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Calcutta 1981

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Jean Racine

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

3. Calcutta and her Hinterland

A Regional and National Perspective

Jean Racine

Texte intégral

1One cannot understand Calcutta without looking at it from two angles. One, from the eastern India of which it has been the sole metropolis for nearly two centuries. Two, from India as a whole of which it is the biggest agglomeration, after having been the capital, by accident or choice, for 140 years. Calcutta co-ordinated the British expansion in the sub-continent more than any other city; it witnessed the genesis of modem India. The social and cultural reforms, the settlement of landed property, the ruin of the traditional economy with the introduction of first colonial and later autochthonous capitalism, the conceited effulgence of the British Raj, the formation of the Indian Republic: there is no major event or influence of India that has not found an echo in Calcutta's bubbling cauldron. It is Calcutta where for centuries sahibs and bhadralok, babus and pavement dwellers, socio-religious reformers and terrorists, authors or activists have mingled. A brilliant symbol of power and wealth, Calcutta was the second city, after London, of the greatest empire of the world. But as the decay set in, Calcutta became a symbol of misery, the problem city par excellence. Until the middle of this century, the growth of a city was a visible, material and measurable fact: its size symbolized its power, growth and development. But Calcutta is perhaps the first agglomeration which contradicted this rule. Since 1947 the growth of its population no longer denotes its strength and wealth. Rather it points out to a tragic imbalance of growth, in the context of a region as vast and diverse as many independent nations. Having lost its political pre-eminence, the largest agglomeration of the sub-continent has also lost its economic pre-eminence. The Census of 1981 will possibly shows us that it has just lost or will soon loose its demographic pre-eminence.

  • a The census of 1981 confirms the second hypothesis: Calcutta Urban Agglomeration (9.16 million inhab (...)

2Why?a

EASTERN INDIA: ASSETS AND POTENTIALS OF A VERY DIVERSIFIED HINTERLAND

3While discussing assets of eastern India let us evoke the relationship between history and geography. The point is, can we explain the past predominance of Calcutta by the existence of some permanent geographical assets or, on the contrary, by a fluke of history?

4The conquerors of the East India Company, the predecessors of the Viceroys, no doubt found here, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a region inadequately defended by the local princes, unlike Bombay, which was under the stronghold of the Peshwas of Maharashtra and the Sultans of Mysore or unlike Madras, which was close to the French rivals. But by the 19th Century the British power had established itself in the sub-continent. Madras and Bombay were no longer a threat. Calcutta however remained the British capital. The privilege extended by the decree of 1773, which recognised the predominance of the Governor General of Bengal over the Governors of Madras and Bombay, is hardly enough to explain how the port, farthest from London and difficult of access, could keep its political preeminence until 1911 and economic pre-eminence till the eve of the Second World War. We must therefore analyse the nature of its hinterland in order to discover the reasons for Calcutta's strength and the causes of its present difficulties.

5What is the hinterland? It is formed by a very large ensemble of Indian regions (we exclude Nepal and Bhutan) of at least 7,80,000 km2, and a maximum of 9,00,000 km2 if one expands its western limits —which are less clearly defined— to the surroundings of Lucknow and Jabalpur (Map 3.1).

6In 1981, the population in this region oscillated between 175 and 254 million, according to the southern and eastern limits affected to Calcutta's hinterland. That is to say, if this hinterland were independent, it would become, by its population, the fifth largest state of the world. Let us not forget that we are studying here the metropolis of the largest human concentration of the tropical world. But this considerable population is far from being regularly distributed (Map 3.2).

Fig. 3.1. Calcutta's approximate hinterland

Fig. 3.2. Population density by district in 1971

Some striking physical and human contrasts

7As is the case everywhere in India, the contrast between lowlands and highlands leads to striking differences in densities of population, types of population and patterns of land use. The most populated delta of the world is surrounded by mountainous areas which are undoubtedly very diversified. In these areas the dominant civilization differs from that of the Gangetic valley, except perhaps on the elevated north-eastern plateau of the Deccan, where the contrast to the Gangetic way of life is less marked. These diversified highlands which largely mark off Calcutta's hinterland borders can be divided into three major units (Map 3.3).

Fig. 3.3. The major natural regions of Calcutta's hinterland

The Himalayan barrier in the North

8The passes to Tibet have long existed, but they do not concern Calcutta very much. The Himalayas are certainly an area of cultural contacts between Lamaic Buddhism and Hinduism. However it persiste as a barrier, a string of buffer states between India and China: Nepal, Bhutan and, until 1975, Sikkim, now integrated into the Indian union.

The Circum-Assamese Highlands to the North-East

9They are a range of mountains of very varied character and altitude. The tertiary Himalayan and Indo-Burmese chains might have opened a large triangle helping the Brahmaputra into the sea, but the archaean plateau of Meghalaya, running from west to east, confines the powerful river into the narrow corridor of Assam. It thus reduces what could have been a minor replica of the Ganges valley to a blind valley tightly enclosed by tribal highlands which are alien to the basic vital trends of the Arya-Dravidian civilization.

The tribal plateau of western Deccan to the South-West

10Although much less marked here than in the north and the north-east, the orographical contrast was however always sufficient to distinguish the paddy growing lowlands of the Hindu or Muslim peasantry from the high drylands where a large proportion of the Indian tribals live. Bihar, Orissa and eastern Madhya Pradesh account for more than 15 million tribals, and this population figure represents the strongest tribal concentration in the entire Union. On the other hand, the northeastern lands shelter relatively the largest tribal concentration, with four States where the tribals account for more than 80 per cent of the population. Calcutta thus finds itself located between the two big stronghold of Indian tribals. That is to say, that a good part of its hinterland is still a sparsely or relatively sparsely-populated region, with fairly unproductive agriculture: a zone in problematic transition (Map 3.4).

Fig. 3.4 The two tribal strongholds of eastern India

The large paddy growing plains

11The alluvial lowlands, on the other hand, are the haven par excellence of the peasantry: the Bihari valley of the Ganges, the Bengali delta of the Ganges, the Oriya delta of the Mahanadi, and to a lesser extent, the Assamese valley of the mid Brahmaputra. In these regions, some of the major centres of Indian civilization were established: the ancient kingdom of Maghada, the Mauryan empire, the Gupta empire, the kingdom of Kalinga; the mediaeval dynasties of the Mahanadi delta, and the ancient Bengali towns: Gaur, Dacca, Murshidabad, which finally decayed to sustain the new capital of the Raj.

Amputateci Bengal

12The sketch just traced does not lack a certain harmony. It contributed towards settling and maintaining the British in Calcutta: the natural opening of the Ganges-an immense valley, a major axis, fertile lands, a large area rich with highly skilled craftsmen in the seventeenth Century; the Assamese valley, opening an access to the north-eastern highlands; the Himalayas, a barrier certainly but 500 km to the north; the Deccan plateau which today is the home of coal and Steel; the Oriya littoral, a natural corridor towards the south, and last but not least, the curved coastline of the Bay of Bengal, wide open to the ocean.

13As one can see, this well-balanced set-up owes much to the harmony of opposites and complements, to the relative symmetry of the pieces of the puzzle, centered on the delta. But here everything breaks down; the keystone collapses after the Partition: Bengal and the delta are cut in two by an absurd and bloody border, an economical heresy. In 1947, more than 140,000 km2, the major and most fertile part of the Delta, became foreign territory, and for nearly 25 years enemy territory. Whereas Calcutta lost an essential component of its hinterland and most of the jute fields which fed its factories, West Bengal bent, over the years, under the weight of 3,000,000 refugees, fleeing in the years between 1946 and 1956 from what had become East Pakistan, with a large number of them settling for good in the agglomeration. Bengal thereby took the aberrant contours of today. Whereas the precious waters of the main stream of the Ganges flow henceforth outside India, the direct route towards Assam is cut. New ones have to be constructed, across the narrow corridor of Naxalbari, where the whole of north-eastern India is fragilely linked with the rest of the Union by a Stretch of land where in fifty kilometres one can pass from Nepal to Bangladesh via Bihar and Bengal.

14What might have happened in a unified Bengal? Would the demographic boom and the poverty of present day Bangladesh (90 million inhabitants in 1981, against 54 million in West Bengal) have been controlled by a less unbalanced Calcutta? Mere geographical fiction! But it is certain that the stirring genesis of independent India gave birth to an amputated and deformed Bengal in a region which, as we will see, would have done better without this additional handicap.

A considerable economic potential reduced by numerous impediments

15The problems under which Calcutta and Bengal as a whole struggle today should not make us overlook the remarkable combination of varied assets which the geographical diversity of eastern India offers. As a matter of fact, the lack of resources seems less important than the difficulty of making full use of the best regional potential of India. All the strength and all the misery of Calcutta are confined to this distortion between what has been done and what, perhaps, could be done, as a good number of potential assets have been transformed into handicaps (such as the abundance of men), whereas a certain number of handicaps could be transformed into assets (uncontrolled water for instance).

