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West Bengal is one of the main states of eastern India. With over 91 million residents, this state is considered as the fourth most populated state of the entire India. Established on the 1st November 1956 as a state of independent India, West Bengal had witnessed a glorious historical revolution over the period of time.

History of West Bengal

Ancient Bengal

The earliest mention of Bengal can be found in the old epic of Mahabharata, as 'Vanga', which was one of the three kingdoms of ‘Bharata Varsha’. This was the region where the holy water used to flow along with the presence of holy palaces. As per ancient scriptures, the Pandavas had attacked the empire of Vanga under Bhima’s leadership. The name of Bengal or Bangla, is derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga or Banga. During those times, this eastern territory was divided into smaller kingdoms and was under the rule of the powerful tribal chieftains.

History of West Bengal
An ancient map showing the early Bengal region / Harekrsna

As per the ancient records in Vedic literature, the ancient Bengal was inhabited by several small and primitive barbarian tribes of various races. The original inhabitants of Bengal were not Aryans, rather Dravidians. The Aryans came to Bengal after the Vedic period. It is assumed that the Brahmins and other high castes of Bengal were the descendants of the Aryan invaders, who forced their culture upon the primitive barbarian tribes of this region. With Aryan conquest, the entire Bengal region got divided into few small but strong kingdoms like, Pundra, Suhma, Anga, Vanga, Samatata and Harikela. The north western Bengal along with a part of Bihar were then a part of Magadha.

Medieval Bengal

Since the beginning of Aryan invasion, with the dawn of monarchs’ rule in India many dynasties exercised their control over Bengal. There is no recorded history of this region before the 3rd century. With reference to the early Sanskrit literature, during the 3rd century BCE, Bengal came under the Mauryan Empire under the able leadership of Emperor Chandra Gupta Maurya. The Mauryans dictated these parts of the land till the rule of Ashoka finally giving way to the rule of Mahameghavahana Dynasty, Shunga Dynasty and Kanva Dynasty.

Medieval History of West Bengal
The mighty Gupta Empire / Classzone

After the Mauryan rule, Guptas earned sovereignty over this region and established their strong rule in Bengal. The establishment of Gupta Empire under King Chandra Gupta II Vikramaditya marked the end of all small kingdoms that flourished in Bengal, ruled by tribal chiefs. The Pala Dynasty followed the Guptas and established their strong rule in the territory, from about 800 AD till the 11th century, spreading Buddhism over this region. Many outstanding Buddhist temples with rich artworks were built during this period. Then came the rule of the Sena Empire. Sena Dynasty lost the kingdom of Bengal to Qutub-Ud-In-Aibak, the Sultan of Delhi, in the beginning of 13th century.

From the beginning of the 13th century till mid-18th century, Bengal was under the influence of various Muslim rulers. This started with the Khilji Rule in 1203AD when Ikhtiyar ad-Din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji took over the city of Nawadweep by defeating the old emperor Lakshman Sen. Subsequently he captured Gaur city and conquered the entire Bengal.

The Khilji dynasty was present in Bengal till 1227AD with their last ruler Ghiyas-ud-din Iwaz Khilji, who ruled for 15 years in the region and finally got defeated to the Delhi Sultanate. The Delhi Sultanate is found by the Slave Dynasty with Shams-ud-din Iltutmish as their king. Iltutmish defeated Ghiyaz-ud-din Khilji and took over the Bengal rule in 1228AD after capturing and executing the former ruler. The Delhi Sultanate rule continued till 1281AD and with the death of the then ruler Tughral Tughan Khan got under the reign of the Balban Dynasty who then gave way to the Tughlaq Sultanate in 1324AD. During this time Bengal got its first governors and independent sultans who were given the sovereign authority on small parts of the land.

West Bengal History
An artist's interpretation of early Khilji Dynasty / Flickr

During 1342AD Ilyas Shah an independent sultan of Sonargaon consolidated the entire Bengal region and brought it as one independent medieval Islamic state known as the Bengal Sultanate. This sultanate was in power till 1414AD when it was overtook by the House of Raja Ganesh whose rule continued till 1435 AD. Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah of the Ilyas Shahi Dynasty overtook the throne and restored their second ruling term 1487AD. Bengal was then ruled by many different sovereigns namely, Habshi Rule 1487-1494 AD, Hussain Shahi Dynasty 1494-1538 AD, Muhammad Shah dynasty 1554-1564 AD, Karrani dynasty 1564-1576 AD.

Then came the age of the Mughal Rule. The Mughals ruled over almost the entire India along with Bengal for more than two centuries. During the Mughal rule governors were appointed who acknowledged the suzerainty of the Delhi sultanate but mainly under independent rulers. The tryst of Bengal with Muslim culture started with this phase only. As an influence of the Muslim culture, conversions began to take place in the state and it also witnessed the development of art, culture and cottage industries. Production of items like muslin brought Bengal to limelight, as they were in great demand in other parts of the world. This phase of Muslim reign surely left an everlasting impact on Bengali culture.

During 1757 Bengal witnessed the famous Battle of Plassey between the British forces under Robert Clive and the then Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah. The battle took place at Palashi on the banks of Bhagirathi river of Bengal. The battle took place after the attack and plunder of Calcutta by Siraj-ud-Daulah. This was a 7 year war which changed the entire scenario of Bengal. Siraj-ud-Daulah fought with courage but got defeated due to a conspiracy between British East India Company and Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Lutuf Khan. This was one of the important battles of South Asia which marked the beginning of colonial powers in Bengal. In 1765 the nominal Mughal emperor of northern India, Shah Alam II, granted to the British East India Company the ‘Diwani’ of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa that is, the right to collect and administer the revenues of those areas.

Foreign Influence on Bengal

The modern history of Bengal can be traced back to the 16th century, when foreign influences started disturbing the traditional monarchy of the state. With Bengal becoming more and more prominent with its ever growing textile market and strategic location Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French and British influence started to colonise within its territory.

The Portuguese colonization started in India from 1505, six years after the discovery of the Portugal and India sea route. They made two major ports one at Chittagong in the east and one at Satgaon in the west of the Indian territory to monopolise their trading routes. They were mainly traders and used the Adi Ganga which flows through present Kolkata as their passage to the main sea. They expanded their territory and settled in various parts of Bengal like Chinsurah, Bandel and Kolkata.

Chinsurah in the present Hoogly district was found and developed by the Portuguese East India Company in 1579. In the same year the company built their first port on the banks of river Hoogly. The city flourished as a trading port. Many religious structures were built during their rule on the land. One such structure is a church dedicated to a charismatic statue of the Mother Mary brought by the Portuguese. One of the oldest churches of Bengal was established in Bandel by the Portuguese settlers in 1599. This church is known as the Basilica of the Holy Rosary or as we know the famous “Bandel Church”.  Two more churches were built by the Portuguese in Hijli in the Midnapore district of West Bengal.

Foreign rule in West Bengal
An artist's interpretation of first appearance of the Dutch East India Company / Historynotes

The Dutch presence in Bengal started in 1610, when Bengal became the Directorate to the Dutch East India Company. The trading started in 1615 and by 1627 the Dutch made their first trading post in the Pipely district. From 1635 opium, salt, muslin and spices trade centres were established in the Chinsurah district. Fort Gustavius, Church and many Dutch buildings were built in the Chinsurah-Hoogly region. The Dutch power started to decline with the occurrence of the Battle of Plassey when the British East India Company started to increase their presence in Bengal. The Dutch Trading company continued to rule till 1800 when parts of Bengal came under the direct rule the Kingdom of Netherlands. This rule continued till 1825 when finally Bengal came under the British rule as per the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

Along with the Dutch, Denmark also started their trade with India and set up the Danish East India Company in 1620. Many Danish colonies were set up in various parts of India along with Serampore in Bengal. The Danish presence was not that strong as compared to the other European powers and they could never monopolize any trading route in India. During 1755 a commercial outpost was established by them at Serampore and was known as Frederiksnagore. Few of the Danish colonies including Bengal kept their presence till 1869 when finally they had to give way to the British empire.

