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Calcutta 1981

Jean Racine

Session IV. General Debate


Bhabatosh Dutta

Texte intégral

What is this crisis we are speaking of?

1Santosh K.Bhattacharya

2Today in this session, it may sound presumptuous and perhaps a little bit audacious, but I would like to set the tone of the afternoon discussion. There is an agreement that Calcutta is undergoing a crisis. Let me start from here.

3What is this crisis we are speaking of? What is peculiar to Calcutta that it should draw the attention of all other cities, of other people who are not residents of Calcutta or of West Bengal? As Calcuttans, we know that we are suffering from certain problems, but then we are also saying that they are of such dimensions and of such a character that they need to be attended to by the Central government by the other governments, and may be by the World Bank and so on. Now, do we have a crisis of that dimension? What are the aspects of this crisis? We have come to know in the course of this seminar that Calcutta is very over-populated, we do not have the minimum infrastructural facilities, we do not have industrial development and we have a steady deterioration over the last 30-40 years. But there have been other cities in India which share the same fate. What is it that is peculiar to Calcutta?

4And then one says, that in the eastern region the Calcutta metropolis area is economically such an important area, it Controls such a large percentage of working people, a large percentage of finance, that on the prosperity of this area (in some sense) depends the well-being of the people of India. So we hold that the crisis is really of such dimension that it should draw the attention of other people as well. I do not have a different opinion there. But my point would be this: having said that these are the features of the crisis, having said that these are the dimensions of the crisis, and having proved that therefore, it requires the attention of several other relevant authorities, having said that special attention should be given to ourselves, the main question is what this crisis is due to? I think this is the starting point. I discussed in cursory fashion yesterday afternoon the reasons to make a separate point: that if we want to prove conclusively to others that the Calcutta metropolitan area is suffering from a crisis then certainly we must have a norm by which we can compare. Even Bombay has got slums, has got poverty, squalor. And really if you ask a Bombayite, he will speak of innumerable problems. But we all know that in India, Bombay or the Bombay Metropolitan region is by far the most prosperous area. So what is the standard by which we compare and say: look, compared with this, Calcutta is in the throes of a crisis.

5During the course of our discussions, comparisons have been drawn with Bombay, and even from abroad. While speaking on this, Mr. Kutty raised the very basic question, which is, that we have to decide now on the kind of social, economic and political life we want in this city of ours. Mr. Kutty equated in a way Bombay with Singapore and Hong Kong, and Barun De went a bit further: he was thinking of the entire belt running from the Gulf area, through Bombay, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, etc., up to Hong Kong, with obvious implication that perhaps we would have to choose what kind of life we want, and he certainly did not want the kind of life that seems to exist in these cities.

6Well, then what kind of life do we want? Do we have a norm? Do we have an ideal? When I come to the practical points, immediately such questions will come up. Presumably the norm exists in the questioner’s mind, that in a city like our metropolis, we should certainly have a decent city organization, people employed and prosperous, a thriving cultural life, this and that. Some people think that the metropolis one aspires as an ideal is something which does not exist anywhere in this world. What I want to hold is that if we do not want to go the way Singapore or Hong Kong have gone, then, once again, what kind of a city do we want, in terms of activities, in terms of income distribution, in terms of employment and so on?

7In any case, my particular point would be —and that to me is a very narrow question but nevertheless a very important question which would be operationally meaningful— why is it that in the course of the last thirty to forty years, a certain region in India (I would take the Maharashtra region) has prospered in comparison to the Calcutta metropolitan region? We know that there are areas in India which have set up standards, under the type of constraints which operate all over India. I am not trying to compare with Singapore or Hong Kong, but I want someone to answer this question, why is it that under the same type of politico-economic constraints, certain regions in India have gone ahead whereas the Calcutta metropolitan region has lagged behind? Now unless this question is squarely faced and answered, I do not think there will be operationally feasible solutions. We can set up ideals, we can do certain things which will try to solve the problems sectorally, for one section or for another section, but the general prosperity for the region as a whole, I do not think we will have any feasible solution.

The question of investment

8This brings me to the question of investment. On that point, I have listened 10 certain solutions which appear to me to be begging the question. For example, J have been treated to a fare where the writer wants investment to be made in the rural areas of eastern India, in the district towns, in the growth centres, and if all these areas prosper, then the metropolitan area also will prosper, of course. If all these areas —the rural hinterland, the district towns, the growth centres— could be made prosperous, then much of the problem would be solved. But I cannot escape from the material constraint. Where are all the funds going to come from? Do we have enough funds so as to invest in all these areas for simultaneous development?

9Now, one point is usually made. One paper mentions the Comprehensive Area Development Programme and the agricultural inputs. One is aware that these inputs are very capital intensive, but one leaves the question at that. Have we as yet found out any strategy of developing the countryside without much of agricultural inputs with emphasis on labour intensive input not needing much of capital intensive inputs? This is a very crucial question, which can be answered only on the political level. I should note that at present at least in West Bengal we have a government which does believe that it has got enough strength to organize and develop the countryside without much of these capital intensive agricultural inputs. Fine, I do not deny that point, but I shall take a lesson from this kind of conviction which I shall use later on.

10The point is that the main feature which distinguishes the other metropolitan regions, the old ones like Bombay or the newer ones like Madras or Gujarat, is that, as everybody has agreed, a lot of private investment along with public investment has taken place in these areas. What are the reasons? There may be many answers: political, economic, social. But this is a fact of life, that a lot of private investment has taken place in these areas and not only investment as such, but investment of a particular type one should note. Investment in big industries, in industries with modem technology and highly capital intensive techniques and in consumer goods industries as well, along with basic capital goods industries. In fact there has been a balanced distribution of sectors excepting for the kind of things where natural resources are very important.

11Now why has this kind of investment not taken place in this region? Well, there are many hypotheses: one does not know for sure. But the fact is that now I find, from Mr. Kutty's paper, and from the industrial policy statement and so on, perhaps there is an underlying feeling that not much that wav can be done in West Bengal. In big and basic large-scale industries, to think of inviting private investment in these areas would perhaps be somewhat illusory. In older days people used to speak of labour problems but you all know that labour problems are not peculiar to West Bengal any more: at least the Maharashtra region has been disturbed by this labour problem very much during the last five to six years. Also the wage level in the Maharashtra region and elsewhere is far higher than that in West Bengal. Everybody knows that even then private investment is not coming forth in our region. Some think that may be the kind of government that we have now, the Communist government in West Bengal, would inhibit the capitalist to come forth and invest. I do not have my own answer to this, but I am personally convinced, looking at the way things are happening in India over the last few years and in West Bengal particularly that unless some way is found of establishing in this region large-scale industries of a balanced nature, particularly of consumer goods which we lack in big way, there is not much hope.

  • 1 Charan Singh. Noted politician, known as the representative of well-to-do farmers of northern Indi (...)

12Now, if you go along with Charan Singh and such people, it is all right. You say that large-scale industries will not produce soap any more, this soap is reserved for cottage and small-scale industries1. The same goes for matches. If you compel people to buy a certain quality of consumer goods, then it is a different thing but here is the question of compulsion.

13Left to oneself, one knows that, apart form certain thing of fashion, certain curios, etc., one does not really buy goods made by the small-scale and cottage industries. The only future of the small-scale industries lies in being related to the big, heavy and large-scale industries. Unless this relationship is established, I do not think that the small-scale and cottage industries can meet or satisfy the demands of any region. You cannot suddenly go after agricultural inputs either, unless and until you have the large-scale and basic industries and on that basis, the small-scale and medium-scale engineering industries. I believe personally that this is the key to the solution.