The large alluvial plains

16The immense alluvial Stretch of the Ganges and the Brahamaputra valleys heads the list of potential assets. These 2,20,000 km2 currently include the largest area of paddy fields in the Union which more than any other region should be the real rice granary of the country. These fertile lands do not, however, guarantee the prosperity of the farming communities settled there. The colonial exploitation is partly responsible for this. The ruin of the traditional economy, the pernicious consequences of the zamindari system, which started in Bengal in 1793 (the big absentee landlords, the multiplication of oppressive middlemen between the Government and the land-tillers crippled with tax and debts), and left its traces well after its abolition in 1948; the growth of market-oriented crops to the detriment of food crops: all these colonial disruptions emanate from Calcutta which was enriched by the impoverishment of rural areas, the ruin of craftsmen, the tea of Assam and the jute of the Delta.

17Today, decades after Independence, the problems persist. The population density which is too high, the incomes which are too low and too unequal (in Bihar particularly, which is afflicted more than any other state by the big landlords' power and murderous casteism); the inadequate control of water (the large irrigation and drainage Systems of eastern India weigh little compared to those of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh or of South India): so many reasons which explain the tact that this zone, which rarely sees an important double paddy cropping, usually produces low-yielding crops on the food front. The only two crops offering a large surplus are purely market oriented. These are tea from the plantations of north Bengal, the Brahmaputra valley and Cachar, and jute, whose production in the West Bengal delta increased after the partition. Calcutta owes a large part of its fortune to these products with an important world market and a considerable source of foreign exchange.

18The plains however have other assets. They are a major communication axis towards the heart of what was Moghul India, offering more than any other region of India a remarkable network of perennial waters, though today in decline in the Delta. The powerful streams of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra offer, moreover, an enormous hydroelectric potential which is yet untapped. To these assets could be added the oil resources (3 MT crude in Assam in 1977) which would increase as a result of new oil exploration.

The highlands of the North-East

  • b The troubled Assam and Tripura States, where Bengalis (largely from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) (...)
  • c The figures for 1981 are: West Bengal 614; Bihar 402; Assam 254; Arunachal Pradesh 7 (JR·).

19The highlands of the North-East —Himalayan slopes and circum-Assamese mountains— have tremendous hydroelectric potential, but very little of it is used to produce energy. This region also offers a remarkable agro-forest potential which should, within its large altitudinal scale, complete the range of lowland crops. However the policy of preservation of tribal societies forbids the accelerated modernization of agriculture and forbids Bihari or Bengali peasants, deprived of enough land, to settle in these territories and States where there is no lack of spaceb. The policy of protection of tribals therefore prevent the vast area from being populated and the land utilized to lessen demographic imbalance in eastern India. The 1971 statewise density of population per square km was: West Bengal 504, Bihar 324, Assam 186, Arunachal Pradesh 6 (this last figure may be compared with that of Nepal: 81)c.

The plateaus of eastern Deccan

20The plateaus of eastern Deccan are also a large area of low productive agriculture, abundant forests, vast areas moderately populated, and a tribal stronghold. The similarity with the highlands of the North-East stops there, because these plateaus offer much more than this ambiguous potential. One finds here indeed on the Precambrian substratum of gneiss and charnockites, crossed with some carboniferous deposits, a Stretch exceptionally rich in ore, running from the fringes of West Bengal to those of Madhya Pradesh. Manganese, copper, bauxite and particularly coal and iron ore laid the foundations of the most powerful heavy industrial concentration of the subcontinent. This belt is in places 200 km from Calcutta (Map 3.5) and on two main axes, it also follows the major railway lines, Calcutta-Delhi and Calcutta-Bombay. Most of the Indian coal, coke and iron ore are found there, four of the five main Steel plants of the country (the fifth, Bhilai, is on the borders of the hinterland of Calcutta) are also located here. This is a major asset for the metropolis of Bengal, for its port, and for its mechanical or Chemical industries.

21Calcutta's hinterland does not therefore lack potentialities, and these which have been exploited have laid the foundation of the metropolis' strength. When the era of modem industrial capitalism carne, tea, jute, coal and steelworks took over from the mercantile profits which were previously drawn from the John Company trade and from the min of the traditional textile handicrafts. Table 3.1 displays a few aspects of the economic importance of eastern India.

  • 1 See Munsi S.K., Calcutta Metropolitan Explosion: Its Nature and Roots, New Delhi, People's Publishi (...)
  • 2 See also Habeeb A., "Urban Growth: A historical perspective. The case of Calcutta's Hinterland", In (...)

22As Table 3.1 suggests, this wealth of Calcutta is not entirely built up on healthy foundations. During eight-tenths of its history from 1690 onwards, the city has mainly been a suction pump, a vampire, sucking up a lot, and redistributing little, strictly according to its needs. More mindful of profits than of the future, the London agents and the vintage nouveaux riches did not have any scruples to squeeze the maximum out of an exploited hinterland. Thus, the colonial aggression largely explains some impediments1.2. In other cases the responsibility of men of today is greater. A complete list of these hindrances would be long. A few are listed here; (i) social problems (landless peasants topping the list); (ii) energy problems (very underexploited potential and a dramatic penury in West Bengal; (iii) industrial problems (low return of coal exploitation, shortage of basic products such as cernent, low productivity) etc.

Fig. 3.5. The economic weight of eastern India

Table 3.1: The relative economic importance of Eastern India for some key productions

Table 3.1: The relative economic importance of Eastern India for some key productions

Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7: Statistical Abstract of India: 1977, computed from Tables 17, 35, 37, 44. 6: Annual Survey of Industries 1971, Vol. VIII, pp. 19-30

  • d In 1981 poverty line was defined thus: Rs. 65 per capita per month of consumption expenditure at 19 (...)

23As a consequence, and despite very important resources in raw materials (Map 3.5) eastern India presents a per capita income lower than the national average (West Bengal alone reaches almost this average, while the rest of Calcutta's hinterland stands very much below): a fact which is confirmed by a glimpse at the poverty index: Calcutta's hinterland clearly hosts the biggest percentages of population living below the poverty line (Maps 3.6 and 3.7)d.

Fig. 3.6. Per capita annual average income, by State, in 1979-80

Fig. 3.7. Population below the poverty line, 1977-78

24Rather than setting up a long but schematic catalogue of these impedimenta we shall select three specific ones here for a short analysis, in so far as they concern the entire hinterland of Calcutta. These include water, agriculture and the urban network.

THREE GEOGRAPHICAL IMBALANCES: WATER, AGRICULTURE, URBAN NETWORK

Water: too much or too little

25Water conditions the whole life of the region and also, very directly, the life of Calcutta metropolis.

Sea, river and marshes: site and situation of Calcutta

26From the beginning the city owes everything to the river. The Hooghly represented an axis of penetration into the riches of Bengal of the seventeenth Century and beyond that into the heart of the Moghul Empire, and thus attracted the British who were formerly settled in Balasore, on the Orissa coast. Charnock, who was once compelled to fall back for a short while to Sutanuti, convinced the Company about the necessity of settling in the delta itself, as the other Westerners had done.

27Very near another village, Kalikata, which gave its name to the future city, Sutanuti on the Hooghly side offered several advantages: a natural bank slightly more elevated than elsewhere, not far from the best anchorage (today, Garden Reach) of an admittedly not very propitious river, and a pilgrim and merchant route on a site less subject to the immediate authority of the then masters of Bengal than the other European settlements established upstream.

  • 3 Murphey R., "The City in the Swamp: aspects of the site and early growth of Calcutta", The Geograph (...)

28In a remarkable paper, Rhoads Murphey had underlined how these meagre advantages prevailed for lack of something better. For the implantation of Calcutta, and still more its unforeseeable growth, emphasize the extraordinary victory of situation over site3. The situation: the meeting place of the Ocean and the Gangetic Plain where seventeenth Century vessels could sail after a fashion, up a river already condemned by the evolution of the Delta, with its main arm slipping eastwards to what is today Bangladesh. A difficult river in fact with the treachery of the sand banks, the tidal waves rushing upstream, the paralysing aggradation, the tributaries dangerously subject to floods, (most of all the Damodar), the inadequate space for seamanship and anchorage, the threatening storms and cyclones. Access to the harbour, impossible without ships being piloted, is one of the worst ever.

  • 4 On the Hooghly river and the hydrographical problems see: The Bhagirati-Hooghly Basin, K.G. Bagchi (...)
  • 5 West Bengal, Geographical Institute, Presidency College, Calcutta, Firma K.L.M., Calcutta, 1970, pp (...)