The French colonization began with the starting of the second half of the 17th century at various parts of India including Chandan Nagar in Bengal. In 1692, Chandernagore as the French used to say was established after taking permission of the then Mughal governer of Bengal, Shaista Khan. Post the defeat of the French army in the hands of Lord Robert Clive of British rule, the French gave up hope of ruling the Indian lands and concentrated more on trade and commerce. They expanded their trade base in Bengal by maintaining a friendly relation with the Bengal Nawabs. It is said that the French rule encouraged Shiraj-ud-Daulah to attack Fort William of the British empire in Calcutta, which resulted in the infamous Battle of Plassey.
 
The British came to Bengal in 1690, as traders, and extended their grip over the entire state, in about 60 years. On the other hand, Mughal dynasty began losing their grip over the state.

Bengal under British Raj

British Raj in West BengalAfter the defeat of Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah through conspiracy, the entire Bengal region came under the East India Company (a mercantile company of England) on June 23, 1757.  Although they started off as traders but with time they became the ruler of the land. Bengal was officially made a part of British Empire in 1764, after the battle of Buxar. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, that eventually included all British territories north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. East India Company, then, fixed a Subehdar of the state and acquired administerial as well as financial power.

Territorial rule by a trading company resulted in the commercialization of power. The initial effects of the British rule were highly destructive. The oppression and tyranny on the people of Bengal reached new heights which affected every village, every market and every manufacturer’s loom. The springs of their industry were stopped; the sources of their wealth dried up. This was the point from where the actual colonization of India began. During 1770, The Bengal famine claimed millions of lives and made the lives of the locals worse. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The capital amassed in Bengal was invested in the nascent British industries that contributed to the industrial revolution in England.

The muslin industry virtually disappeared in the wake of British rule. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj Socio - Cultural Reform Movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. By the Regulating Act of 1773, Warren Hastings became the first British governor-general of Bengal. The British-controlled government, centred at Calcutta (now Kolkata), was declared to be supreme: essentially, the governor-general of Bengal was the chief executive of British India. Thus, the Bengal Presidency, as the province was known, had powers of superintendence over the other British presidencies, those of Madras (now Chennai) and Bombay (now Mumbai).

The British rule in Bengal promoted simultaneously the forces of unity and division in the society. At the same time, the British rule brought to surface the rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims, which had lain dormant during the 500 years of Muslim rule. The Hindu middle class, primarily originated from trading classes which styled itself as the Bhadralok, was the greatest beneficiary of British rule. On the contrary, the establishment of the British rule deprived the immigrant Muslim aristocracy (Ashraf) of state patronage. In the 19th century, the conflict between Muslim peasants and Hindu landlords was reinforced by the rivalry between Hindu and Muslim middle classes. Jute Cultivation also gained significant expansion. The increase in jute exports benefited the surplus farmers (Jotedars) in Bengal.

The first organized militant movements were in Bengal, but they later took to the political stage in the form of a mainstream movement in the then newly formed Indian National Congress (INC), with prominent moderate leaders seeking only their basic right to appear for Indian Civil Service examinations, as well as more rights, economic in nature, for the people of the soil.

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 or the Sepoy Mutiny was considered as India’s First War for Independence. This had its effect in Calcutta and the eastern part of India. The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858 and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. In 1911, the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. This was the phase when discontentment began in the state, which led to its strong involvement in the freedom struggle. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943 that claimed 3 million lives.

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhas Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British. In 1947, when India gained independence, Bengal was divided between India and Pakistan. The Hindu-dominated West Bengal was given to India and the Muslim-dominated East Bengal went with Pakistan. West Bengal became the witness of one of the worst religious riots after independence.

West Bengal Post Independence

With India finally attaining independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along the religious lines. The western part of Bengal stayed as a part of India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part went to the Pakistan as a province called East Bengal. Later this part was renamed as the East Pakistan which finally became an independent country in 1971 and got the name of Bangladesh. Princely State of Cooch Bihar merged with West Bengal in 1950 and in 1955 the former French colony of Chandannagar got included into West Bengal.

During 1956 India was disintegrated into various states based on the language of the local residents West Bengal Post Independenceand on political reorganization. As a result of this West Bengal gained approximately 3,140 square miles (8,130 square km) from Bihar. The Bengal Partition is still considered as the worst religious partition in the history of India. Post 1947, both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee entry. The political and socio-economic condition of the state was in a turmoil during this phase and refugee settlement became a huge problem for the Government of India. The partition of Bengal left West Bengal with ill-defined boundaries and a constant inflow of non-Muslim, mostly Hindu, refugees from East Pakistan. The number of Hindu refugees were more than 7 million and their rehabilitation became an immense burden on the administration.

Between 1960 and 1970, West Bengal faced the violent Marxist - Naxalite Movement which destroyed most of the state's infrastructure along with a generation of young and bright minds. This was clubbed with the severe power shortages and industrial strikes that created an economic stagnancy in the state. Then came the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 that resulted in refugee influx to West Bengal. In 1974 West Bengal faced the smallpox epidemic, which killed thousands of lives. This phase of 25 years was the darkest era in the Bengal history.

In 1977 the Left Front won assembly election against Indian National Congress and brought about a sea change in the political scenario of West Bengal. With the Leftist government who idealized Marxism, West Bengal gained political and economic stability. During the mid-1990s various economic reforms were introduced by the central government which in turn helped all the states of India. These reforms came in the form of the information technology and IT-enabled services.

With the LPG economic reforms of 1991, the economy of West Bengal gained further momentum. With the passage of time, West Bengal has emerged as one of the most developed states in India. Although the GDP had constantly risen post 1990s, but West Bengal had always remained affected by the political instability and bad governance. The state continues to suffer from regular bandhs (strikes), a low Human Development Index level, substandard healthcare services, a lack of socio-economic development, poor infrastructure, political corruption and civil violence.

Since mid-2000s, some part of the state started to witness terrorist attacks and agitation. The issue of industrial land acquisition became the main cause for the election loss of the Left Front in 2011 Assembly Election. After three decades of rule the party finally was voted out of office. Left Front still remains as the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist. All India Trinamool (or Trinamul) Congress became the winner of the state legislative elections on 2011and it formed a coalition government with the centre led by the Indian National Congress.

Also See:  History of Kolkata | History of Haldia | History of Siliguri | History of Howrah | History of Raiganj | History of Kalyani | History of Darjeeling | History of Asansol

Geography of West Bengal

West Bengal, the fourth most populated state of independent India is blessed with a diverse topography. Situated in the eastern India, the state comprises of high peaks of Himalaya in the northern boundaries and coastal regions of the Bay of Bengal to the southern limit. There are regions such as plateau and Ganges Delta intervening in between. West Bengal is only state in India which has such diversity in its geographical presence.

Location of West Bengal

The exact location of the state is in between 85 degree 50 minutes and 89 degree 50 minutes east longitude, and 21 degrees 38 minutes and 27 degrees 10 minutes north latitude. The total area of the state is approximately 88,752 square kilo metres (34,267 sq miles). The state is covered with Bangladesh on its eastern border, the states of Assam and Sikkim lie to its north east with Bhutan, and to its southwest lays the Orissa state. The state of Jharkhand and Bihar covers the western borders and the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal lies to the northwest. The capital of the West Bengal is Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) which is the third largest urban agglomeration and is also the third largest city of India. The Bengal state is a part of the ethno-linguistic region.

