Thursday, May 26, 2011

West Bengal

West Bengal
—  State  —

Location of West Bengal in India
Map of West Bengal
Coordinates (Kolkata): 22.5697°N 88.3697°E
Country India
RegionEast India
Established1 November 1956
Largest city
Largest metro
Districts19 total
 - GovernorM. K. Narayanan
 - Chief MinisterMamata Banerjee
 - LegislatureUnicameral (295* seats)
 - Total88,752 km2 (34,267.3 sq mi)
Area rank13th
Population (2011)
 - Total91,347,736
 - Rank4th
 - Density1,029.2/km2 (2,665.7/sq mi)
Time zoneIST (UTC+05:30)
ISO 3166 codeIN-WB
HDIdecrease 0.625 (medium)
HDI rank19th (2005)
Literacy77.1% (16th)
Official languagesBengali · English
^* 294 elected, 1 nominated
West Bengal  is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth most populous. It is also the seventh most populous sub-national entity in the world. West Bengal is the sixth-largest contributor to India's GDP. West Bengal, together with Bangladesh lying on its east, forms the historical and geographical region of Bengal. To its northeast lie the states of Assam and Sikkim and the country of Bhutan, and to its southwest lies the state of Orissa. To the west, it borders the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal.
The Bengal region was part of several kingdoms and dynasties over the course of Indian history. The British East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the city of Calcutta, now Kolkata, served for many years as the capital of British India. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities: West Bengal — a state of India — and East Bengal, which initially joined the new nation of Pakistan, before becoming part of modern-day Bangladesh in 1971.


Stone age tools dating back 20,000 years have been excavated in the state. Remnants of civilization in the greater Bengal region date back four thousand years,when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BC. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, one of ancient kingdoms of Epic India. The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century BC, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Persia under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC.
One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is a mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Ancient Greeks around 100 BC. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) in reference to an area in Bengal. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Suvarnabhumi (Burma, Lower Thailand, Lower Malay Peninsula, and the Sumatra). According to Mahavamsa, Vijaya Singha, a Vanga prince, conquered Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) and gave the name "Sinhala" to the country.
Pala Empire under Dharmapala
Pala Empire under Devapala
From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam made its first appearance in Bengal during the 12th century when Sufi missionaries arrived. Later, occasional Muslim raiders reinforced the process of conversion by building mosques, madrassas and Sufi Khanqah. Beginning in 1202 a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, Bakhtiar Khilji, overran Bihar and Bengal as far east as Rangpur, Bogra and the Brahmaputra River. Although he failed to bring Bengal under his control, the expedition managed to defeat Lakshman Sen and his two sons moved to a place then called Vikramapur (present-day Munshiganj District), where their diminished dominion lasted until the late 13th century.
During the 14th century, the former kingdom became known as the Sultanate of Bengal, ruled intermittently with the Sultanate of Delhi. Hindu states continued to exist in the Southern and the Eastern parts of Bengal till the 1450s such as the Deva dynasty. Also, the Ganesha dynasty began with Raja Ganesha in 1414, but his successors converted to Islam. Bengal came once more under the control of Delhi as the Mughals conquered it in 1576. There were several independent Hindu states established in Bengal during the Mughal period like those of Maharaja Pratapaditya of Jessore and Raja Sitaram Ray of Burdwan. These kingdoms contributed a lot to the economic and cultural landscape of Bengal. Extensive land reclamations in forested and marshy areas were carried out and intrastate trade as well as commerce were highly encouraged. These kingdoms also helped introduce new music, painting, dancing and sculpture into Bengali art-forms as well as many temples were constructed during this period. Militarily, these served as bulwarks against Portuguese and Burmese attacks. Many of these kingdoms are recorded to have fallen during the late 1700s. While Koch Bihar Kingdom in the North, flourished during the period of 16th and the 17th centuries as well as weathered the Mughals also and survived till the advent of the British.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the "Father of theBengal Renaissance"
European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century. Their influence grew until the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal subah, or province, following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, eventually including 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. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissanceand Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta 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. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943 that claimed 3 million lives.
Subhash Chandra Bose is one of the most prominent freedom fighters from Bengal in the Indian independence movement against the British Raj.
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 Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British. When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to independent Bangladesh in 1971). Both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee influx during the partition in 1947, leading to the political unrests later on. The partition of Bengal entailed the greatest exodus of people in Human History. Millions of Hindus migrated from East Pakistan to India and thousands of Muslims too went across the borders to East Pakistan. Because of the immigration of the refugees, there occurred the crisis of land and food in West Bengal; and such condition remained in long duration for more than three decades.The politics of West Bengal since the partition in 1947 developed round the nucleus of refugee problem. Both the Rightists and the Leftists in the Politics of West Bengal have not yet become free from the socio-economic conditions created by the partition of Bengal. These conditions as have remained unresolved in some twisted forms have given birth to local socio-economic, political and ethnic movements.
In 1950 the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal after King Jagaddipendra Narayan had signed the Instrument of Accession with India. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were subsequently merged with West Bengal.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Marxist-Naxalite movement damaged much of the state's infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. The 1974 smallpox epidemic killed thousands. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), governed for the state for the subsequent three decades.
The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government, aided by election of a new reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. As of 2007, armed activists have been organising minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration are taking place at several sensitive places on the issue of industrial land acquisition. While West Bengal has made economic gains recently, it still remains one of the most poorest states in India due to high political instability and bad governance. Throughout its political and cultural history the state has witnessed strikes/bandhs, a low Human Development Index level, abysmal medical treatment and healthcare services, tremendous lack of socio-economic development, poor infrastructure,excessive corruption and violence.

