred to by the noble Lord, inflicted for scraping salt from the earth, but I will make inquiries. As to the famine, I can assure the noble Lord that the Viceroy is fully alive to all the dangers and difficulties of the situation, and that everything that can be done to alleviate the distress in Bengal and Madras has been done. As to the noble Lord's question regarding the Famine Fund, I must explain that there is no actual Reserve Fund. The expenditure which would be necessary to alleviate distress in Madras and Bengal will be meanwhile met out of the Provincial Funds, and according to a telegram which I received a few days ago the sum which would be required in Madras for the current year is set down at Rx82,000 and for Bengal at Rx40,000. The Provincial Governments are quite able to meet that expenditure. Of course if they had not had sufficient funds to do what they desired they would have applied to the Central Government, and they would have been offered money out of the Indian Imperial Exchequer, but I am happy to say that there is no probability of that being necessary.