Version classiqueVersion mobile

Calcutta 1981

 | 
Jean Racine

Session I. A. The Foundations of the Present: Understanding Calcutta

2. Genesis of the Metropolis

Sunil K. Munsi

Texte intégral

1Among the world cities Calcutta is comparatively a late-comer. As an English factory settlement it commenced its career just about two hundred and ninety years ago, nearly one hundred kilometres upstream from the Bay of Bengal on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river. The existing Calcutta Corporation area of 104.0 km2 with one hundred wards and over three million population, grew out of the three original villages of Sutanuti, Kalikata and Gobindapur where the English had at first settled and subsequently had gone on adding new villages to the growing port-city complex. The Calcutta Urban Agglomeration or the Calcutta Metropolitan District are post-independent annexures demarcating much wider territories either to indicate a conurbation or for the sake of urban planning. The processes of the growth of Calcutta proper and of the conurbation have large areas of overlap, the two interacting among themselves and often setting trends for each other. It will however be necessary, for the sake of logical structure of the paper, to look into all the questions at first concerning the genesis of the core city and thereafter, of the Calcutta Urban Agglomeration and of the Metropolitan District.

Did Calcutta exist before Job Charnock?

  • a Mughal army officer, in charge of an area (J.R.).

2From all accounts it has now become obvious that Job Charnock would not possibly have selected the Calcutta site if it was only a piece of desolate landscape devoid of human habitation. Charnock has been moving up and down the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river for quite some time following the footsteps of the Portuguese who had arrived on the scene over a Century earlier. He had been the chief of the English factory at Quasimbazar which he abandoned after it was captured by the Mughal fouzdara, experimented with settlements at Calabaria south of Howrah, and at Hijli, further down in Midnapore district. But none of the experiments proved worthwhile before he struck gold at Calcutta.

Fig. 2.1. Four stages of growth of Calcutta

  • 1 Chunder, B., "Calcutta: its Origin and Growth (Notes from an old manuscript)", Calcutta University (...)
  • 2 Blockman, H., "Calcutta During Last Century", Calcutta, 1868, reprinted in Calcutta Keepsake, edite (...)

3Babu Bholanath Chunder1 quoted Price to confirm that neighbourhood of Calcutta was then already an important centre of production and commerce with several populous villages filled with cloth manufacturers, when Charnock set his-mind on the site, Blockman2 observed that Sutanuti and Calcutta might have had a population of about 12,000 right at the commencement of the eighteenth Century.

  • b Setts and Basaks were very big merchants families of seventeenth and eighteenth Century Bengal. The (...)

4European traders had already established themselves in a number of important markets on the river banks. By 1500 the Portuguese had a virtual monopoly in Bengal trade and had a number of settlements including Hooghly, some forty kilometres north of Calcutta. Dutch had a number of factories including one at Baranagar. With the decline of Satgaon the Setts and Basaksb had moved to the Calcutta area and founded the village of Govindapur and the market of Sutanuti. Chitpore and Salkia had seen growth of commercial settlements based on trade with the Dutch and the Portuguese factories. The Armenians had come to Chinsurah, then to Chandannagar and lastly to Sutanuti and Govindapur and built up Armanitola in the northern part of the present city before 1630. Chamock, therefore, can be said to have founded the English factory at Calcutta but not its original settlement.

Calcutta - chance selected?

  • c Let us quote a few verses from Kipling’s famous poem "A tale of two cities":
    "Thus the midday halt o
    (...)
  • 3 Ibid.

5H. Blockman has succinctly dismissed Kipling's poetic Statement that the Calcutta site was selected by chancec. Quoting Price, Blockman wrote, "When the English first settled at Fort William in Bengal, or Calcutta, the little body of merchants, instead of fixing themselves on the westside of the river, as all other Europeans had done before and since, determined on a very small spot of rising ground on the eastside. If I remember right, their reasons for the choice were that it was situated near the several populous villages, filled with cloth manufacturers whom they wished to engage in their service; that they should be free from the invasions of the Marathas, who in those days were very troublesome to those settled on the westside of the river; that the anchorage for the ships was very good, and near the place on which they proposed to erect a little fort; and the ground itself did not cost them much money"3.

Fig. 2.2. Calcutta in 1756-57
Protected by the Hooghly River and the Maratha ditch, Calcutta, in her crucial years (1756: the Black Hole; 1757: a modest town, where dwellings and activities are concentrated near the Old Fort William, between Sutanati and Govindpur.
Source: H.E. Busteed, Echoes front Old Calcutta: 1908 (4th edition).

  • 4 Ibid.

6Blockman himself added, that "there are several historical accounts showing that the inhabitants of the western side of the river, invariably took refuge in Calcutta on the slightest rumour of an approach of the Marathas. The remark regarding rising ground is also correct; for the ground of old Calcutta is high"4.

  • 5 Wilson, C.R., "Early Annals of the English in Bengal", edited by Amarendranath Mukherjee, in "Glimp (...)

