How to Make Irrigation Healthy


How to Make Irrigation Healthy is the appendix to Nightingale's paper, Life or Death in India (1874).

The cause of irrigation has received a frightful significance from this Bengal famine, irrigation being literally a matter of life and death. Not whether we will have irrigation or not; but how to make it healthy, and how to pay for it, are our questions. Wherever water for irrigation and navigation exists, famine is effectually met.

The paramount necessity of combining drainage with irrigation was never forced upon the attention in Southern India, as it has of late years been in Bengal and the North-West Provinces.

In the great irrigated districts of the Godavery and Kistna in the northern part of Madras, and of the north-west provinces and Punjab, drainage is now being taken in hand on a great scale, as outbreaks of fever have shown the results of its neglect.

In Tanjore, south of Madras, where there are above 1,000,000 acres of irrigated rice, without a weed to be seen, the drainage is said to be of the rudest description, yet the health of the people good. The population is more than 700 per square mile in the Delta. But the climate is a dry one; not moist like that of Bengal.

In this part of India the thermometer never falls so low in the cold months as it does farther north; and there appears to be some relation between the range of temperature at that time of the year and the prevalence of fever.

The Hooghly drainage investigation was taken up by the able Col. Haig, then chief engineer of the Irrigation Department, under the orders of the Lieut.-Governor, Sir G. Campbell, though there are no irrigation works there, in hopes of contributing towards the clearing up of the fever question, which has of late years assumed such enormous importance, or rather its enormous importance has only now come to be known. The fever seems partly owing to entire want of drainage, partly to foul drinking-water in the dry season.

Much more information than what Col. Haig managed, with all his super-eminent ability and energy, to collect in the course of a six months' enquiry, is said to be needed; and there is at least one point, the relative levels of sub-soil water, about which we as yet know far too little.

Col. Haig's 'Note' embodies certain facts in regard to the rainfall, surface levels, and drainage discharges of the district; but, as he states, he has no pretension to having exhausted the subject.

It is not, however, more enquiry that is most needed. Enquiry and investigation are the curse of India, as of any country where we do not act up to the light we have: where evils are investigated and re-investigated fifty times over, simply as an excuse for doing nothing.

Everybody has known for half a century that, if the water of Bengal were regulated, the superabundance carried off during the monsoon, and plenty of water, fresh from the rivers, carried through every village in the dry season for irrigation, drinking, and carriage, the whole condition of the people would be immeasurably improved. All that is wanted is that the works should be executed; but this is the one thing that will not be done.

We shall have the country levelled and surveyed, the works planned and approved, report upon report called for, and commission upon commission appointed: anything that can be done as a reason for doing nothing.

1. One question is whether an area of ground,Shallow water unhealthy.⁠ covered to such a depth with water as not to give off malaria from decomposition of dead organic matter, is necessarily unwholesome. This would be very much the condition of an ordinary tank, or of a lake in which the surface of the water is retained permanently at a fixed, or nearly fixed, level.

In the dry climate of Southern India such masses of water are said to be perfectly healthy; but in the warm, moist climate of Bengal the growth of aquatic plants is so prodigious that unless tanks are periodically cleared of the weeds and mosses, which form in time a dense mat of vegetation on the surface, the water, it is said, becomes unfit to drink, and gives out deleterious gases.

But, in point of fact, such cases are extremely rare. As a rule the surface of every tank or collection of water falls several feet during the dry months, and exposes a margin of damp soil more or less saturated with organic matter, which is, of course, unhealthy.

Lower Bengal is one mass of tanks, mostly very small, in which every kind of pollution collects all through the dry season; and from these in many places the people drink. All are natural hollows or formed by excavation—not, as in South and Central India, by damming up the outlets of valleys and hollows. But very few are dug out to such a depth as to leave, during the hot months, a sufficient depth of water to prevent decomposition, and fewer still are properly cleansed and protected from defilement by organic impurities.

Even in Bengal it is the poverty, not the will, of the people that consents to drink bad water. Whenever they have the means, they are glad to fence and line their tanks and wells with masonry. A sure sign of a thriving landowner is: masonry tanks and wells on his property. The rich often bring their water from immense distances, in sealed jars, on men's heads; and there is no such popular application of taxation as in improved water-supply.

Sub-soil water level. 2. Observations of the level of sub-soil water are doubtless most important.[1] It is stated, however, that in tracts in Lower Bengal where the fever has been most deadly the water-level in the dry months is at an unobjectionable depth below the surface, say sixteen feet. But it does not follow from this that, during and immediately after the rains, the sub-soil may not give out fatal malaria.

If the water rises too high during the rainy season, the difficulty in a rice-growing district is how to lower it.

The moment you cut a drain the ryots complain of it as injuring their crops by drawing off the water in which they always keep the rice standing to a depth of three to six inches, if they can get enough.

This is, of course, the consequence of partial work. What is wanted is a general regulation of the water, so that everywhere water shall be kept at the level required: some inches over the surface for rice: some feet under the surface, where irrigation is not needed.

3. The ryots always, and justly, prefer running toMoving water best for crops as for health.⁠ stagnant water. Irrigation with stagnant water is injurious to health and also to vegetation. Irrigation should be accompanied by improving the natural drainages of the country, so as to keep the water moving, however slowly.

But the difficulty is said to be, how to supply moving water, and make the works pay at the same time, for the whole surface of the country. Everywhere, however, water can be supplied for irrigation at a cost enormously below its value—the average cost of water in works on a large scale being about £2 per acre of rice.