29The surroundings, from the beginning, were hardly better. Ninety kilometres from the sea, Calcutta's river bed is only six metres above sea level and nearby, very close to the river, the lowlands begin. These lowlands include marshes transformed into lakes by heavy rains, stagnant bhils, moribund streamlets no longer linked to the river: an unhealthy region where malaria and cholera killed masses of people up to the nineteenth century. Too much water, in this depressed, badly drained site in a metropolis still today inundated after each heavy monsoon shower. Too little water in a river which, downstream, survives only by constant dredging which hardly opens a channel to the 12,000 GRT ships and which upstream is sometimes low enough, in dry months, to be cut off from the main Ganges, thus affecting any large si/.cd inland water transport4·5

Water: a major problem. The uncertainties of climate and of hydrography

30Too much water, too little water: Calcutta's dilemma is also the dilemma of almost all its hinterland, which dramatically sways every year from drought to floods. If the total annual average rainfall is theoretically satisfactory everywhere (Calcutta: 1535 mm) not a single region in eastern India is assured of receiving the vital supply of water regularly. From too much to too little, the overflow follows scarcity. The immensity of the Ganges basin and the number of Himalayan tributarles of the left bank, of which the most devastating is the Kosi in Bihar, multiply the risk of local or regional flood. It only needs over-abundant local rains for the usual quasi annual inundation to turn disastrous, as was the case in September 1978, when 30,000 km2 were affected, more than a million houses were destroyed, more than 800 people died and at least Rs. 750 crore worth of damage occurred in Bengal alone, which was paradoxically a victim of drought a year later.

  • 6 See the local and national newspapers, Sept-Oct 1978. For a global analysis of the problem: Dr. K S (...)
  • 7 Hore, P.N., "Rainfall Deficiency Regions in West Bengal" in Symposium-on Tropical Climates, 21st In (...)

31The exceptional extern of such a disaster (from 27 to 29 September 1978 Calcutta received 708 mm: the heaviest rain for one hundred years) should not conceal the slighter but common disorders6. We have already mentioned the local floods which each year, here and there, affect the low lying plains of Assam, Bihar or Bengal. Let us rather underline here a more insidious problem. The average annual rainfall, oscillating from 1,300 mm in the Southwest to more than 2,500 mm in North Bengal hides in fact a constant drought hazard, because of large irregularities, further worsened by the usual concentration of two-thirds of the annual rainfall in just four months of the monsoon. Even in the so-called normal years, without any particular drought, this distribution of rain is not fully beneficial to the traditional paddy cropping. The research of P.N. Hore has shown that in one year out of every two, more than half of Bengal receives less rain than is necessary at the time of sowing and transplantation of the aman rice, which is usually grown from July to December, and which by itself covers more than 70 percent of the net sown area7.

  • 8 Geddes, A., La civilisation rurale du Bengale Occidental et ses facteurs géographiques, Montpellier (...)

32Countless equipment of all sizes are required for curbing these excesses or these shortages. But though sprinkled with ponds and rivers, Bengal was never endowed with a satisfactory irrigation (and drainage) System. As early as 1927 Arthur Geddes noted in his thesis on the surroundings of Santiniketan the serious decline of the traditional irrigation System and the 1978 disaster confirmed what was feared: the recent efforts are still inadequate, and the most remarkable example, the harnessing of the Damodar River, which in many respects is of direct concern for Calcutta, achieved less than expected, for the lack of completion8.

  • e Between 1874 and 1943 Howrah and Calcutta were linked by a structure which was more a pontoon than (...)

33Admittedly the very width and force of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra make them difficult to span (let us think of Kipling's short story, The Bridge Builders) and though the Hooghly is but a minor arm of the delta stream, the first real bridge in Calcutta city was built only in 1943e. However, a comprehensive planning which could at least stop this tragic swinging from too much to too little seems doomed to remain a dream for a long time. In 1977, the Assamese authorities estimated that to control the Brahmaputra alone would entail an expense of several thousand crores of rupees. Where can such an amount be found when the Central government has not yet, after almost thirty years, set out a clear planning policy for the Ganges? Whatever may be the socio-economic context that one hopes for, no one will deny that the control of such an enormous hydraulic force would be a deciding factor in the growth of both agriculture and power. Accept it or not, the real development of eastern India-and therefore of Calcutta as well-depends upon this necessary, though by itself insufficient, prerequisite.

  • 9 "Taming the Brahmaputra, A National Problem", The Statesman 3 September, 1977.

34The entire balance of man's mastery over rural space is therefore jeopardized while the control of water remains unachieved. Calcutta —very quickly flooded, but not offering enough drinking water to its inhabitants— suffers from at two levels. All that hits rural life and agricultural production indirectly hits the metropolis, by lessening trade, and by creating the imperious necessity of providing financial help to the affected areas. It also hits Calcutta very directly, as any disaster, any rural crisis would sooner or later bring to the city its batch of deprived villagers searching a last refuge in the metropolis with a hinterland which, compared with those of other big Indian cities, is definitely the most threatened by an unsettled climatic regime.9

Rural overpopulation, agricultural underproductivity

  • 10 Malone, C.C., Indian Agriculture Progress in Production and Equity, New Delhi, Ford Foundation, 197 (...)

35To analyse the east Indian agricultural weaknesses and to study more generally the serious problems of rural eastern India would put us off the subject. At least a few all India figures available would enable us, through a few maps, to underline these weaknesses which explain greatly the excessive attraction which Calcutta exercises on a region poorer than the average for India as a whole; a region which to date has not found either in itself or in its metropolis a cure for its imbalances. As the cases may be, the data presented here are either gathered from different official publications, or collected according to large agricultural regions as defined by C.C. Malone10.

Thirst for land and low productivity

36Fig. 3.8 which shows the percentage of net area sown, brings out the contrast between the North-East and eastern Deccan on one side (less than 35 per cent) and Bihar, Bengal, and the Orissa coast on the other (57 per cent), a contrast which echoes the differences in the densities of population. These two figures could give the impression that a lot of land could be gained for agriculture. It does not however testify that the land is abundant. Fig. 3.9 proves to the contrary that the rural density to sown square kilometres is much higher in the hinterland of Calcutta than elsewhere in India: the contrast with the Bombay hinterland is particularly flagrant.

Fig. 3.8. An unevenly cultivated hinterland

Fig. 3.9. Calcutta’s hinterland: the most dense rural population of India

Fig. 3.10. Calcutta's hinterland: an average farm size smaller than the national average

Fig. 3.11. Calcutta's hinterland: the poorest rice yields

37One cannot therefore be surprised by the small size of the average farm: less than 1.70 hectares for the greater and the more fertile part of the hinterland, the lowest figure in India with the exception of Kerala (Fig. 3.10). At least Kerala offers a yield of husked rice far higher than the national average. On the other hand in 1970-71, the largest part of eastern India did not even reach 10 quintals per hectare (Fig. 3.11) West Bengal itself obtained in 1975-76 a yield of 12.5 quintals, the same as Gujarat which is infinitely less favourable to rice cultivation. This fact alone testifies the seriousness of the agricultural problems confronting the Calcutta hinterland. The fact is more ominous as the rice cultivation is of the foremost importance in Bengal, taking up 80 per cent of the net sown area of which 70 per cent is (aman) rice. The excessive predominance of aman crop cultivated six months a year and the inadequate irrigation leaves only little land to be cropped (more than 16 per cent of cultivated land in 1954-55, and only 20 per cent, twenty years later) and very little land under double paddy cropping.

38The average income per villager further underlines the poor performances of eastern India, and in particular Bihar, compared to the rest of the country (Fig. 3.12). This matches with the average farm income index in eastern India: inferior everywhere in 1970-71 to the national index, it clearly underlines the basic weakness of Calcutta's hinterland compared to those of the three other metropolises (Fig. 3.13).

39The map showing the consumption of foodgrains is not therefore surprising. Eastern India has the largest short-cropped regions (Fig. 3.14). Bengal on this map shows a slight surplus because it is attached to coastal Orissa which includes the rich Mahanadi delta. It is indeed a fallacious surplus for it does not take care of an urban population which is bigger in Bengal than elsewhere in eastern India. An apparent paradox (but is it really a paradox?) this shortcropped region is the same which includes in total or in part (for Madhya Pradesh) all the States where the ratio of workers in the primary sector is 80 per cent or more (Fig. 3.15). The percentage of Bengal (61 per cent), hardly testifies for a real balance as the percentage of agricultural workers compared to the total cultivators of both sexes (45 per cent), is far higher than that of Orissa, (36 per cent), and very close to that of Bihar (47 per cent). That is to say that the percentage of landless sufficiently underlines, without even taking into account the numerous marginal tenants, the scarcity of land and the pressure to which it is subjected.