7C.R. Wilson wrote, "The experience of more than half a Century had convinced the English that their trade in Bengal would never prosper without a fortified settlement as its centre. In 1686 they set about discovering a spot suitable for such a fortification. After repeated trials Charnock came to the conclusion that the required spot was Sutanuti, and here out of deference to his views and inspite of much adverse criticism, the foundation-stone of the British Empire in India was at last laid. And Chamock chose not only deliberately, but also wisely. Calcutta was the fit place for the English purposes from two distinct points of view. Not only was it strategically safe but it was an excellent commercial centre"5.

  • 6 Ibid.

8With the Portuguese anchoring their galeasses at Garden Reach (Satgaon and even Hooghly settlements having become unapproachable by sea going vessels) an important market had already sprung up on the westside of the river at Betor. Wilson noted that this market had attracted native traders and merchants to the spot, and particularly the four families of Basaks and one of Setts, for establishment of business contacts with the Portuguese. Here these families seemed to have gradually built up European connections, particularly with the English to whom they became specially friendly. "Whether the Bengali merchants ever invited the English to come and settle near them, we cannot say; but the advantage of doing so must have been manifest, and it is clear that Garden Reach was always a favourable anchorage for the Company's ships"6.

  • d In Bengali as well as in Hindi, haat is a periodical market (J.R.).
  • 7 Stuart-Williams, C., Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. LXXVI, London, July 1918, p. 894.

9Sutanuti had a location superior to others. It was a secure position for a naval power. To attack it the Hooghly needed to be crossed. There was a broad road for communication by land with the interior. Provisions were plentiful at its haatsd and bazars. It afforded greater facilities for sea-bome trade. Finally, of all the places to which ocean-going vessels could proceed, Calcutta offered by far the best anchorage, since the Calcutta Reach —known as the Long Reach— had deep water along the eastern bank from the present site of the Howrah bridge right down to Garden Reach. Sir Charles Stuart-Williams, Chairman of the Port Trust in 1928 wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, that the site could not be bettered7.

Foundations of the major gateway to the Indian Empire

10After the mid-seventeenth Century, first the Dutch and then the English had begun to sail their ocean-going ships through the Hooghly. The passage was particularly dangerous because of continuously forming and shifting sandbanks. A regular pilot service therefore was introduced almost simultaneously.

  • 8 Mukherjee, N., "Port of Calcutta, A Short History”, the Commissioners for the Port of Calcutta, 196 (...)

11The history of the Calcutta Port witnessed a lot of controversy regarding the location of dockyards but each controversy was resolved in favour of the empire builders against narrow immediate mercantile interests. The History of the Port of Calcutta8 divides the growth of the port into five distinct stages, viz., (a) the first stage was marked by sailing ships lying at river moorings with loading and unloading by boats continuing for months; (b) the second stage began with the construction of the first jetties in the second half of the nineteenth Century; (c) the third stage saw the arrival of steamships and the foundation of the Kidderpore Dock scheme towards the end of 1880; (d) the fourth stage, between the two world wars, saw the construction of the King George's Dock and all round expansion of the port; and lastly (e) the fifth stage, which commenced with Independence, saw the maturing of a long-neglected crisis associated with rapid deterioration of navigability of the Hooghly river and the planning and creation of the Haldia Port to assist the Port of Calcutta in discharging the over-increasing demand for port facilities in eastern India.

12Colonel Watson, more an expert on shipbuilding, founded in 1780 a marine yard at Kidderpore and got a grant of land from the East India Company for docking purposes. He actually commenced construction of wet docks at the south end of the port and for that purpose started work on diverting a small creek running out of the Hooghly River from its old course. But the plan had to be abandoned. Worse were the fates of two other plans, those of Major Schalch and of Mr. Colvin, for the construction of wet docks at Tolly's Nalla and between Meerbhur Ghat and Nimtala Ghat respectively. F.W. Simms, later Consulting engineer of the East India Company, suggested construction of docks at Diamond Harbour. Diamond Harbour in those days maintained a regular harbour establishment for accommodation of the company's ships which anchored there and conducted loading and unloading operations by means of sloops sent down from Calcutta. But nothing ultimately came out of Simms' project.

  • 9 Papers relating to the formation of Port Canning on the Mutlah river, extending from 27 May 1853 to (...)

13After the great hurricane of 1842 which took a heavy toll of lives and damaged considerable shipping property, the demand for wet docks gathered more advocates and between the alternative sites of Akra and Kidderpore, the latter was preferred. The scheme received applaud but nothing came out of it. In 1853 a scheme was prepared to make Mafia river the outlet and inlet of a portion of the Bengal trade. There was a talk of the deterioration of the Hooghly river and a Committee was appointed to examine whether the Mafia river should be developed as a possible alternative outlet to the Bay of Bengal. The Chamber of Commerce appeared to support the scheme and proposed that this port should be linked with Calcutta by a railway and a navigable canal9. Work began on Port Canning Project during Dalhousie's rule though he was not fully convinced of the rationality of the project. Lord Canning, the successor, looked at the project with contempt. But the work continued. In 1864 a company started operations, laying down light ships, moorings and buoys. In 1865-66 the port was visited by 26 ships. But five years later not a single ship visited the port. Finally in 1871 the port was officially closed.