Topography of West Bengal

Darjeeling Himalayan Hill Region

On the North - Western side of West Bengal is the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region. This region comprises of the entire Darjeeling district, except for Siliguri division and northern Jalpaiguri district. The deep gorge of Teesta River has divided this mountainous region into two parts: the Singalila and Darjeeling ranges. The Singalila range is located along the border of Darjeeling and Nepal and has the highest point of West Bengal, Sandakfu which at 3,636 metres (11,929 ft) above sea level.

Other than that there are three other important peaks present in the region – Phalut, Sabargam and Tonglu. Two high peaks, Tiger Hill and Ghoom are present near Darjeeling. Many ranges branch off in different directions from Tiger Hill. In the eastern part stands the Durpindara Mountain with few more important mountains of the Terai or Dooars region. Some remnants of the Siwaliks can be seen in the Jalpaiguri district, where they are known as the Buxa - Jayanti Hills.

Geography of West Bengal
Beautiful snow capped mountains of the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill Region / Himalayantravels

Terai Region

At the base of the Himalayas, lie the ‘‘Terai belt’’ (moist land), which is a strip of marshy grasslands, savannas, and forests. This region is stretched southwards to about 38 km and comprise of the plains of Darjeeling District, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district and upper region of Cooch Behar District in West Bengal. The topography of this region mainly constitutes of a high water table made of layers of clay and sand that creates many springs and wetlands.

Beside the Terai region lays the Bhabhar, a forested belt of rock, gravel, and soil eroded from the Himalayas and the Terai - Duar savanna and grasslands. The evergreen and deciduous forests, the savannas and the tall grasslands, form the spectrum of the Terai – Duar savanna and wetlands. Every year, the Terai zone gets flooded by the monsoon - swollen rivers of the Himalaya. The general height of the land is 80 to 100 metres with a slight slant. Some of the important Himalayan rivers which flow through this Terai region and make the West Bengal soil fertile are Teesta, Torsa, Raidak, Jaldhaka, Sankosh and several other small rivulets. The entire Terai region has been broken by river Teesta into two parts - the western part is known as the Terai whereas the eastern part is known as the Dooars or Duars.

North Bengal Plains

The southern parts of the Jalpaiguri district, North Dinajpur excluding the northern regions, Malda, South Dinajpur and southern Cooch Behar districts constitutes the North Bengal Plains. Starting from the south of Terai region, these plains extends up to the left bank of the Ganges. The narrow land mass in the North Dinajpur district is known as Mahananda Corridor. The corridor runs from north to south and joins Malda with the plains of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar.

Mahananda River divides the district of Malda into two parts. The eastern part consists of old alluvium while the western part is made up of new alluvium soil. The eastern banks of Mahananda are mostly undulating plains with small Tilas, while the western part is where River Kalindi joins the main river. The part of Malda lying to the north of river Kalindi is known as Tal, whereas the area south of the Kalindi is a very fertile land and is known as Diara.

The southern plains of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district are formed of the new alluvium deposited by numerous rivers like the Teesta, Torsa, Raidak, Jaldhaka, Sankosh, Balason, Punarbhaba, Atrai and several other small rivulets.

Rarh Region

Parts of the districts Murshidabad, Birbhum, Bankura, Bardhaman and Midnapore constitute the Rarh region. The entire place is at an elevation of 50 meters to 100 meters above the mean sea level. This region is believed to be created from the soil of the Deccan plateau. This region is formed by the Deccan plateau soil which is deposited in the form of silt brought by all the tributaries of Bhagirathi, Ajay River, Damodar River, Mayurakshi River, and Rupnarayan River which flow over the western plateau region. The Rarh region is made up of laterite soil which makes the soil red in colour.

Coastal Plain

A small coastal region is on the extreme south of the state. A part of Purba Midnapore district along the Bay of Bengal constitutes the coastal plain. The plain is made up of sand and mud deposited by rivers and wind. Sand dunes and marshy areas are commonly found in this region. The Digha dune lies nearest to the Bay of Bengal while the Kanthi dune is the farthest from it. In some areas dunes occur at a distance of 15 to16 kilo meters from the coast and are 11 to 12 meters high.

Sunderbans

Situated in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, the Sundarban delta is the largest mangrove forest of the world. The natural beauty of this place reflects in the name of the place, which translates as “the beautiful forest” in the locally spoken Bengali language. Sundarbans are considered to be the starting of Ganges in the state. Sundarbans and Sundarbans National Park are both part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site separately, though they are parts of the same forest.

Geography of West Bengal
The beautiful Sunderbans of West Bengal / Travelsity

The topography of Sundarbans is a mix of the multiple tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt - tolerant mangrove forests. This region is a treasure trove of the ongoing rich ecological processes. This area has been formed by deposition of silt by its numerous rivers namely Hoogly, Matla River, Jamira River, Gosaba River, Saptamukhi River, Haribhanga River and their tributaries and is at an average elevation of 10 metres above the mean sea level. Sundarbans is famous for the presence of a wide range of flora and fauna. This is also the only natural habitat of the world famous and the magnificent Royal Bengal Tiger.

Western Plateau and High Lands

The western part of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Bardhaman and Paschim Midnapore district comprises of the Western plateau and highlands. The soil here mostly comprises of coal bearing mudstone and quartzite rocks of Carboniferous period. This whole region has been altered into an undulating plain due to the long and continuous corrosion. Some of the important hills of this part are Ayodhya Hills (667 meters), Panchet and Baghmundi of Purulia, Biharinath (452 meters) and Susunia (442 meters) of Bankura. The region is an elevated plateau ranging from 500 meters to 1000 meters above the mean sea level. Gorgaburu in the Ayodhya Hills is the highest point of the region.

Ganges Delta

The Ganges delta of West Bengal consists of the whole of Murshidabad district, Kolkata, Hooghly, Nadia and Howrah and the northern part of North and South 24 Parganas. This is the area through which River Ganges is flowing. This huge delta is formed of the excessive silt deposition and presence of swamps and ox bow lakes in the area. The entire delta is divided into three distinct parts – old delta, mature delta and active delta. The old delta comprises of the Murshidabad and Nadia districts. The districts of Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly and certain portion of North 24 Parganas form mature delta region. The active delta of the Ganges comprises of the northern portion of South 24 Parganas in West Bengal.

West Bengal Geography
Ganges Delta, as seen from a plane / Superbwallpaper


Climate of West Bengal

West Bengal as a state witnesses mostly hot and humid climate for most of the year barring the mountainous part of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. This is due to the proximity to the Tropic of Cancer, which runs 6 kilo meters north of Nawadweep (Nabadip), dividing the state into the temperate climate in the north and tropical climate in the south. The main seasons are summer, spring, rainy season, a short autumn, and winter. The summer months range from first week of March to June with extreme heat. The northern part of the state experience dry summer while the southern and the delta part faces the extreme humidity which touches almost 99% level. Temperature ranges from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). Nights are relatively cool with the southerly breeze of the Bay of Bengal. Kalbaisakhi or Norwesters are common during the early summer months. Spring is very short and is expected in the northern part of West Bengal during the time of Holi festival.

Monsoons start from June end or July and continue till September. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian Ocean monsoon that moves in a northwest direction. The average annual rainfall in the plains is 175 centimetres, while heavy rainfall of about 250 centimetres is witnessed in the Darjeeling, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri district.

