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Calcutta 1981

Jean Racine

Session III. A. Tackling the Crisis

12. Future of Calcutta Metropolis

Looking for a New Regional Balance

Bireswar Banerjee

Texte intégral

1Perhaps no other city in India has received so many epithets as those earned by Calcutta. During the early days of its growth Clive described it as the most wicked place in the universe. It was a city of dreadful night to Kipling. During the height of the British rule in India, Calcutta attained fame as a city of palaces. Quite often Calcutta is said to be the city of processions, of slums and of despair. It is said to be one of the filthiest cities of the world as well as one with tremendous contrasts. It is sometime called a city of hope. This largest Indian urban agglomerate undoubtedly presents a vast array of contrasts. No other city of identical size records such a mixture of wealth and poverty, palatial buildings and squalid hutments, extremely complicated urban clustering in the midst of a typical rural surrounding and a highly heterogeneous population comprising local Calcuttans and multitudes of migrants.


2Despite its poverty and the breakdown of civic amenities, people are increasingly flocking into this metropolis. This has turned Calcutta as the most populous metropolis of the sub-continent. The city has now attained a super-metropolitan character. More than one-third of its estimated population load of about 10,000,000 is now closely packed within a highly congested core-area of about 104 km2, while the rest of the population spreads over 1,321 km2 of its metropolitan district. From its primary functions as a port, the city has now acquired multifunctional status, encompassing industries, trade, commerce, education and other tertiary activities. Despite occasional trouble's and turmoil, Calcutta still retains its front ranking position in the fields of education and research —the percentage of literacy being 60 as against the national average of 29 only. Notwithstanding recent decrease in the volume of trade Calcutta port has to handle over 10 per cent of the total foreign trade of India. Frequent shortage of electricity and sluggish supply of raw materials have undoubtedly created problems for the industries. Yet this metropolitan district labours about 15 per cent of the total manufacturing establishments and 20 per cent of the industrial labour force of India. About 30 per cent of the bank clearances of India are handled by Calcutta. All these factors have made Calcutta a city of supreme national and regional importance. In fact, Calcutta has emerged as a city of India rather than of West Bengal.

3It is paradoxical to note that this elegant metropolis which once remained at the forefront of economic, social, political and intellectual arenas of the country is now lagging behind other regions. Progressive deterioration of the metropolitan landscape may be the outcome of various social, economic and political constraints. But these forces have initiated a process of urban decay which is evident from its proliferation of slums, chronic housing shortage, overcrowded public transport, poor state of metropolitan highways, soaring land prices, power shortage, mounting unemployment, increasing hazards of air and water pollution and a young generation doomed to forced idleness and frustration.

4This naturally raises the question to common mind as to how long can the people of Calcutta survive like this ? Can any solution be chalked out to ameliorate the human miseries ? And yet the city survives and its people multiply. This naturally makes one to believe that either this metropolis is presently passing through a phase of decadence or may be leaping towards a gloomy future. But the question remains whether this metropolis, commanding over a large percentage of the country's productive and man-power resources, should be allowed to submit to a premature decay. Or alternatively, the metropolis should be resusciated from the existing gloom by elaborating planning programmes of urban renewal along with supporting programmes of balanced development of its regions. Calcutta, therefore, exists as a great challenge to the environmental scientists and planners.

5Demographers are of opinion that the population of the Metropolitan District will record further increase in the coming years because of the inability of the other centres to absorb them. Besides natural increase, bulk of the increase will accrue from the migration of the rural poor to this metropolis. This will naturally result in a 75 per cent increase of population with the CMD, if not 100 per cent at the end of this Century. The basic problem is how to accommodate this bulk of the urban population and at the same time to maintain their quality of life. It may be mentioned here that the level of urbanization in the hinterland of this metropolis still remains low, compared to other parts of the country. Naturally, left to itself, the bulk of the surplus population of the surrounding countryside will prefer to concentrate in and around the Calcutta Metropolitan District due to the fact that it offers the largest number of job opportunities and other facilities arising from its disproportionate primacy in economic, social and political fields in regional perspectives. Thus the entire process will create further hardships to urban life patterns and initiate additional problems in the urban structure of this metropolis which has already reached levels of considerable decay. Moreover, a burning problem on the economic front of this metropolis is unemployment which is progressively increasing with years. Associated with it is the problem of mounting poverty.

Table 12.1 : Population growth rate of Calcutta Metropolitan District 1921-1971

Table 12.1 : Population growth rate of Calcutta Metropolitan District 1921-1971


6Two sets of issues, therefore, arise in dealing with the basic problems. The first is to moderate the growth of urban population within the Metropolitan District by providing counter-magnets in the countryside. The second is to improve the quality of life in the metropolis with provisions of necessary infrastructure adequate to meet the basic needs of the stabilized population.