Fig. 2.3. Calcutta in 1792
The concentration around the Old Fort, the Great Tank and Writer's Building is still very much marked, but the town is spreading. In the South, the new Fort William, the Maidan and the new English residential locality of Chowringhee have appeared.
Source:Census of India 1951, Vol. VI, Part ΠΙ: Calcutta City.

  • 10 Munsi, S., "Selection of the Site and Early Development of the Port of Calcutta”. Essays in honour (...)

14In the meanwhile the idea of improving the navigable channel of the Hooghly by dredging was being discussed. By 1866-67 a steam dredger was at work. In 1870 the Calcutta Port Trust was formed. "It is evident that one hundred and fifty years of early start weighed heavily in favour of Calcutta and the commercial community of the city was in no mood to speculate on the main gateway of commerce in eastern India. Calcutta by this time had grown into a half-a-million city. By then the East India Railway was opened for traffic throughout from Calcutta to Delhi. The extension of the railway System in north-eastern India added year by year to the sphere of influence of Calcutta as a sea port and a distributing centre. By this time the waterborne trade between Calcutta and the eastern districts had grown to such an extent that the volume of traffic averaged 1 million tons per annum while the value of this trade was stated to be at 4 million sterling"10.

Growth of the metropolitan node: conquest and administrative control

15From an inconsequent English factory to the metropolitan node of a farflung region was not an easy journey. The English covered it with ruthless determination and with all the means at their disposal. Conquest, administrative control and a transportation network followed closely at the heels of the other.

16The first British settlements in India started at Surat in 1613, at Fort St. George on the Coromandel Coast in 1640 and at Fort William in Calcutta in 1698. These originally were mere "factories" established for trading purposes, as we have noted above. These factories gradually turned into settlements each one of which was governed internally by a "President and Board". In the course of the next one hundred years outstation or dependent factories grew up under the protection and control of the parent factories. The parent factory settlements thus became the regional factory settlements or the "Presidency towns". The conception of a regional factory settlement contained the idea of a region being under the command of a presidency town, a centre of the territory where the President resided. What the British called the three Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay-the three basic macro-regions of later period-emerged through this process.

17Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the three Presidencies, were at the outset independent of one another and subordinate to the Directors in England. In 1773, during the administration of Lord North, the supremacy of the Bengal Presidency over Madras and Bombay was for the first time recognised, and as the result Calcutta become formally the capital of British India. However, it was not till 1833 that the Governor General in Council was vested with supreme power to rule India with Calcutta as the seat of his Government. Seventy-eight years later in 1912 the capital was shifted to Delhi. But during diese seventy-eight crucial years Calcutta received all the importance and attention as the centre authority over a vast colonial empire. Calcutta's early eminence might have largely been due to this role assigned to her.

Fig. 2.4. Calcutta at the beginning of the Twentieth Century
The city expands outside the Circular Road. Railways and Kidderpore Docks have been built up as well as the Victoria Memorial. Calcutta is the political and economical Capital of the Indian Empire.
Source: Atlas of the Imperial Gazetteer of India,1909. Plate 49.

  • 11 Baden-Powel, B.H., Land System in British India, London, 1892, Reprint edition, Delhi, 1974, Vol. I (...)
  • e Old Orissa was bigger than the present day Orissa state (J.R.).

18Explaining these circumstances under which the Presidencies developed, Baden Powell11 said that the territories which were conquered or ceded to the East India Company were, naturally enough, in the first instance, attached to the Presidency whose forces had subdued or conquered them or whose government had negotiated the cession. Thus, Bengal, Bihar and (old) Orissae were put under the administrative control of Fort William in 1763, i.e., under the territorial domain of Calcutta.

  • f Arakan and Tennasserim are the Coastal regions of present Burma, respectively located north and sou (...)

19It may be remembered, however, that large areas of the country, when conquered or ceded to the British by treaty, still remained not definitely attached to any Presidency; at any rate it was doubtful whether they were intended to be so or not. This was especially the case with the Bengal Presidency. The main difficulty arose with the territories attached to Fort William at Calcutta. Benares, Cuttack, Balasore and Puri could be normally put under the territorial control of Calcutta without difficulty. But Assam, Arakan and Tennasserimf on the one hand and the districts ceded by the Nawab of Oudh, viz., Allahabad, Fatehpur, Kanpur, Azamgarh, Gorakhpur, Bareilly, Moradabad and so on, known collectively as the North-West, would have extended the Presidency beyond all reasonable limits. In 1833, therefore, the existing Presidency of Bengal was divided into two parts-the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal and the Presidency of Agra to be immediately followed by the formation of the North-West Provinces in place of the Presidency of Agra. Assam was separated from Bengal and placed under a Chief Commissioner under the provisions of the Act of 1854. At that time Assam included the Assam Valley districts, the districts of Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, and the older districts of Goalpara, Sylhet and Cachar, British Burma was constituted under Chief Commissionership in 1862.

