Trade & Industry History of West Bengal
West Bengal stretches from the Himalayas in the north, to the Bay of Bengal in the south. Bengal was probably the wealthiest part of the subcontinent up until the 16th century. Portuguese traders and missionaries were the first Europeans to reach Bengal in the latter part of the 15th century. They were followed by representatives from the Netherlands, France, and the British East India Company.
In the last two decades of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese established the major port of Hooghly (downstream from Satgaon), built up their community in Chittagong, and established mercantile colonies in and around Dhaka. Although the Portuguese never replaced Asian merchants in Bengal’s maritime trade, as is often supposed, the appearance of European merchants in the sixteenth century certainly stimulated demand for Bengali manufactures, which served to accelerate local production of those goods.
From 1615 onwards, the Dutch East India Company traded with Bengal. In 1635 a settlement was established at Chinsurah adjacent to Hooghly to trade in opium, salt, muslin and spices. A famous Frenchman, General Perron who served as military advisor to the Mahrattas, settled in this Dutch colony and built a large house here. Trade thrived in Bengal in the early eighteenth century, to such an extent that the administrators of the Dutch East India Company allowed Hooghly-Chinsura in 1734 to trade directly with the Dutch Republic, instead of first delivering their goods to Batavia. The only other Dutch East India Company settlement to have this right was Dutch Ceylon.
Chandannagar was established as a French colony in 1673, when the French obtained permission from Ibrahim Khan, the Nawab of Bengal, to establish a trading post on the right bank of the Hooghly River. It became a permanent French settlement in 1688, and in 1730 Joseph François Dupleix was appointed governor of the city, during whose administration more than two thousand brick houses were erected in the town and a considerable maritime trade was carried on. For a time, Chandannagar was the main center for European commerce in Bengal.
The East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and Calcutta served for many years as the capital of British India. The British East India Company was the British Empire Authority delegated in Bengal from the 17th century to the middle of 20th century. The Dutch and the French were the first jute traders. The company began trading mainly in raw jute during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The United Kingdom's industrialisation brought new purpose to the jute industry. From the mid-19th century, the company started trading raw jute with the United States, Europe and other countries. Scotland's Dundee jute factory injected new blood to the industry. This company and later the British Empire had monopolistic access to this trade during that time. Jute factories were set up around the areas where it mainly grew, the Hooghly river-banks.
The agents of the East India Company first visited the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, for trade during the period of Ibrahim Khan (ca 1617-1624), the Subahdar(Governor) of Bengal at the time of Delhi Emperor Jahangir. The first "factory" (that is, warehouse and trading post) was established in Surat in 1620. In 1634, a Firman (royal decree) was obtained from the Emperor Shah Jahan which allowed them to establish a factory in Bengal. The investment in Bengal soared, the Bengal residency was separated from Madras.
The nineteenth century saw a major rise in the industrial scenario of Bengal. Mechanized paper manufacture was started in Bally Mills, Hooghly around 1870. Paper Mills were consequently established in Titagarh in 1884 and in Hooghly in 1894. In Raniganj, Bengal Paper Mill was set up in 1891. Mining Industry too flourished during this period as Bengal Coal Company was established in 1843. By 1860, fifty collieries were functioning in and around Raniganj. In 1820, Breen & Company
and Butterly Company merged to establish M/s Jessop and Co. Cotton Mills, Jute Mills and Plantation firms too grew at a rapid pace along the Hooghly River Bank during this period.
Many PSUs too chose Calcutta to establish their headquarters. In 1910, Imperial Tobacco Company (later ITC), was formed with its headquarters in Calcutta. In 1975, Coal India Limited was founded and headquartered in Calcutta. In 1931 Bata India Limited the Company was incorporated at Calcutta. In 1892 Britannia Industries were established in Calcutta. In 1948, Damodar Valley Corporation was established with its headquarters in Calcutta. Apart from these, CESC Limited, IFB Industries, RPG Group,
Bengal Ambuja, Linc Pen & Plastics, Philips India, Eveready Industries, Visa Group, India Govt. Mint, Peerless Group, Usha Martin, Jai Balaji group, Orient Airways, KKN Group, Bengal Ambuja, Berger Paints India Ltd, SIMOCO (First Wireless Equipment and Mobile phone manufacturers from East India), Emami Ltd., Eveready Industries India Ltd., Stewarts & Lloyds of India, Ltd., and Titagarh Wagons and National Insurance Company have also established their headquarters in Calcutta more recently
Contents provided by the Commerce & Industries Department, Government of West Bengal
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