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Calcutta : Not `The City of Joy'


`City of Pride?' ........
Introduction
Physical and Human Geography
Topology
Climate
Housing
Population
Economy
Transportation
Administration & Services
Urbanisation Process

Problem Associated with Development
A Detailed Report on Air Pollution in Calcutta
Towards the `City of Joy'

Introduction

Calcutta, Bengali KALIKATA, is the capital city of West Bengal, in India. It is the former capital (1772 1912) of British India. The city boasts being the nation's largest metropolitan in area. Calcutta is located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, an arm of the Ganges, about 96 miles (154 km) upstream from its mouth at the head of the Bay of Bengal. This river port is the most important urban center of Eastern India.

Physical and Human Geography

Although Calcutta is favourably located for trade, its low, swampy, hot, and humid riverbank location is not ideal for human habitation. Eastward from the river the land slopes away to marshes and swamplands. Similar topography on the western bank has confined the metropolitan area to a strip 3 to 5 miles (5-8 km) wide on either bank, although reclamation projects have expanded the limits of usable land to the east, south, and west of the central city.

The climate is subtropical, with summer monsoons. Calcutta is the world's largest processor of jute; also important are food processing, hosiery and footwear production, the manufacture of textiles, and the making of iron and steel goods. The coal mines, tea gardens, and industrial concerns of West Bengal and neighbouring states are managed and financed from Calcutta. Chief exports through the city's port are crude steel, pig iron, coal, machinery, gunnies (jute sacking), sugar, and tea. Calcutta is eastern India's financial headquarters, with many foreign banks, several chambers of commerce, and a stock exchange.

One of the city's chief recreational areas is the Maidan (plain, or park), occupying about 1,300 acres (500 hectares) along the river; major sporting events are held there. Western and Eastern influences mingle in Calcutta's architecture: Victoria Memorial, one of the city's finest buildings, represents a mixture of classical Western and Mughal (Mogul) styles.

Calcutta is known as the "Cultural Capital" of India. It serves as the major educational and cultural centre, catering to a cosmopolitan population speaking Bengali, English, Hindi, and Urdu. Higher education is offered by the universities of Calcutta, Jadavpur, and Rabindra Bharati.

The Indian Museum is the oldest in India. Other museums offer collections of archaeological and historical artifacts and folk and fine arts. Valuable library collections are housed in the National Library. Construction of India's first subway system was begun in Calcutta in 1973; a section in the central area opened in 1986. National highways and railways connect Calcutta to other cities; Sealdah and Howrah stations are the terminals of several railway lines; and air service is provided by the Netaji Subhas Chandra (Dum Dum) International Airport.

THE CHARACTER OF THE CITY

Fashioned by the colonial British in the manner of a grand European capital--yet now set in one of the poorest and most overpopulated regions of India--Calcutta has grown into a city of sharp contrasts and contradictions. Calcutta has had to assimilate strong European influences and overcome the limitations of its colonial legacy in order to find its own unique identity. In the process it created an amalgam of East and West that found its expression in the life and works of the 19th-century Bengali elite and its most noteworthy figure, the poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore. This largest and most vibrant of Indian cities thrives amidst seemingly insurmountable economic, social, and political problems. Its citizens exhibit a great joie de vivre that is demonstrated in a penchant for art and culture and a level of intellectual vitality and political awareness unsurpassed in the rest of the country. No other Indian city can draw the kinds of crowds that throng to Calcutta's book fairs, art exhibitions, and concerts. There is a lively trading of polemics on walls, which has led to Calcutta being dubbed the "city of posters." Yet for all of Calcutta's vitality, many of the city's residents live in some of the worst conditions, far removed from the cultural milieu. The city's energy, however, penetrates even to the meanest of slums, as a large number of Calcuttans sincerely support the efforts of those who minister to the poor and suffering. In short, Calcutta remains an enigma to many Indians as well as to foreigners. It continues to puzzle newcomers and to arouse an abiding nostalgia in the minds of those who have lived there.