7A well-defined policy must therefore be formulated for urban renewal of the CMD within the framework of the entire eastern region. In other words while short-term policy should focus on checking further urban decay, long-term policy would demand a shift of attention from the urban to the rural areas and from the metropolis to smaller cities and towns within the Metropolitan District and located in its vast hinterland.


8The essential objectives of both the short-term and long-term policy programmes are to restore a regional balance between the highly urbanized CMD and its vast predominantly rural hinterland.

9It is indeed gratifying to note that the magnitude of these problems has lately been realized by the authorities and steps are being taken to reinforce the infrastructure of the Metropolitan District as well as the infrastructure of the Calcutta hinterland. Some of these measures like the establishment of a new port-industrial complex at Haldia being developed as a sister port to Calcutta, the development of new growth centres at Durgapur, Kalyani and other places to act as counter-magnets to check the growth of population within the CMD, the completion of the Farakka Barrage and the construction of a link channel connecting the Ganga with the Bhagirathi, providing incentives to sick and uneconomic industries and revitalizing the rural economy with comprehensive area development programmes, the improvements of roads and other facilities are undoubtedly helping in the growth of regional economy. The various development programmes undertaken by the CMDA, on the other hand, are helping in the overall improvement of the metropolitan landscape and the quality of its life.

10Some of the regional development programmes mentioned above have already been completed and others are being taken up to revitalize the regional economy of this State. Incidentally these development programmes have important bearings on the future of the metropolis. As such, a discussion on the salient features of these programmes may help to have an overview of their future prospects.

Haldia port and industrial complex

  • 1 Haldia's refinery deals also with imported oil (J.R.).
  • 2 In September 1982 the position was as follows : the fertilizer plant construction was on ; the pet (...)

11The port of Calcutta during the last hundred years or so is gradually decaying due to progressive silting of the Hooghly river. Naturally, big ships cannot call at this port. Moreover, small or medium cargo vessels have to cross sand bars and need proper pilotage to move in and out. As a result, port charges are gradually increasing and movement of goods has become slow and restricted. To check the deterioration of the export-import trade, a new port has been set up further downstream, at Haldia, at a distance of about 90 km. from Calcutta, at the confluence of the Hooghly and the Haldi rivers. The port thus developed is in a position to handle the cargo of bigger vessels up to a draft of 40 ft. or 45,000 tonnes capacity. This port is located in closer proximity than Calcutta is to iron-ore, coalfields and other mineral bases of the eastern region. The port has now been linked with its western hinterland by good roads and railway lines. It has also been connected with the oilfields of Assam by pipelines, thereby ensuring uninterrupted flow of crude oil to its 2 1/2 million tonne capacity oil refinery1. Full capacity of this port is yet to be achieved. Development programmes so far undertaken are limited to bulk handling of iron ore and oil overseas trade in few other products and the functioning of the oil refinery. The fertilizer plant is slowly coming up, the petro-chemical complex is yet to be finalized while the ship building plant has been shelved for the time being2.

  • 3 Haldia's population in 1981 was only 21,000. But it has been estimated that the proposed petrochem (...)

12The progress of Haldia has recently been slowed down due to economic recession and hesitation of the authorities. As such, Haldia has not yet been at a to function as a subsidiary port to Calcutta. It rather performs independent port functions, thereby being exposed to competition with Paradip, a new port set up on the coast of Orissa. The traffic linkage with Calcutta still remains poor. The absence of a regular ferry services with the eastern bank of the Hooghly has kept Haldia at a distance of about 160 kms or four hours commuting distance from Calcutta by overcrowded buses and trains. As such Haldia is slowly developing as an independent urban centre in the midst of a typical farming landscape. Erratic supply of power was another handicap, even at the initial stage of its growth. The thermal power plant now under construction at Kalaghat may serve the purpose of its hinterland but may not be of particular advantage to Haldia. Sluggish growth of industries, poor growth of transport linkages, shortage of power and administrative delay as to its future development are some of the constraints which are retarding the growth of Haldia. This town was initially designed to house a population of 1,00,000. But in reality, Haldia supports a much smaller population now and despite the high investment in developing its land for urban use, much of it remains idle3.

Fig.12.1. Haldia dock complex : master plan

13With proper transport linkages by water, land, specially with the eastern bank of the river, and improvement of power supply by setting power plants in the town itself, the growth potentiality of this new urban centre can be considerably improved. In view of the high demand for fertilizers in eastern India, the proposed fertilizer plant need out not be kept in abeyance. With large Steel works in its hinterland and facilities of a modem port, Haldia offers a suitable site for engineering industries particularly with an export bias. Industries like ship repairing, automobile ancillaries and electronics hold good promise. Absence of export and import duties in a free trade zone could be conductive to the growth of many other skilled labour intensive industries.

