1966 Famine in India

by Guruprasad

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News article from US newspaper.

In the mid 1960s, India faced a severe food shortage (mainly in Bihar) and nearly escaped from a major famine.

In 1959 itself, A team from the USA had warned India about a serious food shorage after studying its birth rate and crop growth rate. They had mentioned in their report that if things continue as it is, there would be a major famine in 1966. The Indian govt under Nehru gave some attention to the report but did not take it as seriously as what the team had hoped.

A summary of the report from 1959 TIME magazine article:

You can read the point from the article which says “The Ford report got respectful attention in New Delhi, but not the hoped-for galvanizing of resolve”

The first signs of severe food shortage began showing up in 1965.
Lal Bahadur Shastri who was the PM in 1965 took it up as high priority (unlike his previous PM) and the first step he took was to create awareness among people and asking them to participate in the campaign to save food and attempt to increase grain output by appealing farmers to grow more than 1 crop an year. Also, he encouraged people to clean up their backyard and start growing crops and vegetables. One of the most popular initiative was the “miss a meal” campaign wherein the nation’s newspapers carried out a full page ad saying “Today is a Dinnerless day” i.e asking people to skip today’s dinner.

More about that in the 1965 TIME magazine article:

Also, Shasri went on to give more importance to farmers because they were the real soldiers of country who could fight against food shortages which had become India’s biggest enemy. Remember the slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”?

However, India needed external support as well. Although such initiatives were helping India in some way, the food production went to an all time low in 1966 (as predicted by the report from USA). That was when India requested USA to supply grains and USA offered wholehearted support. They began supplying 20,000 tons of grains on a daily basis and during the peak time of the famine, they were supplying almost 50,000 tons of grains daily. There was an article which said that ships would arrive Indian port once in every 5 minutes!! There were even “ship traffic jams” because of several ships coming so frequently. That was the kind of food shortage India had, and the support given by US helped India to narrowly escape from a disaster.

As I mentioned earlier, Shastri had started lots of initiatives to curb food shortages and such initiatives in turn paved the way for some of the revolutionary policies in agriculture which resulted in Green Revolution. I will narrate more about the Green Revolution later.

If the govt had taken such precautionary steps after getting the report in 1959, India never had to witness such a famine. Thanks to some of the visionary leaders like Shastri who gave more importance to farmers, India overcame its food shortage and after Green revolution, we are now self sufficient and in a comfortable stage of donating some grains to other countries also. Apart from the Green Revolution, Shastri was instrumental in starting the White Revolution also. Hats off to Shastri. I wonder how advanced we would be now, if Shastri had been the Prime Minister for few more years :)

I will narrate more about Green Revolution & White Revolution later using different pics :)