Autumn season is also very limited and is seen between October and November. During this time the retreating monsoon winds blow over the plains towards the sea. This in turn creates depression and results in severe cyclonic storms. This season is the main festive season in West Bengal when people celebrate Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja and Kali Puja or Diwali. From end November to February marks the winter season with mild over the plains to cold weather in the highlands. Temperature ranges between 9o Celsius to 16° Celsius. A cold and dry northern wind lowers the humidity level of the state. However, the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences extreme climate with very severe winter and snowfall at places.

Rivers of West Bengal

West Bengal has been blessed with excess water supply and fertile land due to the presence of many important big and small rivers. The rivers of the state can be divided into three categories;
  • The Himalayan Rivers
  • The Rivers of the Chota Nagpur Plateau
  • The Tidal Rivers
The Himalayan Rivers
These are basically the snow-fed rivers flowing down the Himalayan range. The Ganga, Bhagirathi-Hooghly, Mahananda, Balasan, Mechi, Tista, Torsha, Jaldhaka, Great Rangit and Little Rangit are the main rivers in this category. The Ganges or Ganga is considered one of the holiest rivers of India and enters West Bengal near Rajmahal and then flows in a south-easterly direction through Maldah, Murshidabad and Dinajpur district. At Tildanga, a dam is formed whereby the course of the river has been channelized to Bhagirathi-Hooghly at Jangipur Barrage.

Bhagirathi is the main river in West Bengal which flows past some of the important cities like Murshidabad, Baharampur, Nawadweep, Chinsura, Chandannagar, Srirampur, Howrah, Kolkata, Diamond Harbour and Haldia. The Bhagirathi river becomes river Hoogly more towards the south of the state, finally falling into the Bay of Bengal. Jalangi, Churni, Ajoy, Damodar, Rupnarayan, Haldi, Mayurakshi are the main tributaries of Hooghly.

Geography of West Bengal
The river Bhagirathi during monsoon / Wikimedia

The Tista river originates from the Zemo Glacier of the Himalayas and flows through the North Bengal before finally joining with Great Rangit at Darjeeling. The Mahananda river rises from the Mahaldhiram of Ghum Range of the Darjeeling district, flows through the northern part of Bengal and joins the river Bhagirathi-Hooghly. It is the longest river of North Bengal. Its left bank tributaries are Nagar, the Tangan and the Punarbhaba and its right bank tributaries are Kalindi, Balsan and Mechi. One of the major river of the Terai-Dooars region is the Jaldhaka river which flows to the Jalpaiguri distict of the state. The Daina, the Bindukhola, the Birukhola and Nakshalkhola are the main tributaries of Jaldhaka. Torsha is also an important river of northern part of West Bengal and is basically a main tributary of the river Jaldhaka.

The Rivers of the Chota Nagpur Plateau
These rivers are under the category of rainfed rivers. The Mayurakshi, Damodar, Kangsabati, Ajoy, Rupnarayan, Haldi, Subarnarekha and their tributaries are the main rivers under this category. They rise in the Western plateau and high lands flow eastwards through different districts of West Bengal and joins the Bhagirathi river on the right bank. The Mayurakshi river originates from the Trikut Hill of the Chhotonagpur plateau and enters West Bengal in the Birbhum district. Bakreswar and Dwaraka are its main tributaries.

The Ajoy, which rises in the hills of Bihar, joined by the Kunur, flows down the plateau fringe, marking the boundary between Bardhaman and Birbhum districts joins it near Katwa and Damodar. Khari, Banka and Behula are the distributaries of Ajoy, which joins the Bhagirathi near Uluberia. The Damodar river originates at the Khamarpath hill of the Chhotonagpur plateau in Bihar and flows for about 289 kms before entering West Bengal. Barakar is the main tributary of river Damodar in this state. The rivers Rupnarayan and Haldi fall into the Bhagirathi in the Murshidabad district. The Subarnarekha River after flowing for a short distance in West Bengal, re-enters into Orissa. These rivers carry with them plenty of water thus keeping the Bhagirathi river submerged with water throughout the year.

The Tidal Rivers
The tidal rivers are a part of the active delta region of the Ganges and are mostly small in size. The waters of these rivers grow with the high tide and again fall during low tides producing a lot of silt. Bartala, Jamira, Mafia, Saptamukhi, Gosaba, Haribhanga, Peyali, Raimangal, Vidyadhari are some of main tidal rivers flowing through various parts of the state which finally meets with river Bhagirathi-Hoogly. The Sunderbans region is covered with numerous tidal estuaries and streams which are inter connected. The major rivers of the area are Hoogly, Matla, Gosaba, Saptamukhi, Haribhanga, Piyali, Thakuran/ Jamira, Raimangal, Kalindi and Ichhamati.

Agricultural Crops

West Bengal is the holder of 3% of India’s cultivable land and produces approximately 9% of the total crops of the country. Agriculture is leading occupation in the state. Paddy and Potato are considered to be the main food crop of the entire region. West Bengal is the largest producer of rice in India with an annual output of around 15 million tonnes and the second-largest producer of potatoes in India with an average annual output of 90 million tonnes. Some of the other food crops often cultivated in West Bengal are Jute, Sugarcane, Wheat, Maize, Pulses, Oil Seeds, Wheat, Barley and Green Vegetables. Tea is the main cash crop of the state and is mostly cultivated in the hilly northern region like Darjeeling.

Natural Resources

West Bengal stands third in the country in terms of mineral production and contributes to about half of the total Coal production in India. Raniganj and Asansol region of Bardhaman district is the main Coal belt of the region. Some of the other important minerals found in the state are Fireclay, China Clay, Limestone, Copper, Iron, Wolfram, Manganese and Dolomite. West Bengal ranks next to Bihar and Madhya Pradesh in production of Fireclay. Limestone, which is used in cement industry, is found in the districts of Bankura, Purulia, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri. There are copper mines in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. Small quantities of low quality iron-ore are mined in Bardhaman, Purulia, Birbhum and Darjeeling. Jhargram region of Paschim Midnapore, Purulia and Bardhaman are popular for Manganese mineral.

Also See: Geography of Kolkata | Geography of Purulia | Geography of Raiganj | Geography of Haldia  | Geography of Siliguri | Geography of Howrah | Geography of Kalyani | Geography of Darjeeling | Geography of Asansol

Economy of West Bengal

The state of West Bengal is blessed with natural resources like water and fertile land, which make the state one of the top producer of many agricultural products. Despite being one of the most developed states of eastern India and having the metropolitan city of Kolkata as its state capital, West Bengal has lagged behind in many of the economic indicators. The rate of industrial development had been long moving at a snail’s pace.

This is due to bad governance by successive governments and constant political agitation. Moreover a considerable part of the state, especially the northern districts have remained economically backward. Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Malda, North and South Dinajpur, Purulia, Birbhum, Bankura and the Sundarbans are some of the backward district of the state. Majority of the post-independence era has been the Left Front government’s rule in this state but even this could not bring any positive economic reform. This was majorly due to their faulty policy formulations, inception of the Trade Unionism and unorganized working patterns.

For the first 30 years, West Bengal had a constant economic turmoil which in turn discouraged the big industries to lay their foot on the land. In 2011, the Leftist government for the first time emphasised on industrial growth by acquiring land from farmers to set up industries. This change of policy was successfully portrayed by the opposition as the government’s anti-people policy which in turn helped them to route the incumbent Left Front government in the consecutive assembly elections.