40It is possible to distinguish shades of difference in the geographical diversity of social structures. The two largest populated States are: (i) Bihar where the big landlords hold on, and where more than elsewhere, the Harijans —the majority of whom are agricultural labourers— are exposed to the high handedness of the powerful, and (ii) Bengal where the social structures are less dramatically uneven, but not so as to exclude either the blazing movement of Naxalite extremists, or the bloody rivalries generated every year by conflicts over property or wages. No comprehensive study could underestimate these social and agrarian problems. Bihar is significant in such perspective, as an overpopulated area with very low productivity, low average incomes, further worsened by social inequalities.

Fig. 3.12. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest value of crops

Fig. 3.13. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest agriculture incomes

Fig. 3.14. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest foodgrains consumption

Fig. 3.15. Calcutta's hinterland: the most overloaded with primary sector workers

Fig. 3.16. The image of urbanized Bengal: the Hooghlyside conurbation in 1971

41Consequently what option do the deprived ones, those indebted for life, have (if they are not bonded labourers) except to leave for the town? The figures in Map 3.15 lead one to believe that this recourse is a most limited one in the larger part of eastern India. In fact, the study of the urban network will dramatically confirm this point by showing how much the hypertrophied, hypertensive Calcutta rules over an urbanly aneamic hinterland.

The extreme imbalance of the regional urban network

  • 11 It is always very difficult to delineate an agglomeration of such a size. We have to distinguish he (...)
  • 12 See S.K. Munsi, op. cit. 1975, chapter 3: "An Enquiry into Urban Stagnation in the Small Towns", pp (...)
  • f Patna Urban Agglomeration (916,000 inhabitants in 1981) grew very much faster in the last decade (+ (...)

42The traditional maps usually represent the cities rather than the agglomerations, and conjure up the image of an urbanized Bengal. Let us consider the 1971 situation. All along the Hooghly, the circles abound, big and small, marking near Calcutta (3 million inhabitants in 1971) and Howrah (700,000 inhabitants) the cohort of industrialized cities and towns, mostly jute towns, established along the river (Fig. 3.16). But as soon as we regroup all these towns and cities, large or small, into a single agglomeration of more than 7 million inhabitants heaped over 569 km2, and replace it in the eastern Indian context, the perspective changes11. The seventh agglomeration of the world in 1971, crushed by its weight the entire urban network of its hinterland (Fig. 3.17). Patna, 491,000 inhabitants, the second agglomeration of eastern Indian and the capital of Bihar was in 1971 fourteen times smaller than Calcutta, and twice as large as Asansol, the second agglomeration of Bengal12f.

  • 13 See A. Habeeb, op. cit. 1978, who uses this formula, p 16.
  • g From Durgapur (in West Bengal) to Bokaro (in Bihar) nearly 2,000,000 people were settled, in 1981, (...)

43The ruin of the traditional cottage industry and of the administrative centres in the nineteenth Century to the benefit of British Calcutta has led to a real "disurbanization" of eastern India and more particularly of Bengal13, further affected by Partition. Fig. 3.19 and 3.20 throw light on the acute imbalances of the urban Bengal network: the old chief towns fallen (Old Malda: 6,700 inhabitants in 1971; 8,500 in 1981; Murshidabad: 17,000 inhabitants in 1971; 22,000 in 1981) or lost (Dinajpur, now in Bangladesh); the multipolarity affecting some headquarters which are not the largest cities of the districts (Siliguri against Darjeeling; Nabadwip against Krishnanagar; Kharagpur against Midnapore); the integration of some district headquarters in the bulk of the agglomeration of Calcutta (Hooghly, Howrah, Alipore) and the anaemia of too many left-over headquarters (Purulia, Bankura, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri). Surely, Nabadwip-Krishnanagar and Kharagpur-Midnapore formed in 1971 two rough agglomerations in embryo of about 2,00,000 inhabitants each, a mark they crossed in 1981. Most certainly, from Durgapur in Bengal to Bokaro in Bihar, cities follow cities of various sizes, along the Damodar Valley and its surroundings, and regrouped more than a million inhabitants in 1971. But they are only industrial and mining centres, such as Jamshedpur (4,56,000 inhabitants in 1971; 6,70,000 in 1981), further to the south in Bihar. However important it may be, this industrial belt stretched over 150 km between Durgapur and Bokaro cannot compete with Calcutta, particularly as far as services and trade are concernedg.

  • h Because of political unrest the 1981 census was not conducted in Assam. Except for Arunachal Prades (...)

44North-eastern India, with less than 10 percent city-dwellers and with not a single city of 2,50,000 inhabitants in 1971 carries even less weight. Likewise, Orissa is very slightly urbanized (8.4 per cent) and without a capital worthy of a state of twenty-one million inhabitants: the total population of Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack, which are not yet United in single agglomeration, was just over 3,00,000 inhabitants in 197lh.

Fig. 3.17. Cities and urban agglomerations in the Indian hinterland of Calcutta in 1971

Fig. 3.18. Cities and urban agglomerations in the Indian hinterland of Calcutta in 1981

45In other words, Calcutta rules without enough relay-towns and therefore rules badly over the less urbanized part of the Indian Union. A comparison of the hinterlands of the four great metropolises is revealing. Only the Calcutta circle in 1971 had no other million city or even half a million city. The largest Indian agglomeration rules paradoxically over the most anaemic urban network of the country. But is it really a paradox? The colonial heritage largely explains this imbalance which is due to the crushing of the traditional towns, the concentration of jute industries near the Hooghly, the hyper-concentration of financial, commercial, administrative and political functions in Calcutta which is also the harbour city. And of course, hypertrophy nourishes itself, because the more deprived rural emigrants do know that they have better chances of survival, even though meagre, in the immense agglomeration, rather than in the anaemic district towns.

Fig. 3.19. The imbalances of West Bengal urban network in 1971: the size of towns and cities

Fig. 3.20. The imbalances of West Bengal urban network in 1971: the status of towns and cities

CALCUTTA AND WEST BENGAL IN THE SUBCONTINENT

The Bengali particularism

  • 14 Here is some data collected from Census of India 1971, Series I Part II C. (i): Social and Cultural (...)
  • i Rammohun Roy (1772-1833): A rich aristocrat, he was the pioneer of the socio-cultural eforms in Ind (...)
  • j Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891): An educationist and a social reformer, he was the pioneer of (...)
  • k Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941): The most brilliant of a family of brilliant intellectuals and arti (...)
  • l Ramakrishna (1836-1886): An Hindu monk who had visions of Kali, Mohammad and Jesus, he was the grea (...)
  • m Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945): A leading figure of the Congress till 1939, he broke away f (...)

46To refer to the Bengali particularism is not to criticize it. This particularism is based very largely on the linguistic factor. On the borders of the immense Hindispeaking region,— Hindi was the mother-tongue of 153 million people in 1971 —Bengal is the land of Bengali, a language older than Hindi, a language rich with long-lived cultural traditions14. Colonial history heightened this particularism. The major economic and political roles conferred upon Calcutta during the British rule and the fantastic growth of the agglomeration have led to the concentration of an urban population more open to anglicization and cultural and social reforms as testified by the deeds of Rammohun Roy, the Brahmo Samaji, or Vidyasagarj. This resulted in a strong urban political awakening, which brought occasionally revolutionary and terrorist upsurges (1905; 1970). The cult of internationally celebrated sons of the land (Tagorek, Ramakrishnal, or of heroes of a more localized repute (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose)m, reinforced in independent India a particularism which was able to nourish itself even with what tended to deny it. Nothing is more significant on this ground than the convulsions of history which three times in the Century cut in the living flesh of greater Bengal, totally disregarding its linguistic unity. Each time Calcutta had to bear in part or in full the consequences of these crises, and each trial left its indelible mark —a mixture of frustration and intense regional feeling— on the Bengali character. The first Partition of Bengal occurred in 1905. The agitation against it compelled London to reunite Bengal in 1911, but the capital of the empire was transferred from Calcutta to Delhi. The year 1947 saw the Partition of India. Calcutta received most of the 3 million refugees who fled from the newly formed East Pakistan. In 1971 there was the secession of Bangladesh. Once again Calcutta attracted a mass of refugees rushing from one Bengal to the other.

  • 15 See S.N. Mukherjee, Calcutta, Myths and History, Calcutta, Subarnarekha, 1977, pp. 1-59.

47All this has contributed since the nineteenth Century to a stereotype image of the typical middle-class Bengali of Calcutta: intelligent, sensitive, artistic, voluble, politically conscious, chauvinistic, the stereotype of the white-collar dweller leaving the harder tasks (think of the Bihari jute mill workers or rickshawallas) or the hazards of trade (think of the Marwari businessmen) to the immigrants. It would be wrong to reduce the Bengalis to this image. It would also be wrong to totally underestimate it: the particularism is real. Manifesting itself by its cons as well as by its pros, it nurses resentment against the Central government, and sometimes against immigrants, rich or poor15

Afflux of labour force and exit of capital

  • 16 (a) Bose, N.K., Calcutta 1964: A Social Survey, Bombay, Laivani, 1968, 328 p.
    (b) Sinha, S. (ed.),
    C (...)