Irrigation works are planned generally to supply one cubic foot per second to every 133 acres, which is the same as one cubic yard per acre per hour, or ⅕ inch in depth on the surface per day. Two-thirds of a cubic yard per hour for 100 days are given for wheat or other 'dry grain,' and two cubic yards per hour for 120 days for rice, including rain—i.e. ⅛ inch per day for dry grains and ⅜ for rice.

To this extent, even if every cultivable acre in the country were irrigated, we can change the water; but, as only a certain proportion of the area commanded by the canals is irrigated, and of this all is not receiving water at the same time, we do, in fact, supply a greater depth, and in that degree renew the water lying on the surface.

In the rice districts in Madras the whole area is irrigated: in the wheat country out of the tropics in the dry-season cultivation a portion only of the area is irrigated.

There is no doubt that the more water that is passed through the rice-fields in a running stream, the better the yield, both because stagnant water is more or less injurious, and because more water means more silt, which renews and fertilises the soil, and leaves, together with matter in chemical combination, behind it food for the plant.

It is certain that if the ground were thoroughly and sufficiently intersected by deep drains, and water enough supplied to meet the increased consumption which this would involve, rice cultivation might be a healthy employment. There is rarely fever in a village surrounded by rice swamp as long as the water is moving—'living,' as the natives say; the fever time begins when the water falls and stagnates.

Expense is the sole thing that stands in the way of all these improvements. As it is, our irrigation works in N. India are said barely to pay the interest on the outlay. Is this because we persist in debiting the works with the cost of all our blunders? Do we make a canal on a bad plan—twice as costly (say) as need be, and only half as useful—excluding navigation and cheap transit; and then, because it only pays 5 per cent., do we say, 'irrigation won't pay'? If we kept our turnpike road or bridge accounts in the same way, without reckoning consequences, should we not find that road-making and bridge-building was of all things the most fruitless application of public money, and that it was better finance to build houses and let them as gin-shops?

The management of the works may be so wrong that, as in Orissa, the people refuse to use the water; and this is the case in only one out of the seven vast works which the Government have executed. The actual results are these; the cost of irrigation on these great works has been from £1 to £3. 10s. per acre, including the navigation; and the actual increased value of crop is from £1. 10s. to £2. 10s. in grain only, besides straw.

Is it not only because we are in such a hurry for results that the people seem slow to take water? Irrigation, unless it come from great rivers in flood season, when it renews the soil, requires manure; and manure costs money; and the people have to get a little money or credit before they can use their greatest boon.

Of the value of the canals for transit, the following may give some idea: Up the valley of the Ganges at least a million tons a year are carried at present prices, a small quantity by the rail at 1½d., besides half as much more paid out of taxes, and the main portion at about ½d. by the rivers; by the canals this would cost about 1⁄20d., or £200 a mile for a million tons, against £6,000 by rail, or £2,000 by river; a perfect steam-boat canal, 40 yards broad, on that line costing about £3,000 a mile.

The irrigation works in the north-west yield an enormous profit in all, about £1. 10s. in grain only, on an expenditure of £2. 5s. per acre, or 60 per cent., besides the straw and navigation (on the Ganges Canal).

And the area of irrigation is still extending. About 7 per cent. net of this now comes into the treasury. In the Jumna Canals, in the same part of the country, the returns into the treasury are 25 per cent., and in all the Madras districts double and treble that. The question of returns to Government,[2] though a point of importance, is of much smaller consequence than that of total benefits to the community. Besides its being a question of life or death, of health or disease, of civilisation, comfort, and cleanliness, or dirt and barbarism and misery, the average total benefits are at least 100 per cent. The Godavery district used to export £60,000 a year; it now exports, by sea only, £800,000 or £900,000 a year, besides the whole population being well fed and well clothed and housed; so that their home consumption is probably doubled. The 560,000 acres irrigated, then, now yield about £1,100,000 a year more in grain, besides straw and navigation, by an expenditure of about £600,000.

The results of the irrigation and navigation works in the Godavery Delta have been so conspicuous that I cannot but give the following short account: In 1843, when the first sketch of them was made by Sir Arthur Cotton, he and Lady Cotton took up their abode in tents and rough sheds on the bank of the river, or rather on the side of the river-bed; for only a narrow thread of water was flowing down the middle of that bed, and on each side of that thread was a mile and a half, at least, of hot, deep sand. The want and filth and need of every kind around were a continual, pressing sorrow. The weary faces of the women, toiling through the dry river-bed with their waterpots, creeping out of their huts after the exhausting heat of the day to bring the family supply of water between one and two miles, their naked feet sinking at every step in burning sand, were most distressing; and the thought how insufficient the supply after all the labour, painful to look back upon even now.

Sir Arthur and Lady Cotton remained in that district some years, till the works were fairly set on foot.

In 1861, they visited the Godavery Delta again, and describe the happiness of that visit. Instead of dry sand, the river-bed was covered full with abundant water; instead of parched, perishing attempts at cultivation, there were rich crops of many kinds, and trees which seemed to have sprung up as by magic; instead of filthy, waterless villages, there were channels, well filled, flowing everywhere; and instead of the weary, over-worked women, almost all looked well fed, well washed, and comfortable. One great obstacle to religious civilisation thus removed, the time and strength of mind and body need no longer be solely taken up with the daily drudgery which before absorbed every power. But, in this as in other cases, the occurrence of Fever has warned us to look to our drainages.

Irrigation to be combined with drainage. 4. No one, now-a-days, would think of proposing irrigation without drainage.

