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Narayanganj


Narayanganj a former sub-divisional town of dhaka district was upgraded to a district in February 1984. Narayanganj, the oldest and the most prominent river port of Bangladesh, grew into a place of trade and commerce and therefore, became known as a ganj. Legend goes that one Bicon Lal Pandey (also known as Benur Thakur or Lakhsmi Narayan Thakur), a Hindu religious leader, acquired this region from the east india company in 1766. He declared the markets located on the bank of the river shitalakshya as endowed property by a will to meet the expenses of the worship of God Narayan and consequently, the place got the name Narayanganj.

Narayanganj district is bounded by gazipur and narsingdi districts on the north, brahmanbaria and comilla districts on the east, munshiganj district on the south, and Dhaka district on the west. Geologically, the area lies on the edge of the madhupur tract and the Holocene floodplain deposits form the aquifer. The total area of the district is 759.57 sq km., of which 48.56 sq km. is reverine and 0.60 sq km. is under forest. The district lies between 23'33'and 23'57'north latitude and between 90'26' and 90'45' east longitude.

Narayanganj town has a population of 1.5 million and is located some 20 km southeast of Dhaka on the flat Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna alluvial plain. It is flanked by the Shitalakshya river on the east and the buriganga river on the south and southwest. The Shitalakshya river divides the town into two parts, the Narayanganj Municipal Area and Kadam Rasul Municipal Area. This area is crossed by many small artificial canals fed by monsoon rain. Average annual rainfall is 2550 mm, 80 to 90% of which occurs between May and October.

Narayanganj municipality was established on 8 September 1876 having an area of 4.5 square miles with a population of 27,876. It had 12 commissioners, 4 nominated and 8 elected, including the town's important jute merchants, one of whom was always the chairman in the past. According to available records, it was considered as a model municipality in the province of Bengal. The town, the market, the roads and the surroundings were clean and well maintained. The drainage system was in order. The water works of the municipality were erected at a cost of Rs 200,000 from private subscription by the European jute merchants of the town. The name of the first Bangali elected Chairman of Narayanganj Municipality was Syed Mohammad Maleh.

In 1952, the area of Narayanganj municipality was extended up to 7.5 sq miles by a declaration of the Dhaka Judge court. The municipality has an old hospital (Narayanganj Victoria Hospital) constructed in 1882 with the help of Harakanta Banerjee. It started with 30 beds and was fully supervised by the municipality for many years. A government post office was established at Narayanganj in 1866.

The Dhaka-Narayanganj telegraph service was first introduced in 1877. The Bank of Bengal first introduced telephone at Narayanganj in 1882. All the street lamps of Narayanganj municipality were based on kerosene. On 30 September 1931, Narayanganj municipality introduced electricity in its command area with the help of Chittagong Electricity Supply Co. After 1947, there was an all round industrial expansion and the need for more electric power was keenly felt. A thermal power station was established at Siddhirganj with the capacity to produce 40000 KWT. By that time, Narayanganj had its own powerhouse, which also helped local industries. Later, the area of Narayanganj Municipality was extended upto 10.35 sq km. At present (2011), the Narayanganj Municipality elevated to the Narayanganj City Corporation with more areas the east bank of Shitalakshya river. The municipality has a Public Library (established in 1929) with 16,000 books. The library regularly receives 17 periodicals and 9 daily newspapers. The town has a 200-bed modern hospital constructed with the help of the government.

Narayanganj port Narayanganj is connected to Dhaka by three metalled roads and a metre gauge rail line as well as by waterways through the rivers Buriganga and Shitalakshya. Steamer services from Narayanganj started in 1862. At that time, steamer and rail routes via Goalanda and Narayanganj connected Dhaka with calcutta. Narayanganj was then known more as the port of Dhaka. It constituted the great mart east of sirajganj on the jamuna, and had regular steam communication with Calcutta, sylhet, Assam, and Kachar. Narayanganj port then carried on an extensive trade with Calcutta, importing cloth, piece goods, salt etc and exporting country produce of all kinds, especially jute and seeds. The port had trade with chittagong, which imported cotton, timber, oil, hides etc from Narayanganj and exported tobacco, pottery, and country produce. The trade of Narayanganj with Rangoon (Yangon) and Akyab comprised import of timber, cotton, catechu, etc, and export of tobacco, betel nut, etc. The British government declared Narayanganj as a tax free port in 1879, a move which attracted many English people to come and start businesses in Narayanganj.

Present day Narayanganj port was formally opened in June 1955. Facilities include a two-storied terminal building, seven RCC jetties, ten pontoon jetties, and a number of warehouses covering a total floor space of 62,000 sq ft. Many private industrial establishments such as jute processing industries have their own berthing and handling facilities. Narayanganj has been for centuries a river port, mainly serving local agriculture and the jute trade. Its proximity to Dhaka favoured the development of light industry, and it is now a national textile manufacturing centre, with factories undertaking all stages of production, from spinning, dyeing/bleaching and weaving to the making of garments and other finished cloth products. Other industries include soap making, hosiery, metal re-rolling, and metal and wood furniture manufacture.