20Thus, the Presidency of Bengal included nine divisions of which five belonged to Bengal, two belonged to Bihar (Pama and Bhagalpur), one to Orissa (Cuttack, Puri and Balasore) and one to Chotanagpur (Hazaribagh, Lohardaga, Manbhum and Singhbhum).

21Simultaneously with the process of consolidation of the empire and the demarcation of administrative territorial divisions, the military administration of the subcontinent was also refined with the formation of different commands and allocation of regions to them. Eastern Command, with headquarters at Calcutta, operated over the territories of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and the United Provinces intruding slightly into the administrative territorial jurisdiction of the Central India Agency in the south.

Fig, 2.5. Location map for Chapter 2.

Railways and the consolidation of the hinterland

  • 12 Lord Dalhousie, "Minutes by the Most Noble the Governor-General, dated the 20 April 1853", Parliame (...)

22The military and administrative control over India was quickly Consolidated with the help of trunk and feeder railway routes. Lord Dalhousie had suggested the construction of the trunk line from Calcutta by the valley of the Ganges to the North-West Provinces as the first in order of importance and value12. This line could be extended to Lahore to the river Jhelum. The line would touch every important military station from Calcutta to Sutlej, connecting every depot, Allahabad, Agra, Delhi, Ferozepur, with the arsenal in Fort William. This was also the best possible line in the interest of trade, and for the local advantage of the whole eastern and northern India. This trunk line was designated as the East Indian Railway. Subsequently, two other trunk routes emerged from Calcutta. The Eastern Bengal Railway, linking Calcutta with the eastern Bengal and Assam, while the Bengal-Nagpur Railway extended Calcutta's western arm right upto Nagpur through the great mineral belt of India. The Calcutta-Midnapore-Sini-Cuttack line was sanctioned much later in 1895 and was completed five years later.

23Thus, it was to the credit of the railways that Calcutta became the eye of a nodal region extending in the north-west to Delhi, in the south-west to Cuttack, in the west to Nagpur, in the north-east to Mymensingh and in the south-east to Chittagong.

  • 13 School Book Society of Calcutta, Geography of Hindoostan, Calcutta, 1834, p. 4.
  • g Sicca Rupees were of various types, all coined in the East India Company's territories. In 1793, th (...)
  • 14 The Imperial Gazetteer, The Indian Empire, 1908, Vol. III, Table IX, p. 315.

24In 1834, the Geography of Hindoostan published by the School Book Society of Calcutta13, wrote that Calcutta was "likewise the capital of all India, being the residence of the supreme authorities both in Church and State". It said that "in 1814 the imports, from beyond seas, are stated at 18,100,000 Sa. Rs.g and the exports at Sa. Rs. 47,600,000. The inland imports and exports amounted together to Sa. Rs. 10,400,000 making a grand total of Sa. Rs. 76,100,000". This was the highest figure for any city in India attained at the time. In 1903-04, the Imperial Gazetteer14 noted that Calcutta imported goods worth Rs. 23.91 lakhs from Bengal, followed by Rs. 6.28 lakhs from the United Provinces, Rs. 2.39 lakhs from Assam and Rs. 1.75 lakhs from the Punjab, i.e., mainly from the traditional area now known as eastern and northern India extending from the Punjab to Assam and Orissa. Calcutta did not have monopoly sway over U.P. and the Punjab. Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi had all fairly strong links with U.P., though in the total value of exports and imports none could come near Calcutta. Next in importance was U.P.'s links with Bombay with much less than half the value of trade Calcutta had with U.P. The Punjab had strongest links with Karachi, followed much behind by Bombay and Calcutta.

25Thus by the end of the nineteenth Century Calcutta emerged on the map of India as the most powerful metropolitan node, the citadel of British capital in India, the major gateway to London and the world at large. Demographically from a bunch of Settlements with about twelve thousand people, the city, by 1901, had grown into a giant with nearly eight hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants.

Fig. 2.6. Location map of Bengal for Chapter 2

The growth of the suburbs

26Some of the suburban towns of Calcutta, now belonging to the Calcutta Urban Agglomeration, were in full existence long before Calcutta began its career as an English factory settlement. Chinsurah, Hooghly, Chandernagore, Serampore were thriving markets patronised by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French. It has been noted earlier that by 1500 the Portuguese had established a virtual monopoly in trade in Bengal and had founded their own settlements at several places on the banks of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly including the Hooghly township in 1537, some forty kilometres north of Calcutta. Hooghly was also the first settlement of the English in lower Bengal, established near about A.D. 1640. The Dutch had established their own factory at Chinsurah in 1623 and held the place till 1825. The 1872 Census returned the population of Hooghly and Chinsurah together as nearly 35,000. Chandemagore town was permanently occupied by the French and the construction of their factory began around 1690, though it had been temporarily held by them nearly ten years earlier. Serampore, also situated on the west bank of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly, was originally a Danish settlement and remained so till 1845. In 1872 Census, Serampore recorded a population of over 24,000.