14In future programme of development, priority should be given to the introduction of water transport link with the eastem bank of the Hooghly. This will bring Haldia within two hours of commuting distance from Calcutta, thereby fostering further growth. There is a progressive extension of urban areas of the Calcutta Metropolitan District along the Diamond Harbour Road. Development has taken place up to Amtala which is likely to extend further south to Diamond Harbour in the near future. Given proper incentives, this urban corridor will most probably be extended to Haldia before the end of this Century. Propects of such a corridor development towards Southwest from Howrah to Mecheda and then to Haldia along the railroad network are not immediately apparent in view of the predominantly rural character of the tract lying between the CMD and Haldia. As it stands Haldia is presently functioning as an isolated urban island in the midst of a predominantly rural sea. It is yet to develop as a subsidiary port to Calcutta or a port-industrial complex of south Bengal. This new urban centre, however, possesses viabilities to become an important urban centre and perform multiple functions to strengthen the regional economy, and ameliorate some of the basic problems of the Calcutta Metropolitan Region as well.

Development of new growth centres

15To mitigate the flow of rural population in the CMD, the government has identified eight growth centres at the first instance with a view to develop them as counter-magnets to the CMD. These are the port-industrial complex of Haldia, the industrial townships of Asansol and Durgapur, the satellite town of Kalyani, the newly emerging urban centre of Farakka, the prospective industrial-cum-mining centre of Santaldih-Ramkenali, the railway township of Kharagpur and nodal-cum-commercial centre of Siliguri. With the exception of Kalyani which is located in the northern periphery of the CMD, other centres are located within its hinterland. Planning of these growth centres is intimately associated with the resource potentialities of the area in which they are located. Developed land with necessary infrastructure is already available in some of them and necessary facilities are being provided to other places.


16The port-industrial township is slowly emerging as an important urban centre in south Bengal providing scope for development in industries and employment opportunities. The salient features of its development have already been discussed earlier.


  • 4 Five national institutions, known as Indian Institutes of Technology provide facilities for higher (...)

17This railway town is located at an intermediate point between Calcutta, Jamshedpur and Durgapur. It has nodal location at the junction of national highways 5 and 6 and South Eastern Railway line radiating in different directions. Necessary training and planning facilities are available at the Indian Institute of Technology4 and other facilities at the adjacent district headquarter, viz., Midnapur. Its location in the midst of a highly productive hinterland rich in agriculture and mineral resources is an additional advantage. It has the immediate potentiality of developing agro-based engineering and light engineering industries, automobile repairing and electronics industries. The proposal to set up a rural-based university in between Midnapur and Kharagpur will act as an incentive to merge the two centres into a single urban area in the near future. Initial development programmes have however been slackened now due to general economic recession.


18This complex is of peculiar importance as, in industrial growth and urban development, Asansol-Durgapur region ranks second to the CMD in the entire eastern region. The region has gol a strong mining base centering round coal and a strong industrial base centering round heavy metallurgical industries. The greatest advantage for industrial development is the Raniganj-Barakar Coal and the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) power. The region possesses excellent accessibility with the mineral raw-material bases of Chotanagpur and the market centres of the CMD. The transit facilities have been strengthened with electric traction of railways and proposed Durgapur Expressway. Giant public sector industries co-exist with private enterprises. Water supply from Durgapur Barrage and DVC power act as incentives to further industrialization. The region possesses good potential for the growth of ancillary, Chemical and transport industries. But development has been halted due to labour unrest, power shortage and erratic supply of basic raw materials indicating lacunae in management. Of the two centres, the growth potentialities of Durgapur are brighter due to better planning. Development of Asansol remains haphazard as a result of unplanned early growth, strained transport facilities and grossly inadequate water supply and other amenities. Given suitable incentives, Asansol-Durgapur region possesses potentialities for further growth offering opportunities to skilled labour. With the addition of new industries during the last twenty years, the Asansol industrial region has been gradually expanding towards Durgapur and a corridor of urban growth has taken place in between the Damodar river and rail-road arteries, thereby fusing these two centres into a massive urban complex.

Fig. 12.2. Looking for a new regional balance urban network and possible growth centres


19The thermal power plant at Santaldih, proximity to coal and other minerals like mica, copper, lead, limestone, white clay and the location in the midst of Steel and mineral belt provide necessary scope for the development of heavy engineering and metallurgical industries in this region with further prospects in the growth of associated ancillaries of the medium and small-scale categories. The sheltered hill and relatively bare rocky landscape offer possibilities for the manufacture of explosives and ammunitions. Due to its location in a backward district (Purulia), Santaldih-Ramkenali expects to get special government incentives for industrial and urban growth. The area has been selected for an alloy Steel and cold rolled strips plant and a cement factory, though they still remain at a planning stage. The existing potentialities, if fully utilized, will result in a fusing of this region with Asansol, therefore expanding the already extending Durgapur-Asansol urban corridor to this region in the Southwest.