  • 2 The reference is to the Industrial Policy Statement of the Left Front government of West Bengal, m (...)

14I would like to say something here, in regard to the way some regions in South-East Asia are developing. Take, for example, the case of Burma. This is of course a socialist country; perhaps there the wealth is more equitably distributed, and perhaps the way of life is more decent. But everybody knows, these days it is no secret —China, Soviet Russia and other communist countries also know— that unless they develop modem technology-based industries they cannot really improve the rate of growth of their industries or their economy. They are no longer keeping to themselves, while trying to develop. So why is it that we do not do something similar? This is where I want some light to be thrown on the Industrial Policy Statement2; and I also know that now the government of West Bengal has encouraged even multinationals to establish industries. You may differ and say well, never mind the capitaliste of India or abroad, we can develop this area with whatever public investment we can make. That is one of the reasoning with which I do not agree. But if at least some of you agree with my diagnosis, you have to say yes, some ways must be found to draw large-scale and basic industries here, of the kind we want, so that we have a more balanced economy. But what are you going to do about it? And are we really very right in this? Have our policies been designed in such a manner that they do not get invitees or such that industries would rather get attracted to other regions of India?

15If that means a choice, well, this is the cost which we will agree to bear because we do not want capitalists, because we do not want their influence here; and whatever we have, we shall do with that. Well, you are welcome to think so, but I do not think this cost is worthwhile. And particularly, as I pointed out earlier, I shall take a lesson from the convictions that give evidence to the present-day agricultural policy. If we have a communist government which thinks it can control the vast countryside, and develop it on the basis of labour-intensive technology, which believes that it can control thousands of cottage and small-scale industries, can this government not control a few big capitalists or multinationals so that we can have the benefit of these industries without having the evil influences that may permeate from their establishment? That is my question, and I leave it at that.

What development, what products, what entrepreneurs, what technology?

16M.G. Kutty

17Again I think I should clarify one thing about my presentation in the morning. I did not raise the issue of large and medium-scale industries generally. Usually I do not go into this kind of conceptional or ideological antithesis —complete antithesis— because this is just a question of scale and relativities to my mind.

18What I was really referring to was, since we are talking in the context of the metropolitan district economy, the role of large and medium industries in the future growth pattern. I certainly did not rule out, in fact I did emphasize, the role of large and medium industries in areas outside of the metropolitan district but within the state of West Bengal. On a total reading of these industrial policy resolutions und incentive schemes, the point I was trying to make was that as far as large and medium industries are concerned, the immediate emphasis in the CMD will have to be the utilization of the capacity we have; removing the constraints we have; and if we go in for new units, then we will go in for those new units which have got some distinct advantages for their location in the metropolitan district, because the general thrust, I have no doubt, is that these large and medium units have to be at locations outside of the metropolis, within the state. Maybe in the other urban centres. Professor Bhattacharya referred to some of the large units which have been set up recently and in fact both these units have been set up in the western regions —a bearing unit in Kharagpur, and a detergents factory in Haldia area. As far as the small scale and ancillary units are concerned, it is quite clear that there is an interrelationship between the large and medium and the small-scale sector. But take the large automobile manufacturing plant in this state: a large part of its ancillaries come from outside the state. Why is it that we cannot develop these ancillaries here? The spark plug and the fuel injection equipments which are produced for the diesel vehicles are produced by just one unit in south India and by no one else. And today, just because of a strike in a factory somewhere in the south, the entire transportation industry here is faced with a severe situation.

19We should certainly bear these relationships in mind. There may be some scope for expanding some of the existing units within the metropolitan district or even very specific kinds of new activities may have some distinct advantages here. Mr. Bhattacharya referred to the question of what kind of things we are thinking of, and to the comparison with Hong Kong and Singapore. There is no doubt, to my mind at least, that in the kind of pattern of development we are thinking of, we have to think of those products and services which are necessary and relevant to our population. The kind of burgeoning of demand will be there according to certain values. A value judgment may also come into this, i.e., questions like which kind of goods and services we want to produce. Certain decisions will have to be taken about this in the context of the metropolitan district's future growth pattern.

20We had an occasion to make a survey, for example, some three years back, about the cosmetics and toilet articles which are sold in West Bengal. We found that nearly 80 per cent of these cosmetics are produced in the western region, particularly in Maharashtra, in Bombay and the trans-Bombay area. It has certainly produced employment in Bombay but this is not the kind of production I would place emphasis on. It has certainly added to the statistics about investments in Bombay but if we go in for the future industrial profile of the metropolitan district, this is not perhaps the kind of profile we need. And this is the kind of thing probably existing in Singapore and Hong Kong. We need not have investments going into cosmetics and toilet articles. Small industry has proved its worth in a very wide range of activities. I first mentioned one figure this morning, that we are going to out an additional installed capacity of 16,000 megawatts, with the schemes or projects already in hand, for power generation. What are the kind of equipments and ancillaries this will require for the power plants which we will put up? A whole range of instrumentation equipment —the kind of thing which is not produced at all here-as there exists only one factory in Rajasthan which goes into the instrumentation and control panel Systems of electricity plants. This investment of perhaps Rs. 800 crore here in power generation will itself throw up the demand.

21I do not think there is an antithesis from an ideological point of view between large and medium and small-scale industries. They are certainly interrelated. What I was looking at really was the locational considerations of the CMDA and the whole business of regional decentralization of industries as between the CMD and the areas outside.

  • 3 M.G. Kutty refers here to the money invested in Gujarat by Gujarati Indians expelled from East Afr (...)

22Now the last point about how these large and medium industries are going to come up. Here comparisons with Bombay and the Western region are relevant. I do not have the figures on this, but this is a general belief held by many and by me too, that there has been a certain amount of infusion of capital earned outside, particularly as far as Gujarat is concerned3. The capital or the kind of saving available for investment in the western region is much more than what it is in a comparatively poorer area like that of West Bengal or of the eastern region. This has helped capital accumulation in Bombay.

23Another thing that people talk about from a organizational or policy point of view is the concentration of financial institutions in and around Bombay. What kind of Investments are really being made in large and medium industries today? If you talk of equity, I think in our situation, equity has been rather shy, but if you look at the total of resources which go into the setting up of large and medium industries today, the substantial role, on the whole, is that of the public financial institutions. If there are enterprising entrepreneurs who can come forth, their financial stake, in relative terms today, is not about as great as it was in the early years of our industrialization. Even in Bombay today, a lot of the growth has been supported by public financial institutions. I do not see any reason why it cannot be done here also. It is just a question of orienting the policies in such a manner that public financial institutions can come in a greater measure to the help of the growth of industry here.

24We come back to square one. What kind of entrepreneurs, then, do we require? We need people who can perform well in our environment, and they should be people who have a certain amount of professional competence, people who can manage the industries well with the adequate support which the government can give. I am not ruling out here the established industrialists: amongst them also there are professional industrial managers. Well, they are quite welcome. But actually with the corporate financing today being by and large in the hands of public financing institutions, and the crux of the matter being, so far as the entrepreneurship is concerned, the professional management of industrial units, they have to come from the large masses in our population who acquire professional qualifications. The basic thing is that there should be a professionalization of industrial management and I think that there lies the salvation, at least for our economy. And when we say that Bombay is doing very fine; well, at the National Development Council meetings we had last year, fairly large figures were produced of the percentage of people living below the poverty line in Maharashtra. The disparities between the rural areas in Maharashtra and the urban concentrations in and around Bombay are indeed impressive, and those disparities widen when the weather fails for just one year and there is drought in the rural areas.