27Till the establishment of manufacturing industry in the suburbia of Calcutta by about the middle of the nineteenth Century, these towns remained as enlarged market centres boosted up by the intrusion of European traders, some of them more important than Calcutta at the beginning. The first jute mill was established in Rishra of Hooghly district in 1855 which was followed by more factories in Serampore and elsewhere. Cotton textile industry was inaugurated in Sibpur-Ghusuri of Howrah district in 1825. Jute industry came here a little later. The year 1864 can generally be taken as the time when municipal administration was initiated in the northern suburban belt of Calcutta.

  • 15 Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961, p. 554.
  • 16 Ibid. p. 555.

28Noting the factors for the development of suburbs, Mumford noted that the modem suburb began as a sort of rural isolation ward15. People left the core city to live in a cleaner environment. With the onset of industrial revolution, cities in Europe became nests of squalor and diseases. "Pure air and water, freedom from raucous human noises, open fields for riding, hunting, archery, rural strolling-these are qualities that the aristocracy everywhere has always valued. By the time of Queen Elizabeth (the First), the great houses of aristocracy lined the Strand in London, and their gardens went down to the waterfront16".

29In Calcutta a few Englishmen and wealthy Indians did build their garden houses on the banks of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly for occasional holidaying but this had nothing to do with the character of the suburban movement in industrial Europe. Much later, mainly in post-independence period, the suburban movement around the city received some momentum from those who were deprived of a foothold in the city due to steep rent and land speculation.

Fig. 2.7. The growth of the Hooghly towns: 1901-1961

30The history of growth of Calcutta's suburbia, therefore, substantially differed from the usual pattern found in western Europe or in America. Firstly, many of Calcutta's suburban towns were independent entities for a long time associated with the rise and fall of European powers rival to the English. Secondly, with the transference of these settlements to English hands and subsequent establishment here of manufacturing industry, this relationship with Calcutta did not appear to have been substantially altered except for the links the mills had with their head offices at Dalhousie Square and with the port of Calcutta. Thirdly, the option of developing stronger links between Calcutta and its suburbs in the interest of metropolitan growth, was never seriously considered even later. Thus, while industries grew mainly along the western bank of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river, no bridges were constructed over the river till about the middle of the nineteenth Century. The first effort at construction of a railway bridge was foiled with the collapse of the bridge structure at the time of construction. In 1875 a pontoon bridge established the first links. The present cantilever bridge was opened only two years before Independence. The other railway-cum-road bridge at Bally was inaugurated in 1927-28. The Naihati Bridge, some forty kilometres north of Calcutta, was also a much later addition.

31Transportation links make effective integration of suburbs and the metropolis into an organic whole. Good transportation always helps to swell the population of suburban residential areas and leads to all round development of the suburbs through opening of new streets, betterment of civic service schedules and so on. A suburban area, thus, is essentially dependent on the central city for its growth. Under the American context the phenomenal growth of suburbs in the US was linked with developments of highways and automobiles. European cities spilled over to suburbs. The metropolitan areas of world cities show a degree of integration which has been historically denied to Calcutta. The introduction of suburban train service along both the banks improved the situation to some extent in post-independence period. But highways are still grossly inadequate and automobile revolution a far cry. A massive geographical barrier in the form of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river has further complicated the problem.

The early morphology of the city

  • 17 Chunder, B., "Calcutta. The Origin and Growth”, Calcutta University Magazine, Vol. IV, Nos. 3, 4, 6 (...)

32In the middle of the 16th Century, wrote Babu Bholanath Chunder17, Sutanuti extended from Chitpur to the old Mint House. The area between the old Mint House and Chandpal Ghat could be said to belong to Calcutta proper. Gobindapur occupied the site of the new Fort William, including the Race Course. Sutanuti was the principal seat of commerce and industry while Calcutta and Gobindapur were the places of residence.

  • h A traditional centre of trade on the Hooghly river, Satgaon, some 40 kms north of Calcutta, suffere (...)

33The Basaks and Setts, who had migrated from Satgaonh and settled at Sutanuti and Gobindapur, laid out their properties in markets, gardens and large and small tanks. In the beginning the English confined their settlement to Sutanuti and called it the'factory of Sutanuti'. Much of the village of Calcutta was covered with jungles except in parts adjoining Sutanuti. It was here that the English put up their final settlement.

  • 18 Blockman, H., op. cit.