Geography and climate

Map of West Bengal
Many areas remain flooded during the heavy rains brought by monsoon.
West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The state has a total area of 88,752 square kilometres (34,267 sq mi). The Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state belongs to the eastern Himalaya. This region contains Sandakfu (3,636 metres / 11,929 feet)—the highest peak of the state. The narrow Terai region separates this region from the plains, which in turn transitions into the Ganges delta towards the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. The Chola range is situated on the Sikkim and Bhutan border. The highest peak is Rishila. The town of Kalimpong is situated in this region. Neora Valley National Park is located here. The relatively low-height Buxa-Jayanti range, a part of the Sivalik, is also located here. Among the Himalayan ranges of this region, Singalila range hosts Sandakfu which at 3,636 metres (11,929 ft) is the highest point of West Bengal. Two high peaks, Tiger Hill and Ghoom are seen near the town of Darjeeling. Many ranges branch off in different directions from Tiger Hill. Durpindara is an important mountain in the eastern part of the mountainous region. A few hills also occur in the Terai or Dooars region at the foot of the Himalayas. Some remnants of the Siwaliks can be seen in the Jalpaiguri district, where they are known as the Buxa-Jayanti Hills. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
National Highway 31A winds along the banks of the Teesta River near Kalimpong, in the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region.
The Ganges is the main river, which divides in West Bengal. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma or Pôdda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. The Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Mahananda rivers are in the northern hilly region. The western plateau region has rivers such as the Damodar, Ajay and Kangsabati. The Ganges delta and the Sundarbans area have numerous rivers and creeks. Pollution of the Ganges from indiscriminate waste dumped into the river is a major problem. There are several dams on the Ganges in West Bengal used for hydroelectricity. One at Farakka, close to the point where the main flow of the river enters Bangladesh, and the tributary Hooghly (also known as Bhagirathi) continues in West Bengal past the capital. This barrage, which feeds the Hooghly branch of the river by a long feeder canal, and its water flow management has been a long-lingering source of dispute with Bangladesh. Damodar, another important tributary of the Ganges, meets the river near Bagnan, Howrah. Popularly known as "Sorrow of Bengal" due to its frequent floods, is having the large hydroelectric dam called Damodar Valley Project, built on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority. There is also a controversial dam at Tehri, on the Bhagirathi, one of the main source rivers of the Ganges. At least nine districts in the state suffer from arsenic contamination of groundwater, and an estimated 8.7 million people drink water containing arsenic above the World Health Organisation recommended limit of 10 µg/L. West Bengal's climate varies from tropical savannah in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, rainy season, a short autumn, and winter. While the summer in the delta region is noted for excessive humidity, the western highlands experience a dry summer like northern India, with the highest day temperature ranging from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). At nights, a cool southerly breeze carries moisture from the Bay of Bengal. In early summer brief squalls and thunderstorms known as Kalbaisakhi, or Nor'westers, often occur. Troughs of low pressure are often developed near the Bay of Bengal, resulting cyclonic storms. These are known as Ashwiner Jhar and often cause huge destruction. This season is a festive season in West Bengal due to celebration of Durga puja, Lakshmi puja and Diwali. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. Heavy rainfall of above 250 cm is observed in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district. Later, blowing westwards, the winds cause average rainfall of 125 cm in the northern plains and western plateau region. During the arrival of the monsoons, low pressure in the Bay of Bengal region often leads to the occurrence of storms in the coastal areas. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian ocean monsoon that moves in a northwest direction. Winter (December–January) is mild over the plains with average minimum temperatures of 15 °C (59 °F). A cold and dry northern wind blows in the winter, substantially lowering the humidity level. However, the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences a harsh winter, with occasional snowfall at places.