20Initially designed to relieve the congestion of Calcutta, Kalyani is located at a distance of 64 km north of the Calcutta metropolis. It has good accessibility with Calcutta by road and rail and is situated at the northern fringe of the Calcutta Metropolitan District. Growth at the initial stage was slow due to lack of employment opportunities. Rapid development in recent years is the result of subsequent location of a university, an agricultural university and a number of government training Institutes. The industrial estate is now attracting a number of major and small scale industries of which cotton spinning, engineering and steel rolling mills, brewery research and production centres in wood and hand-made paper are important. Growth of the State Dairy Farm at Haringhata opens new dimensions for further development. The presence of large open lands at the township offers further scope for this satellite town. Presently the growth rate has been somewhat slackened due to shortage or erratic supply of raw materials and power. The proposed rail-road bridge on the Hooghly connecting it with the densely urbanized Bandel-Bansberia region will certainly help in the further growth of this satellite township.


21Farakka possesses good potentiality for developing into an important urban industrial centre due to its central location in this state. With the completion of the Farakka Barrage on the Ganga, direct rail and road link has been established between the north and south Bengal. It has established the most important transport link between the highly urbanized Metropolitan District and Asansol-Durgapur regions with the north-eastern region of the country. The proposed thermal power plant will further attract tertiary economic activities and more population at this new growth centre. Industrial development, particularly in agro-engineering, consumer goods, electronics, silk and other industries requiring large supply of fresh water holds good promise in view of its location midway between the densely populated, less industrialized districts of the north and highly industrialized districts of the south.

Fig.12.3. A New Town : Kalyani-Gayespur

22Future urban growth will however depend on the priority given to the proposed power plant and the opening of new industries in this area by the authorities. Given adequate support, this urban area has the potential to extend up to the mulberry-producing, ancient town of Malda on one side, and to another ancient silk weaving and cottage handicraft centre of Murshidabad at its other end. This will create a new urban area in the central part of this state probably before the end of this Century.


  • 5 In 1982 the Tista project is going on. The upper dams will give power, while lower dams will give (...)

23Since Independence, Siliguri is progressively developing into an important urban centre due to its nodality and commercial functions. The town is connected with Assam, Sikkim and the rest of India by national highways 31, 31A and 34 as well as by broad, meter and narrow gauge railway lines. Besides its role as a transportation node, strategic considerations have given Siliguri a special status due to its location in a narrow corridor separating India with Nepal, Bangladesh, China and Bhutan. The hinterland of this growth centre is rich in agriculture and forest resources. The tea plantations of Darjeeling hills and Terai-Duars foothills, production of orange, cinchona, pineapple and tobacco, along with rich forest wealth are strong points for the growth of trade and commerce which have made this town as one of the most important commercial centres of the north-eastern region. Establishment of direct communication link with south Bengal, a new railway junction, an airport, a university, a medical college, a dairy farm and a new cantonment have provided sufficient incentives for further urbanization. The single major constraint is power. Otherwise Siliguri —with its existing entrepreneurial base, access to agricultural and forest resources, rapidly expanding local market and nodality— possesses excellent potentialities for the growth of agro-based, forestbased and need-based industries. The proposed hydel project on the Tista5, expansion of the existing unit at Jaldhaka and commissioning of a new gas-turbine plant will act as incentives for further urbanization with the possibility of the urban area extending westward up to Naxalbari, to the north up to Sevok and to the south up to Jalpaiguri in the course of the present Century.

Development of district towns

24Economic growth of the hinterland of Calcutta metropolis can further be strengthened by the improvement and better use of district towns. Some of them possesses the potential to serve as satellite towns. These towns, notably Burdwan, Krishnanagar, Malda, Bankura and Purulia are endowed with many natural advantages which have not yet been put to efficient use. These district towns enjoy administrative advantages, and reasonable infrastructure like electricity, roads, municipal services, cultural and other miscellaneous functions. Given some incentives the district towns may act as the focal points of service inputs and marketing Outputs of their neighbouring regions. In a way they can perform the functions of natural growth points of rural development.

25Some other towns lying within two hours commuting distance from Calcutta metropolis may be developed to perform satellite functions so as to absorb some surplus population of the metropolis. Of these, Diamond Harbour, Canning, Habra, Ranaghat, Memari, Tarakeswar and Bagnan hold good promise. In a way they are already performing some satellite functions of the metropolis. Given suitable incentives these towns may perform a dual function, viz., diverting a portion of the population from the metropolis and attracting a significant portion of the rural migrants who would otherwise be diverted towards the metropolitan boundary.

