34 SOCIAL SCIENTIST
increasingly converted into paddy fields. The increase in prices coupled with the export demand for paddy led to a scarcity of foodgrains in the urban areas made palpably worse by the rich merchants. *1 The government arranged for relief work through charity; commutation of taxes in times of drought and famine, and food control devices. The British historians., apologists of the colonial regime, had this to go by to highlight the material achievements of the regime in Orissa.
Those historians who reject the ^exploitation thesis' are quick to find other reasons for the failure of the Indian economy to respond to the warming influence of the Industrial Revolution: the Indian society's other" worldliness; its ^lack of enterprise'; and ^caste-exclusiveness' of groups. These are opinions of the historians who see ^the nineteenth century as an era of stagnation., even of steady deterioration., for India" and for Orissa in particular.12 The ^economic growth' historians also analyzed the factors responsible for the infinite and increasing misery of the people. These consisted, according to them, of climatic and geographical handicaps and man-made hindrances which negated the steady growth of the best endeavours of the government for an appreciable economic development. A study of the agrarian history of nineteenth-century Orissa reveals that it was the exploitation of a dependent colony by an alien capitalist power that was at the root of Orissa's intensifying poverty > a truth overlooked by traditional historians.
Forces of Nature
Official reports attributed Orissa3 s traditional poverty to climatic and geographical factors. The long and broken coastline was susceptible to hurricanes and cyclonic weather in the autumn. Numerous references are found in the salt records to cyclonic weather and the havoc it caused to salt-making on the seaside and to the ripening crops in the fields. In a severe cyclone on 31 October 1831, tragedy overtook the molungies (salt* manufacturers) of Balasore and Cuttack agencies. In theBalasore agency, 1829 persons were reported drowned including 28 servants of the salt galahs (godowns); and 2,13,837 maunds of salt were swept away by the sea. The government advanced cash loans and sold rice at cheap rates.18 Orissa9 s seaboard was most unsuitable for shipping, and the receding sea left the Balasore and Pipli ports blocked with silt. From the writings of Fakir Mohan Senapati, a contemporary short-story-writer of Orissa, a vivid picture emerges of the decaying condition of the'seaport of Balasore where maritime trade once flourished.14 The midland plains of Balasore.Cuttack and Puri districts were fertile lands interspersed with navigable rivers like the Mahanadi and Baitarani which were liable to ruinous inundation from the sudden overflow from the main-water basins in the Chota Nagpur plateau.ls The northern hilly region was sparsely populated, covered with barren stretches broken by sporadic flora and fauna.
Luxurious vegetation in this region was not a sign of fertility