Narayanganj as centre of trade and commerce Narayanganj grew in importance after the arrival of the Portuguese and the English traders during the early parts of the 17th and 18th centuries respectively. Though the west bank of Shitalakshya was an important commercial centre since the rule of Mir Jumla in the early years of the second half of the 17th century, Narayanganj was not very busy until the beginning of the 19th century. The first foreign company to start jute business in Narayanganj was the Rally Brothers, which, with the help of an Assamese company, started to export jute from the port to the western countries in 1830. Jute was not, as a rule, assorted before it was offered for sale in Narayanganj, but if in the process of weighing after the negotiation of prices, a bundle or two was opened and if the quality was found poorer than that of the sample, the purchaser insisted on a price reduction. There was no regular market but the beparis came with their boatloads of jute to the godowns of purchasing firms. The bepari would sometimes visit half a dozen different firms before finally selling his jute. However, Narayanganj was not the only jute-purchasing centre. The merchants had their buying agents at all the important mofussil centres, and from July onwards, tugs were to be seen puffing up and down the river towing after them six or seven huge local boats, sometimes riding light in ballast, sometimes laden with their cargoes of fibre.

There were 20 firms at Narayanganj in 1907-08 engaged in the purchase, bailing and supply of raw jute to Calcutta mills. Of these, 18 were in European and two in Indian ownership. The operations of these firms consisted in purchasing jute from the producer through beparis, as well as the firms' own purchasing stations scattered at convenient places in the interior of the three districts of Dhaka, mymensingh and comilla. These purchasing centres were manned by the firms' own men and had warehouses.

With formation of Pakistan in 1947, things changed overnight. Narayanganj, which was simply a jute market, had to be converted into an industrial centre of jute. All the jute mills and presses in and around Calcutta fell to the share of India. East Pakistan was rich in the golden fibre but had no jute mill and had a very small baling capacity, which had to be increased within a short time to meet the overseas demand. The business community took up the required initiative. The Adamjees of West Pakistan came into the field at this stage and established the biggest jute mill in the world at Narayanganj. The adamjee jute mills started production by 12 December 1951. The first jute mill of the town was, however, established by the Bawa Group (also of West Pakistan) at Sonakanda of Narayanganj on the east bank of the Shitalakshya. This mill went into production on 18 May 1951.

One of the important places of Narayanganj is sonargaon, which had the distinction of being described by ralph fitch in 1583 as the place 'where there is the best and finest cloth made of cotton that is in all India'. Sonargaon is historically famous for manufacturing a species of very fine muslin. John Crawford, who was for a long time in the service of the East India Company, stated to a Committee of the British House of Commons in 1830-31 that the fine variety of cotton in the neighbourhood of Dhaka, from which the fine muslins were produced, was cultivated by the natives alone and was not at all known in the English market, or even in Calcutta.

The Dhakeshwari Cotton Mill of Narayanganj, established by Babu Surya Kumar Bose on the bank of the Shitalakshya in 1927, was the first textile mill in the whole British district of Dhaka. The Chittaranjan Cotton Mill was established in 1929. Babu Ramesh Chandra Roy Chowdhury, a professor of chemistry at the jagannath college established the Luxmi Narayan Cotton Mill in 1932. The Dhakeshwari opened a second Mill in 1937. Narayanganj is also the principal hosiery manufacturing centre of Bangladesh. The first hosiery factory was established in 1921 by Babu Shatish Chandra Pal in 1921. The factory named as Hangsha Hosiery at Tanbazar started its operations with four hand-driven ribbon machines. A major factor that promoted the expansion of hosiery industry at Narayanganj is its location on the bank of the Shitalakshya, which facilitated transportation of raw materials and the finished products and supplied good water to wash knitted clothes. At present, Narayanganj is one of the main centres for the garments industries. There are more than a dozen soap factories at Narayanganj. There are some silicate factories too. Narayanganj town also has a number of large flourmills. In the past, flour used to come to Narayanganj from Calcutta.

There is a national warehouse of the silo-type on the bank of the river Shitalakshya at Siddirganj of Narayanganj. It is 196 feet high and its capacity is 52,000 metric tons. Its construction started in 1967 and was finished in 1971 with the help of a World Bank grant of $9 million. It can store 20 metric tons of wheat per hour, which is unloaded automatically from ships. Wheat is then supplied from here to different areas of the country.

A major structure built around Narayanganj is the DND (Dhaka-Narayanganj-Demra) embankment that protects land from flooding. There are about 15,000 acres of cultivable land within the project area. A major establishment of Narayanganj is the Bangladesh Engineering and Ship Building Corporation established in 1925 at Sonakanda on the east bank of the Shitalakshya river. There are many brickfields at Pagla, Aliganj and Fatullah of Narayanganj on the side of the Dhaka-Narayanganj highway. The number of industry units at Narayanganj, as recorded by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, is 2,409. These are: food, beverage and tobacco - 377; jute, cotton, textile and leather - 1,320; wood products - 49; pulp and paper products - 30; chemicals - 104; non-metallic products - 170; basic metal products - 101; fabricated metal, machinery and equipment - 230; and other manufacturing - 28.

The brothel at Tanbazar of Narayanganj town is the biggest in Bangladesh. It was established here during the British period, when it gradually developed as a port town. There is no authentic record of who established this brothel and how. It is popularly believed that it was established to entertain local workers and foreign traders. The brothel has a history of its own and it often gives rise to sensitive social and political issues. The brothel has been ousted in 2000. [Md. Solaiman]