HC Deb 19 December 1945 vol 417 cc1495-6W
Mr. Bossom

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will make a statement in regard to the food situation in India, with special reference to Bengal.

Mr. A. Henderson

I circulated to the House on 15th October a statement dealing with the food situation in Bengal. Since then the prospects of the main winter rice crop in Bengal have improved considerably, the earlier drought having to a large extent been offset by late and abnormal rains in October. Damage by flood in certain areas has been balanced by a better yield elsewhere. The crop has still to be harvested and accurate estimates are not yet possible, but the Government of India and the Government of Bengal now have reason to hope that the outturn this year will not be much less than 95 per cent, of last year's crop, which was regarded as average. The price of rice has continued to fall slowly but steadily. There will still be a deficit to be met and it must be borne in mind that even an average crop in Bengal is insufficient to feed her population of 65 million on a reasonable standard. But the authorities are now in a much better position to deal with the situation than before. The Bengal Government now hold considerable working stocks of rice and they have at their disposal the necessary transport and storage facilities to enable them to distribute these stocks to any area where a threat of shortage may arise. Stocks of rice amounted at the end of October to about 350,000 tons. Rationing of the population of over 4 million in greater Calcutta has been functioning smoothly for some time past and, as elsewhere in India, it is being gradually extended to other urban areas. Preparations have also been made to introduce controlled distribution in rural areas in case of emergency.

Unfortunately two serious calamities have recently occurred in other Provinces. The tidal wave, which accompanied the cyclone in the Bay of Bengal a month ago, destroyed stocks and standing crops of rice in some East Coast districts of Madras, and losses there are estimated at about 400,000 tons of rice. Damage to the extent of; about a further 500,000 tons to crops of millets wheat and rice is reported from Bombay and Mysore as a result of the failure of the October rains in those areas. But the Central Government now have an efficient system of planned movement of cereals from surplus to deficit provinces which has been in operation for the past 2½ years and has enabled the Government of India, with the assistance of imports from abroad, to give effective help to any Province which may find itself in difficulties through failure of the crops or other causes.

The food situation in India gives no grounds for complacency and substantial assistance in the form of cereal imports from abroad is still necessary. With this assistance, however, the administrative measures which have been taken in India should prevent the recurrence of famine in Bengal or elsewhere in India.

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