Farakka barrage and Ganga link canal

26The main objective of the Farakka barrage is to improve the navigability of the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river, on which depends the port functions of the metropolis. Until the middle of the nineteenth Century, the bulk of the flow of the Ganga river was discharged through the Bhagirathi-Hooghly System into the Bay of Bengal. This had naturally helped in the growth of Calcutta port and its flourishing urban Settlements. However, due to formation of sand bars at the off-take point of the Bhagirathi from the Ganga, less and less water has been flowing into the Hooghly river thereby causing progressive siltation of the river bed. Ships entering into Calcutta port have to negotiate through at least twenty sand bars and can do so only during high tide. Lack of fresh water supply from the headstream also results in a progressive increase in the salinity level of the Hooghly water, particularly during the summer months. To overcome this growth constraint, a barrage has been constructed over the Ganga at Farakka in Murshidabad district, at a distance of about 30 km upstream from the off-take point of the Bhagirathi. With the completion of this barrage, it has now become possible to divert a portion of the Ganga discharge into the Bhagirathi-Hooghly System through a link canal, connecting the two rivers The link canal has its off-take from the barrage and runs to the road-rail network and meets the Bhagirathi at Jangipur. With the barrage and link canal, the salinity level of the Hooghly has begun to improve and upstream flow into the Hooghly System is progressively improving.

  • 6 On Farakka and the sharing of the Ganges water between West Bengal and Bangladesh see the Addendum (...)

27Though the project was initially designed to divert an uninterrupted flow of about 40,000 cusecs of Ganga water6 into the Hooghly to revitalize the river channel, the actual inflow remains much below the anticipated amount, particularly during the dry season when the need for extra volume of water is urgently felt. The diversion of this lesser volume of water has not yet been particularly helpful to improve the Hooghly channel to shipping. Moreover, the link canal has not been lined.

28As a result, the canal itself is being gradually silting up. The extra volume of water, when pushed into the Bhagirathi, often results in flooding its bank, before being drained into the Hooghly. The Bhagirathi river has also become shallower due to progressive silting of its bed. The bed requires extensive dredging before the river is capable of carrying the anticipated volume of Ganga water into the Hooghly thereby benefiting the port of Calcutta and with it the entire eastern region. To have the stipulated benefit, it is necessary to check the erosion of the barrage-side areas, make suitable arrangement for lining the link canal, dredge the bed of the Bhagirathi so as to increase its water-carrying capacity and finally to ensure the regular flow of the stipulated amount of water into the Hooghly channel. With these measures the decline of the Hooghly bed will be checked and the functionings of Calcutta port will be improved. Once the decay of Calcutta port is checked the industrial recession within the Calcutta Metropolitan District and its hinterland can be eliminated. The river training works require expertise of advanced science and technology and should be undertaken with utmost care and precaution.

Fig.12.4. Growth centres near Calcutta


Provision for better employment

29Any plan for the development of Calcutta Metropolitan District must have adequate provision for employment of the productive manpower resources, not only living in the metropolis but also within its hinterland. The productive manpower of the CMD was about 5.6 million in 1971, of which about 2.6 million were employed. As against this the productive manpower resources of the State as a whole was calculated as 17.1 million in 1971, of which about 12.6 million got employment in some form or another.

30The number of unemployed persons registered in the employment exchanges has increased from about 499,000 in 1969 to over 1,313,000 in 1977. Of these Calcutta accounted for over 176,000 and 4,10,000 respectively. Of these the proportion of educated unemployed comes to more than 50 per cent. The employment exchange figures, however, do not give a realistic picture of this problem. The figure of unemployment in the State was calculated as 4.5 million in 1971, which has now been increased to over 6 million. The figure will probably be doubled by the end of this Century. There are certain other additional dimensions to this problem. There is a progressive decline in the labour participation ratio in recent years. While the labour participation of Calcutta has declined from 54.4 per cent in 1921 to 37.9 per cent in 1971, the labour participation rate for West Bengal has declined from 40.1 per cent to 28.4 per cent during the same period. Moreover, despite an actual increase in the number of factories during the last decade there is a fall in the average daily employment. Though the average annual earnings of factory workers (with income of less than Rs. 400 p.m.) in the State has recorded an increase from Rs. 1,328 in 1961 to Rs. 3,783 in 1975 his real earning has actually decreased from Rs. 1,316 to Rs. 1,314 during the same period (taking 1960 prices as the base). Another distressing feature is the acute poverty of the masses. During 1960 to 1974, the percentage of rural people living below the poverty line in West Bengal (i.e., these with expenditure level of Rs. 20 or less per person for 30 days at 1960-61 prices), has increased from 40.4 to 66 and that for the urban population from 31.5 to 35.7.

Table 12.2 : Participation Ratio of Labour in West Bengal and Calcutta


West Bengal














31In the light of this distressing profile of the State, it has become imperative to evolve a development strategy directed towards a rapid eradication of poverty from the metropolitan areas of the State as well as from their regions. The problem of unemployment, poverty and improving the quality of life in the CMD and its region can possibly be handled by releasing the forces of production in agriculture, industry and through many-sided rural development projects.