34After 1757 Gobindapur was cleared for the construction of the new Fort William and Hastings was born as a coolie bazaar, a place of temporary residence for the labourers engaged in this work of construction. It was then that residential quarters were shifted to the east of the present Maidan leaving blocks around Lal Dighi or the present Binoy Badal Dinesh Bag to offices. Thereafter, the residential appearance of the Dalhousie Square, the heart of the central business district, radieally changed. H. Blockman18 noted that the demolition of the old Fort left the East Company in possession of a large piece of ground which was used for public buildings. This explained the large number of public offices situated between Dalhousie Square and the river.

35North of the Bowbazar Street (now Bipin Bihari Ganguli Street), extending from the Dalhousie Square to Sealdah in an east-west direction, lay the native Indian town. The area between Bowbazar Street and Dharamtala Street (Lenin Sarani) was a mixed residential area dominated by the Portuguese, the Greek and the Armenians in or out of service of the East India Company or engaged in business. South of the Dharamtala Street was the European residential area.

  • i Bhowanipur was the fourth sector, mainly residential (J.R.).

36All these three divisions of original Calcutta were more or less residential areas intermingled with small commerce, the ethnically heterogeneous central division forming a kind of buffer zone between the native and the European parts of the town. There was, however, no official and formal recognition of this three-fold division at the beginning which came somewhat later in 1833 when the then Chief Magistrate of the city proposed a formal segmentation of the city into four well-demarcated sectors maintaining the segregated distribution of the city populationi.

  • 19 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. IX, 1908, p. 261.

37Describing the morphology of Calcutta of these days the Imperial Gazetteer wrote that surrounded by the huge Maidan, the Fort William stood at the heart of the city19. To the north of the Fort lay the European shops and the offices of business houses. The European residences were situated to the east of the Maidan. Alipore housed the palatial residence of the Lt. Governor. Indian quarters almost surrounded the European residential areas. To the north of the European business centre of Lal Dighi was located Burrabazar, the principal native business centre. Three highways ran through the native town from north to south, and about six roads linked the Hooghly river bank with the easternmost parts of the city.

  • j Dewan Kasinath wanted to start cultivation of vegetables and fruits for the nearby bazaar. Actually (...)
  • 20 Proceedings of the Calcutta Committee of Revenue, Fort William, 24 October 1774, quoted by Dr. Prad (...)

38The difference between the Indian and the European parts of the city was to be found not only in the available civic amenities, but mainly in the fact that while the residential blocks in the native town were submerged in an all pervasive atmosphere of crowded bazaars, the European town was marked by well laid out buildings, open spaces and gardens. The Indian merchant community who dominated the civic life of the native town, wanted this bazaar to grow, as is evident from a petition of Dewan Kasinath praying to the Government in 1774 to build a bazaar in Calcutta. "I am desirous of increasing its cultivationj and peopling it with shop-keepers and others I will invite to settle in it"20. The bazaar was always a lucrative proposition to wealthy Indians and Dewan Kasinath was not alone who wanted to own a bazaar in a crowded locality of north Calcutta. In the absence of large-scale manufacturing industry within the city and corresponding space distribution, Calcutta city area has never been able to outgrow this overwhelming baazar environment.

  • k In Mumford's terminology, "coketown" refers to the towns grown up on the coal-mines and around smel (...)
  • 21 Mumford, L., op. cit., p. 508.

39We may here go back to Mumford for a passing comparison between the cities of the western world and Calcutta. Describing the "coketown" and the "paleolithic paradise"k, Mumford generalised about the transformation that carne to western cities in the nineteenth Century in the wake of Industrial Revolution. He said that "if capitalism tended to expand the province of the market-place and tum every part of the city into a negotiable commodity, the change from organised urban handicraft to large-scale factory production transformed the industrial towns..." In the coketowns, the generating agents were the mine, the factory, the railroad. "In greater or tesser degree", noted Mumford, "every city in the western world was stamped with the archetypal characteristics of coketown", and that "between 1820 and 1900 the destruction and disorder within great cities is like that of a battlefield, proportionate to the very extern of their equipment and the strength of the forces employed"21. Industrialisation was thus the main creative force in cities of the nineteenth Century.

  • 22 Ibid, p. 521.

40Dealing particularly with how the already established great commercial capitals of the northern countries reacted to this wind of transformation, Mumford had this to say: "Most of the great earlier political and commercial capitals, at least in the northem countries, shared in this growth... The fact that almost every great national capital became ipso facto a great industrial centre served to give a further push to the policy of urban aggrandizement and congestion22 ".

  • 23 Hunter, W. W., Statistical Account of Bengal, 1875, reprint, Concept, New Delhi.
  • 24 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908, Vol. IX, p. 269.