Topology

The location of the city appears to have been originally selected partly because of its easily defensible position and partly because of its favourable trading location. Its maximum elevation is about 30 feet (nine metres) above sea level. Eastward from the river the land slopes away to marshes and swamplands. Similar topography on the west bank of the river has confined the metropolitan area to a strip three to five miles wide on either bank of the river. Reclamation of the Salt Lake area on the northeastern fringe of the city demonstrated that the spatial expansion of the city is feasible, and further reclamation projects have been undertaken to the east, south, and west of the central area. The principal suburbs of Calcutta are Howrah (on the west bank), Baranagar to the north, South Dum Dum to the northeast, the South Suburban Municipality (Behala) to the south, and Garden Reach in the southwest. The whole urban complex is held together by close socioeconomic ties.

Climate

Calcutta has a tropical savanna climate. The annual mean temperature is 26.8'C, although monthly mean temperatures range from 20'C to 31.'C and maximum temperatures in Calcutta often exceed 40'C. The main seasonal influence upon the climate is the monsoon. Maximum rainfall occurs during the monsoon in August (306 mm) and the average annual total is 1,582 mm (WMO, 1971). Moderate north-westerly to north-easterly winds prevail for most of the year with a high frequency of calms. Early morning mists are common. Evening ´smog' often occurs due to nighttime temperature inversions and mixing heights are generally restricted to below 500 m during the night. Summer is dominated by strong south-westerly monsoon winds. Mean ventilation coefficients are greatest in the pre-monsoon (8,118 m2s-1) and monsoon (7,410 m2s-1) periods. Total duration of sunshine is 2,528 hours per annum with maximum insolation occurring in March.

Housing

The city has an acute housing shortage. Of the persons living in institutional shelters in the Calcutta Metropolitan District, more than two-thirds live in the city itself. About three-fourths of the housing units in the city are used for dwelling purposes only. There are hundreds of bustees, or slums, where about one-third of the city's population lives. A bustee is officially defined as "a collection of huts standing on a plot of land of at least one-sixth of an acre." There also are bustees built on less than one-sixth of an acre (one-fifteenth of a hectare). The majority of huts are tiny, unventilated, single-story rooms, often dilapidated. They have few sanitary facilities, and there is very little open space. The government sponsors a bustee-improvement program.

Population

Calcutta has the largest urban population in India. In 1990 the estimated population of the urban agglomeration was 11.83 million, UN estimates indicate that the population has risen from 6.91 million in 1970 and is projected to rise to 15.94 million by the year 2000. In 1981, 3.24 million (35 percent) out of 9.16 million residents were classified as slum dwellers.

The density of population is extremely high, about 85,500 persons per square mile (33,000 per square kilometre). Overcrowding has reached virtually intolerable proportions in many sections of the city. Calcutta has experienced a high rate of population growth for more than a century, but events such as the partitioning of Bengal in 1947 and warfare in Bangladesh in the early 1970s precipitated massive population influxes. Large refugee colonies have also sprung up in the northern and southern suburbs. In addition, a large number of migrants from other states--mostly from neighbouring Bihar and Orissa and eastern Uttar Pradesh--have come to Calcutta in search of employment. More than four- fifths of the population is Hindu. Muslims and Christians constitute the largest minorities, but there are some Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. The dominant language is Bengali, but Urdu, Oriya, Tamil, Punjabi, and other languages are also spoken. Calcutta is also a cosmopolitan city: other groups present include a variety of peoples from Asia (notably Bangladeshis and Chinese), Europeans, North Americans, and Australians. Calcutta was racially segregated under British rule, the Europeans living in the city centre and Indians living to the north and south. The pattern of segregation has continued in the modern city, although the distribution is now based on religious, linguistic, educational, and economic criteria. Slums and low-income residential areas, however, exist side-by-side with more affluent areas.