48Who are these immigrants? They can be classified into four categories (Fig. 3.21)16.

The refugees of East Pakistan and Bangladesh

  • 17 Calcutta Metropolitan District: Some Fact and Figures, CMDA, Calcutta, 1977. Table 19 and 20, pp 20 (...)

49They constitute the second largest group, after the immigrants from West Bengal itself. It is extremely difficult to evaluate how many refugees, having come to West Bengal, have stayed on in Calcutta. An official estimate puts the influx of refugees to the West Bengal to 3.3 million between 1946 and 196117. If some of them were sent to rehabilitation camps such as Dandakaranya, most of them-more than 1 million?-seem to have settled in the Calcutta agglomeration or its surroundings. They were essentially poor people, or ruined ones. According to the 1961 Census, 19 percent of the immigrants settled in Calcutta agglomeration. The second wave of refugees —10 million?—arrived during the Bangladesh Independence war. Almost all of them were supposed to have gone back to Bangladesh after the war. On the whole, this influx of nearly two million refugees in the metropolitan district alone in a quarter of a Century17 has largely contributed towards disturbing the balance of the metropolis, which was not prepared to accommodate so many immigrants.

Fig. 3.21. Place of birth of urban population having migrated to Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts according to 1961 Census

The immigrants from West Bengal

  • 18 Gupta, J.D., Census of India 1961, Vol. XVI, Part II C (ii), Migration tables. DI to D III., Delhi, (...)
  • n On this slackening of the immigration to Calcutta, see also Sukumar Sinha's chapter 6 in this volum (...)

50Whatever the weight of the refugees was, the immigrants from the state constitute by far the largest group of incomers. The 1961 Census figures establish very clearly this pre-eminence of state immigrants, (about 60 per cent of the total number of immigrants settled in the Calcutta agglomeration)18 no doubt as a result of the imbalances analysed earlier: the lack of land and jobs for all peasants, and the anaemia of district towns (Fig. 3.71). The 1971 Census data, made available only in 1981, provides however quite a different image, as considerable changes appeared during the 1961-1971 decade (Fig. 3.22) The immigration flows strongly declined, the biggest fall being from West Bengal itself: less 2,813,900 (-81%) The flow from Eastern India (Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa) went down also, but not as much, the rates of decline being always below-30%. The reasons for this slowing down of immigration are not clearly establishedn, but it is feared that it is not so much the development of the districts which lower down the migration to Calcutta, than a changed perception about the metropolis, which seems to fascinate and attract less now than before.

The workers of neighbouring States

  • o Since the immigration from the national hinterland decreased so much, the influx of East Pakistanis (...)

51If the north-east does not count much here (Assam attracts more immigrants than it nourishes emigration), the three States of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa are the principal providers of migrants with the respective figures of 600,000, 250,000 and 100,000 people in 1961, according to the 1961 census. We just noted it: in 1971 the immigration to Calcutta went down noticeably from those States, which are still a major purveyor of migrants but on a subdued scale: Bihar (less 94,600:-16%); Uttar Pradesh (less 35,000:-14%); Orissa (less 30,300:-29%). The movements from the North-East were on the opposite, slightly higher in 1971 than in 1961, but remained very low, with, on an average, less than 2000 outmigrants per yearo.

Fig. 3.22. Place of birth of urban population having migrated to Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts according to 1971 Census

52As in the case of immigrants from West Bengal, a large part of these newcomers, mainly rural in origin, have not severed all contacts with their villages where they may have retained a plot of land, a humble house, or where their wife and young children reside. These male immigrants upset the balance of the sex ratio of Calcutta: 698 females to every 1,000 males in 1971. Only the true destitute have left behind everything, having come to the city along with their families, and settled where they could. Many of the immigrants return once a year to their village, often for the harvesting season. Those who can, send money Orders home regularly. Since most of these immigrants earn a modest living as workmen, marginal tradesmen, craftsmen at their best, and often domestic servants, rickshawallahs, handcart pullers, the money Orders are small in amount but numerous all the same. One sometimes hears the Bengalis complaining about these petty people being a problem in the agglomeration, without being, in the case of the poorer of them, subjected to taxation. This is to forget among other things that Calcutta would be nothing without the legs, hands, and courage of these immigrants.

Fig. 3.23. The flow of immigrants enumerated in 1961 and 1971 amongst the urban population of Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts

The long range migrants

53A fourth group came or comes in lesser numbers, from the other States of India or from abroad such as the Indian refugees from Burma, the Chinese, the Nepalese. Their number is less important here than the professional structures which are often related to the ethnic origin of the group. Besides the case of the chinese shoemakers, drycleaners, restaurant owners and hairdressers, the most glaring example is that of the Marwaris, a small community hailing from the borders of the Thar desert of Rajasthan who have built some outstanding fortunes in the business world with at the top the Birla family, which Controls one of the foremost Indian industrial groups.

54For a long time an industrial centre of the highest Order, Calcutta necessarily shelters a number of Companies having branches in other Indian States, particularly in Gujarat and Maharashtra, whose dynamism surpasses today by far that of Bengal engulfed by its multiple problems of reconversion and chronic scarcity of energy. Part of the profit made by the Companies in Bengal tend naturally to be reinvested elsewhere (see plate 1).

55The afflux of non West-Bengal manual labour into Calcutta and the flight of capital nourish some resentment which crystallises, for example, in the activities of the Amra Bengali ("we are Bengalis"), a movement whose very existence is a Symptom of the crisis. To retire within oneself, or to plead for a "sons of the soil" policy which means providing employment on a priority basis to natives of the state: are not such temptations the very negation of the vocation of a metropolis?

RELATIONS WITH THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT: BENGAL, THE UNLOVED STATE?

56Although the communist government of Bengal is careful not to drift into regionalism, it nevertheless never misses an opportunity to denounce regularly the "dependence" in which the Delhi Central government keeps it. The bitterness of the shifting of the capital in 1911 sustains the sentimental background to the realities of today which can be classified under two headings: political and financial.

  • p In July 1981, 42 Lok Sabha members were from West Bengal out of a national total of 544 (J.R.).

57Though Calcutta had largely contributed to the birth of the Independence movement at the beginning of this Century, though it remains today the solid bastion of Indian marxism, though many Bengalis are high ranking officers in the Central administration or in big Companies, Bengal in fact has not played a major role in the national politics of Independent India. Till today the keys of political power have always been in the hands of politicians of the northern and central western States. Out of the 31 States or territories which make up the Union, four of them monopolise more than a third of the seats in the Lok Sabhap: Uttar Pradesh, the nursery of Prime Ministers, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Like Bengal, the States of the South sometimes resent the political predominance of the Hindi-speaking States. But they carry enough weight to compel Delhi to make a few adjustments.

58Nowhere else than in Bengal is this desire for readjustment between the Central and State powers on the crucial financial matter so keen. This is because Bengal is the only important state largely dominated —and governed— by a communist party. For the Communist Party (Marxist) its wielding power in Calcutta gives it the opportunity to propagate its ideology in and around and make the voters understand that it serves their interests, but is unable to serve them as it would like to because of the lack of political and financial support of New Delhi. The general problem of Centre-State relations, which arises from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu has a particular significance here. West Bengal considers itself a victim of Delhi's centralism which does not bring the support that the State is entitled to in the context of the chronic Problems of the refugees and those brought about by natural disasters. Whereas the Chief Minister calls for the end of "medicant status" for the States (The Statesman, 7 February 1978) his Finance Minister may declare with bitter irony after the catastrophic floods of September 1978: "We can safely infer that West Bengal is not a part of India, from the hitherto unresponsive attitude of the Centre to our request for assistance" (India Today, November 1978).

Plate 1: LURING CAPITAL OFF CALCUTTA

Plate 1: LURING CAPITAL OFF CALCUTTA

Three States, industrially forward Or backward, large or small, near or far away, publish advertisements in the Calcutta press in an attempt to attract the local capital off West Bengal. "Lowest man-days lost in the country", "motivated labour", "plenty of power": the message is clear.. (The Statesman, 9.12.1980; 29.10.1979; 26.1.1980).

59Beyond the political controversies the problem is serious and the great names of the Bengal capitalista join hands with the Communist ministers of Calcutta. S.K. Birla denounces the "discriminatory" policy of the Centre which quickly grants industrial licences in large numbers to the backward regions, but keep pending for years the applications from West Bengal. Capitalists and Communists join together again to denounce the Centre which according to them siphons off the profits of the State’s traditional industries such as coal, jute and tea (The Statesman, 8 August 1978) by imposing all kinds of crippling taxes.

  • 19 Roy, R., The Agony of West Bengal: A Study in Union State Relations, 3rd ed. Calcutta, New Age Publ (...)

