Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations ( Murray ) to the Chief of the War Commodities Division ( Cissel )

Mr. Cissel: Much concern is felt in the Department and by the Mission at New Delhi regarding the serious food situation existing in India which is particularly acute at present in Bengal. People are reported to be dying daily in the streets of Calcutta of starvation, many of them having filtered into the city from the country areas which are described as foodless. In this connection a recent despatch; from the Mission at New Delhi72 contains the following statement:

“The steady incursion of famished villagers is partly responsible for the rising number of deaths by starvation in the streets of Calcutta. The Chief Minister of Bengal has publicly admitted that his only reason for not declaring Bengal a Famine Area is the impossibility of carrying out his Government’s responsibilities under the Famine Code. The English President of the Calcutta Rotary Club has written to the local newspapers urging that starving people not be turned away from hospitals, when brought there in a state of collapse, and that the Municipality find some more adequate means of gathering the bodies of those who die in the streets. These grim reminders that famine is leaving its victims in the streets of the second city of the British Empire do not exaggerate the situation.”

While the situation in Bengal has been aggravated by floods and hurricanes and hence is the worst, conditions of a very serious sort are understood likewise to exist in Madras and Bombay.

It is felt that the repercussions are obvious which may be expected upon military operations in an area where the population is both [Page 298] hostile and starving. Already a marked increase in crime and sabotage has been noted in some areas. The peculiarly strategic position of Bengal in regard to military operations against Japanese-held territory is also apparent.

With these considerations in view it is strongly recommended that an effort be made to prevail upon the Combined Food Board to set aside a contingent allotment of rice, which I understand might be possible through the utilization of stocks now in this country, to be used to alleviate the alarming situation existing in Bengal if shipping space can be procured.

I should greatly appreciate advice regarding the outcome of such representations in the matter as you may see fit to make.

Wallace Murray
  1. No. 164, August 6, 1943, not printed.