The Great Bengal famine of 1770 was a catastrophic famine between 1769 and 1773 that affected the lower Gangetic plain of India.

The famine occurred in the territory which was called Bengal, then ruled by the British East India Company.

This territory included modern West Bengal, Bangladesh, and parts of Assam, Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand.

Among the worst affected areas were Birbhum and Murshidabad in Bengal, and Tirhut, Champaran and Bettiah in Bihar.

By September 1769 there was a severe drought, and alarming reports were coming in of rural distress. These were, however, ignored by company officers.

Later in 1770 good rainfall resulted in a good harvest and the famine abated.

About ten million people, approximately one-third of the population of the affected area, are estimated to have died in the famine.


British East India Company’s policies

The famine was made more severe largely due to the British East India Company’s policies in Bengal.

East India Company’s purpose was to maximize profit.

The land tax was raised five-fold – from 10% to up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce.

By the time of the famine, monopolies in grain trading had been established by the company and its agents.

The company had no plan for dealing with the grain shortage.


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