Economy

Calcutta's position as one of India's preeminent economic centres is rooted in its industries, financial and trade activities, and role as a major port; it is also a major centre for printing, publishing, and newspaper circulation, as well as for recreation and entertainment. The products of Calcutta's hinterland include coal, iron, manganese, mica, petroleum, tea, and jute. Unemployment has been a continuing and growing problem since the 1950s. Unemployment in Calcutta is, to a large extent, a problem of the college- educated and of people trained for clerical and other white-collar jobs.

Industry

Calcutta is the world's largest processor of jute. The jute industry was established in the 1870s, and mills now extend north and south of the city centre on both banks of the Hooghly River. The majority of 187,719 non-agricultural enterprises in Calcutta are wholesale and retail trade (41 percent); however, manufacturing and repair service do make up 23 percent of the total number of businesses. Most of the major polluting industries, such as heavy engineering, chemicals, jute, textiles, glass and ceramics, and paper, are listed in Table 11.1. Electricity is provided by two thermal power plants. Many heavy industries are found in the areas surrounding Calcutta and include coal mining, iron and steel, manganese, mica and refining. Tea and jute are the main agricultural products.

Coal is the principal industrial fuel used in Calcutta due to the close proximity of West Bengal's coalfields. Industrial coal consumption for 1989-90 is shown in Table 1. In addition to its industrial use, coal is also an important domestic fuel in Calcutta. lt is estimated that 90 percent of slum dwellings burn coal (and charcoal) as fuel which is believed to have an influence upon the high incidence of respiratory disease in these areas.

Finance and trade

The Calcutta stock exchange plays an important part in the organized financial market of the country. Foreign banks also have a significant business base in Calcutta although the city's importance as an international banking centre has declined. In addition, the controlling agency for coal mines is in Calcutta. Jute mills and large-scale engineering industries are also controlled from the city; and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Indian Chamber of Commerce are based there. That the city's economy is primarily mercantile is reflected in the fact that about two-fifths of the workers are employed in trade and commerce. Other important occupations include public-sector service in government departments, financial institutions, and medical and educational institutions. Private-sector services include the stock exchange, medical and educational services, legal services, accountancy and credit firms, chambers of commerce, and various utility services.

Transportation

The condition of the surfaced roads in the city is poor, although the traffic load is heavy. The mass-transportation system mainly depends on trams and buses. Trams are under government management. Buses are run by the government and by private companies. In 1986 the first section of a subway system--the first in India--was opened in the city. The connection between Calcutta and its hinterland to the west depends upon only a few bridges over the Hooghly--the Howrah Bridge and, farther north, the bridges at Bally and Naihati. The Howrah Bridge, Calcutta's main link with the hinterland, carries eight lanes of vehicular traffic, has two tramway tracks in the centre, and is one of the most heavily used bridges in the world. The Grand Trunk Road (National Highway No. 2) is one of the oldest road routes in India. It runs from Howrah to Kashmir and is the main route connecting the city with northern India. Other national highways connect Calcutta with the west coast of India, the northern part of West Bengal, and the frontier with Bangladesh. Two railway terminals--Howrah on the west bank and Sealdah on the east-- serve the railway networks running north and south as well as those running east and west. Calcutta's major air terminal, at Dum Dum, handles international and domestic flights. The Calcutta port handles--in terms of volume--one-tenth of India's import cargoes and about one-twelfth of its export cargoes. Some decline in traffic has occurred, however, partly because of problems encountered in dredging silt from the river and partly because of labour problems.

As in other Indian cities, it is estimated that at least 25 percent of all trips are made by walking. Calcutta's public Transport system comprises buses, trains, metro, trams, and ferries. In 1980 the bus was the predominant mode of Transport (excluding walking), accounting for 67 percent of all. motorized trips compared with only 34 percent in 1970; para-transit and railway account for a further 24 percent of trips. Buses and trams are important modes of Transport in the city centre as they link the railway stations with people's work places. The State Transport Corporation has a fleet of approximately 650 buses; however, private operators also run services and it is estimated that there are over 5,000 buses plying the roads of Calcutta and a further 4,300 in neighboring areas. lt is assumed that the majority of these buses are diesel-driven as in other Indian cities. Local trains mainly Transport commuters to the east of the city (approximately 85 percent of all rail passengers in Calcutta fall in this category). An underground suburban railway (metro) links Esplanade to Tollyganj, a distance of 16 km, and has helped to reduce traffic congestion.