60Naturally, the Central government denies its responsibility for the "agony of West Bengal", to quote the title of the passionately incriminating book of Ranjit Roy19.

61A comparison of average income tax per head of the five major states shows for instance that West Bengal is neither the most nor the least endowed State (Table 3.2) as far as loans for industries are concerned.

Table 3.2: Income tax and industrial loans: a comparison between five major Indian States

Table 3.2: Income tax and industrial loans: a comparison between five major Indian States

62Generally, one should not underestimate the importance of public Investments made by the Central Government in eastern India as testified by the Damodar Valley Project, and the recent Rourkela, Bhilai and Bokaro Steel plants. Besides, a part of the funds distributed by the Central Government Finance Commission to the State must follow Constitutional regulations. Calcutta was also the first amongst the great Indian metropolises to receive massive aid from the Central government and the World Bank. Defenders of the Central government would also add, and may be the present West Bengal Government would partly endorse the point, that the successive governments previously power in Calcutta sitare responsibility in three of the major areas which are in the doldrums: agriculture, power and education, which are basically the subjects of the States and not of the Centre.

63Innumerable Statistical data could provide fuel to the controversy. Whatever may be the roles of the successive West Bengal governments it is however difficult to deny that the Central government has not granted Calcutta the exceptional attention which should have been paid to the largest agglomeration of the country facing a constant rural emigration and a heavy influx of refugees. A comparison with New Delhi would be quite meaningful here. New Delhi was also faced by the challenge of refugees after the Partition but the Indian capital city —due to its political pre-eminence— received appreciably more from the Central government than did Calcutta. And this aid helped the metropolis, well balanced by numerous relay-towns, with a hinterland Standing at the front rank of Indian agricultural modernization: a picture which is the very opposite of what is offered by Calcutta's hinterland...

64We recognise that the question cannot be reduced to a mere financial problem, as the very vitality and development potential of the Calcutta metropolis is the result of a complex of geographical features, some of them peculiar to the urban agglomeration itself, some others to the regional set up. Moreover, this geographical background nurtures two major questions:

  1. Given that Calcutta proportionately receives the same amount of loans, grants and funds as the other rival million cities, would the eastern Indian metropolis be in a position to benefit from it to the same extent?

  2. If the answer is negative, must the Central government decision-makers and planners help Calcutta more than any other metropolis? Their motivation here would not be the private investor's expectation of quick profit, but the national interest, the national harmony. As a matter of fact one will have to compensate the negative consequences of the double sided nature of Calcutta, which more than any other Indian city faces a ticklish duality: Calcutta, the capital city of Bengal (87,000 km2, 54 million inhabitants in 1981) cannot take action beyond the state's borders in order to try to solve the problems of Calcutta, the capital city of a hinterland ten times larger and four times more populated than West Bengal itself. To help, Calcutta is all the more urgent since the metropolis is facing a decline.

The four metropolises: Calcutta's decline

65A comparison of the four great Indian metropolises will briefly testify to this decline (table 3.3). See Calcutta, with a little more than 12,000 inhabitants per square kilometre in the urban agglomeration, that is to say, extremely small houses; with the most unbalanced sex ratio (698); with a declining percentage of literates (57.85 per cent in 1971) pushing the metropolis down to the third rank; with a modest demographic growth which possibly —and unfortunately— indicates not so much a relative stabilization benefiting the Calcutta Metropolitan District as the bigger dynamism of the other rival metropolises. And compare Calcutta with the three other major Indian cities: New Delhi is undeniably the political and administrative capital; Bombay is the undoubtedly economic and financial capital, as well as the chief port; Madras, smaller in size, is also more balanced.

Table 3.3: The four great Indian metropolises Some basic data in 1971 and 1981

Urban Agglomeration

Calcutta

Bombay

Delhi

Madras

Population (1971)

7,031,382

5,970,575

3,647,023

3,169,930

Demographic growth (1961-71)

+ 23.6%

+ 43.7%

+ 54.6%

+ 35.3%

Urban agglomeration area (1971)

569 km2

603 km2

446 km2

530 km2

Housing per household

0.90

0.91

0.82

0.76

Population density (1971)

12,364

9,901

8,172

5,972

Population (1981)

9,165,650

8,227,332

5,713,581

4,276,635

Demographic growth (1971-81)

+ 30.35%

+ 37.8%

56.6%

+ 34.9%

Sex ratio (1971)

698

716

798

903

Sex ratio (1981)

783

773

808

930

Literates (1971)

57.85%

63.83%

58.94%

51.29%

Literates (1981)

65.54%

67.98%

62.45%

67.78%

Percentage of the working population compared with total population (1971)

32.52%

36.82%

30.63%

28.32%

Primary sector workers (1971)

1.56%

1.24%

1.59%

3.99%

Secondary sectors workers (1971)

41.19%

45.32%

29.47%

34.18%

Tertiary sector workers (1971)

57.20%

53.39%

60.53%

61.78%

Source: Census of India 1971, series 1, Part Π A. Union Primary Census Abstract 1974. Census of India Paper 2, 1981, Provisional Total Population.

66None of these metropolises offers as Calcutta does the image of a decayed urban landscape. Bombay has possibly more slums than Calcutta, but there we feel the beat of the city which moves, grows, builds, seems confident of a future. Despite its recent regaining of control, more than any other Indian metropolis, the hypertrophied Calcutta is still the problem capital of a problem region.

Table 3.4: Importance and relative decline of Calcutta as a financial centre: the evolution of the amount of cheque cleared by the Reserve Bank of India in the four greatest metropolises (in millions of Rupees)

Table 3.4: Importance and relative decline of Calcutta as a financial centre: the evolution of the amount of cheque cleared by the Reserve Bank of India in the four greatest metropolises (in millions of Rupees)

Source: Statistical Abstract 1977. Central Statistics Organization Table 44, p. 143. For 1981-82: Reserve Bank of India Bulletin, March, 1982, p. 132.

Table 3.5: Importance and absolute decline of Calcutta as a port: the evolution of the traffic of Indian major ports (gross weight of cargo handled in millions of tons)

Table 3.5: Importance and absolute decline of Calcutta as a port: the evolution of the traffic of Indian major ports (gross weight of cargo handled in millions of tons)

Source: Statistical Abstract 1977, Central Statistics Organization Table 115, pp. 290-291. Calcutta Port Special, Capital, 15th February 1982.

67That this decline is not just an impression nurtured by what we feel and see when confronted by the urban landscape is confirmed by two indexes —two tokens of paramount importance for a port and a financial capital such as Calcutta (Tables 3.4 and 3.5). Both the cases enlighten on two points.

68That this decline is not just an impression nurtured by what have feel and see when confronted by the urban landscape is confirmed by two indexes —two tokens of paramount importance for a port and a financial capital such as Calcutta (Tables 3.4 and 3.5). Both the cases enlighten on two points.

  • q The latest available data show that Calcutta is still, in 1982, the second financial place of India (...)
  • r In recent years, the traffic of Calcutta-Haldia has increased notably: 7.6 million tons in 1975-76, (...)

69On the one hand, Calcutta either declines absolutely (a port traffic smaller in 1975 than in 1960), or more commonly, declines relatively, compared with other metropolises. In 1951 Calcutta and Bombay as financial centres were of the same standard. In 1974 Bombay was, on this ground, twice as bigger as Calcutta. On the other hand, Calcutta definitely maintains itself as a city of wealth and importance. It is still very clearly the second financial centre of the countryq. But this strength is ebbing away. Once the foremost port of India, Calcutta has now dropped to the fifth place. Most certainly, Visakhapatnam, Mormugoa and Paradip offer a very unbalanced traffic: they mainly or almost exclusively export mineral ores. But the case of Madras is more significant. Madras port's traffic, three times smaller than that of Calcutta in 1960, is now bigger, although Cochin and Visakhapatnam reduce largely the hinterland of the great Tamil Nadu port. Such a change is suggestive, and underlines the decline of Calcutta's hinterland, despite its assets of heavy industriesr.·

  • 20 Beaujeu-Garnier, J. et al. Images économiques du Monde, Paris, Sedes, see pp. 98-111 and 167.

70There is worse. A metropolis as big as Calcutta, an agglomeration of 9 million inhabitants today, ought not to confine itself to a mere national ambition. It should widen its horizon in the context of south and south-east Asia. Now, Calcutta is, on the Asian scene, a port of only the second or third Order. The 7,700,000 tons of gross weight of cargo in 1976, placed Calcutta at the thirteenth rank of the ports which streich from Pakistan to Japan (China excluded). If we refer to other continents, this traffic was very near to that of Abidjan, the twentieth African port, or that of Sete, the seventh French port20. Decidedly the new outer harbour of Haldia in the making will help to stop the decline of the old Hooghly side harbour. But how could it give back to Calcutta its past renown if the entire agglomeration and hinterland do not create or do not draw in enough cargo to greatly expand its traffic?

