Famine and Dearth

Bengal District Gazetteers - 24 Parganas

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Introductory notes

The Bengal District Gazetteers were published in the first two decades of the 20th century. The bulk of the series was published under the supervision of Lewis Sydney Stewart O'Malley. L.S.S. O'Malley, who entered Indian Civil Service in 1898, joined as Assistant Magistrate and Collector in Bengal. O'Malley was later promoted to the post of Under Secretary to Government and General and Revenue Department when he took upon his work on the Bengal District Gazetteers. The Gazetteer volume on 24 Parganas was prepared with the assistance of the Magistrate of the said district and was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1914.

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The nomenclature 24-Parganas has been in vogue since 15 July 1757 when Mir Jafar whom the East India Company had just established as Nawab of Bengal ceded to the Company the rights of 24 mahals. In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, Nawab Mir Jafar conferred the Zamindari of 24 parganas upon the British East India Company. The following excerpts have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The chapter on Agriculture points out how the district is more susceptible to excess rainfall than scanty rainfall. As far as Natural Calamities were concerned cyclones were a major threat, though the district suffered seriously during the famine of 1770.

Selection details

The nomenclature 24-Parganas has been in vogue since 15 July 1757 when Mir Jafar whom the East India Company had just established as Nawab of Bengal ceded to the Company the rights of 24 mahals. In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, Nawab Mir Jafar conferred the Zamindari of 24 parganas upon the British East India Company. The following excerpts have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The chapter on Agriculture points out how the district is more susceptible to excess rainfall than scanty rainfall. As far as Natural Calamities were concerned cyclones were a major threat, though the district suffered seriously during the famine of 1770.

BENGAL DISTRICT GAZETTEERS
24-PARGANAS

by
L.S.S.O'MALLEY
INDIAN CIVIL SERVICE
CALCUTTA: THE BENGAL SECRETARIAT BOOK DEPOT. 1914
[Page 108]

1. CHAPTER V AGRICULTURE

The arable land in the 24 Parganas may be divided into three main classes, viz, (1) the comparatively high land along the banks of the rivers, (2) the low-lying depressions that stretch away below the river banks and (3) the lands adjoining the Sundarbans, which have been reclaimed in recent times. In the riparian tracts first mentioned the land is fairly well raised, and the drainage passes away easily to the basins below. It has been elevated by the deposit of silt from the rivers in past generations, and has attained a height which ensnares it against inundations, but at the same time prevents it from receiving the fertilizing layer that the floods formerly left behind them. The low lands that constitute the greater portion of the cultivated area are mainly under rice and jute. Large areas are occupied by bils, which may be either large fresh-water lakes or waterlogged swamps. Some are natural drainage basins that never dry up, and cannot be drained owing to their level. Others are connected with the rivers by efficient water channels, which serve two useful purposes; they bring down rich river silt, and they drain away the surplus water from the bil. In many cases, however, the creeks or khals have been silted up and have ceased to perform those functions. The cultivators are, therefore, forced to wait till the bil lands dry up, and, if there is a year of heavy rainfall, are precluded altogether from attempting their tillage. In the third tract, i.e., in the reclaimed lands adjoining the Sundarbans, cultivation is only rendered possible by means of embankments constructed to keep out the salt water. Dams (bandhs) have also to be built across the khals, so as to prevent the ingress of salt water from the rivers with which they communicate. The soil in this last tract being impregnated, with salt, fairly heavy rainfall is necessary to wash it out before rice seedlings can be grown and transplanted.

In the district as a whole, cultivation suffers far more frequently from excessive, than from deficient, rainfall, for, with the exception of strips of high land along the banks of the [Page 109] rivers, the country is low and swampy, and tends to become waterlogged whenever there is heavy rainfall. This is especially the case with the great basin shut in between the Diamond Harbor Railway and the Hooghly embankments, as well as a similar tract east of the Eastern Bengal Railway and the Balli Bil in these and other cases the natural drainage channels are inadequate to remove the volume of water which accumulate after heavy precipitation of rain. It will readily be understood that, in these circumstances, there is little necessity for artificial irrigation. It is, in fact, only resorted to for the cultivation of sugarcane and garden crops, for which water is raised from tank and ditches.