lt is estimated that in 1980, 10.13 million motorized trips per day were made and that these will rise to 18.3 million by 2000, a slower rate of increase than for other Indian megacities (Faiz et al., 1990). However, total motor vehicle registrations have more than doubled between 1981 and 1989. In 1989 there were approximately 500,000 motor vehicles registered in the Calcutta's Metropolitan District. The most significant increase has been in the number of two wheelers (mainly scooters and mopeds) which generally have two-stroke engines. In 1980-81 the ratio of cars to two-wheelers was approximately 2:1; by 1988-90 the ratio was almost 1:1. In Howarda and other neighboring districts the number of two wheelers is increasing at a faster rate, and in these areas motor cycles, scooters and mopeds are the most common motor vehicle type.

Despite an extensive and varied public Transport system Calcutta is subject to severe congestion. Slow-moving traffic, such as bullock carts, rickshaws (pulled by people) and bicycles, combined with poor traffic planning, make traveling by road very difficult and have inevitably led to increased vehicular emissions. As in other Indian cities old motor vehicles tend to remain in circulation for many years. The engines of such "old" vehicles (both petrol- and diesel-driven) are often very inefficient in terms of combustion and therefore make a large contribution to overall Transport emissions.

Administration & Services

Government

Government in the city proper is the responsibility of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation; the corporation's council is composed of one elected representative from each of the city's 100 wards. The council members annually elect a mayor, a deputy mayor, and a number of committees to conduct the activities of the corporation. A commissioner, the executive head of the corporation, is responsible to its elected membership. The city is also a part of the Calcutta Metropolitan District, an entity created to oversee planning and development on a regional basis. This district includes a large rural hinterland around the urban centres. Because Calcutta is the capital of West Bengal, the governor resides in the city in the historic Raj Bhavan. The state Legislative Assembly is located in the city, as is the Secretariat, housed in the Writers' Building, with the state ministries in charge of various departments. The Calcutta High Court, exercising original jurisdiction over the city and appellate jurisdiction over West Bengal, is also located there. A number of national government institutions--including the National Library, the Indian Museum, and the Geological Survey of India--are also in the city.

Services

Filtered water is supplied from the main waterworks located outside the city at Palta, as well as from some 200 major wells and 3,000 smaller ones. The Farakka Barrage (dam) on the Ganges, 240 miles upriver from Calcutta, ensures a generally saline-free water supply for the city; but because existing water supplies are inadequate, salinity continues to be a problem during the dry months. In addition, unfiltered water, supplied daily for watering the city streets and for the fire brigade, is used by many residents for their daily needs. This circumstance was largely responsible for the former prevalence of cholera during the summer months, but chlorination of unfiltered water and cholera inoculation have reduced considerably the occurrence of the disease. Municipal Calcutta has several hundred miles of sewers and surface drains, but much of the city remains unsupplied with sewers. Accumulation of silt has narrowed many sewer channels. Unsanitary methods of human- waste disposal persist in the unsewered areas of the city. The system of removing garbage and of garbage dumping is also unsatisfactory. Calcutta is supplied with electricity by a variety of sources, including the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation; West Bengal State Electricity Board; Durgapur Projects, Ltd.; Bandel Thermal Power Station; Santaldih Power Station; and Damodar Valley Corporation Grid. There is still a gap, however, between generating capacity and potential demand, and temporary power interruptions occur on occasion. Administration of the Calcutta police force is vested in the city's commissioner of police, as is direction of the suburban police force. The city is divided into four police divisions. The fire brigade has its headquarters in central Calcutta.

