Rural Health Policy in Colonial Bengal


Sanitation, Environment, Water-Three Aspects of Rural Health Policy in Colonial Bengal (1900-1930)

Tinni Goswami

Department of History, St. Xavier's College (Autonomous), Kolkata-700016

The extent of British dominion may perhaps be better imagined than described, when the fact is appreciated that, of the entire land surface of the globes approximately one-fifth is actually or theoretically under that flag, while more than one-sixth of all the human beings living in this planet reside under one or the other types of English colonization. The names by which authority is exerted are numerous, and processes are distinct, but the goals to which this manifold mechanism is working are very similar. According to the climate, the natural conditions and the inhabitants of the regions affected, procedure and practice differ. The means are adopted to the situation; there is not any irrevocable, immutable line of policy; from time to time, from decade to decade, English statesmen have applied different treatments to the same territory. From this above mentioned, a theory could be materialized where the Britons are a race endowed, like the Romans, with a genius for government, that then colonial and imperial policy is animated by a resolve to spread throughout the world the arts of free self-government which they enjoy at home and here is the political significance of the British imperialism In India, British Imperialism chose the tool of science and technology as their weapon for the subjugation of the natives. The introduction of Western Science and technology in British India was by no means a smooth and uncontested process as Zaheer Baber asserts. In the initial stages of the consolidation of colonial rule, there was no discernable science and technology policy. By the mid-nineteenth century, colonial India constituted the site for one of the largest, state sponsored scientific and technological enterprises under taken anywhere in modern times. During the course of colonial rule, India literally constituted a social laboratory where a number of 'experiments' in institution building were planned and executed. The emergence of modern colonial empires witnessed the development of certain scientific traditions and institutions that transcended national and cultural boundaries. The fact that colonial rule led to far-reaching structural transformations and had many negative consequences for India and other societies are obvious. What is required is to go beyond repeatedly stating the obvious to analyze the complexities of colonial rule and its consequences for the development of science and technology not just in the colonized societies but in Britain, too.

As I have made an attempt to highlight the three aspects of the public health policy in Bengal, therefore in my paper environment comes first. Two thousand years ago, as much as 85 percent of the Indian subcontinent was covered with forests. The forest ecosystems varied widely; as did their flora and fauna and the communities that inhabited them. While there is little record describing early human-forest interactions, Vedic literature indicates that forests were held in high esteem and the ethno botanical knowledge of the people of those times was intensive. It was not until the arrival of the British colonial interests in the late eighteenth century that the perceptions of the state towards the forests began to change. From 1770 to 1860 forests were increasingly viewed as an asset of the state with great commercial potential. With the establishment of the Indian Forest Service under the Government Forest Act of 1865, an agency was established to initiate more systematic and efficient planning. During the 1880s and 1890s, the forest department began a concerted effort to demarcate forest land, reserving the forests with the greatest commercial potential. By the 1890s large reserves had been defined and huge quantities of logs were needed for the construction of railway lines. Communities were given three months to contest the reservation, once the forest settlement officer had declared the state's intention to nationalize the lands. If the villagers failed to file a claim within this period, their rights were generally permanently revoked. Illiterate villagers were often unaware that a survey and demarcation process was in progress. Further, most rural villagers, especially tribal communities, had little experience with legal procedures for filling cares in courts. Further, the 'rights' to forest access and products entitled to communities under the Forest Act of 1878 were corded as time passed. For example, a departmental resolution issued in 1890 stated, 'The privileges conceded are intended to be exercised as a matter of favour and not of right and are liable at anytime, at the pleasure of the Government, to modification, curtailment on discontinuances.' In short, throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the forest of rural communities were continuously being reserved and nationalized, while the rights of villagers were eroded through a series of legal actions. Village forest rights were often changed to privileges at the discretion of local bureaucrats. A century later, a Govt. of India survey found that few tribal were aware of their legal rights. Knowledge of forest rights and legal procedures present in rural communities tended to be in the hands of economic elites and land owning families who used that information to their own advantage.

In this context, we must mention, the Jungle Mahals of West Bengal, for which the Britishers competed in an unhealthy manner. Prior to the colonial era an eastern Indian region known as the 'Jungle Mahals' was covered by dense forest tracts and inhabited by Santhal and other tribal people. Stretching from Western Midnapore in South-Western Bengal across Southern Bihar, much of the area was wild and remote, yet it provided well-stocked forests for hunting and gathering and small plains for agriculture. During the late eighteenth century, the British sent military expeditions into the Jungle Mahals in an attempt to extend their authority and extract land revenues. Through superior force, however, the British gradually succeeded in extending their control to the area through the nineteenth century. As this process continued; the British empowered a new class of Zamindars to control and tax local forest communities, encouraging them to open forest land for cultivation. The process of clearing forests for agricultural land had sweeping ecological implications, especially for the river systems and soil conditions. Removal of the forest cover allowed torrential monsoon rains to wash away the shallow topsoil, leaving an exposed late rite hard plain that made farming virtually impossible in many areas. As the forest was cleared, traditional forest-based industries like tussar silk declined dramatically, as did the population densities in Chandrakona, Ghatal and other regions of the Jungle Mahals.