There is no danger in the one provided the other goes with it.

The engineer's problem is to apportion the one to the other, so as to increase production without injuring health.

Degeneration due to malaria and rack-renting. 5. Whether the physical degeneration of the people in and over Bengal is due solely or chiefly to malaria, or to malaria and rack-renting combined, is just the point which a commission might be appointed to investigate. But the drainage and irrigation works should be executed first. About these there is no doubt. This is as well known as St. Paul's. And the investigation may be carried on afterwards.

Under the permanent settlement the share of the produce of the soil left to the cultivator is often too little for health. A process of slow starvation may thus go on, which so enfeebles the great mass of the people, that when any epidemic sets in they are swept off wholesale. Land is let and sublet to a degree unknown anywhere else. The Zemindar will let his land to a Patnidar, the Patnidar to a Durpatnidar, the Durpatnidar again to a Seypatnidar, and he again may farm it out to an Izaridar.

Under such a system what portion of the produce do we suppose falls to the share of the ryot who tills the soil?

Then, population has increased to a degree that has raised the fear lest it may have outstripped the productive powers of the soil.

After at least half a million souls had (in the estimate of the present collector) been swept off by the fever in the Hooghly district, the population was still at the rate of 1,000 to the square mile.

But the productive powers of the soil under irrigation are enormous. One crop of rice without any manure at all will produce sufficient to feed a population of 2,000 per square mile.

The poor people are glad to go long distances for work and food, if they know where they are to be found. They go readily as coolies to the West Indies and Mauritius. But if Bengal were properly furnished with roads and canals of irrigation, navigation, and drainage, might not a population half as large again as the present be maintained in health and comfort? Are not the vast tracts of jungle—fertile land, but without population—quite as striking a feature in Bengal as the dense masses of rural population in the cleared parts?

6. If a complete system of drainage were carried out,Periodical inspection necessary.⁠ periodical inspection by specially appointed officers would be essential to prevent the destruction of the smaller channels and consequent outbursts of fever. It is astonishing how evils are unseen by eyes accustomed to them.

7. Every village should have its pure water supply.Village water supply.⁠ The present state of the supply in Bengal is shocking beyond description. The water drunk by a large portion of India is utterly unfit for men's use, and is often brought from miles distant. Much might be done by the people themselves, under proper supervision, in the way of clearing out and deepening existing tanks. But this should be combined with a fresh water-supply from the great rivers by means of the subsidiary irrigation channels.

Wherever we have irrigation the people have this, and appreciate it highly.

But, if we are to have all these things, there must be, we are told, some tax of the nature of a water-rate (as in towns), to be levied on the whole community.

It is impossible to regulate the drainage and water supply of vast tracts, like those in Bengal, except at an expense which cannot be met, it is said, by the mere receipts from irrigation, which (with navigation tolls in the canals) have hitherto been our sole source of profit. There is no question about returns, however, if the water is used; and, if it is not, it can only be from mismanagement, as in Orissa. Col. Haig remarks upon the 'far stronger feeling of confidence and security which prevails under a Ryotwari settlement' (speaking of the Godavery) 'than under a Zemindari.' When a Cuttack ryot is asked why he does not use the water, which he acknowledges is so profitable, he says, 'What is the use of it, when half the profit goes to the Zemindar and half to the money-lender?' While the water has been generally refused this year, a considerable extent has been irrigated surreptitiously; and when one of the engineers was reporting about it, a Native Revenue official told him he had had his predecessor turned out, and he would have him turned out too if he reported it. Such is the confusion in these districts. Such the relation between the State and the 'creatures of its own creation,' the Zemindars. Such the difference between the Ryotwari and Zemindari tenures.

8. It is here, however, that the Government hesitate, or rather that they have drawn back.

Lord Mayo's Government was in favour of a compulsory rate in all irrigated districts.

Lord Northbrook and Sir G. Campbell are against it.

But, without it, it is said that irrigation and drainage (if the works are to be constructed by Government) can never be carried out on a scale commensurate with the wants of the country.

Is there much diversity of opinion, however, where the water is actually given? But then no compulsion is needed. Are not the people only too glad to get and pay for the water, as fast as they can prepare their fields and get manure? But are we not always in a hurry? and, after shutting our eyes for years to the truth as to the value of irrigation, always trying to force the poor cultivators to take the water the very instant we ourselves are converted to a sense of its value, and charging them for all the blunders we have made in supplying it?

Nay: do we not even go further and make laws enabling Government to charge for the water, even if it is not supplied: if we only intended or promised to supply it?

Was not Lord Mayo's proposed law of this character?

Had he lived, he would have modified it, so as to charge for water only where actually given. But really no law is needed. If we only make the works, bring the water, and sell it at reasonable rates, the people are only too glad to buy it for their fields.

Was not Lord Mayo misled, for the time, by a policy—better at drawing up symmetrical laws which looked well on paper, than in carrying the people with it to do what was needed?

The Duke of Argyll's final decision against such a rate is said to have stopped two or three immense irrigation schemes (one for five millions of acres in Oudh) in the very part of the country which is either now threatened with famine; or, not threatened—the famine is upon us.

But was it so much the 'Duke of Argyll's final decision,' as the mistakes of Lord Mayo's unfinished policy which stopped the irrigation schemes?