Comprehensive area development

32Agriculture is capable of playing an important role in providing substantial share of employment. This sector alone covers about 61 per cent of the total working population of West Bengal. Agricultural development in the State has to be achieved in the face of very poor land-man ratio (estimated at 0.18 ha in 1971 as against 0.37 ha for the national average), prevalence of a large number of uneconomic holdings (over 52 per cent of the farmlands with less than 2.5 ha per family), gradual increase in the number of landless agricultural labourers at the cost of owner cultivators and mounting poverty of the rural population (over two-thirds living below the poverty line).

33Moreover, any scope of further expansion of farmlands is more or less limited, because most of the land suitable for cultivation has already been put under effective use. A breakthrough in the long standing stagnation of agriculture has become feasible in limited pockets through intensive farming techniques. Modernization of agriculture in such cases, has been achieved through such inputs as irrigation and drainage, high yielding and short duration seeds, fertilizer, insecticides and power. With these Investments it has become possible to improve the input-output ratio to 1.3 in place of 1 :1.3 prevalent before. But these inputs are capital intensive and hence remain largely outside the reach of the majority of farmers.

  • 7 The Comprehensive Area Development Programme is managed by a statutory autonomous body set up in 1 (...)

34With a view to provide such inputs to the poorer sections of the society and maintain a sustained agricultural growth, some comprehensive area development programmes have been recently initiated in twenty project areas of the state (since 1975), at least one in each district of West Bengal. Attention has also been focused to do away with the present System of inequitable distribution of land and revitalize the village panchayats so as to involve a large number of rural population in agricultural and allied programmes of rural development. The Comprehensive Area Development Programme still at the initial stages of operation is now providing necessary inputs like irrigation, improved seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, agricultural implements and their service facilities, agricultural credits and such other facilities for better marketing of the produce to the people living within the selected project areas and particularly directed to benefit the rural poor7. The measures so far adopted have at least been able to improve the cropping intensity, reduce crop-damage from adverse weather conditions and improve the employment potentialities and average per capita income of the people, covered by the project areas. The programme is now being expanded to revitalize the rural handicraft industries like basket and mat making, weaving, wood works and in ancillary occupation like pisciculture, dairying and poultry farming. The project, therefore, pays sufficient emphasis on improving the farm productivity on the one hand and increasing the employment opportunities and income of the rural poor on the other. Thus the Comprehensive Area Development Programme has laid initial emphasis to improve agricultural productivity and to initiate the process of diversifying the rural economy on the basis of local resources, like fruits, vegetables, livestock, fisheries, etc. or by assisting the local skill in the diversification of village handicrafts.

35Diversification of rural economy in the agricultural sector is less capital intensive and more labour intensive. As such it generates more employment and is more acceptable to the local people because of the relatively simple technology associated with the process. Complete success of such a programme will, however, depend on equitable distribution of rural resources and the formation of a working force which will look after the interests of the masses. Can these two essential prerequisites be achieved in a country like India with different castes and religions and different political ideologies without a major revolution ? Time is not yet opportune to find a definite answer to this question.

Development of industries

36The next important economic booster in regional development is the growth of industries which should be considered complementary to agricultural and rural development programmes. As the supply of indigenous capital in this region is limited, there is little scope for any substantial investment in large-scale capital intensive manufacturing enterprises. Modernization of agriculture may, however, provide a sound base for the growth of diverse manufacturing industries which in tum will accelerate the pace of agricultural modernization.

37The present position regarding the major industries in West Bengal located within and in the vicinity of the Calcutta Metropolitan District shows a dismal picture. The trends of production in most of the major industries, with the exception of tea, remain stagnant. Though there is a marginal increase in the number of factories in the State in the last fifteen years or so, the employment figure has remained more or less the same. On the other hand, there is a substantial increase in the demand of consumer goods and allied products in the local market due to increase in population on one hand and a rise in the percapita income of the average people on the other. The traditional manufacturing units, like jute and cotton mills, engineering and Chemical factories are suffering from a number of locational disadvantages like operation with outdated machineries with a resulting decrease in their productive efficiency, increasing cost of production due to the rise in the cost of raw materials, wages, transport costs, erratic power supply and stringency of capital. Some of the units also suffer from a shrinkage in market demand of their traditional goods. Most of the units are not in a position to utilize their full productive capacity due to certain infrastructural deficiencies resulting in a high cost of production of manufactured goods.

38With a view to revitalize the sick units, financial assistance is now being provided to the relevant industries by the West Bengal Finance Corporation (WBFC) and by the Industrial Reconstruction Corporation of India (IRCI). But the major share of such financial assistance is going in favour of medium and large establishments. These units constituting about 28 per cent of the total number of industries in West Bengal have managed to secure about 72 per cent of the such financial assistance in 1976. As a result, there has not been any significant increase in industrial production on employment in the last decade.