The soils of the district belong to the four main classes viz.,matial or clayey soil, dorasa or loamy soil, balia or sandy soil and nona or saline soil. Matial is further subdivided into three varieties called kala matal, ranga matal andh jhajhra matal Kala matal is a stiff block clay of great natural fertility, on which all kind of crops can be grown. Ranga matal is of a reddish colour: it cracks in the dry season and sinks into holes in the rains. It is well suited for winter rice, and on higher levels can be used for the cultivation of jute and other bhadoi crops. Jhajhra matal, which is inferior to the other two varieties, is blackish in colour and is easy to plough even when dry.

Dorasa soil is a mixture of clay and sand. It is used for bhadoi and rabi crops and also suitable for sugarcane. The dihi lands, or elevated lands surrounding village sites, come under this category. Being generally highly manured, they are devoted to sugarcane, tobacco, red pepper and vegetables. Balia is a common name for all soils in which the proportion of sand exceeds that of clay. Such soils are used for tobacco, potato, aus rice and mung(Phaseolus mungo). Nona is a wet saline soil, which in ordinary years does not dry up enough to permit of cultivation. It is only when the rains are late that it dries up sufficiently for cultivation to be possible

The soils in the Sundarbans, where winter rice is practicably the only crop, may be divided into the following four classes. Matial, a clayey soil, whitish in colour, and loose and light in composition. This soil is very suitable for the ''Patna" rice which is grown so largely in the Sundarbans. Next in quality comes a loamy soil called baliara or dorasa. It is reddish in colour and will retain moisture longer than any other soil. Course paddy is grown on it, but not very profitably. Dhapa or chura is a soil of a whitish colour, which lies at higher levels than the other classes. Consequently, it is not covered with [Page 110] water and the salt is not washed out, unless there is heavy rain. In ordinary years therefore no crops can be grown on it, and it only bears ulu grass, which is used for thatching. Paddy can be grown on it when the salt is washed out by heavy rain, but the yield is usually small. Dhal is the lowest land of all and is consequently flooded earlier than the others. Like ranga matal, it is reddish in colour, cracks when dry, and is full of holes in the rains. If there is moderate or scanty rainfall, coarse paddy can be raised on it with profit, but if the rain is early and heavy, it is impossible to bring it under cultivation.

[Page 130]

2. CHAPTER VII NATURAL CALAMITIES

The chief crop of the district is aman, or winter rice, which is grown on so large a proportion of the cultivated area, that the outturn of the aus, or early rice, however good, cannot compensate for its loss. For its successful cultivation the rainfall must be not only heavy, but also seasonable and well distributed; but fortunately it is merely so deficient or badly distributed as to cause any serious or widespread failure. On the contrary, the chief danger to which the cultivators are exposed is excessive precipitation, resulting in prolonged inundations and the consequent destruction of the paddy seedings. The natural and artificial means of communication, such as roads, railways, rivers and navigable creeks are, however, ample to ensure the easy importation of grain to areas where there is a local shortage, and the people generally may be regarded as immune from famine. There is, however, no safeguarding against the sudden fury of a cyclone and the even more destructive storm-wave which sometimes accompanies it. To such cyclones the district is peculiarly exposed on account of its position at the head of the Bay of Bengal, and its records show that, though they occur at irregular intervals, these violent storms are far more destructive of life and property than either droughts or floods.

Since 1770 the only famine from which the district has suffered is that of 1866, which, however, did not affect it very seriously.

This is a selection from the original text

Keywords

agriculture, arable, crops, cultivator, flood, inundation, rainfall, vegetables

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - 24 Parganas

Editor(s): L.S.S. O'Malley

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1914

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Calcutta

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at the Digital Library of India: http://www.dli.ernet.in/.

Digital edition

Original editor(s): L. S. S. O'Malley

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 108 to 110
  • 2 ) page 130

Responsibility:

Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > gazetteers > district

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.

Acknowledgements