Did not Lord Mayo fall, for the time, into the hands of the Fisherman's wife, who never would make the best of what the Enchanted Fish gave her, but always wanted something better? She, after somewhat violently opposing Canalisation for years, went far beyond its demands, and would do nothing till an Act was passed to enable her to tax every Ryot in India for water, as soon as she had good intentions of irrigating his fields. And when she was told she must tax only after she had given the water, she sulked, and would not amend her Act.

So with Loans: there was no end of writing and planning, but it never got beyond paper.

They never borrowed the money, because they were always following some new butterfly of Finance.

And so they never had it to spend.

Nothing can be more just than a partial compulsory water-rate in the irrigated tracts, because, whether the people irrigate or not, they have the enormous benefits of navigation, drainage, drinking-water, forage, &c. Under the Orissa Works, at £3. 10s. per irrigable acre in cost of works, 2¾ rupees an acre would pay 8 per cent., leaving the transit free, and the increase of produce 15 rupees an acre at least.

The water-rate paid in Godavery on about 500,000 acres, at 4 rupees, is £200,000; but the increase of Revenue has been above £300,000.

If no water-rate at all were levied, it would be impossible to prevent the works paying, from the increased revenue due to the increased wealth of the people. As a native gentleman wisely said, the Government of a rich population can never be poor.

But at this moment, including all mistakes in projection from want of experience, and the temporary failure from refusal of water in Orissa, all the new works would show a direct net return of some 20 per cent. into the treasury, and at least 100 per cent. in all.

If the Canal is completed up the valley of the Ganges it will carry two million tons a year at 1⁄10d. per mile, and at all speeds, from that of the Railway downwards, against 200,000 tons carried by the Railway at 1½d. a mile, though supported by half a million a year paid out of the treasury as interest of its debt.

But Railways are wanted as well as Canals. And as matters now stand, must they not be made before Canals? Must we not do what comes to our hand to promote communication, without limiting ourselves to what is abstractedly best? It has been truly said that, while 'we want waggons to carry hay, we provide phaetons.' But, if we want to get across country, do we not take what the country affords—jaunting car or broken-down gig? People here will give their money and labour to make Railways and not to make Canals. Shall India wait till they get wiser, or let internal improvement, which depends so much on easy intercommunication, stand still till she has made them wiser?

If all the Canals which the great artist has devised, and which he could give men to execute, were made, the works would then convert the world.

Meantime, we should get all the Railroads and common roads made which we could find money or men for; certain that, if not the best and cheapest, they are the next best, next cheapest appliances we can give the country.

Is it not the fact: that we want both Railway and Canal?

And must not the Canal, which will supersede Railways, be very different from any Canal we have yet seen?

But we may believe in its coming—that is, a Canal workable by steam as well as by animal power;—and able to carry at 10 miles an hour.

That we shall see this in India before it appears in Europe is likely.

But will anything save example convert the world?

Meantime, even if we give India only Railways, the people will neither starve nor stagnate.

9. There is no great new irrigation work in India that is not paying ample direct net profits, excepting that of Orissa; and that not at all on account of any real failure in the project, but only from the non-use of the water, which will of course be got over before long, and there is not the least probability of its occurring anywhere else.

Indeed, the so-called failure of the Orissa works is mainly due to the tardy and incomplete execution of the original scheme. Government no sooner saw that the works must be a financial success than they bought them—and then starved them—waiting for more plans, estimates, and paper, before the money to complete them was given. We saw the 'Haywaggon,' in fact, and were charmed with it, and bought it as it stood, half-finished; and have since been doubting whether we can afford to complete the wheels, and whether the tyres should be broad or narrow.

10. The question will now be forced on public attention. It is no longer a question. The famine looms large and terrible upon us, as an awful fact.

What has been done in irrigation. It must not, however, be supposed that little is being done in the way of irrigation.

In Bengal alone we have been spending, for some years past, half a million annually; and that is only one province.

There is said to be a practical limit to the rate at which such extensive works can be carried on—viz. available labour supply. If this is pressed upon unduly, wages rise (Oh, would they should!), and with them the price of all materials of construction. In Southern Behar and Orissa we are said to have quite reached this limit, for there has been a considerable increase in rates since the works were begun. But is not one of the most important effects of these works that they help to release the labouring population from their bondage to the high castes and wealthy, and in all ways improve their condition and raise wages?[3] Every district could easily provide labourers for an expenditure of £100,000 a year, requiring about 20,000 people; and £30,000,000 could easily be spent in three or four years.

There is said to have been much, too, in our recent experience of irrigation in Bengal—chiefly the unwillingness of the people to take our canal water, except when driven to it by the failure of the rains—to cause the Government to pause before beginning new schemes, without some such guarantee for the repayment of the interest on the outlay as a compulsory rate would afford. The works are all carried out with loan funds, and the interest must be met from some source. But, as above said, our expenditure has been, and continues to be, £500,000 per annum.

As far as has been seen in India, however, 'the unwillingness of the people to take canal water' really means 'our own bad management' in some way or another.

One can hardly conceive now but that, even had famine been averted, the great drought would not have given a vigorous impulse to this most important class of land improvements.

But famine has come.

In Lower Bengal the field for drainage is boundless.

There, however, the one question which stops theWho is to pay?⁠ way is whether Government will make the Zemindars, who are the possessors of the soil, pay for the works or not. Here there is great hesitation. Are the Zemindars so selfish and worthless a class as to exercise their considerable influence over the Government in this way? And would they resist, as is said, with all their might?

The drainage, however, of about eighty square milesDrainage experiment on the Hooghly.⁠ of swamps on the banks of the Hooghly is now being carried out at the expense of the landowners, under a special Act; and Government would probably have awaited the result of this experiment before extending the Act to greater schemes.