Post 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress came to power and made many policy changes. But till the present day, the new government of the state has failed to perform and the overall growth rate still seems to be staggering behind many small states of India. Although the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) rate in 2012-13 had shown a prospective percentage rate of 7.60% which is higher than the national average of 4.96%, but actually it has fallen as compared to the previous years. Moreover as per the latest 5 year economic survey of 2011-12, the Per Capita Net State Domestic Product (PCNSDP) which was Rs 54,830/- was greater than most of the other Indian states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan etc. Even the growth rate of the per capita income of the state in comparison to the previous year was 14.88%, which is again higher than the average Indian per capita growth rate. As per the annual plan of 2013-14 as presented by the Planning Commission of India, the industrial growth rate is likely to be at 6.24% which is higher than 2012-13 result.

The following sections focus on the agricultural and industrial scenario of the present West Bengal and its future prospects:

Agricultural Economy
Post-independence, India’s economy has grown leaps and bounds, making it emerge as the next upcoming super power in terms of economic growth, wide market base, new entrepreneurial ventures, infrastructure boom and usage of information technology. But West Bengal’s economy has still remained largely dependent on agriculture. Other than few cities and towns, this state is mostly under developed and approximately 72% of the total population are rural poor. There is a predominance of small and marginal farmers who have an average holding of less than 1 hectare per head.

Agriculture economy of West Bengal
Workers working at a paddy field in West Bengal / Flickr

These small farmers account for almost 68% of the total agricultural production of the state. The state has a Net Fertile Sowing Area of 52.96 lac hectare which is around 61% of the total reported land present. The Gross Cropped Area of the state is about 97.52 lac hectare which has a cropping concentration of 184%. 90% of the farmers are small and marginal who hold up to 84% of the total cultivable land. The state of West Bengal produces more than 8% of the total food crops of India. West Bengal practises multi cropping system by which various crops are produced based on the climate by rotation. Good quality seeds, manures, quality fertilisers and plant protection measures are used for better cultivation.

Food crops are mostly cultivated of which 78% land is under principle crops like Rice, Wheat, Pulses, Maize, Barley, Oilseeds and Green vegetables. Rice is the main crop cultivated in the state. This state is considered to be the largest producer of rice in entire India. Around 58.48 lac hectare of the total land is under rice cultivation which produces roughly about 161.48 lac metric tonnes or 15 million tonnes of rice per year. Based on the season of growth the state produces three different quality of rice which are namely, Boro (the summer rice), Aman (the winter rice) and Aus (the autumn rice).

West Bengal is also the second largest producer of potatoes after Uttar Pradesh with an annual average production of 90 million tonnes, which accounts for about 33% of the total potato produce on India. Moreover when it comes to vegetables produce, the state stands as one of the highest producer of Indian cereals comprising of about 63.49 lac hectares and Oilseeds comprising of 7.14 lac hectares of the total cultivable land of the state. The state contributes to about 12% of the total oilseed production in India.

When it comes to cash crops, West Bengal is not much of a cash crop producer and very few of them are grown by the farmers. However, the state leads as India’s biggest producer of the golden-fibre of Jute. Jute cultivation had been traditionally popular in the state since the climate and the abundance of fresh water has become the ideal combination of the healthy growth of this cash crop. This becomes more evident from the fact that around 85% of the total jute production of the entire world is concentrated in the Ganga Delta. Since 2009-10 the jute production and export had declined due to loss of demand in the international market and trade union agitation in various jute plants.

Jute had remained one of the major industry of India since the 17th century. But with the introduction of HDPE and PP polythene sacks, the jute market almost got extinct in most parts of the world. West Bengal still has a partly thriving jute industry. This state accounts for almost 73% of raw jute production for India. Around 61 jute mills still exists here where more than 4 lac workers are present. But at present times jute industry is facing a threat of extinction due to lack of demand, labour problem, obsolete machinery and high labour cost.

Economoy of West Bengal
Inside a Jute factory in West Bengal / DailyStockBangladesh

Many of these mills have been currently declared as sick. To hold up this industry government of India has taken up ‘Jute Technology Mission' in 2010, by which the sick jute industries were given a boost. But still as per 2012-13 national report, the jute production of Bengal has fallen by 12% from last year. Other than jute, tea is another important cash crop of the state, mainly cultivated in the northern part like Darjeeling, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur. The northern part of West Bengal falls in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges, the climate and temperature of which is deemed ideal for growing the best breed of tea crop in the entire world. At present, there are around 450 tea estates in the northern part of West Bengal. Darjeeling Tea is considered to one of the finest tea variety in the entire world. Black, Green, White and Oolong variety of tea are cultivated in different parts of the hilly highland of Darjeeling. This state produces around 25% of the total tea production of India.

However all the above cultivation has contributed to the overall growth in agriculture and its allied services towards an upward scale in 2012-13, when the state recorded a growth rate of 2.56% against India’s average growth rate of 1.79%. But in comparison to the previous year’s percentage, the agricultural growth rate has reduced in West Bengal from 3.53% in the year 2014.

Industrial Economy
West Bengal as a state has not seen much of an industrial growth since its inception. Since independence, the political scenario of Bengal had remained in a turmoil which made this region less attractive for the new industrial setups. When the Late Bidhan Chandra Roy became the first chief minister of West Bengal in 1947, he could attract very few manufacturing industries to his state. Post his era till the year 2000, West Bengal saw very few large scale industries in the state. But surprisingly West Bengal was the pioneer in production of iron from coke and the first Indian plant “Bengal Iron Works” was set up in the town of Kulti of the Burdwan district in 1870. Kolkata, Haldia and Durgapur are some of the main industrial zone of the state.

Along the banks of river Hoogly and Damodar lies the major industrial belt of the state. With the then industrial revolution, the West Bengal government had formed a nodal agency in 1967 named West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation Ltd. (WBIDC) under the Companies Act. WBIDC had been given the responsibility to conceptualize, develop, look after the growth path and help in formalisation of investment and infrastructure in West Bengal. Presently there are two integrated steel plants of the Steel Authority of India at Durgapur and Burnpur.

Other than this, there are 47 sponge iron plants, one pig iron plant and one alloy steel plant in operation in the state. West Bengal is the abode of one of the world’s largest producer of railway locomotive engine manufacturer, the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works. This is located at Chittaranjan in Asansol district and has its huge township spread over an area of 18.34 square kilo meters. This is the only government locomotive factory of India producing advanced electric rail engines. This factory caters to both national and export orders throughout the year. West Bengal also has the second largest petro chemical company in India, Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. which is located at 125 kilo meters away from Kolkata, at Haldia in the Purba Midnapore district. This $1.2 billion project is a joint venture of West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation, The Chatterjee Petrochem (Mauritius) Co. Ltd. and the Tata Group in 1994. The company started its commercial production in 2001 and now works with a capacity to process 350,000 TPA of polymers and 700,000 TPA of ethylene.

Shipping Industries
The then city of Calcutta had been developed as a major port by the erstwhile British colonists due to the major river Hooghly flowing through its vicinity. The present day Kolkata has continued to remain as a major river-port in eastern India. The Kolkata Port Trust is the organization that has the administrative responsibility of managing both the Kolkata docks and the Haldia docks. The docks help in tourism and operates passenger services to Port Blair on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands directly.

Shipping industry in West Bengal
A ship docked at Haldia Port in West Bengal / TheTelegraph

These ports also handles major cargo ship service to other ports both domestic and international. The cargo operations is managed by Shipping Corporation of India. As per the statistics available in the period of 2010 to 2011, the Kolkata Dock System handled a traffic of about 12.540 million metric tonnes, compared to 13.045 million tonnes in the preceding period of 2009–2010. Comparatively, the Haldia Dock Complex reported handling a traffic of 35.005 million metric tonnes in the period of 2010–2011, as compared to 2009-2010 traffic of 33.378 million metric tonnes. This contributed to an increase of 4.87% on year to year basis. Apart from these, the state of West Bengal is strewn with many other rivers and interconnected tributaries that has been fleetingly used by the department of tourism. Regular ferry services connect many small and big town, aiding daily commute and trade to flourish.

