891.49/2–251: Telegram

The Ambassador in India (Henderson) to the Secretary of State

confidential niact

1932. Re Deptel 1206 January 31, 7 p. m.1 Embassy believes impossible estimate reliably number deaths likely result from failure obtain emergency import requirements requested from US but if pressed to name figures it would say that as many as 1 million and possibly even in excess of 2 million might die if food grain imports beyond those already programmed (3.7 million tons) are not obtained. Estimate includes acceleration of death losses among underfed portion of population resulting from epidemic diseases associated with famine. [Page 2108] Deaths would be expected in distressed areas throughout India and not in concentrated area as during Bengal famine 1943. Since that time development of system for local food procurement and food rationing has spread effects of food deficiencies throughout entire country.

To maintain grain ration 12 ounces per adult per day GOI uses 4 million tons for 45 million rationed population in principal urban areas and Travancore, also requires 5 million tons for partially rationing 85 million people in rural deficit areas and additional urban areas. Ability to distribute 9 million tons largely depends on ability procure 4 million tons local purposes. If additional 2 million tons US grain not obtained probably only 3 million tons procurable because short rations cause grain price inflation, black marketing and hoarding by producers and small merchants. Hence failure obtain extra 2 million US grain likely result 3 million tons less grain for rationing (foregoing 2 million US and 1 million local procurement). Deficiency amounting ⅓rd of required supplies would fall most heavily on people least able bear it, especially landless laborers and deficit producers in villages whose low wages prevent them from purchasing food at black market or open market prices. GOI reports shortages in worst districts Bihar have caused prices unrationed supplies of rice high as 30 rupees per pound (7.7 cents per pound) whereas official procurement price 13 to 14 rupees. Past experience as in Uttar Pradesh 1949 indicates producers rebel and organize demonstrations against official procurement at fixed price when price otherwise obtainable much higher.

Besides deaths dramatic effect of failure obtain extra 2 million tons will be rapid spread civil disorder which already increasing. Owing non-supply food grains GOI reports much unrest among industrial laborers and others. In Bombay during November December hunger marches and demonstrations occurred in district headquarters East Khandesh, Nasik, Ratuagin and Poona. During December January standing crops ready for harvest were looted by hungry people Sholapur, Ahmednagar and Poona. Fairly large scale movement rural population into towns in search food becoming common. Cases reported people living mainly on roots, tubers and nuts. In Hyderabad Communists making much of prevailing scarcity food; on one occasion engineered looting government grain warehouses and shops.

Press today reports about 1,000 people marched yesterday through Patiala streets shouting give us bread or leave offices and save PEPSU from famine.

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Editorial commerce and industry January 31 (see separate telegram for summary)2 cites private members amendment of measures before Madras legislative council urging greater GOI imports for rationing or else Madras government should diplomatically [dis] associate itself from food administration of union government. Other illustrations cited indicating discontent secessional tendencies of state governments over GOI food scarcity policies. Embassy convinced failure obtain extra 2 million tons grain would result much civil disorder, disruption of system grain procurement rationing, upsurge of Communist activity among distressed portion of population and serious weakening of government of this newly created republic in year of its first national election. And it would not surprise us if GOI reaction would be immediate effort secure grain from USSR and China.

  1. Not printed. It requested a rapid reply concerning estimated deaths from starvation if emergency requirements sought from the United States were not met (891.03/1–3151).
  2. Not printed.