Flora and fauna

A Bengal tiger
Sal trees in Arabari forest, in West Midnapur. Joint Forest Management maintains the forest.
Sun set in Neora Valley
Owing to the varying altitude from the Himalayas to the coastal plains, the flora and fauna of the state is diverse. Forests make up 14% of the geographical area of West Bengal, which is lower than the national average of 23%. Protected forests cover 4% of the state area. Part of the world's largest mangrove forest Sundarbans is located in southern West Bengal.
State Symbols of West Bengal
Union dayAugust 18 (Day of
accession to India)
State animalBengal TigerA tiger in Pilibhit Tiger Reserve.jpg
State birdWhite-throated KingfisherWhite-throated Kingfisher (Shankar).jpg
State treeDevil TreeAlstonia scholaris.jpg
State flowerNight-flowering JasmineFlower & flower buds I IMG 2257.jpg
From a phytogeographic viewpoint, the southern part of West Bengal can be divided into two regions: the Gangetic plain and the littoral mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. The alluvial soil of the Gangetic plain compounded with favorable rainfall make this region especially fertile. Much of the vegetation of the western part of the state shares floristic similarities with the plants of the Chota Nagpur plateau in the adjoining state of Jharkhand. The predominant commercial tree species is Shorea robusta, commonly known as Sal. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation; the predominant tree is the Casuarina. The most valuable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundri (Heritiera fomes) from which the forest gets its name. Vegetation in northern West Bengal is dictated by elevation and precipitation. For example, the foothills of the Himalayas, the Dooars, are densely wooded with Sal and other trees of the tropical evergreen type. Above 1000 m, the forest type changes to subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1500 m, common trees typifying the temperate forest are oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons.
The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving Bengal tigers. There are five national parks in the state — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve,Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Wildlife includes the Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephants, deer, bison, leopards, gaur, and crocodiles. The state is also rich in bird life. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter.The high altitude forests like Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and Kalij pheasants. In addition to the Bengal tiger, the Sundarbans host many other endangered species like Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin, estuarine crocodile etc. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal.

Government and politics

Calcutta High Court is the highest court in West Bengal
SUCI rally in Kolkata
West Bengal is governed through a parliamentary system of representative democracy, a feature the state shares with other Indian states. Universal suffrage is granted to residents. There are two branches of government. The legislature, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, consists of elected members and special office bearers such as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, that are elected by the members. Assembly meetings are presided over by the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker in the Speaker's absence. The judiciary is composed of the Calcutta High Court and a system of lower courts. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister, although the titular head of government is the Governor. The Governor is the head of state appointed by the President of India. The leader of the party or coalition with a majority in the Legislative Assembly is appointed as the Chief Minister by the Governor, and the Council of Ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister. The Council of Ministers reports to the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly is unicameral with 295 Members of the Legislative Assembly, or MLAs, including one nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. Terms of office run for 5 years, unless the Assembly is dissolved prior to the completion of the term. Auxiliary authorities known as panchayats, for which local body elections are regularly held, govern local affairs. The state contributes 42 seats to Lok Sabha and 16 seats to Rajya Sabha of the Indian Parliament.
The main players in the regional politics are the All India Trinamool Congress, the Indian National Congress, the Left Front alliance (led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M)). Following the West Bengal State Assembly Election in 2011, the All India Trinamool Congress and Indian National Congress coalition under Mamata Banerjee of the All India Trinamool Congress was elected to power (getting 225 seats in the legislature) . West Bengal had been ruled by the Left Front for the past 34 years, making it the world's longest-running democratically elected communist government.


