Quality Grades and Brands
The Art of the Economist
SEN AND FAMINE
Academics challenge Sen's facts
"It is easy to wake someone who is sleeping: it is hard to wake
someone who is pretending to sleep"
The most important document on the Bengal
Famine is the report of the Famine Inquiry Commission. This was a far more
thorough, and more honest, record of a famine than we have seen since, or
are likely to see again.
Inquiry Commission, Report on Bengal, New Delhi, Government of
Inquiry Commission Final Report, Madras, Government of India.
Very few copies were printed, which was believed at the time to be
because the Government of India wished to hide the evidence of its
incompetence. When an academic proposed publishing a facsimile edition,
Sen fought to prevent its publication. (see letter here) As a result, it is very difficult to get hold of
a copy, and very difficult to check Sen's citations. I present it in
Acrobat pdf files below. Because of the poor printing, it is not possible
to scan it into a text file.
Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 1-49,
Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 50-100
Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 100-150
Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 150-175
Famine Inquiry Commission Pages 176 to end
A tiff version of the complete document is at
Famine Inquiry Commission
The great statistician, Professor Mahalanobis, produced the table
which aroused most attention in Sen's first paper on famine. He also
discussed the statistics that were produced on production and how they
were prepared, and shows how bad they were. He suggested that there was political pressure to alter
them. He was put in charge of preparing proper crop statistics in the
years after the famine.
Mahalanobis, P.C. “Recent experiments in statistical sampling in the
Indian Statistical Institute.” Philosophical Transactions of the
Royal Society, Part iv, pp326-378. 1946.
Mahalanobis, P.C., Mukkerjee, R.K., and Ghosh, A. “A sample survey
of after effects of Bengal famine of 1943.” Sankhya
The sections of Mansergh's monumental work which Sen misquotes are
to be found at The Transfer of Power.
Denis Segal located two key archives for me. The Pinnell archive and
the Braund archive.
The Pinnell archive has the papers of L.G.Pinnell, who was in charge
of food supply in Bengal during the famine and who introduced the
rationing system. It includes original correspondence, his
department's official submissions to the Famine Inquiry Commission,
and his own memoir of the event,
The Braund archive is the papers of H.B.L.Braund, who was
investigating the famine in 1943 to 1944 - Denis met him in up
country Bengal, doing his field work. I am indebted to his daughter
for giving me permission to copy the whole archive: I also asked her
to give similar permission to other researchers.
There is an excellent and thorough review of
agricultural statistics in India:
Dewey, C., (1978) ‘Patwari and Chaukidar: subordinate officials and
the reliability of India’s agricultural statistics.’ Pp 280-314,
In Dewey, C. and Hopkins, A.G. (1978), The Imperial Impact:
Studies in the Economic History of Africa and India, Athlone