  • 21 See R.P. Misra (ed.), Million Cities of India, New Delhi, Vikas, 1978.

71Finally, we have to admit that the capital of eastern India is in a bad shape. It is still a metropolis in the true sense of the term: full of life, noise, plans, a real power in the nation. But this strength is slowly on the wane, because it is challenged by the rising of the other metropolises, Delhi, Bombay, and Madras, while other million cities, particularly Bangalore and Hyderabad, assert themselves as cities with a future21.

72More than ever, the fate of the great metropolises depends on the result of national and international competition. Less open to the world than a number of south-east Asia markets, India selected her own way. Quite near to it, the growth of Bangkok is the outcome of a different economic approach. At least India preserves her individuality better, and, confronted by the western civilization, resists the acculturation better. We have also to consider this point, and think about the very Indian desire for Calcutta to evolve without disowning itself.

73There remains the two sided problem that Calcutta faces in the national context: the immensity of its own difficulties and also its constitutional inability to try to solve, beyond its state borders, its hinterland problems —supposing it were able to do so. For that reason, Calcutta's future is definitely also a national problem. Let us go further. For the Communist government now in power here, as well as for the Central government, Calcutta presents a major test. Calcutta is a symbol of an urban crisis without any equivalent, but by its nature this is not confined to postcolonial India. Like most other third world metropolises, Calcutta's problems cannot be effectively solved without a real development of a basically rural hinterland. As such, Calcutta during the next decades, will testify for or against a global urban and rural development policy. An urgently needed but still hazy policy... Most definitely, the present situation will not be allowed to last very long, unless Calcutta proves that the urban congestion may always be extended with impunity, that man can adapt himself infinitely. The city is no longer able to provide what is to be the expected at minimum from an urban organism: housing for all and a regular public water and electricity supply. By accepting that-and by loving their city-are not the Calcuttans proving today that man adapts himself to the less favourable man-made surroundings, just as some people were able to adapt themselves to the less favourable natural surroundings?

74As a matter of fact, Calcuttans adapt themselves. All types of Calcuttans, belonging to all classes. Everyone goes through the urban crisis in his own way, because the problem of Calcutta is not just the problem of the destitute who generally monopolize the newsmen's voyeurism, as western journalists are not much disposed to turn to the middle classes, a topic rather more difficult to write about... This fascinating adaptation means a lot, and suggests that the urban societies-at least in India-are steadier than some believed, whatever might be the degradation of the city or the eventuality of a bloody explosion and revolt.

75Finally, does the Calcutta of 1980 offer a preview of the fate reserved for a large part of mankind in the twenty first Century: a future possibly more realistic than the one imagined in the sixties by science fiction writers dreaming of the fabulous modernity of cities to come? Whether a failure or a success, Calcutta’s future, under circumstances that no one can now foresee, is bound to attract attention far beyond the Indian borders.

Notes

1 See Munsi S.K., Calcutta Metropolitan Explosion: Its Nature and Roots, New Delhi, People's Publishing House, 1975, pp 1-46.

2 See also Habeeb A., "Urban Growth: A historical perspective. The case of Calcutta's Hinterland", Indo-French Seminar on Problem of Urban growth, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, J.N.U., New Delhi, 1978. (Cyclostyled).

3 Murphey R., "The City in the Swamp: aspects of the site and early growth of Calcutta", The Geographical Journal, (London), Vol. 130, Part 2, June 1964, pp 241-255.

4 On the Hooghly river and the hydrographical problems see: The Bhagirati-Hooghly Basin, K.G. Bagchi (ed.), University of Calcutta, 1972, pp 59-77.

5 West Bengal, Geographical Institute, Presidency College, Calcutta, Firma K.L.M., Calcutta, 1970, pp 59-74.

6 See the local and national newspapers, Sept-Oct 1978. For a global analysis of the problem: Dr. K Sain: "Wanted: A National Policy on Floods", Illustrated Weekly of India, 8 October 1978, and B.G. Verghese "Will They Ever Learn?" in India Today 16-31 October 1978. Also Verghese: "Gift of the Greater Ganga", I, Π, III, in Business Standard, 17,19,20 December 1977.

7 Hore, P.N., "Rainfall Deficiency Regions in West Bengal" in Symposium-on Tropical Climates, 21st International Geographical Congress, Calcutta, 1972. See pp 58-72.

8 Geddes, A., La civilisation rurale du Bengale Occidental et ses facteurs géographiques, Montpellier, 1927, pp 170-172.

9 "Taming the Brahmaputra, A National Problem", The Statesman 3 September, 1977.

10 Malone, C.C., Indian Agriculture Progress in Production and Equity, New Delhi, Ford Foundation, 1974, 287 p.

11 It is always very difficult to delineate an agglomeration of such a size. We have to distinguish here:
(a) Calcutta city (Calcutta Corporation): 104 km
2 in 1971: 3,15 million inhabitants; density: 30,276. In 1981: same area; 3,29 million inhabitants.
(b) Calcutta Urban Agglomeration: 569 km
2 in 1971; 7.03 million inhabitants; density 12,362 as defined by the Census of India. In 1981 the limits of the Urban Agglomeration were largely extended (see reference map 1), population: 9,16 million inhabitants.
(c) Calcutta Metropolitan District: 1425 km
2 in 1971; 8.33 million inhabitants (including 15.3 per cent of rural population), density 5846. This is the CMDA intervention area. In 1981 around 10 million inhabitants.

12 See S.K. Munsi, op. cit. 1975, chapter 3: "An Enquiry into Urban Stagnation in the Small Towns", pp 47-73.

13 See A. Habeeb, op. cit. 1978, who uses this formula, p 16.

14 Here is some data collected from Census of India 1971, Series I Part II C. (i): Social and Cultural Tables," Delhi, 1977, and showing the number of people whose mother tongue was bengali in 1971 (figures for 1981 are not yet available).

Image 10000000000001ED0000007B900FE2DEC6F050E8.jpg

15 See S.N. Mukherjee, Calcutta, Myths and History, Calcutta, Subarnarekha, 1977, pp. 1-59.

16 (a) Bose, N.K., Calcutta 1964: A Social Survey, Bombay, Laivani, 1968, 328 p.
(b) Sinha, S. (ed.),
Cultural Profile of Calcutta, Calcutta, Indian Anthropological Society, 1972, 283 p.

17 Calcutta Metropolitan District: Some Fact and Figures, CMDA, Calcutta, 1977. Table 19 and 20, pp 20-21. Table 19 gives an influx of 32,96,000 refugees from East Pakistan to West Bengal between 1946 and 1961. Table 20 gives an estimate of an overall 19,26,900 refugees settled in 1973 the urban part of Calcutta Metropolitan District.

18 Gupta, J.D., Census of India 1961, Vol. XVI, Part II C (ii), Migration tables. DI to D III., Delhi, 1966, 273 p. The data used for drawing the maps 21, 22 and the chart 23 deal in fact with urban population of three districts; Calcutta, Howrah, 24 Parganas. Considering the absolute pre-eminence of Calcutta agglomeration's share in the urban population of these three districts, this data give quite a close estimate of the immigrants and refugees in the agglomeration stricto sensu.

19 Roy, R., The Agony of West Bengal: A Study in Union State Relations, 3rd ed. Calcutta, New Age Publishers, 1973, 194 p.

20 Beaujeu-Garnier, J. et al. Images économiques du Monde, Paris, Sedes, see pp. 98-111 and 167.

21 See R.P. Misra (ed.), Million Cities of India, New Delhi, Vikas, 1978.

Notes de fin

a The census of 1981 confirms the second hypothesis: Calcutta Urban Agglomeration (9.16 million inhabitants) is still bigger than Greater Bombay Metropolitan Corporation (8.22 million). However a fair comparison, to be valid, must take notice of some neighbouring agglomerations of Greater Bombay, such as Thane (3,88,000). Thus the true Bombay Agglomeration population comes closer to Calcutta Urban Agglomeration figure. Moreover, the decennial growth rates of Greater Bombay (+ 38%) and Thane (+ 87%) are bigger than the Calcutta Urban Agglomeration growth rate (+ 30%). At this pace Bombay may become the greatest Indian agglomeration in a decade (J.R.).

b The troubled Assam and Tripura States, where Bengalis (largely from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) were settled in their millions vouch on the contrary for the danger of acute and bloody ethno-economic tensions, resulting from massive Bengali immigration (J.R.).

c The figures for 1981 are: West Bengal 614; Bihar 402; Assam 254; Arunachal Pradesh 7 (JR·).

d In 1981 poverty line was defined thus: Rs. 65 per capita per month of consumption expenditure at 1977-78 prices, corresponding to the daily requirement of 2,400 calories per person in rural area, and Rs. 75 per month, corresponding to daily requirement of 2,100 calories in urban areas (See Statistical Outline of India, 1982, Tata Services Limited, Bombay, Table 5, p. 11. Map 3.6. is elaborated from data presented by the same reference book, Table 12, p. 19) (J.R.).