But if the famine interrupts everything it must also urge forward everything.

May it not also force the authorities to look in the face the terrible evils of the whole Zemindarry system? Is not the case something similar to that of the old Bengal army; and, if it is still ignored, may not a similar terrible convulsion ensue?

The subject is so vast that it is impossible to do more than just touch upon the principal points here.


Crops improved. 1. Irrigation and drainage improve the crop, and give crop when and where there would be none. Consequently—

Who is to profit? 2. These combined works improve the entire value of the land: and the question is, Who is to reap the increase?

The Zemindar? 3. This must be either the Zemindar and his subordinates, who have spent nothing, or the Government which finds the money, or the ryot who cultivates. In England we should force the Zemindar to bear his part by a Poor Law to compel him to feed the suffering people, in the hope that he would find it cheaper to irrigate and drain than to feed.

Or we should pass a law calling on all proprietors to improve the drainage, irrigation, and roads over their property, on pain of being taxed for the support of their people every time that famine comes—something as we did in Ireland, where we charged for famine and where the landlords had to pay over and above what other landlords had to pay, because the people were dying. Should not the fixed land-tax rest only on the basis that the people can live and not die?

This was, in fact, Lord Cornwallis' principle. People blame his 'Permanent Settlement,' but they forget that the best half of his plan was never carried out by his successors. He clearly intended to make the Zemindars maintain a police, make roads, and do all other things that a landowner should do. But when he died his successors went to sleep.

4. Drainage and irrigation will improve the stamina'The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.'⁠ of the entire working population; but of this improvement the Zemindar, if untaxed for the work, will reap the whole profit.

In Godavery there is no comparison between present condition of the people and that before the works. But the extraordinary effect these works have had in the improvement of the people's bodily strength and spirit is one that is not generally observed. In Godavery the difference between a people under-fed and working utterly without hope, and the same people as they now are, is most striking. There is, perhaps, nearly three times the amount of work done by the same population, now that they are well fed and more sure of fair treatment than they were before. When we began the works, we used to find in cutting the canals, that large gangs would average one cubic yard per day; and this rapidly increased to three under exactly the same circumstances. Well-to-do, the people have now no look of poverty.

Value increased. 5. Hence sanitary work, such as this, creates a great surplus value over and above the present value; and, when we consider the millions of acres to be improved, the addition will be very great.

Conjoint liability. 6. Would not the best course be in India to take a lesson from the present distress, so as to plan for the future some conjoint liability for the drainage and irrigation works?

The Hooghly scheme will afford valuable indications on this point, because the increase can be used as a standard.

But the difficulties in the way are said to be enormous, arising from the extremely complicated state of property and innumerable interests in the land in permanently settled Bengal, and from the engagements made with the landholders under existing settlements elsewhere. Some idea of what these are in temporarily settled districts may be gathered from the Orissa irrigation scheme: they are far greater in the permanently settled.

Also, is it right that the revenue for the whole of India should bear the cost of improving the revenue of the Bengal Zemindars?

Would they wish it themselves?

We cannot believe this of a noble body of Indian gentlemen.

Should not the local revenue be augmented to pay for this?

Also, if money is borrowed, it must be repaid with interest, although it is applied to the improvement of private estates.

Clearly, in some way or other, justice requires that men who own these lands, on which so many thousands die from preventable fevers—and now and then from a famine, which counts its deaths by hundreds of thousands—should either pay, or the Government should remove the people (one of our alternatives), in which case the value of land will cease to exist.

7. Should not the landowner be made liable by lawPractical solutions.⁠ to pay for all that is really done to improve the land or to save the lives of the people on it? Is not the real practical solution of the financial problem a scheme like that applied to Lancashire after the cotton famine—a fund administered by trustees who lend from it, on security of local revenues, for works of permanent value to the reproductive powers of the locality, the advances to be repaid by instalments from local revenue at such rates as shall extinguish the debt in a reasonable term of years?

Or should not the Government do as they did in Ireland—advance money to the landlords, and send to the Encumbered Estates Courts all who could not repay them?

Such plans have been often laid before the Government of India; and, no doubt, some time will be adopted.

One effect of the famine may be predicted, and that is, that it will lead to a revolution in the Zemindarry system in Bengal; which, in its effects on the mass of the population, can be compared to one thing only, namely, the slavery system as it was in the United States.

Pecuniary loss in labourers' deaths exceeds cost of works. 8. The wealth of an agricultural country is the result of labour; and, in a properly governed country, labour ought always to be producing wealth.

Every efficient labourer is a wealth-producing agent; and every efficient labourer, lost by death, is a pecuniary loss to the country.

These are truisms.

The people pay 2½ rupees per head in taxes—the interest of 50 rupees, sufficient to irrigate 2 acres, which would support 5 people: and in actual famine 10 rupees would certainly provide food per head through the famine.

Scarcity and famine act in two ways; they reduce the wealth-producing power of survivors, and destroy the wealth-producing power of those who die.

When labourers die by thousands on account of famine and epidemics, because the ground on which they existed was left without irrigation and drainage, it may be affirmed with certainty that the pecuniary loss to the country exceeds what would have been the cost of works.

May not this be safely assumed as a law of the universe from which there is no escape? We may cry back on account of the cost of doing what Nature says must be done: but this will not prevent her from presenting her bill at the due time; and when presented it must be honoured, whether we will or no.

A large part of India is occupied on these conditions, and an awful bill it is.