25Professor Bhattacharya yesterday talked about balanced development. His emphasis on the rural areas is quite appropriate in our situation. Whether it should be done through inputs which are provided by the capital intensive industries or not is another issue. It is mainly a question of the technology we want to adopt in order to increase the prosperity of our rural areas. The exploitation of the water resources of the State, the water management in the State, these are the kind of things which call also for priority attention straightaway.

Whom are we planning for?


27The question that arises in my mind is this. If the industrial environment in a state is not attractive, then the private sector industry might not like to come forward and invest, because, without tax concessions, without other incentives, it may not be very profitable for it. Now the state may grant tax concessions and other facilities and that way invite the private sector or the public sector as well. The alternative is that the government comes in and directly invests. The point is that even if a public sector industry is set up, this industry will face similar difficulties as that of the private sector industries. It will also have to work under a situation which, if no incentives are granted, will not yield enough profit, and it might incur losses instead. So which one we accept and prefer: offering incentives yet still going in for the private sector, or, alternatively, establishing public sector industries?

28The other thing is that this metropolitan crisis has got, to my mind, some other facets besides the economic factor, the poverty, the unemployment, the low-income level and all that. There are also factors which are related to the tastes of the people. Much has been said here about the type of investment that has been made and its fate. For example, Dr. Sudhendu Mukherjee mentioned in the morning session that in Howrah a sewer treatment plant has been set-up, but the sewage lines have not been laid. As far as I know, the sewage treatment plant has been constructed by the CMDA but the lines will have to be constructed by the municipality. The CMDA has the funds necessary to construct the sewage treatment plant but the municipality does not have funds enough for constructing sewage lines. That is for the economic constraints. Now think about the conversion of service privies to septic tank privies. The CMDA has plans and money. The CMDA is providing its share of investment, but people are not coming forward to take advantage of that because a lot of people do not have the money to provide the matching or following investment and also because there are others who have the money but who do not have the taste or the inclination for such an investment. I would give another example, regarding shops on the pavement. In all places we find many such shops obstructing the way, congesting pavements and streets. We are very irritated by that, and want these shops to be removed. Many times that has been done but the shops have almost always come back. Because while we do not like these shops obstructing the way, we go on patronizing them, for their convenience.

29This raises a question: whom are we planning for? Who wants these pavement shops on the streets and who do not want them? These are certain issues that I would like the participants to throw light on.

At which rate are we trying to solve the shelter problem?

30Sudhendu Mukherjee

  • 4 The floods which started on 27 September 1978 were the worst in a Century in West Bengal. Roughly (...)

31Planning in our country, and I guess in other countries too, is like that famous story of the old blind men trying to identify an elephant. For three sessions we have been discussing the failures of planning both in the rural and urban sectors and trying to patch up in the end on how to make some adjustment in the whole situation. This is a very serious and complicated topic I will try to find an example from last year's flood situation in West Bengal4. In a very critical situation, many things become very apparent. When twelve districts were inundated for days and weeks together, many ideas came up. Many national and international organizations came up with blue-prints for the model village and other kinds of suggestions. The government had the realistic attitude of sorting out the priorities. They tried to rescue people, provide minimum relief and gradually tried to restore the economy. But the most critical debate was whether the priority laid in providing housing, which for rural areas and a majority of the village folds means nothing more than a thatched shelter, or the immediate start of agriculture; and it confounded the administrators and planners for some time. But before the administrators or politicians could make a decision the farmers made their own decisions about the immediate start of their next crop. The floods started receding in November-December; that was the potato-planting season. Farmers had started on the potato-planting without bothering about their shelter, living literally under leaf-shelters or in cattle sheds.

32Because they had not attended any seminar, they were not too careful about, judging their priorities, and by February, West Bengal raised a record production of potatoes. Then the farmers were very badly hit by the machinations of the sophisticated urban sectors of economy: the prices fell and the producers could not get the money to survive. Assuming an imaginary situation that we the planners, administrators and politicians control the market and the prices, then the record production of potatoes would have given them a little surplus for building their own shelters. Eventually they built their shelters with some government assistance. Thanks to the last thirty years of centralized flood control programmes, the devastating flood occurred; and thanks to the mechanism of the market, in February 1979 the farmers lost the profit that they could, should have made from the potatoes. This is one example of how we look at the problems and how villagers make their decisions, and uptill now, we have not been able to help the poorer sections either in the rural or urban areas in the way they would like to be helped.

  • 5 That study is Under the shadow of the Metropolis. They are citizens too (CMDA 1975). See addendum (...)

33Let me point out now a few facts related to the CMDA planning. I will start with Sukumar Sinha's paper. For the first time we hear in strong Statistical terms that the dangers of a population explosion in Calcutta are not as alarming as were suggested in the early sixties. The out-migration is increasing; the immigration from Orissa and Bihar is decreasing; the immigration from the West Bengal districts to the Calcutta Metropolitan District is decreasing comparatively speaking, and there are possibilities that people might start going to the suburban municipal towns and the district towns around the Metropolitan District. This is a possibility that has emerged in the course of the last decades, but the great planners and planning experts of the early sixties who sat in the CMPO could not visualize this simple prospect which opened up largely as a result of highways, electrification and some economic development which gave people a little surplus to build small homes in and around the metropolis. This "de-metropolitanization" of Calcutta shows clearly a positive situation. The experts predicted a population explosion in the early sixties and if we would accept that experts' opinion, I would strongly defend this CMDA's programme of sewerage, drainage, water supply because if we assume that villages and agriculture will suffer then, obviously we assume also that Calcutta will attract migrants. In fact, since the Basic Development Plan, there was no hope shown about an emerging, prosperous agriculture (which exists in other States, as Professor Mitra has pointed out). In the Plan itself it was mentioned that since rural migrants would tend to flow towards Calcutta and since there is no space within Calcutta or its suburban areas, we should create planned, suburban villages just on the frontiers of the Metropolis. This is the most hare-brained, far-fetched idea ever. On one point the CMPO planners were right. Because of our neglect of agriculture and because of an over-emphasis on Calcutta planning (in the entire sixties there was no development investment at all, only an academic planning exercise was made for which a lot of brains and salaries had to be paid) the number of pavement-dwellers started increasing and any study will show that they came from the Midnapur, Howrah, 24 Parganas rural districts. I made a study on them and it is clearly evident that 60 to 70% of them came from the south of 24 Parganas district5.

34The wise impoverished farmers of the 24 Parganas district settled on the pavement on their own without any help from any planning agency and there the number of pavement-dwellers in the city is increasing. But what is the consequence of this? Even if we accept that 80-85 per cent of CMDA's resources are spent on the sewerage and drainage programs, they will not be complete till 1990 or 2000 AD. And if we eliminate or ignore other factors the number of pavement-dwellers will just continue to increase: they are just impoverished ex-farmers in the hinterland villages of the metropolis. And if we assume that a nice sewerage and drainage System is built, it does not require any intelligence to understand that the sewerage pipes will take the sewerage from the homes of the middle-classes; the poorer people will defecate on the streets and public places. Germs will breed and they will not consider the different types of planning, long-term, short-term, or any other. Enteric diseases will continue to grow, the main objective of this sewerage planning scheme being to control these enteric diseases, cholera, typhoid and dysentery. The pavement-dwellers will become the carriers and sufferers of these diseases. The entire purpose of the sewerage plan will be lost. Calcutta will be plagued with cholera, just as our eradication plan for malaria led to the reemergence of the disease. These are really the questions which require detailed examination in long-term planning; but since there is not much time, we could not devote our attention to these subjects.

