From 50 Years Ago : Unquickened Conscience
Vol II, No 16 april 22, 1967
For the first time since independence a part of the country has been officially declared famine-stricken. The drought in Bihar is now almost two crop-years old and the precisely drafted requirements of the hoary Famine Code — that more than half per cent of the population must have been on dole for over two months, prices continuously high and relief works attracting workers in large numbers — have long been satisfied, as the Bihar Government’s press note very properly pointed out. The requirements have been more than satisfied, unfortunately. The Code, though drafted by the British, does not require people to die of hunger, but people have starved to death in Bihar. How many, we do not know. …
If anything can be more shocking than the fate of the people of Bihar it is the realisation how little it has touched the conscience of the country. … The State Chief Minister recently alleged that the Centre has withheld assistance amounting to Rs 30 crores which had been promised to the earlier Congress Government. … Only recently, a Minister in the Bihar Government had himself pointed out that it was “an open secret” that a substantial portion of foodgrains allotted to fair-price shops found their way to the black market … Nor does every rupee, or even a major part of it, spent on relief works reach the starving. The fate of the adivasis and the harijans, who constitute about one-fourth of the State’s population and who, deprived of all means of livelihood by the two successive droughts, are among the worst affected, does not move the Kayasth, Rajput and Ahir politicians and administrators enough to bestir themselves unduly or even to prevent them from taking a cut out of the public moneys spent on relief works.
But when all is said and done, does not the eagerness to point to Bihar’s failure to help itself betray anxiety to cover up the fact that the rest of the country has done less than it should have for the starving people of Bihar?
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