9. But the people are not the only sufferers. OurArmy.⁠ noble Indian army, although it may be saved from famine, is doomed to the inheritance of epidemics which always begin among the people.

We know all this now. The sanitary history of the British army in India begins with the sanitary history of the Indian people.

III. A few Facts about Canals.

Colonel Rundall, the Inspector-General ofIrrigation.⁠ Irrigation, projected, and for the most part worked out, the plans and estimates for the following schemes:—

The Sone scheme, for the irrigation of theSone.⁠ Shahabad, Patna, and part of the Gya districts south of the Ganges, included in the great tract now in danger of being laid waste with this dread famine. This work is in hand.

The canal, from Monghyr to Mirzapore, will be 180′ wide at bottom, with a depth of 8 feet, and a length of about 180 miles, of which 30 miles have been excavated to one-half of the full section. This canal will be used not only for irrigation, but for connecting the Lower Ganges with the Great Ganges Canal. Its great size renders it well adapted as a relief work, as large numbers can be massed upon it, which has already been done; and the railway, at no great distance, will enable food for the labourers to be supplied at different points along the line.

There are other smaller canals (40 to 50 miles in length each) forming parts of the same scheme.

The execution of some of these, it is understood, has been ordered.

The Sone works irrigate South Behar, south of the Ganges. Their value, as part of the grand line of communication up the valley of the Ganges, will be even greater than for irrigation. From Allahabad to Monghyr is 300 miles, and on this part two million tons would be carried per annum; saving, even compared with the river, about ½d. a ton a mile, or £4,000 a mile—£1,200,000 a year in all. This is besides many hundred miles of branch canals. If the works cost four millions this alone would be 30 per cent.

Gunduck. There are two proposed canals on the Gunduck, a tributary of the Ganges on the north, to supply the Chumparun and Tirhoot districts on the one side, and Sarun on the other—through the middle of one district of the famine-stricken country.

A fight was certainly made to start one, at least, of these at once.

Damoodah. The Damoodah Canal project was brought forward in Lord Mayo's time, and a beginning made; but Government afterwards stopped the works, on the ground, it is said, that as coal had been found at Midnapoor, it might not be necessary to carry the coal from Raneegunj. Shortly after, on the convict in charge of the boring at Midnapoor being relieved, his successor asked whether any more coal had been found, and was told by the native in charge that they had not put any into the bore lately. But on this discovery Government did not re-order the Damoodah Canal.

Under this pressure of famine, however, it is likely to be resumed, with two or three other stopped works. Two modifications of it, though poor substitutes indeed, were wisely suggested, in hopes of getting some irrigation started, and of them the little canal from the Damoodah in the Hooghly district has been ordered to be carried out. But the works had not been begun; and we may still rejoice to hear that Colonel Rundall's original scheme has now been accepted by Government in its integrity.

There is the great canal, which it is proposed toMoorshedabad.⁠ construct from the Ganges at Rajmahal, and to bring down beside the Bhagiruttee (the name given to the upper part of the Hooghly) to tide water near Calcutta.

This would irrigate Moorshedabad, now so cruelly suffering, and Nuddea, and enable boats and steamers to avoid the difficulties of the navigation of the Bhagiruttee, and the circuitous route through the Sunderbuns.

It would be a magnificent work: was originally proposed by Sir A. Cotton, the most perfect master of the question living (by others, indeed, it is said, before him), and the plans worked out under Colonel Rundall's orders.

2½ millions acres. The first three schemes, above mentioned, would afford irrigation for at least 2,500,000 acres. If they had now been in operation, the saving of crops, irrespective of the increased yield due to irrigation, would have been half a ton per acre. So that 1,250,000 tons of food would have been secured, which has now been lost—enough effectually to have prevented famine, and perhaps even scarcity.

In North Behar and Oudh, the great works projected have all been stopped.

Is there one of the many works thus stopped that would not have entirely prevented the famine in its tract?

The Rajmahal Canal has been thoroughly projected, and might be begun at once. It will form 200 miles of the main Ganges Valley Canal, and can be connected with the Sone Canals by a link of about 70 miles. This, with the Sirhind Canal from the Sutlej to the Jumna, the Ganges Canal to Cawnpoor, another lower Ganges Canal to Allahabad, will form 1,200 miles of perfect steamboat navigation, the finest navigation in the world, and will save at least £4,000 a mile, £5,000,000 a year, as compared with river transit. On the railway alone there is actually paid £1,600,000 for the carriage of goods only, at 1½d. a ton; on the canal this would cost, at 1⁄10d., £100,000, saving £1,500,000.

Such are the sums India is losing for want of cheap transit.

But if a complete system of canals were cut on all the main lines, every part of India would pour food into any distressed tract in any quantities, and at a nominal cost of carriage.

A return showing the extent of irrigation in Madras Presidency, gives 4,800,000 acres, and the real area is above this. This is at the rate of 250,000 acres per district. About 40,000,000 of acres more, besides the works in progress, would give every district in India 250,000 acres, and cost about £100,000,000, producing an additional value of grain of about £200,000,000 a year, besides the transit; the whole benefit being certainly eight or ten times the whole amount of taxation, £40,000,000. That is, it is in our power in this way to do eight or ten times more for enriching India than the abolition of all the taxes.

The total paid into the treasury in Madras for water is about £3,000,000 a year.

The Sone works are now watering more than 130,000 acres—the first year, the water-rate of which would be, at 3r., £40,000—on a present expenditure of about £500,000, including all the fundamental works; and the value of crop is estimated at £450,000.