35I will mention one or two more points regarding two very new townships. We have very few towns compared to villages. There are 40,000 villages to some 150 towns in West Bengal. So if we want to urbanize the country then let us try to expand these existing urban centres, as they exist. We cannot create new urban centres out of thin air unless there is a strong industrial programme in hand as in Haldia or Durgapur. We have seen the fate of planned urban centres in Kalyani, Salt Lake and the proposed two or three small towns on the western and eastern frontiers of this metropolis.

  • 6 To be exact, the Census figure for 1981 is 38,000 for Kalyani (J.R.).

36How do you analyse Kalyani? It was completed in 1955 with an investment of nearly Rs. 10 crore for a population target of 2,00,000. Even in the 1971 census, the population did not cross 21,000. So what is the value of this investment? What is the return? The recent policies might have created some growth of population there, but all the same, it has not crossed 40,000 to 50,000 yet6. So we make Investments for planned towns in which people do not go. This is not the right way of solving the shelter problems of the poor Calcuttans.

  • 7 In’1982, the Salt Lake population has hardly crossed 60,000 (J.R.).

37Salt Lake was created out of a swamp. Rs. 40 crore were spent simply in filling the swamp and building the minimum infrastructure. I am not speaking of the money spent by those who buy land and then make a house, at a cost of about Rs. 50,000 to one lakh. So, 40 to 50 crore of rupees were spent for a projected population of half a million. Half of Salt Lake is nearly ready, but even today, in 1979, the population is only about 40,0007. This is the rate at which we are trying to solve the shelter problem of Calcutta. In the metropolis there are now 9 million or 10 million people. How do we solve the problem of 4 to 5 million poor people? There are two to three million slum-dwellers, half a million refugees, a low-income population of another two millions; middle-class people also suffer from the housing problem. So when will we solve this problem if We proceed at this rate? Rs. 40 crore for only 40,000 people in ten or fifteen years time! The two tiny townships at Kasba and Baishabghata are just names. They are one mile apart amounting to only one township on the eastern frontier. The Kasba township is only for 80,000 people —just 10,000 families. See also the big housing estates built for 8,000 to 10,000 people in Belgachia or in Behala. There is no fanfare about them, but such estates are also mini-townships, and I do not support such housing construction for the middle class people at the cost of the poorer people. All that —Kalyani and Salt Lake, Kasba and Baishnabhata, Belgachia or Behala estates —are no answer after twenty years of planning and construction —after spending Rs. 300 crore— for the poor man's shelter problems.

38I would like to end with quoting Mr. Kutty, that we are spending nearly 100 crores annually, if we add up the cost of CMDA's so-called infrastructure plan, plus the second Hooghly bridge, plus the metro-railway. We are concentrating all these projects in the metropolis core area. That way we are only defeating the whole purpose of regional planning and a decentralized poly-nuclear entity for the future metropolis. It is not mere a change from the bi-focal Kalyani-Bansberia and metropolis core planning perspective. We have almost neglected Kalyani and Bansberia, and one is just strengthening the metropolis core area by adding, at a stone’s throw from the Central Business District, Kasba and Baishnabghata: strengthening the C.B.D is not a poly-nuclear, but a mono-nuclear growth of the metropolis.

We are trying to develop Calcutta at the cost of the hinterland

39Sudhansu Mukherjee

40S.K.Bhattacharya's intervention: It is your finding that unless the rural areas become prosperous, the people will not come to the towns.

41Sudhansu Mukherjee: I may make an attempt to answer that question.

42I heard in one of the previous papers the statistics related to the relatively lower migration into Calcutta and to the relatively higher migration from Calcutta. I believe this was neither a new feature, nor was it told for the first time. Since 1951, all the census reports have mentioned that Calcutta is growing too slowly. The reasons were simply that neither the economy of West Bengal nor the economy of the whole hinterland were growing fast enough. The pull factors, in the Calcutta case, are rather small. It is mainly the push factors that operate, and in recent years, the strength of the push factors has declined a bit. Regarding Professor Bhattacharya's question, I believe that a more prosperous rural sight will increase the tempo of migration to Calcutta, because it is not just the poverty in the villages which causes the migration. Push factors are also cultural and mechanical. I made an analysis some time back as to which districts in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal send the maximum number of migrants to Calcutta. And here is the fact, amply borne out by census reports: it is not the poorest district of Purulia or Bankura which send the highest number of migrants. It is the more prosperous districts, such as Hooghly or Burdwan where the liking for a better life has touched the people, where people have contacts in Calcutta, contacts who may help the migrants to settle down.

43Regarding the population growth, I have also this to say: when the census reports compared the overall migration growth, the overall population growth, they simply compared the population of Calcutta in 1941, 1951 and 1961. But this population grew in different ways: one, of course, by the natural increase; two, by migration; three by the extension of the area of the city. Calcutta's population growth has been what it was because, for the last 30 to 40 years at least, the outmigration has been substantial enough to almost cancel out the immigration. Calcutta has been growing mainly by its natural growth, and to some extern by the extension of its Corporation borders. These points actually need to be calculated on the basis of facts.

44We should not talk so much about Calcutta in a crisis. I do not think that Calcutta, specifically, is in a crisis. It is West Bengal’s economy which is in crisis. Calcutta's crisis is derived from the state's difficulties. If we concentrate our efforts for a revival of West Bengal's economy, Calcutta crisis will be solved to a great extern —at least a basis for the solution would be there.

45In a sense, if West Bengal's economy had developed, West Bengal would have thrown up a better and more prosperous Calcutta. And this is my strongest argument against the CMDA's activities. We are trying to develop Calcutta at the cost of the hinterland. There is a relationship of complementarity between Calcutta and its hinterland towns. There is also, between them, a conflicting relationship. Well, our current activities rather express relations of conflict than relations of complementarity between Calcutta and the hinterland and towns.

46What, Professor Bhattacharya asked, should Calcutta do? What do we expect from Calcutta? What is the life style in Calcutta that we crave for? I believe the judgement should depend on what is Calcutta's function. And Calcutta's function, to my thinking, is to develop as an apex of an urban pyramid, rather that develop itself at the cost of the lower bases of the pyramid.

47West Bengal has about 400 rural market centres as the base of this pyramid. Above that there are some 150 subdivision towns and smaller towns, above these all comes Calcutta. The eastern region on its own has other towns with whom Calcutta's functional relationship is very weak. Calcutta, as a metropolis, should be the leader of this urban pyramid. It should be the co-ordinator of the urban services that this entire urban pyramid is expected to discharge. Planners have to organize the relationships between Calcutta-Howrah and the other four corners of the grand pentagon Calcutta-Haldia-Asansol-Durgapur-Siliguri. Similarly, one has to organize the interrelations between the district towns, other lower bases of the urban pyramid and Calcutta, so that Calcutta could grow as a limb of the nation, and not as an oasis in a desert of poverty.

48Calcutta's milk supply System is heavily subsidized. Now, why should a resident of Dinajpur pay taxes to subsidize the milk consumption of Calcutta? Why should the poorer people in West Bengal be taxed just because Calcutta's comparatively richer people get cheaper milk? Why should a villager in Malda or Purulia, who is below the poverty line (a very popular phrase these days) be taxed through kerosene oil or match boxes for hearing a part of the subsidy paid to the State Transport Corporation for running buses in Calcutta, or some of the activities of the CMDA? As there is a severe constraint of resources, we have to make a choice. And in making that choice, we may have to cut down drastically the CMDA's budget, just to be able to develop a Berhampur, a Burdwan, or a Purulia. That would be economically justified, apart from the moral justification.