Health

Smallpox has been completely eradicated from the city, and death from malaria and enteric fever has been brought under control. The incidence of tuberculosis has also declined. Hundreds of hospitals, private clinics, free dispensaries run by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and charitable trusts, and state-operated polyclinics serve the Calcutta region. The Order of the Missionaries of Charity, an organization founded (1948) by Mother Teresa (recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1979), cares for the blind, the aged, the dying, and lepers in the poorest sections of the city. There are several medical colleges in addition to other medical research centres. The number of doctors per 1,000 persons is greater in Calcutta than in most parts of the country, but their distribution is uneven; and since the city is a medical centre for the northeastern region of India, its health-care facilities are always overcrowded

Education

Education has long been a mark of higher social status in Calcutta. The city has been a centre of learning since the resurgence in Indian education that began in Bengal in the early 19th century. The first English-style school, the Hindu College (later called Presidency College), was founded in 1817. Primary education is supervised by the government of West Bengal and is free in schools run by the municipal corporation. A large number of children, however, attend recognized schools that are under private management. Most secondary schools are under the supervision of the state, but some are accredited through the national government and a few through the British educational system. Calcutta has three major universities: the University of Calcutta, Jadavpur University, and Rabindra Bharati University. The University of Calcutta, founded in 1857, has more than 150 affiliated colleges. Besides these colleges, university colleges of arts (humanities), commerce, law, medicine, science, and technology specialize in postgraduate teaching and research. Jadavpur University has three faculties--arts (humanities), science, and engineering. Although the university has a small number of colleges affiliated with it, its main focus is on graduate and postgraduate instruction on a single campus. Rabindra Bharati University specializes in humanities and the fine arts (dance, drama, and music). Research institutions include the Indian Statistical Institute, the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, the Bose Institute (natural science), and the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, which is a constituent college of the University of Calcutta.

Urbanisation Process

The Early Period

The name Kalikata had been mentioned in the rent-roll of the Mughal emperor Akbar (reigned 1556-1605) and also in the Manasa-mangal of the Bengali poet Bipradas (1495). The history of Calcutta as a British settlement dates from the establishment of a trading post there by Job Charnock, an agent of the English East India Company, in 1690. Charnock had previously had disputes with officials of the Mughal Empire at the river port of Hooghly and had been obliged to leave, after which he attempted unsuccessfully to establish himself at other places down the river. When the Mughal officials, not wishing to lose what they had gained from the English company's commerce, permitted Charnock to return once more, he chose Calcutta as the seat of his operations. The site was apparently carefully selected, being protected by the Hooghly River on the west, a creek to the north, and by salt lakes about two and a half miles to the east. Rival Dutch, French, and other European settlements were higher up the river on the west bank, so that access from the sea was not threatened, as it was at the port of Hooghly. The river at this point was also wide and deep; the only disadvantage was that the marshes to the east and swamps within the area made the spot unhealthy. Moreover, before the coming of the English, three local villages--Sutanati, Kalikata, and Gobindapore, which were later to become parts of Calcutta--had been chosen as places to settle by Indian merchants who had migrated from the silted-up port of Satgaon, farther upstream. The presence of these merchants may have been to some extent responsible for Charnock's choice of the site. By 1696, when a rebellion broke out in the nearby district of Burdwan, the Mughal provincial administration had become friendly to the growing settlement. The servants of the company, who asked for permission to fortify their trading post, or factory, were given permission in general terms to defend themselves. The rebels were easily crushed by the Mughal government, but the settlers' defensive structure of brick and mud remained and in 1700 came to be known as Fort William. In 1698 the English obtained letters patent that granted them the privilege of purchasing the zamindari right (the right of revenue collection; in effect, the ownership) of the three villages.

