Why was there a sudden spurt in famines in colonial India since the mid-18th century? Give reasons. (Answer in 150 words) [2022]


Colonial India endured an unprecedented rise in famines, largely attributable to British colonial policies and economic exploitation. The causes spanned from changes in agriculture to economic aspects.

Reasons for sudden spurt in famines in colonial India

  • Colonial policies: British policies such as land revenue systems and the promotion of cash crops over traditional farming disrupted food production, contributing to an increased risk of famines.
  • Cash crops: British policies prioritized cash crops like indigo, cotton, and opium over food crops, leading to food production decline and increased import dependency.
    • Example: The Bengal Famine of 1770 resulted from such policies, causing widespread food shortage.
  • Land revenue systems: Imposing heavy taxes on farmers through systems like the Permanent Settlement and Ryotwari impoverished them, reducing resilience against crop failures and famines.
    • Example: The Permanent Settlement in Bengal heightened farmers’ vulnerability to famines.
  • Economic exploitation: The British drained resources, imposed high taxes, and monopolized trade, weakening India’s economy and exacerbating susceptibility to famines.
    • Example: During the Deccan Famine of 1876-78, grain export to England was prioritized over local needs, worsening the situation.
  • Infrastructure: British interests led to the construction of railways and roads instead of irrigation systems or agricultural infrastructure, which could have alleviated famine impacts.


Learning from the past, India’s path forward involves prioritizing food security and sustainable development in agricultural policies. Focusing on local population needs and investing in agricultural infrastructure will help prevent future famines and establish a more resilient, self-sufficient economy.

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