41This change from organized urban handicraft to large-scale factory production evaded Calcutta. In fact, after the English had firmly established themselves in the city, it rapidly declined as an important centre of production with the disappearance of cloth manufacturer of Sutanuti. Hunter's Statistical Account of Bengal23 had nothing to say about the manufacturera of Calcutta. The Imperial Gazetteer wrote that "the chief home industries are pottery and brass work; but Calcutta exports little of its own manufactures, and it is to commerce that it mainly owes its position"24. Under the circumstances, the city morphology gradually turned out to be what it was:

The first Acts of city planning and administration

42The Calcutta Corporation came into existence in 1726 when King George I granted the East India Company the First Charter of incorporation of the Mayor and Aldermen at Madraspatnam, Bombay and Calcutta, and for creating a Mayor's Court and other Courts at each of three Settlements of the Company. The Charter appointed Sir John Sainsbury Lloyd as the "first modem Mayor." But even before 1726 the Company had endeavoured to introduce some kind of municipal administration in this factory settlement by making first an English zamindar and later a Collector of Calcutta responsible for maintaining its order, but mainly for the collection of ground rent and town duties which covered everything from articles of common consumption to issuing of marriage licences. The 1726 Charter was not intended to bring about any change, nor was the Charter of 1753 granted by George II. Both the Charters were primarily judicial in their purpose.

43In the meanwhile the city continued to grow, filthy and unhealthy, while the administration's only task appeared to be collection of ground rent and town duties. It was when the filth and disease spread beyond the Indian town to endanger the emergent European part of the settlement that a Third Charter was issued in 1793 by George III. For the first time it considered necessary for the health, security, comfort and convenience of the inhabitants that the streets should be regularly cleansed and repaired, and that scavangers should be appointed. The management of the town was taken off the hand of the zamindar and handed over to the Justices of Peace. The function of the Justices was performed by an assessment department, an executive department and a judicial department. It was the task of the executive department to look after the nominal civic services already introduced in the town. The only memorable duty performed by the executive department was the metalling of the Circular Road (now Acharya Jagadis Bose Road and Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road) which then actually formed the ring road around the town.

  • 25 Census of India, 1901, Part I, Vol. VII, p. 73.

44The first steps of Calcutta's town planning, however, should be attributed to the Lottery Committee which was appointed in 1817. But the Lottery Committee was preceded by the Town Hall Committee which organized a number of lottery schemes to raise funds for the construction of the Town Hall. The Census of India, 1901 appreciatively commented on the work of the Lottery Committee when it said that "the work of reconstructing chaotic Calcutta into the decent shape of the modem town was not only inaugurated but pushed with vigour"25. Actually the task of the Lottery Committee was to make Calcutta, the Indian outpost for commerce and administration, suitable for a long stay of Englishmen. The first step, therefore, was to improve its internal links and the links with the hinterland. The construction of two major north-south arterial roads (the Strand Road along the river bank and the Wellesley Street-College Street-Comwallis Street) and a number of roads diagonally cutting across these arterial highways from east to west was undertaken, extending the influence of the port over the whole city.

45Most of the other city improvement measures of the Lottery Committee were confined to the European parts of the town, particularly around the Chowringhee. But for the Lottery Committee, these and other improvements of Calcutta would not have been possible, commented the Report of the Census of 1901. This was primarily because the English residents of the city were averse to plan for Calcutta on a long term basis and were openly hostile to any proposal for enhanced taxes to finance its civic development One could understand the objections against enhanced city taxes shared also by the Indian community. The Lottery Committee had not assured the development of the Indian parts of the city. This may explain the Indian apathy towards civic affairs of Calcutta.

46In the roots of Calcutta's civic administration and developmental Investments lies the total psychological indifference of its inhabitants which has not loosened its grip. Thus Calcutta turned out to be nobody's city-not of the administrators, the industrialists, the businessmen and even of the common citizens. Like the game of passing the buck, each passed on the responsibility to the other. Calcutta has suffered this indifference since its re-birth as a colonial town.

Notes

1 Chunder, B., "Calcutta: its Origin and Growth (Notes from an old manuscript)", Calcutta University Magazine, Vol. IV, Nos. 4, 6-10, April, June-October 1897, reprinted in Calcutta Keepsake, edited by Alok Ray, Calcutta, 1978.

2 Blockman, H., "Calcutta During Last Century", Calcutta, 1868, reprinted in Calcutta Keepsake, edited by Alok Ray, Calcutta, 1978.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Wilson, C.R., "Early Annals of the English in Bengal", edited by Amarendranath Mukherjee, in "Glimpses of Olden Times", Calcutta, 1968, pp. 88-100.

6 Ibid.

7 Stuart-Williams, C., Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. LXXVI, London, July 1918, p. 894.

8 Mukherjee, N., "Port of Calcutta, A Short History”, the Commissioners for the Port of Calcutta, 1968.

9 Papers relating to the formation of Port Canning on the Mutlah river, extending from 27 May 1853 to 11 March 1865, pp. 1-2, 4 quoted by Nilmony Mukherjee in Port of Calcutta, ibid. p. 36.

10 Munsi, S., "Selection of the Site and Early Development of the Port of Calcutta”. Essays in honour of Prof. S.C. Sarkar, New Delhi, 1976, pp. 363-364.