39This naturally calls for a reorientation of industrial policy so as to fit it within the regional framework. The existing trade-manufacturing alliance can be neutralized if proper stimulus is given to the small-scale operators. As such, industrial strategy needs to be linked with the development of rural economy. Future development should, therefore, put emphasis on small-scale and cottage industries depending on local resources and available raw materials. Naturally, at the initial stage, the development of agro-based and need-based industries should be preferred, as these units are labour-intensive and generate more employment and can be operated with indigenous technology. Industries promoting the programme of agricultural modernization should be given preference.

40Similar support should be provided to those industries which can substitute imports. As such, efforts are to be made to develop petrochemical and electronics industries in this State. Amongst the need-based industries, growth of ancillary industries hold good prospect in view of their growing demand in the market. These industries are less capital but more labour intensive and hold good promise in and around the existing growth centres of Haldia, Asansol, Durgapur, Siliguri or Farakka.

41Along with the new centres, existing units need to be revitalized by better management and planning. Most of the traditional units should be geared to diversify their production lines as per the demand of the market. The case of small engineering units of Howrah may be cited as an example. Other units which are being operated below their rated capacity due to non-availability of necessary inputs should be given adequate support so as to make them viable with full production performances. To maintain sound economic growth and healthy competition, a number of public sector units should be operated at viable points side by side with the private ones. This will ensure a steady flow of finished products in the market at reasonable price and help in breaking the monopolistic structure of industries located in the CMD and in its hinterland.

42In any future programme of industrial growth, priority should be given to new units located in backward areas. Very often this policy fails because of the high technology and capital-intensive nature of operations of these new units. As such, they often fail to integrate with the local economy and do not have much impact on the rural environment Such industries should be better located on the urban fringe.

43The execution of an effective programme of industrial dispersal often becomes a difficult task in view of the preference of entrepreneurs for locating their ventares in large cities. The Calcutta Metropolitan District or Asansol-Durgapur region, for example, because of their early industrial growth, are endowed with several facilities like access to capital, labour, and market to large outlying areas. As such these areas are preferred by both private and public enterprises. The policy of industrial dispersal need to be strictly enforced. Otherwise no effective solution to the problems of industrial overconcentration in the Metropolitan District and in the Asansol-Durgapur region are feasible.

The growth of basic services

44The future strengthening of the regional economy necessitates healthy growth of transport, and other facilities like power and water supply in this State. The growth of these tertiary facilities exerts great influence on the future growth of this metropolis and its hinterland. The improvement of transport and communication network in the countryside would help in extending the market hinterland of rural areas and help in ready dispersal of industries. The development of roads and other transport network may help in strengthening the rural markets which have the potentialities to act as countermagnets to the cities.

45The total length of all categories of roads in West Bengal is estimated as 138,000 km of which over 1,08,000 km still remain unmetalled. The length of the road therefore comes out to be about 2.5 km per 1,000 population. Much of the rural areas still remain isolated due to the absence of modem transport System. owing to alluvial soil and concentrated rainfall during the monsoons, the existing roads are liable to easy decay and their maintenance is not only costly but hazardous. The position of railway communication is somewhat better, viz., 4.2 km railway line per 100 km2 area. It is essential to strengthen the rail and road networks of the CMD and its hinterland for balanced growth. Electrification of the suburban sections of the Calcutta Metropolitan District, Damodar valley and Jamshedpur-Rourkela-Bhilai sections have undoubtedly helped in strengthening the urban base and rural economy of their outlying areas. With the growth of the economy and rise in population, it is likely that the travel demand will be substantially increased in the near future which has to be met efficiently by improving the existing transport networks and by establishing additional network. Of the various modes of transport, there should be a balanced growth of rail, road and water transport, which should work complementary to each other for their optimum use. Incidentally the transport network of the Calcutta Metropolitan District, which now covers only 6 per cent of its area indicate its inadequacy to meet the future need and requires further expansion and modernization.

46In the context of future growth of the regional economy, the existing power base of the region needs immediate expansion and maintenance. It is power which will enable the farmers to operate the pumps to irrigate their fields, or enable the factories to run their machineries and improve the functions of the collieries. The total availability of power in West Bengal from its own sources and from the Damodar Valley Corporation has been estimated at 1,050 mw. while the peak load demand is 1,130 mw. Thus there is a deficit of about 80 mw. which is to be managed by curtailing electricity to different consumere either in a systematic way or occasionally in an erratic manner. But the total installed capacity is about 1,740 mw. So there is no reason for persistent shortage of power in this State. Such a shortage is partially due to loss of electricity in the process of its lengthy transmission and occasional mechanical defects due to their inefficient maintenance. This reflects a lack of proper management of the power plants of the State.