49I would like to make still one more point. This self-pity, this selfishness of the urban middle class intelligentsia is certainly a problem. This is perhaps one of the major part of Calcutta's crisis. We pity ourselves so much if there is power failure, or pavement-hawkers and curse our stars because we do not have all the comforts of the world. We have got to make some conscious sacrifices ourselves without which we cannot grow as a nation or as a metropolis. For instance, I will welcome power cuts if the power that is saved could be utilized for productive purposes in the villages and for industries. We are used to our comforts and feel helpless and pity ourselves if we do not get them. We have got to deprive ourselves of many of our consumption goods. We have got to make a very clear distinction between unconvincing infrastructure and infrastructure for genuine production purposes. If the CMDA's money was spent for building up infrastructure of productive purposes, to that extern I would welcome the CMDA's activities and hats off to them. But if the CMDA wants too build a productive infrastructure at the cost of the lowering of living standards outside Calcutta, well, I will not justify a penny spent that way. So, infrastructures for productive purposes and better productive utilization of whatever limited resources we have, some conscious self-sacrifice and lack of self pity on behalf of our urban middle class: these are some of the slogans I would like us to work for.

The poor and the middle class: a social geography on the move

50S.K. Chaube

  • 8 That formula is an echo of the noted hook of the French historian Louis Chevallier on classes in P (...)
  • 9 Aurobindo Biswas, Partha Chatterjee, Shibani Kinkar Chaube:'The Ethnic Composition of Calcutta and (...)
  • 10 N.K. Bose: Calcutta 1964: A Social Survey. We gave the main findings of Professor Bose in Addendum (...)
  • 11 M.K.A. Siddiqui: Muslims of Calcutta: A Study in aspects of their social organization, Memoir No. (...)

51I am standing here in response to a challenge Mr. Racine threw at the end of the second session: could anybody say something about the social relations in Calcutta? I certainly cannot, substitute Dr. Surajit Sinha and the sociology of Calcutta is not my primary field of study, but I thought that 1 could give some impressions of mine which arose out of my personal observation and also from bits of work on Calcutta. My introduction to Calcutta in my adulthood was in the early fifties. I came in touch with that section of people —by virtue of my residence— which a Parisian would probably call "the labouring classes and the dangerous classes"8 or the Calcuttans would call "the lower classes" of the city. Since that time, I have had some opportunity of viewing the lower sections of the Calcutta community as well as a part of the lower middle classes —not so much the upper classes who are properly called the "Calcuttans". That is why I said yesterday that I am not really a Calcuttan. When I saw Calcutta first, it was a city of the rich as well as the poor. I can easily remember a situation where a man could live in Calcutta at a monthly expense of about Rs. 50 or even less. A man could spend Rs. 5,000 a day if he liked. I remember in 1953 there was a fife and death struggle over the rise in tram fares by one paisa. That has never occurred again. Sometimes we have demonstrations and movements, on the rise of bus fares, but never to that extern. Why? Is it simply because the politics have changed? Or is it partly because Calcutta is losing its resistance to inflation? I have a strong suspicion that the really lower sector of the community is being squeezed out of the city. I left Calcutta in 1965 and came back in 1973. Then I worked on a paper on the ethnic composition of Calcutta in collaboration with some of my colleagues in the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences9. And I found that until 1961, Calcutta was a fairly mixed city-professionally, as well as ethnically, despite the migration of the Muslim population which had taken place after the Partition. By 1961 the communal composition of Calcutta was more or less set and I found the entire business district a very well mixed area, and the entire working class belts equally well-mixed areas. It was only in the upper class residential areas like Ballygunge or the surrounding areas that you could distinguish the specialized ethnicized characteristic, more or less exclusive ethnically. When we did this study, we had in mind also Professor Nirmal K. Bose’s epochal study of Calcutta10 and the major theory that Professor Bose (he was my teacher too) advanced, that Calcutta's ethnic communities were maintaining a kind of insular existence. Behaviourally that might be true. But in residential patterns or in occupational patterns, I did not find much substance in it; and very recently Siddiqui of the Anthropological Survey of India has shown that in Calcutta at least the Muslim community is not so much insulated as it is occasionally thought to be11.

52What happened in the 1970's when I started working on this particular paper was a very interesting experience. I found that since the middle of the sixties, certain minority communities were shifting away from the city centre. There has been a large number of emigrants from the city from among the Anglo-Indian community here. That took place mostly in the early sixties. I found that from the eastern parts of Calcutta the Indian Christian communities were gradually shifting towards the fringe areas. And now I find a substantial Settlement of such Bengali-speaking Indian Christian communities settled around the Behala area. And one of the proofs of this trend can be found in the forthcoming election when there will be a candidate from the Jadavpur area from the Christian Democratic Party. There is a specific basis for it. I have seen huge areas thus occupied by new Indian Christian settlements. What I am suggesting is not that Calcutta's communal situation is very averse to the minorities. I do not think that Calcutta is really a communal city or that it has exerted any political pressure on the minority communities. And yesterday I presented the fact that after 1964 there has never been any major communal clash in this city. In the early sixties I found the whole area near Sealdah which is now known as Surya Sen Street filled with small book-binders'shops owned by Muslim shopkeepers. And now most of them have disappeared from there. One reason is the economic pressure. I am suggesting that these minority communities are under very heavy economic pressure which has been throwing them out of the central part of Calcutta. I am corroborating this hypothesis with another experience of mine which might have been shared by some of you too. Look at the well-known slum clearance programme and the new settlements programme: I have not seen any slum dweller living in any of these cheap housing estates. On the other hand, the area where I live is on the fringes of Calcutta. It is within the Corporation but near the canal. When I came to settle there in 1973,I found a number of poor people's huts on the right side of the canal. These people were working as rickshaw-pullers; the females were working as servants in houses. In the last three to four years, some amount of development work was going on: the new improved sanitation schemes are coming in, roads have been improved and those particular areas have been totally cleared of the former residents. Now those female servants are settled on the other side of the canal. That leads to this whole question: for whom are we planning? The question has been asked several times during the afternoon.

  • 12 Roughly 80 square yards, or 72 square metres (J.R.).

53The other side of the story is that though the lower middle-class people are being pushed out, I have a feeling that Calcutta is attracting a section of the middleclass population or even the upper middle-class population. I do not have any Statistical evidence to prove this, but the type of houses that are coming up in the newly developed areas would suggest that. Seven or eight years back, the area where I live did not have much of roadway communication. New roads have come up and land sold at Rs. 4000 to 5000 per cottah12 then, is now selling at Rs. 10,000 to 15,000. These new developments are helping the middle-class, but not so much the lower class or poorer communities. That is why, yesterday I presented the thesis that Calcutta lost her middle-class innocence in 1971. By that I did not suggest that the middle-class is being eliminated from Calcutta. On the other hand, the middle-class is becoming more and more ruthless, intolerant of the real poor. And that may perhaps be endorsed by the fact that in 1971 (Calcutta's worst period) there were high rises in land rents and land values in some selected posh localities; whereas in the poorer areas the land prices fell drastically. All those who could afford it shifted at once to localities like Ballygunge or Park Street. And they were not really those affected by the 1970-71 disturbances.

A few hypotheses on the non-economic causes of the urban crisis: Calcutta, nobody's city


55I would like to come back to a few points which have been debated during these two days, but are still challenging. I would also like to raise some additional questions.