11 Baden-Powel, B.H., Land System in British India, London, 1892, Reprint edition, Delhi, 1974, Vol. I, p. 32.

12 Lord Dalhousie, "Minutes by the Most Noble the Governor-General, dated the 20 April 1853", Parliamentary Papers.

13 School Book Society of Calcutta, Geography of Hindoostan, Calcutta, 1834, p. 4.

14 The Imperial Gazetteer, The Indian Empire, 1908, Vol. III, Table IX, p. 315.

15 Lewis Mumford, The City in History, 1961, p. 554.

16 Ibid. p. 555.

17 Chunder, B., "Calcutta. The Origin and Growth”, Calcutta University Magazine, Vol. IV, Nos. 3, 4, 6-10, April, June-October, 1897, reprinted in Calcutta Keepsake, edited by Alok Ray, Calcutta, 1978.

18 Blockman, H., op. cit.

19 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. IX, 1908, p. 261.

20 Proceedings of the Calcutta Committee of Revenue, Fort William, 24 October 1774, quoted by Dr. Pradip Sinha in "Social Forces, and Urban Physical Growth-Calcutta", Essays in honour of Prof. S.C. Sarkar, New Delhi, 1976, p. 275.

21 Mumford, L., op. cit., p. 508.

22 Ibid, p. 521.

23 Hunter, W. W., Statistical Account of Bengal, 1875, reprint, Concept, New Delhi.

24 The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908, Vol. IX, p. 269.

25 Census of India, 1901, Part I, Vol. VII, p. 73.

Notes de fin

a Mughal army officer, in charge of an area (J.R.).

b Setts and Basaks were very big merchants families of seventeenth and eighteenth Century Bengal. The names are also the titles of the rich members of the castes engaged in trade and banking (J.R.).

c Let us quote a few verses from Kipling’s famous poem "A tale of two cities":
"Thus the midday halt of Charnock-more's the pity!-
grew a city
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed,
so it spread-
Chance directed, chance erected, laid and built
on the silt-
And, above the packed and pestilential town,
Death looked down".
The whole poem must be quoted to lend force to the image of Calcutta as a "hell of a place"(J.R.).

d In Bengali as well as in Hindi, haat is a periodical market (J.R.).

e Old Orissa was bigger than the present day Orissa state (J.R.).

f Arakan and Tennasserim are the Coastal regions of present Burma, respectively located north and south of the Irrawaddy delta. Arakan extends itself to southern Bangladesh where it forms the Chittagong hinterland. Assam, Arakan and Tennasserim were annexed to British India in 1824-1826 (J.R.).

g Sicca Rupees were of various types, all coined in the East India Company's territories. In 1793, the last Bengali type of Sicca Rupee was coined in the Bengal Presidency. It weighed 192 grains troy, and contained 176, 13 grains of pure silver (a little more than 9 grams). It was abolished in 1835-36 when the "Company Rupee" was introduced unformly all over British India (J.R.).

h A traditional centre of trade on the Hooghly river, Satgaon, some 40 kms north of Calcutta, suffered an eclipse when the Portuguese developed Hooghly, their trade port, into an important emporium after 1579 (J.R.).

i Bhowanipur was the fourth sector, mainly residential (J.R.).

j Dewan Kasinath wanted to start cultivation of vegetables and fruits for the nearby bazaar. Actually, those market-gardens were never very important; habitation and shops took the biggest share of the space allotted (J.R.).

k In Mumford's terminology, "coketown" refers to the towns grown up on the coal-mines and around smelting factories and Steel plants. The "paleolithic paradise" refers to the towns or cities older than the Industrial Revolution (J.R.).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 2.1. Four stages of growth of Calcutta
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 356k
Légende Fig. 2.2. Calcutta in 1756-57Protected by the Hooghly River and the Maratha ditch, Calcutta, in her crucial years (1756: the Black Hole; 1757: a modest town, where dwellings and activities are concentrated near the Old Fort William, between Sutanati and Govindpur.Source: H.E. Busteed, Echoes front Old Calcutta: 1908 (4th edition).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Légende Fig. 2.3. Calcutta in 1792The concentration around the Old Fort, the Great Tank and Writer's Building is still very much marked, but the town is spreading. In the South, the new Fort William, the Maidan and the new English residential locality of Chowringhee have appeared.Source:Census of India 1951, Vol. VI, Part ΠΙ: Calcutta City.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 468k
Légende Fig. 2.4. Calcutta at the beginning of the Twentieth CenturyThe city expands outside the Circular Road. Railways and Kidderpore Docks have been built up as well as the Victoria Memorial. Calcutta is the political and economical Capital of the Indian Empire.Source: Atlas of the Imperial Gazetteer of India,1909. Plate 49.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 484k
Légende Fig, 2.5. Location map for Chapter 2.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 164k
Légende Fig. 2.6. Location map of Bengal for Chapter 2
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Légende Fig. 2.7. The growth of the Hooghly towns: 1901-1961
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/5221/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 403k

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search