Such is the real case of irrigation.

Do not many write as if all irrigation had been a loss to the Government, and the one difficulty how to obtain it without overwhelming burthens on the country? The Godavery works alone, in their present unfinished state, pay the interest of £5,000,000.

Is there anything to prevent the Government ordering at once the irrigation of from 250,000 to 500,000 acres in every district in India, including a complete network of steamboat canals of 20,000 or 30,000 miles, embracing all India, and to be completed in five years, with an absolute certainty of two or three times the present interest of money in direct returns? The Sone works are calculated to irrigate about 2,000,000 acres, paying £500,000 water-rate alone, or 12 per cent. on £4,000,000.

The water-rate paid in Godavery is 4rs. per acre of rice; on the Ganges Canal 2½rs. an acre of wheat. Some of the old irrigation in Madras used to pay 20rs. an acre; some now pay, it is said, 12rs., and much pays 8rs.

Two millions a year are now actually paid for goods transit between Calcutta and the confluence of the Ganges and Brahmapootra, a distance of 130 miles, £15,000 a mile per annum; while £3,000 a mile would make a perfect steamboat canal, carrying at ¼r. a ton for the whole distance, or £50,000 for the present 2,000,000 tons, producing a saving on the present traffic of 500 per cent.; this is besides about 1,000,000 tons that would be carried along the first 100 miles of the canal for the Upper Ganges. And at this charge the present traffic would be soon doubled.

On this little line of 130 miles, a saving would be effected of at least £3,000,000 a year, including the new traffic.

N.B.—Seven-eighths of the traffic still go by a very bad navigation of 470 miles, three times the distance by rail, and taking six weeks on an average.

Is not the Government of India too much like aDispensary Government.⁠ dispensary, which does all that man can do to cure when too late to do anything to prevent?


These facts speak loud: I have no need to add myAre we to pay out of current revenue?⁠ poor words. He who runs may read.

What is the answer given by modern 'financial policy' or impolicy? That we must only do what we can pay for out of current revenue, or at least what will pay for itself at once.

[Instead of interest enough not being taken in India, too much, it would seem, is taken—an ignorant, unsound interest. So much the worse for India.]

It seems like going back 500 years: to the times when our beds were our banks, and we took out of our old stocking, hid in the mattress or in a hole in the floor, enough for a miserable sustenance day by day, careless of whether we starved or died 100 days hence.

Christ himself tells us not to bury our talent in a napkin, but to put it out to interest.

'Sound Indian finance' appears to be what Plato calls 'wanting to have money safely kept and not used,' or 'justice useful' and 'money useless.'

Is it not as though we said: It is 'unsound financialOr by loan?⁠ policy' to live unless you have money in your stocking; to borrow in order to build, or to trade, or to farm; you must not make railways except you can pay for them out of your income, nor telegraphs, nor any means of communication by steam or water?

Is not this reversing the whole principle which has given England her unparalleled success in trade and manufacture—her greatness, as a nation, over the whole globe?

Unless you have money in your stocking to do it, we say in India, don't do it; you must not utilise the money in your neighbour's stocking. You can't eat roads, or railways, or canal-banks this year, though they may bring you a hundred-fold produce in twenty years. Be not fools who spend their money, unless, having £100 in your mattress, you can see £110 for every £100 in your mattress before Christmas. Eat what you can grow in your garden; you can keep your own money safer than anybody else can use it for you.

Is it 'extravagance' to provide for ten years hence, or even, as this famine has but too fatally proved, for one short year hence, what we are to eat then?—or die of starvation—unless we can provide with the money now in hand?

Is it 'sound finance' to let a man starve a year hence, and live this year by eating up all he has?

Is it cheap to let him die, too dear to make him live, if you have to provide for his next year's food on borrowed capital, even if that capital returns cent. per cent. in future years; and even if—not borrowing it—you spend next year millions where you would only have had to spend thousands this year, besides the small item of a few hundreds of thousands of acres of depopulated country?

Is it cheaper to let a man 'get dead' than to feed him or house him, on borrowed capital?

Then comes the drought; and costs us tens of millions instead of millions, to say nothing of a million or two of people who 'get dead.'

To thrust these poor remarks upon those who know it all so much better than I, and can put it so much more forcibly, seems needless.[4] This appalling famine speaks louder than any man can do—or woman either.

But one must live in order to be a subject for sanitary considerations at all; and one must eat to live. If one is killed off by famine, one certainly need not fear fever or cholera.


This great essential work of the regulation of the water of India is perhaps at this moment the most important question in the world; or rather not question—action.

Nothing can compare with it for the material progress of the people, and their moral progress is greatly dependent upon it: for, till the people are in a measure relieved from their bondage to poverty and want, they cannot attend to other things.

Another very important point, and intimately connected with irrigation in all ways, has to be taken up: and that is, the subject of manufacturing in India.

There are at this moment at least 100,000 horse water power available and made no use of in the great irrigation canals. The canals will convey the goods to and from manufactories, and the irrigation will set free millions from agricultural labour for such work.

With cheap labour, cheap power, cheap carriage, and cheap food, India will have the very highest advantages for manufacture, for civilisation, and also for life, and all that makes life worth having to those whom God has created higher than the brutes, and only a little 'lower than the angels.'

The precise relation between the level of the subsoil-water and the prevalence and intensity of fever has not yet been traced in Lower Bengal. Both irrigation and drainage are there new things. The first irrigation work was not begun until 1862, and that by a private company: the Government expended nothing upon works of this class until 1868 or 1869.