Districts of West Bengal
  1. Bankura
  2. Bardhaman
  3. Birbhum
  4. Cooch Behar
  5. Darjeeling
  6. East Midnapore
  7. Hooghly
  8. Howrah
  9. Jalpaiguri
  10. Kolkata
  1. Malda
  2. Murshidabad
  3. Nadia
  4. North 24 Parganas
  5. Uttar Dinajpur
  6. Purulia
  7. South 24 Parganas
  8. Dakshin Dinajpur
  9. West Midnapore
Each district is governed by a district collector or district magistrate, appointed either by the Indian Administrative Service or the West Bengal Civil Service. Each district is subdivided into Sub-Divisions, governed by a sub-divisional magistrate, and again into Blocks. Blocks consists of panchayats (village councils) and town municipalities.
The capital and largest city of the state is Kolkata — the third-largest urban agglomeration and the fourth-largest city in India. Siliguri is an economically important Metropolitan City, strategically located in the northeastern Siliguri Corridor (Chicken's Neck) of India. Asansol, Durgapur are the other Metropolitan cities in the western industrial belt. Other major cities and towns in West Bengal are Howrah, Raniganj, Haldia, Jalpaiguri, Kharagpur, Burdwan, Darjeeling, Midnapore, Tamluk, Malda andCooch Behar.


Kolkata is the economic center of West Bengal
Gross State Domestic Product at Current Prices (93–94 Base)
figures in crores of Indian Rupees
YearGross State Domestic Product
Agriculture is the leading occupation in West Bengal. Rice is the state's principal food crop. Other food crops are pulses, oil seeds, wheat, tobacco, sugarcane and potatoes. Jute is the main cash crop of the region. Tea is also produced commercially; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. However, the service sector is the largest contributor to the gross domestic product of the state, contributing 51% of the state domestic product compared to 27% from agriculture and 22% from industry. State industries are localized in the Kolkata region and the mineral-rich western highlands. The Durgapur–Asansol colliery belt is home to a number of major steel plants. Manufacturing industries playing an important economic role are engineering products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches, and wagons. The Durgapur centre has established a number of industries in the areas of tea, sugar, chemicals and fertilizers. Natural resources like tea and jute in and nearby parts has made West Bengal a major centre for the jute and tea industries.
Freshly sown saplings of paddy; in the background are stacks of jute sticks.
A significant part of the state is economically backward, namely, large parts of six northern districts of Cooch Behar,Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur; three western districts of Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum; and the Sundarbans area. Years after independence, West Bengal was still dependent on the central government for meeting its demands for food; food production remained stagnant and the Indian green revolution bypassed the state. However, there has been a significant spurt in food production since the 1980s, and the state now has a surplus of grains. The state's share of total industrial output in India was 9.8% in 1980–81, declining to 5% by 1997–98. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate.
West Bengal has the third largest economy (2003–2004) in India, with a net state domestic product of US$ 21.5 billion.During 2001–2002, the state's average SDP was more than 7.8% — outperforming the National GDP Growth. The state's total financial debt stands at Indian Rupee symbol.svg192,000 crore (US$42.62 billion) as of 2010 It has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly come in the software and electronics fields; Kolkata is becoming a major hub for the Information technology (IT) industry. Owing to the boom in Kolkata's and the overall state's economy, West Bengal is now the third fastest growing economy in the country. However, the rapid industrialisation process has given rise to debate over land acquisition for industry in this agrarian state. NASSCOMGartner ranks West Bengal power infrastructure the best in the country. West Bengals state domestic product (SDP) grew in 2004 with 12.7 % and in 2005 with 11.0 % . "Taking a cue from China, West Bengals’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has pushed through an ambitious economic reform program with an approach more capitalist than communist." Notably, many corporate companies are now headquartered in Kolkata include ITC LimitedIndia Government Mint, KolkataHaldia PetrochemicalsExide IndustriesHindustan MotorsBritannia IndustriesBata IndiaBirla CorporationCESC LimitedCoal India LimitedDamodar Valley CorporationPwC India, Peerless GroupUnited Bank of IndiaUCO Bank and Allahabad Bank. Recently, various events like adoption of "Look East" policy by the government of India, opening of the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim as a border trade-route with China and immense interest in the South East Asian countries to enter the Indian market and invest have put Kolkata in an advantageous position for development in future, particularly with likes of Myanmar, where India needs oil from military regime.