Modern History

Overview and Results of the event l


NCERT notes on important topics for the UPSC Civil Services Exam. These notes will also be useful for other competitive exams like banking PO, SSC, state civil services exams and so on. This article talks about The Great Bengal Famine of 1770. It has been described as one of the worst disasters of pre-Independent India.

Overview of the Great Bengal Famine of 1770

A disastrous famine affected the lower Gangetic Plains of India including the regions of Bengal and Bihar between 1769 and 1773 where 1/3rd of the population perished. An estimated 10 million people died of starvation and famine-triggered epidemics that also affected the regions of Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand and Bangladesh. The territory was then ruled by the British East India Company.

The famine is one of the many famines and famine-triggered epidemics that devastated the Indian subcontinent during the 18th and 19th century. It is usually attributed to a combination of weather and the policies of the East India Company. The start of the famine has been attributed to a failed monsoon in 1769 that caused widespread drought and two consecutive failed rice crops. The devastation from war, combined with exploitative tax revenue policies of the East India Company after 1765 crippled the economic resources of the rural population. However, modern scholarship has suggested that the effect of taxation was marginal.


  • After the Battles of Plassey and Buxar, the British East India Company had acquired the Diwani rights over Bengal.
  • The Nawab was only a nominal head with the real power resting under the company’s head.
  • The company was only interested in maximising revenue and profits for itself while the plight of the local farmers and others were completely neglected.
  • Prior to the company’s rule, the tax rate on land revenue was only about 1/10th of the agricultural produce. But the company increased it overnight to 50% of the produce.
  • The farmers, who had previously-stored excess produce for a lean season (they had excess because of the less tax), were not permitted to store produce, and they could not store too, because of the terrible tax regime under the English.
  • The British forced farmers to harvest cash crops like poppy and indigo for export rather than food crops like paddy. This resulted in a shortage of grains for the people.
  • There was a minor shortage of crops in 1768 which was not an alarming situation.
  • But in 1769, there was a monsoon failure followed by severe drought. Starvation deaths started by 1769, but the company officials ignored this situation.
  • By 1770, the death count was increasing and almost 10 million people fell victim to this man-made devastation.
  • The company continued to collect taxes from farmers who could pay by further increasing the tax rate to make up for the loss in agricultural revenue due to the famine.
  • This famine was caused, to a large extent, by the company’s tax and revenue policies, and apathy of the company officials to rising starvation.

Results of the Famine

The famine would have far-reaching consequences that would not only change the Indian subcontinent but even the world forever:

  • The famine situation soothed by 1770 with good rainfall but not before claiming 1/3rd of the local population.
  • Large swathes of land were depopulated as a result of the famine.
  • Many agricultural lands became jungles for decades as a result of this famine.
  • This also increased the menace of bands of thugee or dacoits in Bengal.
  • Globally, the profit of the East India Company increased from fifteen million rupees in 1765 to thirty million in 1777.
  • Despite the soar in profits, the company continued to suffer financially and influenced Parliament to pass the Tea Act in 1773.
  • The Act allowed direct shipment of tea to the American colonies, without the payment of taxes. This infuriated the local merchants to the extent that they began protesting against this measure. One such protest was the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
  • The aftermath of the protest would eventually lead to a series of events that would culminate into the 1776 American Revolution.

Candidates can also download Famine in Bengal notes PDF from the link provided below.

UPSC 2023

The Famine In Bengal (UPSC Notes):- Download PDF Here

Also Read | Important Governors-General of Bengal and India: Essential facts for IAS Exam

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