47To meet the increasing demands for the future, it is imperative to set up more power plants in viable areas where emphasis should be given on small-size plants rather than on giant units. The former requires less capital and can be set up with available skill and resources. They are easier to maintain. A network of small power plants connected with grids will serve the needs better than giant power projects.

48The position regarding water also needs augmentation to meet the growing demands of the future. This necessitates improvement of the existing distribution System and tapping new sources. In the rural sector, attention should be given to the availability of irrigation as well as on potable water. Special attention should also be given for the efficient management of water in relation to its supply and use. Priority of its use should be carefully decided between agriculture, industry or other miscellaneous purposes.

49Effective implementation of the various facets of regional development programme needs mobilization of local manpower resources for which the existing facilities of education and training and health services need to be adequately strengthened.


50Opinions may differ as to the future growth potentialities of this metropolis. But none can deny its role in the economic growth and prosperity of the entire eastern region, which again covers a major percentage of the country's production and over one fourth of her manpower resources. Left to itself, the metropolis will attract more people and thereby invite more problems and deficiencies to her existing urban scenario, thereby thrusting her to an impending urban disaster. The other alternative is to take immediate measures to check further decay and implement effective planning programmes for its urban renewal. While immediate urban decay can be checked by short-term measures, as adopted by the CMDA and other agencies, the future growth prospects of this metropolis depend on the successful execution of a long term plan for the comprehensive development of her metropolitan region. Mobilization of resources of the hinterland will improve the regional economy which will have its impact on the total System of urbanization. In such a process planning should be initiated from the grass-root level and progressively extended to sub-region and regional levels. The most relevant aspect of a regional framework is to assess the spatial dimension of the problem. It is therefore logical to frame with utmost care the locational aspects of all the developmental activities depending on the local needs.

51Modernization of agriculture and diversification of the rural economy will generate sufficient employment and capital for the growth of service centres located within a reasonable proximity of the peasants. Sustained growth of such centres will result in the emergence of several other centres of suitable hierarchical ranks in between the existing villages and the metropolis. These new centres will have the potentialities to offer additional employment opportunities and other services to the surplus population of the countryside which would otherwise be diverted to the metropolis. In this way, the flow of rural migration to Calcutta metropolis may be considerably slackened.

52Revival of rural economy will, on the other hand, help in improving the urban landscape of the CMD as well as the quality of its life. Future planning programmes should not therefore be limited within the urban area alone, but should also encompass the rural areas. Otherwise the push from the rural areas will unbalance the delicate urban equilibrium of this metropolis.

53Realistic planning programmes for the Calcutta metropolis must take into account the above considerations, successful implementation of which, however, entails tremendous resource mobilization, increasing public participation and effective utilization of manpower to tackle with the various problems on a regional basis. Long continued human indifference and natural processes have brought about the present decay. Only sustained human efforts can save this metropolis from an impending urban disaster.



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Notes de fin

1 Haldia's refinery deals also with imported oil (J.R.).

2 In September 1982 the position was as follows : the fertilizer plant construction was on ; the petrochemical complex, finally approved by the Central Government was supposed to start later, but no funds for it have been earmarked in the Sixth Plan (1980-85) ; the ship building yard was shelved.(J.R.).

3 Haldia's population in 1981 was only 21,000. But it has been estimated that the proposed petrochemical complex, if built-up as promised, "would employ about 4,000 people" and that "the employment generation from the down-stream plastics, Chemical processing and allied ancillary industries would lead to about 150,000 to 200,000 persons" settling there (Capital, August 30, 1982, p. 5).(J.R.).

4 Five national institutions, known as Indian Institutes of Technology provide facilities for higher level education and research in engineering and technology. Four of them are located in million cities (New Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Kanpur). Kharagpur IIT is the only one created outside a metropolis.(J.R.).

5 In 1982 the Tista project is going on. The upper dams will give power, while lower dams will give water for irrigation. But Bangladesh objects to the uncontrolled use of Tista waters.(J.R.).

6 On Farakka and the sharing of the Ganges water between West Bengal and Bangladesh see the Addendum C (J.R.).

7 The Comprehensive Area Development Programme is managed by a statutory autonomous body set up in 1975, the West Bengal Comprehensive Area Development Corporation. The W B CADC prepares and implements rural development schemes covering twenty projects scattered from Darjeeling to 24-Parganas districts. Each scheme covers forty to fifty villages (J.R.).

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 12.1 : Population growth rate of Calcutta Metropolitan District 1921-1971
Légende *Estimates
Fichier image/jpeg, 122k
Légende Fig.12.1. Haldia dock complex : master plan
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Légende Fig. 12.2. Looking for a new regional balance urban network and possible growth centres
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Légende Fig.12.3. A New Town : Kalyani-Gayespur
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Légende Fig.12.4. Growth centres near Calcutta
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© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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