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Henry Fawcett “strongly deprecated any partisan feeling in discussing the question whether railways or works of irrigation were the better calculated to yield a profitable return, and to prevent the recurrence of famine.”
John Bright then rose and asked, with all the weight of his high authority: “Why should not this Committee be appointed for the express purpose of ascertaining from such evidence as we can get in England, and if necessary, such as we can get from India, how it is that after so many years of possession-one hundred years of possession of this very part of the country—still we have got no further than this, that there is a drought, and then a famine? ... We hear that there has been nine millions or sixteen millions sterling spent on such works [irrigation). What is that in India ? The town of Manchester alone, with a population of half a million, has spent two million pounds already, and is coming to Parliament now to be allowed to spend 33 millions more: that will be 51 millions to supply the population of that town and its immediate surroundings with pure water and a sufficient quantity of it. But in India we have two hundred millions of population subject to the English Government, and with a vast supply of rainfall, and great rivers running through it, with the means—as I believe there are the means—of abundant irrigation.”
Sir George Campbell, who had entered Parliament. after retiring from his high office in Bengal, sneered at Sir Arthur Cotton, and “thought there was some truth in the saying regarding him, that he had water on his brain !” But General Sir George Balfour spoke of the great and single-hearted irrigationist with esteem and admiration. Standing up before the House he would say that he did not believe that a single work that Sir Arthur Cotton had executed had ever been a failure. “Sir Arthur Cotton was a man of mighty genius; he was a man who had done much for the people; he had been a great bene
factor to India ; and his name would go down to posterity as one who had done great things for that country.”
The inquiry asked for could not be refused. And on January 22, 1878, a select committee was appointed. • Lord George Hamilton was the chairman. Twelve witnesses were examined, including Lord Northbrook, Lord Napier, and Sir William Muir; but it is needless to say that Sir Arthur Cotton was the most important witness. It was his scheme which was on its trial.
Sir Arthur put the whole case before the Committee in
Cost of works . . . $112,000,000
Total : £170,000,000
forhich we have about 7500 miles, or at the rate of £23,000 per mile. At the present cost to the Treasury in interest on share capital 41 millions, and on land and debt at 4 per cent., 3 millions ; total, 74 millions. From which, deducting nett receipts, 41 millions, leaves three millions a year as the loss on the money sunk.”
“The capital spent on the water-works, including the Toombhadra, is £16,000,000. The accumulation of interest against the Bari Doab, the Ganges, and other canals, are much more than balanced by those to credit on the Kaveri, Krishna, and Godavari works, which have at least 10 millions to their credit, leaving a balance in their favour of 5 millions. So that the money sunk may be taken at £11,000,000, the interest of which at 4 per cent. is half a million, against which we have a nett profit over working expenses of about a million, leaving a nett gain to the Treasury of half a million a year on irrigation works.”1
1 Question 2205.
But the great point which Sir Arthur Cotton made was that railways were no protection against famines. “I am afraid we must reckon that out of the 40 millions affected by the famine in Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Bombay, 4 or 5 millions have perished, after spending 120 millions on railways besides incurring a debt of 50 millions sterling."1 And he pointed out forcibly that railways did not provide food for man and beast; did not carry the whole traffic of the country ; did not carry it cheaply enough ; did not pay interest on cost and debt; did not drain the country, and did not provide drinking water for the people. All this was and could be done by irrigation works.
Why then were irrigation and navigable canals neglected ? If these canals provided cheaper means of transit, why did the Indian Government not construct them?
“I want to know what is in your mind," asked Sampson Lloyd, a banker of Birmingham and a member of the Committee, "why any man should dread cheap transit.?”
“Because," answered Sir Arthur Cotton, “it would stultify the railways, that is the sole point. Only think of a canal by the side of the Eastern Bengal Railway which carries some 200,000 tons, and a canal by the side of it carrying 2,000,000 tons, and swarming with passengers and goods. What a terrible affront to the railway that must be.”
The reply is a good illustration of the vehemence of Sir Arthur's convictions; but there was truth in what he urged. Englishmen had not appreciated the peculiar needs of India for cheaper transit as well as for irrigation. They had not realised that securing crops in years of . drought was of far more greater importance in India than means of quick transit. Having already constructed a vast system of railways along the main lines of communication, they hesitated to venture on navigable canals 1 Question 2204.
? Question 2269.
which would compete with railways as a means of transit, and would deduct from the profits which the Government had guaranteed to Companies, or were deriving on their State lines. Nature had provided India with great navigable rivers which had been the high roads of trade from ancient times. And a system of canals, fed by these rivers, would have suited the requirements of the people for cheaper if slower transit, and would at the same time have increased production, ensured harvests, and averted famines. But Englishmen made a geographical mistake. They needed few canals in their own country, and they therefore neglected canals in India.
The principal lines of navigation which Sir Arthur Cotton recommended were (1) from Calcutta to Karachi, up the Ganges and down the Indus; (2) from Coconada to Surat, up the Godavari and down the Tapti; (3) a line up the Tumbhadra to Karwar on the Arabian Sea, and (4) a line up the Ponang, by Palaghat and Coimbatore.
ther witnesses were almost as eloquent as Sir Arthur Cotton himself on the benefits of canals for the purpose of navigation; and they also showed that, what Lord George Hamilton had called “failures,” were not failures. Sir William Muir, who had been Lieutenant-Governor of Northern India, and then Finance Minister of India, said :
“I do not think I have expressed with sufficient emphasis the great value which I attach to the advantages derivable from the large canals such as the Ganges Canal and the Jumna Canals. The extent of prosperity which has been conferred upon the districts through which they pass is very great in a general point of view; and the degree in which the people are preserved from the distress and privations of famine is beyond all calculation a benefit to the country. The advantage also which I spoke of before in saving land revenues, which would otherwise be in arrear and lost, is also great. And further, there is an advantage in the country being protected and being preserved from deterioration, which is incidental to land which is affected by famine, that is to say, being protected from the secondary effects of famine which are liable to continue for considerable periods after the famine itself has passed away. Altogether the general improvement and advancement of the Doab, which is due specially to these canals, is a matter which, apart from their immediate financial returns, cannot be overlooked, and must be borne in mind in determining the general advantages derivable from canal irrigation.” 1
But Lord George Hamilton's Committee failed to grasp the importance of irrigation works from this broad and statesmanlike point of view. And they returned again and again to the narrower view, based on the immediate financial return of works constructed. A few paragraphs from the Select Committee's Report are quoted below.
“Sir Arthur Cotton proposes the summary and indefinite suspension of nearly all railway schemes and works. He would, however, devote ten millions areally for the next ten or twenty years to irrigation works, mainly canals (Question 2722), the main canals to be of such dimensions as to permit navigation. By such an expenditure he estimates that ten thousand miles of main line navigation would be constructed at a cost of thirty million sterling, dealing with the most populous districts, whilst the remainder of this vast sum was to be spent on feeders or subsidiary works.
“Sir Arthur Cotton estimates that such an expenditure would give a large return to Government (Question 2751), though your Committee were unable to ascertain the data of this conclusion, especially as he does not deem it to be within his province to consider how, or at what rate of interest, the money expended would be raised. Neither has he in any way attempted to estimate or make provision for the immediate rise in the cost of material
1 Question 2885.