Capital of West Bengal state in India, on the River Hooghly, the westernmost mouth of the River Ganges, some 130 km/80 mi north of the Bay of Bengal; population (2001 est) 4,580,500; metropolitan area (2001 est) 13,216,500. It is chiefly a commercial and industrial centre, its industries including engineering, shipbuilding, jute and other textiles, chemicals, beverages, and tobacco. There is considerable unemployment, and industries have declined since political separation from East Bengal (later part of Bangladesh) in 1947, which reduced access to raw materials and markets as well as the growth of competitive industries. The whole of the metropolitan area is densely populated, especially along the banks of the Hooghly in ‘bustees’ of makeshift housing, and there is severe air pollution. It was the seat of government of British India 1773-1912.
buildings include a magnificent Jain temple, the palaces of former Indian princes; and the Law Courts, the Victoria Memorial and Government House, survivals of the British Raj. Across the river is Haora, and between Kolkata and the sea a new bulk cargo port, Haldia, is the focus of oil refineries, petrochemical plants, and fertilizer factories. There is an international airport at Dum-Dum.
Educational institutions include the University of Calcutta (1857), oldest of several universities; the Visva Bharati at Santiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore; and the Bose Research Institute.
Kolkata was founded 1686-90 by Job Charnock of the East India Company as a trading post. The Hooghly River provided access to the economic and political heartland of India; Fort William was built in 1696 to protect this trading position, and the settlement expanded rapidly by trading in opium, indigo, textiles, and fine cotton. Captured by Suraj-ud-Dowlah in 1756, during the Anglo-French wars in India, in 1757 it was retaken by Robert Clive. The foundations of the present Fort William were laid in 1758, completed by 1781, and remain the nucleus of the present city. Traffic congestion is a major problem, the latter caused largely by concentration on the few crossings of the Hooghly. The opening of a subway system in 1986 and later of a second bridge between Howrah and Kolkata have helped to relieve this congestion.
In the British colonial period Kolkata's rapid growth was based on cotton textile production, tea and jute exports, and imports such as railway parts from Britain. As a major port with a large hinterland which included major heavy manufacturing centres, and the focus of a developing rail system, Kolkata became the dominant industrial complex of India. By 1921 the city employed one-third of India's factory population, and in the 1970s it employed more than half a million workers in manufacturing. Jute manufacturing is Kolkata's most important industry, despite being hit in 1949 by Pakistan closing its borders to trade with India, thus depriving the city of its supply of raw jute. Manufacturing is located near river frontages, particularly north of Haora and Bhatpara. Engineering works related to shipping, railway, and local factory needs have concentrated in Haora, Titagarh, and Bhatpara, but the emphasis is changing to electronics and lighter consumer industries. The conurbation serves as a market for such goods, including motor vehicles at Konnagar, paper at Titagarh, and footwear at Batanagar.
This has declined in importance with the further silting, pollution, and reduction in flow of the Hooghly, which has also caused serious disruption to the city's supply of drinking water. The Farakka Barrage was built in 1971 to divert water from the Ganges to the Hooghly, flushing out silt and pollutants and raising the water level, and helping to improve navigation, water supply, and sewage disposal. However, this diversion is a continuing source of conflict with Bangladesh, which also needs the Ganges water.
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