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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery

Is Calcutta in a death spiral?  News accounts suggest otherwise.  IBM is reported intent on hiring 4,000 people here; Wipro has a 40-acre site with a planned 1,000 employees; humble Frito-Lay says it's about to start making potato chips locally.  There are new residential projects: one, called South City, will have four 35-story apartment buildings.  Residents will have broadband connectivity, and they'll have access to an on-site shopping center billed as the largest in India.  Another shopping center, Forum Mall, has a fourth-floor multiplex and a restaurant named Oh! Calcutta!  Even West Bengal's communist ministers a few years ago acknowledged that jobs depend on private investment, and they helped push the economy to an annual rate of growth of 8.4% in 2002; the national figure was 5.4%. 

The pictures here just sample these changes and conclude with an atmospheric trip to the famous Kidderpore docks.  

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Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 1

We're still on Chowringhee, where Tata Steel has this proud tower.  The unfortunate fact for proud Bengalis is that this is a branch office of the company, headquartered in Mumbai.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 2

Calcutta does have one symbol of modern cities. We're headed downstairs, under Chowringhee.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 3

Yes, a subway: India's first.  Since 1995, it has operated on a 10-mile, north-south route; an additional 50 miles await construction.  Why did subways come first to Calcutta?  The answer may be that the city had the country's worst road congestion.  Why?  Not because it had the most vehicles but because roads covered less than five percent of the city's surface area; in Delhi, by contrast, roads covered 25%.  Calcutta's congestion was so bad that many one-way streets began changing direction at different times of day; even so, taxis coming in from the airport avoided bottlenecks by using lanes so narrow that passengers couldn't believe they were on the way to the city center.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 4

Another solution to congestion is to move east to the satellite city of Bidhan Nagar, named for Dr. Bidhan Chandra Ray, a  Chief Minister of West Bengal.  The 15-square-kilometer site is artificial, reclaimed from salt lakes filled by 1962.  Commonly called Salt Lake, the town opened in sectors, at first residential but then industrial.  Many government offices and business enterprises have moved here, where gridded blocks are arranged in a diamond shape around a central park.  Here, residential flats.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 5

Here, single- or two-family homes.

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Calcutta for many years had only two first class hotels. Since then a Hyatt International has opened in Salt Lake--a good location for businessmen, a terrible one for tourists.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 7

In an industrial sector: Bharat Heavy Electricals.  Bengal is full of talent, and wages are low even by Indian standards.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 8

And now south to the famous Kidderpore Docks, where ships can tie up to cannon.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 9

Calcutta does have a container port farther downstream; ships tied-up here apparently went to the Andaman Islands.

Northern India: Calcutta's Periphery picture 10

In the distance, the two towers and suspension cables of the second Hooghly Bridge.


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