Growth of the city

In 1717 the Mughal emperor Farrukh-siyar granted the East India Company freedom of trade in return for a yearly payment of 3,000 rupees; this arrangement gave a great impetus to the growth of Calcutta. A large number of Indian merchants flocked to the city. The servants of the company, under the company's flag, carried on a duty-free private trade. When the Marathas from the southwest began incursions against the Mughals in the western districts of Bengal in 1742, the English obtained permission from 'Ali Vardi Khan, the nawab (ruler) of Bengal, to dig an entrenchment in the northern and eastern part of the town to form a moat on the land side. This came to be known as the Maratha Ditch. Although it was not completed to the southern end of the settlement, it marked the city's eastern boundary. In 1756 the Nawab's successor, Siraj-ud-Dawlah, captured the fort and sacked the town. Calcutta was recaptured in January 1757 by Robert Clive, one of the founders of British power in India, and by the British admiral Charles Watson. The Nawab was defeated shortly afterward at Plassey (June 1757), after which British rule in Bengal was assured. Gobindapore was cleared of its forests, and the new Fort William was built on its present site, overlooking the Hooghly at Calcutta, where it became the symbol of British military ascendancy. Calcutta did not become the capital of British India until 1772, when the first governor-general, Warren Hastings, transferred all important offices to the city from Murshidabad, the provincial Mughal capital. In 1773 Bombay and Madras became subordinate to the government at Fort William. A supreme court administering English law began to exercise original jurisdiction over the city as far as the Maratha Ditch (now Acharya Prafulla Chandra and Jagadish Chandra Bose roads). In 1706 the population of Calcutta had been about 10,000 to 12,000. It increased to nearly 120,000 by 1752 and to 180,000 by 1821. The White (British) Town was built on ground that had been raised and drained. There were so many palaces in the British sector of the city that it was named the "city of palaces." Outside the British town were built the mansions of the newly rich, as well as clusters of huts. The names of different quarters of the city--such as Kumartuli (the potters' district) and Sankaripara (the conch-shell workers' district)--still indicate the various occupational castes of the people who became residents of the growing metropolis. Two distinct areas-- one British, one Indian--came to coexist in Calcutta. Calcutta at this time was described as a pestilential town. There were few good roads. In 1814 a Lottery Committee was constituted to finance public improvement by means of lotteries, and between 1814 and 1836 it took some effective measures to improve conditions. The corporation was established in 1841. Cyclones in 1864, 1867, and 1870, however, devastated the poorer, low-lying areas. By successive stages, as British power extended over the subcontinent, the whole of northern India became a hinterland for the port of Calcutta. The abolition of inland customs duties in 1835 created an open market, and the construction of railways (beginning in 1854) further quickened the development of business and industry. It was at this time that the Grand Trunk Road from Calcutta to Peshawar (now in Pakistan) was completed. British mercantile, banking, and insurance interests flourished. The Indian sector of Calcutta also became a busy hub of commerce and was thronged with people from all parts of India and many other parts of Asia. Calcutta became the intellectual centre of the subcontinent.

Calcutta in the 20th Century

The 20th century marked the beginning of Calcutta's woes. Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, partitioned Bengal in 1905, making Dacca (now Dhaka) the capital of eastern Bengal and Assam. Insistent agitation led to the annulment of this partition, but in 1912 the capital of British India was removed from Calcutta to Delhi, where the government could enjoy relative calm. The partition of Bengal in 1947 was a final blow. As Calcutta's population grew larger, social problems also became more insistent, as did demands for home rule for India. Communal riots occurred in 1926, and, when Mahatma Gandhi called for noncompliance with unjust laws, riots occurred in 1930. In World War II, Japanese air raids upon the Calcutta docks caused damage and loss of life. The most serious communal riots of all took place in 1946, when the partition of British India became imminent and tensions between Muslims and Hindus reached their height. In 1947 the partition of Bengal between India and Pakistan constituted a serious setback for Calcutta, which became the capital of West Bengal only, losing the trade of a part of its former hinterland. At the same time, millions of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) flocked to Calcutta, aggravating social problems and increasing overcrowding, which had already assumed serious proportions. Economic stagnation in the mid-1960s further increased the instability of the city's social and political life and fueled a flight of capital from the city. The management of many companies was assumed by the state government. Particularly in the 1980s, large-scale public works programs and centralized regional planning contributed to the improvement of economic and social conditions in the city.


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