56I shall first refer to Professor.Bhattacharya's remark which has already been commented upon, that even if the country prospers —and here I consider the districts, with their heavy rural population— it will not necessarily stop the emigration from the villages. I agree with that. But perhaps we should ask ourselves if, in a more prosperous rural economy, the migrants would not settle in the growing medium-sized district towns, rather than in the huge metropolis. A correlative question is: would the migrants be the same as today? Dr. Sudanshu Mukherjee gave us part of the answer, when he underlined that it is not from the poorest districts that the bulk of Calcutta immigrants are coming.

57I have some experience of what has been happening since the inception of the Intensive Agricultural District Programme in the district of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu, the first rice district to be covered by the Programme aiming at a "green revolution". Field study conducted there shows that a part of the money raised through the benefits of agricultural growth enables enterprising middle-class or upper middle-class peasants to start some additional activities in their region. That could be, on a modest scale, the opening of a shop or a workshop in the village, or, for a few very successful individuals, the opening of a new bus route to and from the district headquarters.

58Such kind of rural prosperity cannot naturally put emigration to an end: as everyone knows, the benefits of the growth are not equally distributed. It is doubtful whether the poor agricultural labourers get their share, and at the game of growth, the winners do not simply draw more from their own land; they tend also to expand at the cost of losers thrown out of their fields. Moreover, prosperity supposes an awakening to a larger world, which may attract new corners to the cities, particularly, in the future, the sons of the winners of today, in quest of better education, new vistas and more modem sophistication.

59Nevertheless, on the whole, rural prosperity seems to prevent some kind of emigration to the nearer metropolis, be it Madras or Calcutta, and to rather benefit local market towns and district towns.

The dilemma of planning: planning for the city, or planning for the poor?

60My second point will deal with planning and the CMDA. Practically all the participants of this seminar agreed that the present crisis of Calcutta metropolis is largely due to a lack of planning. Whether it is the British or the local and central governments after Independence who are the main culprits remains a mystery.

61Now, on analyzing what has been done since the sixties, many experts present here —who worked or are still working for the CMPO, the CMDA and other concerned bodies— have emphasized that Calcutta suffers more from bad planning than from lack of planning.

62Dr. Sudhanshu Mukerjee regretted that through the CMDA, the governments and the World Bank helped the metropolis rather than the hinterland. Well, everybody agrees that nothing serious, nothing fundamental can be done without developing the hinterland. The top officers of the CMDA share the same feeling, but their responsibility is limited by the boundaries of the CMDA, just as the field of action of the West Bengal government is bound by state boundaries.

63Are we not facing a dilemma here? The metropolis would enjoy a sound development only when the state or, better, eastern India will develop. But how could the state be developed if Calcutta is in such a poor shape that it cannot assume all the duties of a true capital, all the functions of the nervous centre of the complex organisms that a region and a state are? Are the development of the City and the development of its hinterland not to be intimately linked?

64Similarly we can only regret with Dr. Sudhendu Mukherjee that the development programmes of the CMDA seems to help more the middle-class than the poor and the destitute. But here again, to my mind, in such a city, how can we select just one priority, when there are urgent calls from so many fronts? For the destitute pavement-dweller, the improvement of the water supply in the bustees is of no concern: he is not a bustee-dweller and has no roof of his own. But can we wait till we find him a house before improving the bustees? On a larger scale, must we first rehabilitate the slums —a gigantic task now almost completed— before turning to the housing problem faced by the middle-class?

65Moreover, a city, and particularly a metropolis, is not just a conurbation, an aggregate or just a juxtaposition of human beings. It is also an economic entity, an economic being. As a matter of fact, in the present India socio-economic System in which inequality is such a prevalent concept, the benefits of economic growth are bound not to be shared satisfactorily. But nevertheless economic growth is a must for Calcutta, and it presupposes that some basic requirements are met with. The uplift of the poor depends also on this, because it cannot be separated from employment opportunities, capital and market facilities and power availability. In this sense, and despite its sharp class disparities, a city is a totality. The poor female hawker with her basket of vegetables will perhaps not use the future metro railway to save a little money everyday but nevertheless, Calcutta's mass transportation crisis has to be solved, for the direct or indirect benefit of the large majority of the city-dwellers.

66Here I wish to ask for a precision. We were told about a majority of 80 per cent of underprivileged, ruled by 20 per cent of Calcuttans who are supposed to be the ones benefiting from the urban development programmes. Now, I would like to know where the middle classes stand in this picture? They are surely not privileged people, except if it is a privilege to live six or seven in one or two rooms, to travel 150 in crumbling buses meant for ninety, and to bear patiently load-shedding for eight to ten hours a day. But neither are they the real poor. Strangely enough in city reputed for its political volatility and its awareness of social problems, we seem to suffer from a lack of social studies which could provide us with a clear and detailed picture of Calcutta's social classes. That would help us to ask the legitimate question: whom do the planners plan for?

A few hypotheses

67I would now like to raise a few points which, I feel, have not received the attention they deserve. The first one could be expressed by this interrogation: to what extent does the present degradation of Calcutta result from an economic crisis? Or, to put it in other words: to what extent does the present degradation of Calcutta result from factors other than purely economic ones?

68Let us take the example of garbage clearance. Garbage heaps —no one will object— are definitely a typical feature of Calcutta's urban landscape. These omnipresent and striking refuses are no doubt a boon on the hundreds of ragpickers who make a poor living out of them. But I suspect that if the Corporation of Calcutta fails to clear those garbage heaps properly, it is not just for the sake of the destitute ragpickers. If the press is reliable, it seems that, out of a fleet of, let us say, 300 Corporation garbage trucks, only 40 to 60 run every day. Why? Either it is a matter of finance —an economic factor: the Corporation may not be in a position to buy when needed the required number of trucks. If that is the reason, if a Corporation of 3,000,000 inhabitants is not able to have a suitable fleet of plying municipal lorries, then something is certainly wrong. Or it is not so much a matter of buying trucks as a problem of maintenance, of management or of dedication of the teams in charge. And if we trust popular feeling, we are inclined to accept rather this second hypothesis. And that is worse.

  • 13 See Addendum L (J.R.).

69The poor opinion the common man has of the municipal or government services should not be hidden13. It simply enforces the idea that Calcutta is nobody's concern. That is naturally a formula, an exaggeration. The city is also served by dutiful and dedicated men and women in various positions. But on the whole, it seems that in the struggle for life, many, too many, just bank on the salary they get every month from the Corporation or the Government, and do not care much about the way the job is done.

70Evidently, the economic factors are not far behind, if we look for the causes of such a neglect of civic duties. The low salaries of the subordinate and clerical staff are not very stimulating. The "I-couldn't-care-less" attitude and corruption are thus some of the ways opened to those who think that the salary they draw is not up to the mark. But when we consider that dedication is noticeable in some departments or organizations and less, quite less, in others, one is prone to think that the lack of funds is not the only reason for Calcutta's poor maintenance.

71I have discussed here the problem of waste management. Other examples could have been selected: the acute energy crisis is certainly one of them. Mr. Kutty told us what the government is doing to try to solve the power problem, but he did not tell us why the city, which, amongst all the Indian metropolises, is the nearest to the country's most important coalfields, is also the one suffering most acutely and by far, from shortage of power. We all know that, here again, the planning was deficient for decades. But we know also that the critical penury results partially from man-made factors: lack of maintenance, constant rivalry between a plethora of non-recognized trade unions, biased policy of recruitment, etc.