Cottage Industries
Since the beginning of this state West Bengal houses many cottage industries which were by nature small and micro level enterprises. The state government had formed a committee named West Bengal Small Scale Industries Development Corporation Ltd. (WBSIDC), in 1961 to extend support and promote various cottage industries. This committee is helping small industries with funds, infrastructure, supply of raw materials and also promotional advertisement. By 2005-06 Bengal had more than 5023 new start ups under small scale industries.

Also See: Various Cottage Industries of Kolkata

By the year 2013 there have been approximately 900,419 small and cottage industries in operation here. Many handloom and cotton textile mills are present near Howrah, Budge Budge, Metiabruz, Maheshtala, Domjur and Bankura. Currently around 3.51 lac operational handlooms are present, which gives an annual yield of 1578.40 lac metres of textile. Sericulture is also an important cottage industry of the state. Four varieties of silk materials are produced in the state which is, Tasar, Muga, Mulberry and Eri. In the year 2012-13 the total raw silk production of India was about 4951 metric tonnes of which West Bengal produces about 36.37% of the entire volume.

Other than this there are approximately 10,000 registered factories in operation which include industries into food processing, rice mill, pharmaceutical units, manufacturing automobiles, shipping, electronics, paper, chemicals and fertilizers and cotton textile.

Mining
When it comes to the abundance of natural mineral resources, the state of West Bengal is one of the fore runners among all other states of India. There are many mining based industries present in the state. On June 2002, the state government formalised the state mining policy with a vision to develop the mining industries. Coal is the most prominent mineral present here along with Apalite, Asbestos, Barytes, Base metals, China Clay, Ochre, Moulding Sand, Glass Sand, Graphite, Mica, Titanium Ore and much more. Raniganj Coalfield has the distinction of being the first coalfield of India. Established in 1774, it spreads mostly in Asansol and Durgapur subdivisions of West Bengal.

Economy of Bengal
A truck carrying coal from Raniganj coalfields / Livemint

The present production of coal here is around 49.17 billion tonnes per year. Number of operating mines in the region is 98 which gives an annual turnover of Rs 12076.17 crore or US$2.0 billion to the exchequer. West Bengal Mineral Development & Trading Corporation Ltd. is the state governing authority for all mining industries under this state. Panchami Stone Mine of Birbhum, Beldih Apatite Mine, Rangadih Grinding unit, Mirmi Quartz Mine, Palsara-I Stone mine and Malti Fire Clay Deposit of Purulia, Granite Mining Project of Bankura are some of the on going projects of the state. Many mining projects are upcoming at various region of Bankura, Bardhamman and Puruliya with new job prospects.

Some of the renowned industries of West Bengal are;
  • Chemical Industry: NELCO Chemical, Tata Chemical Plant in Haldia, Durgapur Chemicals Ltd, Kanoria Chemicals & Industries Ltd, Jayasree Chemicals Ltd, Chemical Industries Co. and Aero Agro Chemical Industries
  • Paper Mills: Indian Paper Mills, Emami Paper Mills Ltd, Eastern Paper Mills, Supreme Paper Mills Ltd.
  • Fertilizer Plants: HFCL Durgapur, Teesta Agro Ltd, Matix Fertilisers & Chemical Project.
  • Cotton Mills: India Belting & Cotton Mills, Eastern Belting & Cotton Mill(Pvt.) Ltd., Rampuria Cotton Mills, Bangalakshmi Cotton Mills.
As per the Planning Commission Report of 2011, West Bengal showed letter of intent of various industrial project of Rs 1.12 lac crore value against which they could actually show projects worth Rs 312 crore. This percentage fell by 85% from the previous year. This is due to the anti development strategy taken by the present government of the state. No heavy scale industrial setup has taken place for the past 3 years. Many of the main industries of the state like Dunlop and Hind Motor which were the pride of Bengal development, have closed down while making thousand of workers jobless. Land acquisition has become the main issue for industrial deceleration in the state. The active legislation of the state like the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act (ULCA of 1976), is a real deterrent for real estate investments both foreign and domestic.

Also See: Economy of Kolkata | Economy of Raiganj | Economy of Haldia  | Economy of Siliguri | Economy of Howrah | Economy of Kalyani | Economy of Darjeeling | Economy of Asansol


Social Welfare Facilities in West Bengal

Since independence, the economic scenario of West Bengal had not been very rosy and the state lags behind in many of the economic parameters. Due to bad governance and regular political agitations, industrial development has taken a backseat. This in turn has kept most parts of the state underdeveloped. Approximately 72% of the total population of West Bengal is rural poor.

To tackle with this ongoing poverty problem along with various socioeconomic issues the state government has come up with various schemes and programs, some of which are programs of the central government. Some of these programs have become a Hit since the day of inception and some with the passage of time. But all these schemes have taken good care of the rural and urban poor and deprived, so that they can enjoy social equality and responsibility.

Social Welfare services in West Bengal
An NGO in West Bengal discussing the women welfare services / Rediff

Government Schemes for Health and Family Welfare

The ‘Rastriya Swastha Bima Yojana’ which was launched in 2008 and adapted by the state government health department, is a scheme which provides health insurance coverage to all the BPL families. Hospitalization is possible in empanelled hospitals against very nominally priced package. In 2014, many rural hospitals and clinics (approximate 607) have been taken under this scheme. This Yojana had been effective in East and West Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia, Bardhaman, Nadia, Murshidabad, Howrah, Malda, Birbhum and North 24 Parganas of West Bengal.

The state health department has given stress on achievement of Indian Public Health Standard 2010 norms through optimization in medical facilities and drug supply in Bengal. 7 new health districts are present in the state with many sub-centres. Free ambulance and cashless treatments are the primary objectives of the present health department.

As per the new state health project of 2011, mobile medical units have been deployed in villages of Jangalmahal, Sundarbans, tea gardens and forests of North Bengal and coal mine areas.

‘Rogi Sahayata Kendra’ is a 24x7 free helpline and grievance redressal program which connects all the parts of Bengal, ‘Rogi Kalyan Samity’, ‘Swastha Samity’ are some of the other health programs through which healthcare in the state has become advanced and transparent. The MBBS doctors of the state have to do a compulsory one year consultation in any primary health clinics of the state. 

Government Schemes for Women and Child Development

The West Bengal state government has created the Department of Women and Child Development & Social Welfare to look after protection and development of women and children. This department had played a major role in building awareness for change in social attitude towards gender equality as per Indian Constitution. Various programs on human rights and community practices have been implemented by the state government in the recent years.

The state government has taken up the ‘Kishori Shakti Yojana’ program which was launched in 2000-01, in various districts of West Bengal by 2006. This program aims to impart awareness amongst young girls about health, hygiene and control of anemic diseases. Other issues relating to general health is also taken up. Various vocational self dependent training programs are organized every year towards female empowerment.

Since 1997, West Bengal is a part of the ‘Balika Samriddi Yojana’ by which every girl child born of BPL families on or after 15.8.1997 each girl is given Rs.500/- at the time of birth. Till 2014, the state social department has given assistance to more than 1 lac girl child by opening joint savings bank account with mother in any nationalized banks or savings deposit in Post Office.