e Between 1874 and 1943 Howrah and Calcutta were linked by a structure which was more a pontoon than a bridge (J.R.).

f Patna Urban Agglomeration (916,000 inhabitants in 1981) grew very much faster in the last decade (+ 86.5 per cent) than the Calcutta Urban Agglomeration (+ 30.3 per cent). Thus Patna is now, in 1981, exactly 1/10th of Calcutta. Though reduced, the imbalance between the two biggest agglomerations of eastern India is still striking. Asansol Urban Agglomeration population in 1981 was only 3,65,000; Durgapur: 3,05,000. South Bihar industrial or mining towns: Dhanbad:6,76,000; Jamshedpur:6,69,000. See Fig. 3.18. (J.R.).

g From Durgapur (in West Bengal) to Bokaro (in Bihar) nearly 2,000,000 people were settled, in 1981, in the Damodar industrial region. But that does not make a true agglomeration, even less a full-fledged city which could balance Calcutta's metropolitan role (J.R.).

h Because of political unrest the 1981 census was not conducted in Assam. Except for Arunachal Pradesh, the rate of urbanization in the other small north-eastern States ran between 11 and 26 per cent. The Assam rate in 1977 was 8.87 per cent. It is most probably higher than 10 per cent today. Gauhati, the greatest agglomeration, 2,00,000 in 1971, has probably crossed the 2,50,000 mark now. Orissa population in 1981 was 26 million of which 11.8 per cent were urban. Cuttack was 3,26,000, Bhubaneshwar 2,19,000. Rourkela, the Steel township near the Bihar border, was 3,21,000. So urbanization is gaining momentum in Calcutta hinterland in some cases fast (Patna is practically a million city now) but the basic imbalances will not disappear overnight (see Fig. 3.18) (J.R.).

i Rammohun Roy (1772-1833): A rich aristocrat, he was the pioneer of the socio-cultural eforms in India. A Hindu, he condemned the caste System, idol and image worship and tried to reconcile individual reason with the old sacred texts. A Bengali; he agitated for the diffusion of modern scientific knowledge through English. He struggled for the freedom of the press, and for the constitutional movement in India. The Brahmo Samaj he founded in 1828 symbolizes Hindu monotheism open to social reforms and modernity (J.R.).

j Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891): An educationist and a social reformer, he was the pioneer of modern vernacular schools, and introduced schools for girls with British support as one of the Steps to women's emancipation. He struggled also for the remarriage of widows and against polygamy (J.R.).

k Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941): The most brilliant of a family of brilliant intellectuals and artists. He is the leading figure of Bengali literature. Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 (J.R.).

l Ramakrishna (1836-1886): An Hindu monk who had visions of Kali, Mohammad and Jesus, he was the greatest spiritual figure of modern India, accepting all existing creeds and dogmas, while pointing out that none of them represents the ultimate truth. He pursued only one goal: God self-realization. His disciple Swami Vivekananda founded a very dynamic order of Hindu monks, whose headquarters is still at Calcutta (J.R.).

m Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945): A leading figure of the Congress till 1939, he broke away from Gandhi with an idea of hastening the attainment of Independence; escaped from British India in 1941 to build up, with the blessings of Hitler and help of Japan, an Indian National Army in order to fight the British on the eastern front. The "Forward Block" he founded is a partner in the present Left Front government of West Bengal (J.R.).

n On this slackening of the immigration to Calcutta, see also Sukumar Sinha's chapter 6 in this volume (J.R.).

o Since the immigration from the national hinterland decreased so much, the influx of East Pakistanis before the Independence war of Bangladesh was, in 1971, the main source of immigration to Calcutta agglomeration (J.R.).

p In July 1981, 42 Lok Sabha members were from West Bengal out of a national total of 544 (J.R.).

q The latest available data show that Calcutta is still, in 1982, the second financial place of India. But Bombay will probably become three times as big as Calcutta in the near future, while New Delhi, because of a tremendous growth rate in financial activities will soon catch up with Calcutta (thirty years ago, Calcutta was fifty-five times more important than the national capital as far as cheque clearance was concerned). The latest figures (1981-82) have been added to Table 3.4 by courtesy of Professor Bhabatosh Dutta (J.R.).

r In recent years, the traffic of Calcutta-Haldia has increased notably: 7.6 million tons in 1975-76, and 9.9 million tons in 1981-82. However, when considered in the historical perspective, the stagnation is striking: the traffic of 9.5 million tons in 1980-81 is exactly what it was twenty years earlier, in 1960-61. On the port, see Addendum C (J.R.).

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 3.1. Calcutta's approximate hinterland
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Légende Fig. 3.2. Population density by district in 1971
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Légende Fig. 3.3. The major natural regions of Calcutta's hinterland
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Légende Fig. 3.4 The two tribal strongholds of eastern India
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Légende Fig. 3.5. The economic weight of eastern India
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Titre Table 3.1: The relative economic importance of Eastern India for some key productions
Légende Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7: Statistical Abstract of India: 1977, computed from Tables 17, 35, 37, 44. 6: Annual Survey of Industries 1971, Vol. VIII, pp. 19-30
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Légende Fig. 3.6. Per capita annual average income, by State, in 1979-80
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Légende Fig. 3.7. Population below the poverty line, 1977-78
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Légende Fig. 3.8. An unevenly cultivated hinterland
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Légende Fig. 3.9. Calcutta’s hinterland: the most dense rural population of India
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Légende Fig. 3.10. Calcutta's hinterland: an average farm size smaller than the national average
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Légende Fig. 3.11. Calcutta's hinterland: the poorest rice yields
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Légende Fig. 3.12. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest value of crops
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Légende Fig. 3.13. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest agriculture incomes
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Légende Fig. 3.14. Calcutta's hinterland: the lowest foodgrains consumption
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Légende Fig. 3.15. Calcutta's hinterland: the most overloaded with primary sector workers
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Légende Fig. 3.16. The image of urbanized Bengal: the Hooghlyside conurbation in 1971
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Légende Fig. 3.17. Cities and urban agglomerations in the Indian hinterland of Calcutta in 1971
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Légende Fig. 3.18. Cities and urban agglomerations in the Indian hinterland of Calcutta in 1981
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Légende Fig. 3.19. The imbalances of West Bengal urban network in 1971: the size of towns and cities
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Légende Fig. 3.20. The imbalances of West Bengal urban network in 1971: the status of towns and cities
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Légende Fig. 3.21. Place of birth of urban population having migrated to Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts according to 1961 Census
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Légende Fig. 3.22. Place of birth of urban population having migrated to Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts according to 1971 Census
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Légende Fig. 3.23. The flow of immigrants enumerated in 1961 and 1971 amongst the urban population of Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas districts
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Titre Plate 1: LURING CAPITAL OFF CALCUTTA
Légende Three States, industrially forward Or backward, large or small, near or far away, publish advertisements in the Calcutta press in an attempt to attract the local capital off West Bengal. "Lowest man-days lost in the country", "motivated labour", "plenty of power": the message is clear.. (The Statesman, 9.12.1980; 29.10.1979; 26.1.1980).
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Titre Table 3.2: Income tax and industrial loans: a comparison between five major Indian States
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Titre Table 3.4: Importance and relative decline of Calcutta as a financial centre: the evolution of the amount of cheque cleared by the Reserve Bank of India in the four greatest metropolises (in millions of Rupees)
Légende Source: Statistical Abstract 1977. Central Statistics Organization Table 44, p. 143. For 1981-82: Reserve Bank of India Bulletin, March, 1982, p. 132.
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Titre Table 3.5: Importance and absolute decline of Calcutta as a port: the evolution of the traffic of Indian major ports (gross weight of cargo handled in millions of tons)
Légende Source: Statistical Abstract 1977, Central Statistics Organization Table 115, pp. 290-291. Calcutta Port Special, Capital, 15th February 1982.
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Auteur

Born in 1946 in Northern France, carne in India for the first time in 1968. He spent most of the last fifteen years in India and stayed long in the South and in Calcutta, where he headed the French Cultural Centre from 1977 to 1982.

Since 1982, he is Fellow in Geography, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), based at the Centre for Studies in Tropical Geography, Bordeaux. Currently, he is with French Institute of Pondicherry.

A Ph.D from the Sorbonne University, he published his first book Tradition and Modernity in South India: Two Rural Studies in Tamil

Nadu (in French) in 1976. He is presently carrying on a long-term research on "Territory, Civilization and Development in South India", focussed on a Tamil district, and heads an Indo-French research project entitled "To Migrate or to Stay? A Study in Rural Change, Mobility and Retention of Village Population in India. The case of South Karnataka".

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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