72This feeling of the common man about poor services by those in charge, drive many to a state of quiet despair, which is extremely harmful. If you think that not much improvement can reasonably be expected, why not make do with what you cannot change? The way Calcuttans bear up with local hindrances is in one way admirable. But it may also delay the solution to the problem: the vox populi must maintain pressure on those who are in charge of the city.

73These considerations drive me to risk a last hypothesis.

74Let us accept, with the reservations already mentioned, the idea that Calcutta is nobody's city. The interesting point is that this seems true also for the rich Calcuttans. The privileged may complain, as the middle class people do, about the deterioration of the city. But apparently they do not care much. They do not actively care. Calcutta is a city where the rich do not bother much about the garbage heap piling up a few yards away from the wall protecting their property. I wonder if, behind the veil of social gossip —it is fashionable to bewail Calcutta's fate— affluent people do not, may be unconsciously, ascertain themselves in the surrounding squalor. You may care about the road pot-holes-in your chauffeur-driven Ambassador or Mercedes. But while you are, in your Rs. 80,000 worth car, breaking through the crowd of coolies, rickshaw-pullers and pedestrians who may draw Rs. 300 or Rs. 600 a month, you cannot look at the bad shape of the Street without mental reservation: the traffic congestion you suffer from provides you also by contrast with the constant proof of your social rank.

75Let us go further. This lack of commitment is not specific to the rich only. The very poor have no leisure to bother about the many civic amenities which they cannot afford to enjoy in many cases. For the poor and the middle class, things are more complex. Every one, in fact, is concerned by the development of the city. Even if the rickshawallah does not pay much attention to the projects of the State Transport Corporation, he might be partly affected if the STC is able to put more buses on the streets of Calcutta. And the power problem does affect lakhs of poor workers employed in those small workshops where electrical appliances are a must. The middle class babu, in his clerical job, may take the load-shedding easily, and delay his duty when there is no light, no fan, no lift; that is something that the worker doing piece-work cannot afford.

76It would be interesting to investigate these questions of feelings and behaviour of Calcutta residents: how such and such class feel concerned by the degradation of the city, how this or that class reacts to the progress made or not made, how such and such class suffer from the crisis, and deal with it, adapting itself, in its own way, to the present living conditions; how individuals and families living with the crisis, do stand it because they have to —and, on the other hand, carry on with their social relationships, stick to their culture and customs whatever they may be, and satisfy their inclination for this or that type of leisure (cinema, football, social clubs, etc.). How, to put it briefly, they adapt their way of life to the contingencies of present Calcutta.

77Here is a field of research which may certainly help to better understand the city in its social diversity. Such an assessment, I do believe, has to be made, before we can find out a way to associate the citizens to the necessary development of their city. And that is a must, as no drastic improvements can be expected if Calcutta remains nobody's city.

To raise consciousness on the problems

Bhabatosh Dutta

78It is the customary role of the Chairman of a meeting to round up the discussion by summarizing the main points developed and, if possible, to make his own comments on them. I would go through the individual papers but I could perhaps take a few minutes to say a few words about one or two of the papers which appealed to me greatly.

79I was very much impressed by Father Roberge’s paper on the Black Hole. I am not one who has a very thorough knowledge of Systems analysis or the information theory; but it is easy to understand the network of interrelations which is built up in the course of a study. My comments relate to two points. He gave us a list of the alternative types of images that have been formed by different people with regard to this city. The images that were listed were those coming from highly educated, highly sophisticated and intelligent people. The image that Buddhadev Bose has, or the image that a man like Moorhouse has or Rudyard Kipling had, have probably nothing to do with the image of Calcutta that is in the mind of an Oriya plumber who has spent his whole life here, or in the mind of the tailor at Metiabruz who has been carrying on his profession here for the last two or three generations. I believe it will be worthwhile for some careful, thorough research investigator to find out what exactly is the image of Calcutta in the minds of people of this type. They are very large in number and when we speak about the image of Calcutta, I think we should try to take into account what these people feel.

80I was a little puzzled by the final conclusion of Father Roberge's paper. The question relates to the statement that the Calcuttans have got to use their imagination with regard to the future of the city. The students of economics have debated for years and years over the conversion of individual preference functions into social preference functions. How to add up individual choices and find out what is the social choice? There is a similar "adding-up problem" here: how do we add up the imaginations of thousands of individuals in order to find out what is the ultimate combined imagination, the social imagination which should be the total aggregate result of all these individual ideas? That problem can be approached by a mathematical estimation of the necessary and sufficient conditions, but in real life it is extremely difficult to solve this intricate question.

  • 14 One of the leading Bengali weeklies published in Calcutta (J.R.).
  • 15 The Diwani granted to Clive made him an officer of the Mughul empire. As a Diwan, Clive, the leade (...)

81I liked Sunil Munshi's paper very much. But I should point out that today practically everyone knows that Calcutta did not originate with Job Charnock. As a commercial post Calcutta was there and perhaps some of you know about the recent, very interesting writings of Dr. Sukumar Sen in Desh14 who has gone into the philological aspect about the name of Calcutta and has come out with and answer which is very uncomplimentary to the people of this city: two Arabic words combined together to sound like Kaalkuta, meaning a city full of bad people, scoundrels. However, this is neither here not there. But there is one point which has struck me very often. Probably a historian can answer it. When it is said that Calcutta as a big town or trading post was not simply the result of Job Chamock's decision on a particular day, one wonders what would have happened if Calcutta had remained a trading post. Would it have grown from a smaller trading post to a larger one without the political importance which was given to the city on account of the grant of Diwani to Robert Clive?15 If one could go into some of the "ifs" of history, one could ask the question if the Battle of Plassey had not been won by the British, or particularly if Major Munro had not defeated the Mughal emperor's army in 1764 (that was the direct antecedent to the grant of Diwani in 1765), what would have happened? Calcutta would perhaps have continued as a trading post but the importance that it got on account of the grant of Diwani was of a political nature. The fact that Calcutta was not only a trading post but became a political centre was important to its history.

  • 16 Bashak, Mullick and Sett are names of members of castes traditionally engaged in commerce, trade, (...)

82When looking at some of the papers regarding the cultural life in Calcutta, I do believe that one should point out that it has always been difficult for anyone to define what Calcutta’s culture is. One can define it in several terms, but we go back once again and we can ask ourselves this question, whether the Bashaks and the Mullicks and Setts have one opinion, whether the Ghoshs, Duttas and the Mitras have another, whether all these people belonging to the upper middle class feel the same way about the city16.

  • 17 Mukherjee. Chatterjee, Banerjee are names of members of Brahmin castes (J.R.).

83There was one interesting fact which I noted recently in connection with a study which I had undertaken, that if you go into the list of students of the Hindu College from 1817 to 1854, when the Hindu College became Presidency College, you will find that the Ghoshs, Duttas, Mitras and Boses outnumber to a very large extern the Mukherjees, Chatterjees and Banerjees17. If you come to the second half of the nineteenth Century, and try to look into the civil list of the government at that time, you will find the reverse there. There must be some explanation of this phenomenon. If you come to the present time, you find that the Calcutta culture that we speak of belongs to a very small section of the population, a particular income, social and residential group.

84About the cultural decay, since I am no expert on this matter, I can only base my opinion on my experiences here. In the late twenties and the thirties the new literary movement that grew in Bengal, which we extol today as a cultural revolution and describe as a great change in the literary traditions in the country, was regarded very seriously by some as an index of cultural decay of Bengali literature. It is a very common phenomenon that in every period of cultural history, the contemporary period has been described as one of cultural decay. And then twenty of thirty years pass and people look back and say that there was a revolution and a big change there and it is only now that the cultural decay is taking place.