The Dancienic Drainage Works, in the Hooghly district, carried out last year, are the first of their kind.

But in N.W. India—i.e. the N.W. Provinces and Punjab—some important facts have been established. In the districts on the upper part of the Ganges Canal, which were, of course, the first and the most copiously irrigated, there has been for many years a terrible increase of fever. By many it was asserted that the fever owed its origin to the canal; that the Mozuffernuggur District, e g., which is now said to be so unhealthy that it is in general avoided by officials, was formerly one of the healthiest and most popular.

This, however, appears to have been clearly disproved. There is abundant proof of the existence of fever long before the canal was heard of. But this also seems to be certain that, wherever irrigation has been excessive, and stagnant pools and swamps have been formed, by carrying the minor distributary channels (as was formerly frequently done in the hurry of construction or from a faulty system) across the natural drainages, there has been a marked increase in the prevalence and virulence of fever.

Wherever the subsoil levels (which are usually termed the 'spring levels' in the N.W. Provinces and Punjab Reports) have been raised by supersaturation of soil from their original depth of twenty-five to forty feet to twelve feet or less, there there has been a terrible increase in the mortality from fever. Though still disputed, this fact is now pretty generally admitted by the best authorities, and in some official 'Resolution' of the N.-W. Provinces Government, it is distinctly laid down as the basis of remedial measures. Sir W. Muir is a hearty friend to irrigation.

How far this 'water-logged' state of the soil in the districts referred to is due to excessive irrigation, and how far to the faulty alignments of distributaries and neglect of drainage above alluded to is not decided.

But misuse of water is often made an excuse for not draining.

Where the laws of drainage have palpably been violated, of course the remedy is plain and will be certain.

And much may be done by selecting new sites for villages on higher ground.

Rice cultivation, which consumes an enormous quantity of water, has greatly increased in the upper part of the Ganges Canal, and no doubt has been one cause of supersaturation. It is said that it has been determined to check this by raising the water rates! In the case of one large town where the fever had been severe, a committee recommended that the rice cultivation, which had crept right up to one town, should be prohibited within a certain distance of all dwellings.

Scientific sanitary irrigation is in its infancy. The danger is lest the abuse, or ignorant use, of irrigation should lead to its undue restriction, and cause the Government to hesitate in carrying out works on the scale required, at least, to secure the food supply of the country. Possibly, Sir G. Campbell, for one, was unduly influenced in this way; but his Government is so imperial that he never had time to think properly of the subject.

Official papers are written as though the Government were simply a trading Company to whom the sole question was: What direct profit can be obtained? The works in the Godavery essentially altered the condition of the whole body of labourers almost immediately. The employers found that their most energetic men would leave them for the works, if not better treated. And thus the employment of 30,000 people at good wages, with thoroughly good treatment, affected the welfare of a million. The state of the agricultural labourer was low enough in England; it may be supposed what it is under Indian landowners of high caste. It will, perhaps, be said that the loan system has been now adopted, and public works are no longer carried on out of current revenue only; That the Government is no longer in the position of the old woman with the stocking;

That the principle has long since been admitted that the cost of such works should not be borne by the existing generation, which has only a life interest in them, but in the shape of interest upon public loans by succeeding generations, which will equally benefit by them.

But this is not true. Loans have been talked of, but not raised, nor sanctioned till Famine came; and now the money may be spent—not in preventing Famine, but in feeding and keeping alive some of its victims.

It will perhaps be said that for years the whole expenditure on irrigation and State railways has been defrayed from special loan funds.

But this is not so.

That the Government is open to blame for not having conceded the first sooner, and also for not having pushed forward such works fast enough, though the immense establishments which it has been necessary to organise could only have been got up by degrees.

But this is hardly true.

Why did they stop private companies from doing the work?

There has been fatal hesitation for the last three or four years, not so much in carrying on the schemes actually in hand—for some of these have been prosecuted and funds supplied as fast as the engineers could submit estimates and designs—as in starting new schemes. And this has chiefly arisen from the presumed discovery that the promises held out by the advocates of irrigation of high direct returns are illusory (made so indeed by our own mistakes), and that, with the notable exception of some great works in Madras specially conditioned, such schemes do not, and for many years to come will not, pay the current interest on the loan capital invested. This is what is said.

But then why did they abolish the Income Tax?

There is no doubt that such works do vastly enrich the land and add to the general wealth of the community, and it may safely be concluded that, directly or indirectly, they must eventually pay—even in spite of our own mistakes.

In permanently settled Bengal, the Government, in laying out money upon irrigation, is always said to be in the position of a man who, having given his property in lease for ever at a mere quit-rent, proceeds to lay out vast sums upon it. The tenant reaps the whole profit.

From whence, then, are returns to come? Increased wealth will lead to increased consumption, but of what? Opium or spirits? God forbid. Let us hope that these two sources of income are to decrease, not increase. Salt? The 'Poor Man's Income Tax?' God forbid again, we say.

What, then, are we to look to?

Should not the Government do as they did in Ireland—advancing money to the Landlords?

Or as was done in Lancashire after the Cotton Famine?

But when Lord Mayo's tax was negatived, as above recounted, both he and the members of his Government, who had up to that time been staunch irrigators, drew back, and refused to advocate any new schemes without such a guarantee.

And so matters have stood.

Has not the old woman been to blame, although she had begun a little to mend her ways before the day of retribution came, too late to avert the sad fruits of former error?


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