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While the government did come out with a famine relief package, no one took these measures seriously. That the government was not serious about the famine relief work, was borne out by the fact that the land tax collection went on as usual. That the cultivators had to mortgage or even sell part of their lands to pay revenue, did not trouble the government officials. To them, the target set for the year was more important than the hardships of the poor farmers.

Irrigation vs Railways

The British were aware of the importance of irrigation works. They had repaired and restored the 445-mile long West Jumna Canal (originally built by Indian rulers) and they saw the benefits of the canal during the famine of 1837. The gross value of the crops saved by the canal exceeded 1.5 million pounds.
Sir Arthur Cotton built several anicuts or dams in South India. Consequently the land available for cultivation increased by a whopping 100,000 acres and the land revenue collection went up by £ 44,000 per annum.
Sir Arthur Cotton and his team of engineers were all set to build a network of canals in north and south India but the arrival of the railways upset their plans. The funds meant for irrigation works were diverted to construction of railway lines, and Sir Arthur and those who shared his views watched helplessly as drought and famine devastated large parts of South India and millions starved to death.
A sum of £ 120 million had been spent on the railways. Many felt that if the money had been spent on irrigation works instead, the famine could have been averted.
But the government had to contend with the manufacturers' lobby in Britain. The manufacturers saw a vast market in India and were pressurising the government to extend the railways so that the interior of the country could be made accessible to their commodities.
Romesh Dutt was among those who believed that extending the railways at the cost of irrigation works had been a blunder.
He wrote: "And the people of India, who paid both for the railways and irrigation works, would undoubtedly have given their support, if they had been consulted, to Sir Arthur Cotton's proposal to stop extension of the railways after the main lines had been completed and secondly, to the construction of irrigation works for the benefit of cultivation and prevention of famines."
But then the people of India had no say in matters that affected them most.

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