85Taking into account the factual papers, the economic decay of this city is undisputed. It is practically a reflection of the economic decay of West Bengal not in absolute terms, but relatively to the other parts. And then one can note that to some extent, a relative decline is inevitable for an area which was the first to develop. As other areas develop, the relative superiority becomes less and less. There are of course other factors involved too.

86There was a lot of discussion on the various points raised on the papers. I agree very much with the reservations which I found in the mind of Professor Santosh Bhattacharya. The investment plans are there. Professor Bhattacharya's remark about the uncertainty in investment resources is not one which can be easily challenged. And there is another point which he could have added, i.e, that we have undertaken a large amount of investment already in Calcutta and in the neighbouring areas. What has been the result of that? Some of it is not exactly measurable in terms of money. The CMDA has undertaken a big drainage scheme for the Calcutta roads. There is less flooding in some areas in Calcutta during the monsoons now than there was before. What is the exact economic benefit that people receive from this is not known. But even then one can ask a simple question. I saw a figure of Rs. 284 crore spent by the CMDA and CMPO together on the development of Calcutta. Our average capital output ratio in India is about 3:1. Assuming that we are undertaking a number of high capital intensive schemes with a ratio of, say, 5:1, the increment of the annual output in the Calcutta area, measured in terms of money, should increase by about Rs. 50 to 60 crore. I know that one cannot have a full picture of this, but one can try to give an answer to this question: what has been the result in terms of increments of output of the total amount of investment that has been made by the new organizations? I again point out that there is a number of types of projects where it is practically impossible to put a money value on the benefit rendered. But even then, there are other spheres where there is a measurable benefit and there is no reason why a thorough investigation of these should not be made.

87The question of ancillary units was raised. When you consider this as a case of symbiosis of a large unit and a number of small industrial units, this symbiosis can be of a two-way type. There are units which are fed by the large units, i.e., which use the Outputs of the large units as their inputs. But that is not the definition we generally adopt. The one we adopt says that ancillaries are those which provide inputs to the larger industries. A small ancillary unit manufacturing steering wheels and supplying these to an automobile factory is a good example. But logically, if the question of symbiosis is considered, there is no reason why both of these, the large units supplying inputs smaller ones and vice-versa, should not enter the picture. Cases of large units supplying inputs to the small units are many. And in our development planning, these will have a large place. Take the village tailor, who has got a sewing machine, whose capital is about Rs. 1,000 or 1,500 and the capital-labour ratio is Rs. 1,500 to one or two persons. This village tailor is using shirtings made in cotton mills —exactly in the reverse direction. Or one can even take the simple case of exercise books manufactured by small units in the rural areas. There is a demand all over the country for these exercise books manufactured from paper supplied by large paper industries. This is an important question and it has got to be taken up seriously.

  • 18 The Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI) and the Industrial Development Bank of India (I (...)

88I am not quite sure about Mr. Kutty's remark about the failure of West Bengal or Calcutta industries in the matter of development on account of the miserly treatment received by the industries in this area from the financing institutions which, as he mentioned, are mostly located in Bombay. Well, it is a fact that the monetary sanctions by financing institutions have been lower in the case of West Bengal than in some other States. If you take the State Finance Corporations as one big complex, then they together provide a much larger amount of funds in the whole of India than the Industrial Finance Corporation of India or perhaps even then the Industrial Development Bank of India, and one can easily ask this question: what has the State Finance Corporation of West Bengal been doing all these years? There is no question of blaming Bombay18 or the Government of India. The State Finance Corporation here is under the control of the authorities here; and the total amount of loans sanctioned by the State Finance Corporation has been much smaller than in many other States in our country. I think that the failure has been very largely on the West Bengal Government side, on the side of the people who are in charge of planning and particularly in charge of the implementation of the plans.

89Finally, I thank heartily and very gratefully the French Cultural Centre for this excellent opportunity that has been given to us to discuss about the problems of the city. Discussions have their uses —they hammer certain types of problems into the minds of the people, and help to rouse consciousness on certain issues. And this is what is the most important thing now.

Notes de fin

1 Charan Singh. Noted politician, known as the representative of well-to-do farmers of northern India, particularly the Jats of Uttar Pradesh. He was Prime Minister for three weeks, in 1979, at the end of the Janata Party rule at the Centre. He advocated a shifting of economic priorities inspired by a traditional vision of the preeminence of farmers in the Indian society (J.R.).

2 The reference is to the Industrial Policy Statement of the Left Front government of West Bengal, made after it assumed power in 1977. On the question of large-scale industries and modem technology, the Statement has as its goals: (i) encouragement of indigenous technology; (ii) encouragement of small and cottage industries; (iii) lessening control by multinationals and monopoly houses; (iv) expansion of public sector. More recently the Left Front revised for a part its industrial policy and, for the sake of employment, welcomed Indian branches of multinationals (see Jyoti Basu's speech at the inauguration of Hindustan Lever Factory on 26th June 1985) (J.R.).

3 M.G. Kutty refers here to the money invested in Gujarat by Gujarati Indians expelled from East Africa in the early 70's (J.R.).

4 The floods which started on 27 September 1978 were the worst in a Century in West Bengal. Roughly 3000 km2 and 15 million people were affected (J.R.).

5 That study is Under the shadow of the Metropolis. They are citizens too (CMDA 1975). See addendum F, for figures quoted from that survey. Mrinal Sen's film, Parasuram, was inspired by this study on pavement-dwellers (J.R.).

6 To be exact, the Census figure for 1981 is 38,000 for Kalyani (J.R.).

7 In’1982, the Salt Lake population has hardly crossed 60,000 (J.R.).

8 That formula is an echo of the noted hook of the French historian Louis Chevallier on classes in Paris in the first half of the XIX Century: Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses à Paris pendant la première moitié du XIXe siècle (1958) (J.R.).

9 Aurobindo Biswas, Partha Chatterjee, Shibani Kinkar Chaube:'The Ethnic Composition of Calcutta and the Residential Pattern of the Minorities," Geographical Review of India, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 1976. See Addendum A (J.R.).

10 N.K. Bose: Calcutta 1964: A Social Survey. We gave the main findings of Professor Bose in Addendum A (J.R.).

11 M.K.A. Siddiqui: Muslims of Calcutta: A Study in aspects of their social organization, Memoir No. 36, Anthropological Survey of India, 1979 (J.R.).

12 Roughly 80 square yards, or 72 square metres (J.R.).

13 See Addendum L (J.R.).

14 One of the leading Bengali weeklies published in Calcutta (J.R.).

15 The Diwani granted to Clive made him an officer of the Mughul empire. As a Diwan, Clive, the leader of the British in Bengal, became a recognized authority, invested with local powers. That was the first major step toward the establishment of the British political power in India, with Calcutta as its major base (J.R.).

16 Bashak, Mullick and Sett are names of members of castes traditionally engaged in commerce, trade, money-lending and banking. Ghosh, Dutta, Mitra, Bose are names of members of the Kayastha caste (J.R.).

17 Mukherjee. Chatterjee, Banerjee are names of members of Brahmin castes (J.R.).

18 The Industrial Finance Corporation of India (IFCI) and the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) are organizations set up and controlled by the Central Government, while the State Finance Corporations, as their name suggests, are controlled by the government of the concerned state. It is in Bombay, the financial capital of India, that the Reserve Bank of India as well as other leading financial institutions are located (J.R.).


Session Chairman

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1990

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