The ‘National Program for Adolescent Girls’ which was launched in 2002-03 had its pilot project started in the Jalpaiguri and Purulia districts. By this program under nourished adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers with body weight less than 35- 40 kgs are provided 6 Kg food grains free of cost per month for three consecutive months. During 2004-2005 a sum of Rs 228 Lacs and Rs 200 Lacs were consecutively deployed in Jalpaiguri and Purulia districts.

The ‘Micronutrient Initiative Project’ under Special Nutrition Programme (SNP) is wherein nutritional deficiencies among children of various ages are taken care of through provision of Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat. Other nutritional deficiencies like Iodine, Iron, and Vitamin A are met through supply of micro nutrients. 9 districts of West Bengal which include parts of Howrah, East and West Dinajpur and Darjeeling fall under this program. By 2014 survey, there are around 13, 59,834 beneficiaries. Under this project fortified Atta enriched with Vitamin A are being supplied through various ration shops in Darjeeling region. Seven districts of West Bengal receive supplies of a nutrient rich Khichri premix. Vitamin A enriched candies are supplied to different parts of Howrah and Dinajpur Districts.

Social Empowerment Programs for All

Under ‘Juvenile Justice Act’, the state has 16 government run Homes, out of which 7 are for destitute girls and women and the rest 9 are for juvenile boys. To prevent women and child trafficking 3 Homes are being made at Burdwan, Malda and Nadia, under ‘Immoral Traffic Prevention Act’ (ITPA), wherein 85 rescued women are presently accommodated and 2 other Homes are present in Murshidabad and Kolkata for unfortunate boys.

There are 10 homes present in Kolkata and other districts for mentally retarded children, where the volunteers are on a daily effort to provide these kids with a secured life. West Bengal has got 7 Homes for abandoned orphans of various ages. These are run by private NGOs with a purpose of in-country and intra-country adoption. There are 28 Day Care centres under Government of India State Welfare Board, which accommodates more than 1000 poor girl and women. All these Homes are helping their poor and needy people with self help programs, by which social empowerment is bestowed upon them. Various vocational training courses on handicrafts and cottage industries along with basic education to the young children are some of the responsibilities of these homes.

West Bengal has 40 hostels for working women spread across the state in districts like Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, Burdwan, Hooghly, Birbhum, Midnapore, Malda, Coochbehar, North and South Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri. These are under government aided NGO operation, wherein more than 2000 women are being accommodated.

Government Scheme for Old Age and Poor

To secure the future of the old, widow and disable people who are below poverty line and have no family to look to, three types of Pension schemes have been initiated by the Social Welfare Department of the state. These are;
  • Old Age Pension: pension to be granted to an old person both male and female, more than 60 years age with a monthly family income of Rs 100/- or less. This pension is to an extent of Rs 500/- per month. Till 2014, 33818 old people are reaping the benefit of this scheme.
  • Widow Pension: pension to be granted to a single widow with no family and monthly income of Rs 100/- or less. Till 2014, 11546 widows of West Bengal are getting this benefit.
  • Disability Pension: pension to be granted to person who is disable and is not in a position to earn his or her living. This pension level is upto Rs 500/- per month. Till 2014, West Bengal has successfully giving away pension to nearly 7000 disables.


State Government Social Welfare Institutions

The social welfare department of the state government had taken up an initiative to address the poverty problem post 2000 and have formed the following care units over the period of time.
  • Ramkrishna Vivekanda  Mission in 24 Parganas is a residential special school for deaf and dumb girls.
  • West Bengal SC/ST & Minority Welfare Association is a specialised computer training centre for orthopedically handicapped.
  • Dulal Samiti Samsad in Hooghly district a secured rehabilitation centre for mentally retarded persons of all ages.
  • North Bengal Handicapped Rehabilitation Society in Darjeeling, a special school for mentally retarded and hearing handicapped children.
  • Bikash Bharati Welfare Society in Jhargram, giving training for various small works and helping in production as well as sale of the final products. There is also a physical rehabilitation unit for handicapped.
  • Jalpaiguri Welfare Organisation, a special education centre for destitute children.
  • Sri Sri Ramkrishna Satyananda Education & Charity Trust, a Residential School for poor children, women and visually handicapped.
  • Sevaytan Kalyan Kendra, a special school in West Midnapore district for mentally retarded people.
  • Karimpur Social Welfare Society in Nadia, a school-cum-training Centre for visually challenged kids and adult.
  • Asansol Anandam in Burdwan district a specialised child development centre.
  • Malipukur Samaj Unnayan Samity in Howrah, a home for the poor.
  • Barjora Ashar Alo in Bankura district, a School for specially challenged children. Various  therapy treatment are provided here.
  • Society for Handicapped Programme and Education (HOPE), Durgapur, a special school for physically and mentally challenged people of all ages.
  • Indian Red Cross Society of West Dinajpur, a rehabilitation centre for homeless children.


NGOs of West Bengal

Many non government organisations (NGO) have also been formed with an effort to make this state a better place for all and improve the standard of living with better health and hygiene. These NGOs have taken up various social development programs and welfare activities for the rural as well as urban poor and needy. These organisations and small self help groups are providing proper child and women education, women empowerment, child labour eradication, child rights, proper roads and water facilities in various villages, social awareness and self sufficient programs for all the households. The state as well as the central government has also extended their hands towards these welfare groups with the provision of resources and funds. Many foreign NGOs are also taking part in the state welfare by coming in collaboration with the local NGOs. Some of the renowned social welfare groups of West Bengal are as mentioned below:

Anirban Rural Welfare Society
This society was started in the year 2000 by a committed group of eminent doctors, teachers, statistician and social workers, after getting registered under West Bengal Societies Registration Act of 1961. Started in the Gondia village of Diamond Harbour in the South 24 Parganas this NGO has worked towards achievement of self respect and dignity and make these people aware of their individual social responsibility. Some of their programs include child labour eradication, formation of primary boarding schools, women empowerment through Microfinance schemes and old age home at the main Diamond Harbour town.
Address: Village Gondia, PO - Bhadura, PS - Ramnagar, Diamond Harbour, South 24 Parganas, Pincode - 743504, West Bengal 
Phone: +91 33 2428-4515, +91 9830006359 / +91 919830389745 / +919831237210
E-mail: info@anirban.org.in, anirbanrural@gmail.com

Village Welfare Society
VWS was established in the Howrah district’s Udaynarayanpur block, in the aftermath of the natural disaster of 1970 floods. As of 2014, the currently running activities include, Village Family Health Protection Programme, Village Financial Services, Financial Literacy, Out-patient Clinic and Mobile Medicare Units, Social Security for the Poor, Free Health Check and Awareness & Education on Cervical Cancer. A village model school and day care service is present.
Address: Village Welfare Society, Vill+P.O.-Pancharul, Howrah-711225, West Bengal, India
Phone: +91 33 2564 6545, +91 33 2564 5786
Fax: +91 33 2544 3240
Email: vws@village.net.in

Child & Social Welfare Society (CSWS)
Established in 1969, this NGO is registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1960. They started in Markandachak village of West Midnapore district and have extended their work in small and backward villages of the Sabang, Narayangarh, Pingla, Jhargram, Jamboni and Nayagram block of Paschim Medinipur or West Midnapore and Bhagwanpur, Pataspur, Nandakumar blocks in Purba Medinipur or East Midnapore district. CSWS has its own home for destitute children and old people. They are given proper food, treatment, education and are taught about various health and hygiene techniques. The old age home looks after the old and homeless men and women.
Address: Markandachak Village, P.O - Bishnupur Bazar, Paschim Medinipur District,
West Bengal - 721144, India
Phone: 03222 285096
Fax: 03222 285149
Email: info@csws.in / csws@rediffmail.com

