Calcutta Corporation

Calcutta Corporation began its journey from 1727, when the first corporation came into existence within the limits of east india company's Calcutta (now Kolkata). It consisted of a Mayor and nine Aldermen whose assigned duty was to collect ground rents and town duties and to make necessary repairs to roads and drains. Besides this, the Mayor had to perform judicial duties at Mayoral Court for Europeans and local people permanently living in Calcutta. In 1794, Justices of the Peace for the town were appointed statutorily and regular assessment were authorised.

Calcutta Corporation Building

The next step towards the slow development of the Calcutta Corporation was passage of an Act in 1794 for raising fund by various means including holding public lotteries. A 'Lottery Committee' was appointed to administer the funds thus raised in early part of the 19th century and for preparing schemes for improvement of the town and executes them. During the said period new roads were built, old ones improved, tanks dug, old ones filled up. Most importantly, a Town Hall was also built. The amount of house tax realised in 1819 was a little over 2.5 lakhs and had risen to 3 lakhs in 1836. The activities of the Committee ceased in 1836.

The electoral system for the city management was introduced in the year 1847, when the Justices of Peace were replaced by a Board of seven paid regular members, four of whom were elected by the rate payers. In 1852, the Board was replaced by a new four-member board of whom two were appointed by Government and two were elected by rate payers. The members of the Board were allowed a maximum salary of Rs. 250/- a month. Under the Act of 1847 horses, vehicles and carts were subjected to taxes. The house tax was raised from 6.25% to 7.5%, new lighting rate of 2% was introduced. In 1856 the Board was reduced to three members, all appointed by Government.

Notable advance was made in 1863 when Municipal Governance was vested in a body composed of all the justices of the town together with all the justices of the provinces who were residents of Calcutta. This body elected its own Vice-Chairman and under its supervision had a regular Health Officer, Engineer, Surveyor, Tax-Collector and Assessor. Water-rate was introduced and the house tax was increased to 10%. During this period the drainage and water-supply systems were further developed. The Municipal Slaughter-houses, Filtered water-supply (first city in Asia) and the first organised and regulated market place in Asia, namely, New Market were established in 1866, 1868 and 1874 respectively. Footpaths were also introduced along main roads.

The electoral system was given prominence when the Corporation was reformed in 1876. The reformed corporation consisted of 72 commissioners with a chairman and vice-chairman. Forty-eight of them were elected by the rate-payers and twenty four nominated by the Government. This body completed the underground drainage system in 1878 and thus Calcutta became the third city in the whole world to have underground drainage system. The Harrison Road was also opened connecting the two Railway terminals at Sealdah and Howrah.

In 1888 the Municipal boundary was extended by inclusion of South East of the Circular Road. The number of commissioners was raised to 75. Out of this seventy-five 50 were elected, 15 appointed by Government and 10 nominated by different Chamber of Commerce and Trades Associations. Under an Act of 1899 the number of commissioners was reduced to fifty:' 25 elected and 25 appointed. The chairman was to be appointed by the Government and the executive power was vested in the chairman. This Act caused resentment amongst the elected Commissioners and 28 of them resigned as a mark of protest.

The most important changes were effected under the Act of 1923, when surandranath banerjee was the Minister for local self-government. Under the Act, a mayor was to be elected each year to preside over the meetings of the Corporatio n, now to be consisting of a mayor, deputy mayor, five aldermen and 90 councillors. Aldermen are elected by the councillors before the election of Mayor. Executive powers were vested in a Chief Executive Officer assisted by two Deputy Executive Officers. A large area adjacent to Calcutta was included into the limits of the corporation. Women were enfranchised by this Act. Under the' Act of 1923, the first Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Chief Executive Officer were Chitta ranjan das, subhas chandra bose and huseyn shaheed suhrawardy.

In March 1948 the Calcutta Corporation was taken over by the Government of West Bengal on the ground of mal-administration. An Administrative Officer was appointed by the Government as the highest authority in addition to the Chief Executive Officer and this arrangement continued till 30 April 1952.

A new chapter of the Calcutta Corporation was opened from 1 May 1952 with the introduction of the Calcutta Municipal Act, 1951 (West Bengal Act XXXIII of 1951). The new Act envisaged the Corporation as a policy-making, directive and rule-making body.

The Act provide for three distinct and independent authorities, viz., 1) the Corporation, 2) the Seven Standing Committees and' 3) a Commissioner. The Mayor was vested with the power of appellate authority in cases of disciplinary action taken by the Commissioner against the employees and the decision of the Mayor was made final.

The Tollygange Municipality was also added to Calcutta through an amendment of Calcutta Municipal Act in 1953 increasing the number of Councillors from 75 to 80 and the city was divided into 80 wards. A further amendment of Act in 1964 increased the number of wards to 100. Subsequent amendments of Act in 1978, age of eligible voters were reduced from 21 years to 18 years. Subsequently with 74th amendment of Indian Constitution one-third of the total seats was kept reserved for women. Seats were also reserved in the wards where Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribe population was in the majority.

In pursuance of the section 47c of the Calcutta Municipal Act, 1951, the Governor of West Bengal by Order No. 561/LSG dated the 22 March 1972 superseded the Corporation of Calcutta with immediate effect for a period of one year and the same was extended from year to year till the formation of the new Corporation of Calcutta on 30 June 1985.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act 1980 replaced the Calcutta Municipal Act 1951 and introduced a new set up of administration for Calcutta Corporation. The power of the mayor was increased many fold and the Mayor in Council was given the tenure for five years.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act 1980 came into force in January 1984. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Act, 1983 was passed with a view to extending the boundaries of the Calcutta by inclusion of the Municipalities of South Suburban, Garden Reach and Jadavpur within Calcutta. The number of wards of the corporation was raised to 141. The first election under this Act was held in 30 June 1985 and it is still in force. [Dilip Banerjee]