ATCOM
Registered under Societies Registration Act of 1960, this society was formed in 2008 to give primary education and social awareness for the rural and urban poor children
Address: Village +PO: Panchpota, PS: Gaighata, Sub Div: Bongaon, North 24 Pgs, Pin-743273
Phone: 03215-224849, 09732765296
Email: sukhenroy.atcom123@gmail.com

Aadam Education Mission
This society works with the aim to spread the usage of education by providing basic education to poor children. Moreover poor but bright students are being given aid for higher studies. They have undertaken programmes for poor SC, ST and OBC rehabilitation, safe sanitation and healthcare and Vocational Training Programme to make deprived women self sufficient. Another project this NGO is currently encouraging is the birth control plan among rural families.
Address: Aadam Education Mission Vill And Po-Neradeul Ps- Keshpur, Dist- Paschim Medinipur
Phone: 03222-222342
Email: aadameducationmission@rediffmail.com

Aamader Katha
This society is registered under the Societies Registration Act. The main programs for this NGO include, flood relief campaign in affected areas of Bengal, poverty alleviation programmes, free medical camps and medicines in collaboration with Ramakrishna Mission, promotion of micro financing projects.
Address: 9, Maharani Swarnamoyee Road, Kolkata-700009
Phone: 033-22866164
Email: islamariful@rediffmail.com

Adibasi Social Workers Association Fpr Social Action Network
An NGO which is working towards the betterment of West Bengal’s Education, health, women and child rights, rural development and tribal affairs. Most of the volunteers here are from tribal background who wants to spread the awareness among their fellow people.
Address: Panchanan Kisku 19/22, Jaydev Avenue, PO-B-Zone, Durgapur-5, Dist-Bardhaman, West Bengal - 713 205
Phone: 03242-243720, 09476127796
Email: kpanchanan94@gmail.com

Bagnan Crescent Educational Society
Following are the projects volunteered by this charitable institution to make West Bengal a better place; Disaster Management, Child Education and Vocational Training, Training on Fisheries, Agriculture and Food Processing, Dalit upliftment, Safe drinking water supply, help to the old aged, education on health and family welfare, aids on Housing, Micro Finance and Small enterprise, educate on renewable energy usage, Poverty Alleviation program and local village youth affairs,
Address: Vill - Paikpari, PO - Antila, PS - Bagnan, Dist. Howrah - 711312
Phone: 03214-272390, 09732606970
Email: profdrsasamad@gmail.com

Ashadeep Foundation
Ashadeep since its inception are fighting against the society evil and taking care of the rural poor. They have successfully looking after the following projects of, old age care, drinking water problem, women & child empowerment camps, health camps , social awareness camp , and youth affairs
Address: Village - Garh Bhawanipur, PO - Chitra Senpur, Block and PS - Uday Narayanpur, Howrah.
Phone: 03214-253243, 09732443782
Email: ashadeep_2011@rediffmail.com

Ashalata
Their aim is to stop illegal child marriage of girls under 18 years old and take legal action against the oppressed family in all small neighbouring villages of Howrah.
Address: Village - Kalaghatu, P.O. - Kotra, PS - Shyampur, Howrah - 711301
Phone: 033-88208853, 8902659909
Email: ashalatango@gmail.com

Amartya Rural Welfare and Research Centre
Since 1999, Amartya Welfare Society had engaged themselves in to various social development programs for the deprived class of the society. They have taken up various health awareness and rehabilitation programs, proper sanitation campaigns, supply of arsenic free drinking water with the help of UNICEF, Panchayat Zilla Parishad and GOI.
Phone: 033-26852355, 9434977888
Email: s.s.roy001@gmail.com

Akna Sarada Maa Samaj Seva Samity
Situated in the Akna village in Howrah district, this welfare organisation is promoting education both formal and non formal. This includes primary as well as adult education, education on different sports, education on healthcare, awareness on HIV AIDS and safe drinking water and sanitation.  Women Empowerment, Vocational Skill for Self Employment, Sustainable Agriculture, Fishery, Horticulture, Nursery, Food Processing, Animal Husbandary, Youth Affairs.
Address: Vill-Akna, PO-Sonagachi, PS-Udaynarayanpur, Dist-Howrah 711226, West Bengal
Phone: 03214-277281, 9830585659
Email: aksmasss@yahoo.in

Also See:  NGOs in Darjeeling

Old Age Homes

There are 32 old age homes present in the state for the poor and penniless, run by many NGOs under government regulation. These Homes are providing food and free accommodations to all these old people and also taking care of their health problems. The age limit for these homes is 60 years and above and irrespective of caste and creed anybody can take shelter over here.

The NGOs also do small workshops to build in the lost confidence and self reliance in these deprived people. Moreover there are some old homes where many old and affluent men and women stay, who do not want to stay alone or with their children at some unknown city or country. These Homes are for them also where they find home comforts along with many new friends. One has to pay a security deposit before registration and a monthly fee is charged in lieu of food, quality accommodation, health care and recreation activities.

Some of the reliable old age homes of the state are;

Hitaljore Kishoribala Databye Chikitsalaya
Address: Hitaljore, Sabang, Midnapore, West Bengal

Bikramnagar Udayan Sangha
Address: P.O. - Haria, Midnapore, West Bengal

Amar Seva Sangha
Address: Vill & Post - Raina, Midnapore, West Bengal

Barabari Netaji Seva Sangha
Address: Barabari (S), Block-Nandigram-II, Midnapore, West Bengal

Council for Advancement of Rural and Downtrodden People
Address: Bagnan Station Road (North), P.O. - Bagnan, Howrah, West Bengal

Chandranath Basu Seva Sangha
Address: 1 B.T. Road, P.O. - Karimpur, Nadia, West Bengal

Jirakpur Sister Nivedita Seva Pratisthan
Address: Jirakpur, P.O. Basirhat, Dt- 24 Pgs(N) , West Bengal

West Bengal has been blessed by nature to be one of the richest states in India with plentiful mineral deposits, fertile and cultivable lands, huge flowing rivers, proximity to coasts and amazing flora and fauna. However, due to years of rule by incompetent governments and constant socio-political unrest, none of these natural resources have been cultured to their fullest economical and industrial potential. Even at this slow pace of growth and economic progress, the state of West Bengal is still one of the biggest contributor to the Indian economy. It is 6th biggest contribution state in terms of GDP, just below Gujarat and much above Karnataka. The state will surpass as the biggest GDP contributor to India, provided it gets under the administration of a progressive and industrially sensitive government.

Also See: Social Welfare of Raiganj | Social Welfare of Haldia  | Social Welfare of Siliguri | Social Welfare of Howrah | Social Welfare of Kalyani | Social Welfare of Darjeeling


Some Quick Facts on West Bengal

Capital: Kolkata
Area: 88,752 sq km
Area Rank: 13 Border States: Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, Assam
Location: Eastern State
Language: Bengali, Nepali, Odia, Santali, Urdu
Date of Establishment: 11/01/56
ISO Code: WB
Census Code: 190
Current Chief Minister: Mamata Banerjee
Governor: Keshri Nath Tripathi
State High Court: Calcutta High Court
GDP (in millions): $84,570
GDP (per Capita): $930
Population: 91,347,736
Population Rank: 4
Population Density (per sq.km): 1029
Population Density Rank: 2
Largest City: Kolkata
Literacy Rate: 77.08%
No. of Districts: 19
No. of Towns: 375
No. of Villages: 40,782
Highest Location: Sandakphu
Highest Point: 11,929 feet
State Animal: Royal Bengal Tiger
State Bird: White-breasted Kingfisher
State Flower: Night-flowering Jasmine
State Tree: Devil Tree
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