Superbly equipped to maintain strict state control over forest utilization, the 1878 act provided the under pinning for the 'scientific' management of forest, enabling the working of compact blocks of forest for commercial timber production. The principle of state monopoly also formed the cornerstone of the important forest policy statement of 1894. Influenced by a devastating official indictment of the commercial orientation of forest management, the policy was also a response to the 'serious discontent among the agricultural classes' caused by strict forest administration. Consistent with this legal and institutional structure, the administration of the forests reserved by the state, - some 99,000 square miles in 1947-was contingent on the imperial interests it served-first during the era of railway expansion, and later, during the two world wars. The construction and opening of the Ajay-Sainthia and Sainthia - Tinpahar railway lines in 1860, followed by the construction of the main line of the Bengal-Nagpur railway in 1898, stimulated commercial feeling. Commercial demand for timber raised the value of forest lands and the timber merchants rushed in even before the railway lines opened and began leasing or purchasing large tracts from the Midnapore Zamindari Company and other Zamindars. Not only that, lease holders and Zamindars began imposing strict controls on forest use by local communities. As the sometime, the forest department had to generate an adequate revenue in keeping with a cardinal principal of imperial policy, namely that the administrative machinery had to be self-supporting. As such, a constant endeavor was to find markets for the multiple species of India's tropical forests, of which only a few, often comprising less than 10 percent of the canopy, were readily saleable. The inaccessibility of many forest areas and the stagnant nature of industrial development further inhibited the full commercial utilization of forest produce. From 1900-1925, the revenue and surplus of Forest Department were

Yearly average        Revenue          Surplus                 Percentage of for the period Column 3 to Column 2
                     (Rs. Million)    (Rs. Million)
1899-1900 to 1903-4   19.7             8.4                     43
1904-1905 to 1908-9   25.7            11.6                     45
1909-1910 to 1913-14  29.6            13.2                     45
1914-1915 to 1918-19  37.1            16.0                     43
1919-1920 to 1923-4   55.2            18.5                     34
     1924 to 1925     56.7            21.3                     38

Though the time span which I have chosen for my paper is 1900-1930, but regarding the forest policy of the Britishers, it is required to highlight the 1878 Forest Act, by which three types of forest were to be designated; Reserved, Protected and Village. Reserved forests were deemed the most commercially valuable and amenable to sustained exploitation. Overall state control of reserved forests was sought, which involved either the relinquishment, or transferal of other claims and rights, although very occasionally limited access was granted. Protected forests were similarly state controlled, but some concessions were granted, conditional to the reservation of commercial tree species, when they became valuable, protected forests could also be closed to fuel wood collection and greasing whenever it was deemed necessary to do so. As timber demand for empire increased, many protected forests were re-designated as reserved forests. The act also provided for a third designation of forests in its constitution, village forests. The area of forest appropriated by the state in 1878 was 14,000 square miles, which had increased to 81,400 and 3300 square miles, by 1900. In east India, state appropriation of land often involved the dispossession of adivasi communities' ancestral land which I have mentioned earlier. In the Singhbum District of Bihar, large scale encroachment by the Forest Department in the late nineteenth century dispossessed the Ho tribe from this villages and surrounds in an attempt to demarcate a reserve forest. The reservation created conflict between the Ho and Forest Department which ultimately became a 'tree war'.

To sum up this section one can say that, the mapping of India's forests allowed the implementation of scientific management. The dominant paradigm of scientific management was to pursue the maximum sustainable yield, and management practices were organized around this principle. In serving the interests of the colonial rulers, forest management and its associated restrictions of access to local communities, resulted in, 'a steady build up of forest capita!'. The forest capital was somewhat decreased during the World War one, but regenerated during World War Two.

During the colonial rule, one of the greatest needs of Bengal was the provision of pure and protected water supply. Before 1900, one can mention the Bengal Local Self-Government Act of 1885 which imposed certain statutory responsibilities on the district boards with regard to the provision of water supply within their respective areas, by which the district boards, with the approval of the Divisional Commissioners were to provide any place with a proper and sufficient supply of water and for this purpose were to construct, repair and maintain water works, wells and tanks. It should be noted that the Sanitary Inspector appointed by a district board for each police station rendered assistance for ensuring the purity of water supply of the area under his jurisdiction. Considerable changes in the Act of 1885 were effected in 1908 and larger powers were given to the Union Committees (replaced by union boards by the village Self-Government Act, 1919) in matters of improvement of water supply. A union board, under section 30 of the village Self-Government Act (1919) was authorized to set apart and prohibit the pollution of selected sources of water for drinking or culinary purposes. But the district boards were failed to provide adequate sources of water supply within their respective areas. It was stated in the Swasthya Samachar Patrika that '................................. Consideration of this problem commenced in 1896 and it was ordered that a register was to be maintained by the districts boards showing the sources of water supply. The district boards were also directed to submif an annual programme of operations in connection with village water works and they were advised to set apart at least Rs.5000 per annum for improvement of rural water supply'. In 1904, the Government offered to contribute one-third of the expenditure incurred in improving the rural water supply subject to a maximum of Rs.5000 for one district and Rs.50,000 for the whole province. In all the amount of the Government grant for each district to the extent of one-third of the amount spent by each board was reduced from Rs.5000 to Rs.3000. It was stated in the Resolution No. 1428 san. of the Municipal Department (Sanitation) on the 9th July, 1912 that 'The expenditure by Municipalities on conservancy, drainage and water supply decreased from Rs.24,88,154 to Rs.22,58,679. The decrease being due to the fact that the expenditure in the preceding year was abnormally large, owing to the .construction of drains in various towns. The introduction of filtered water checked the incidence of Cholera and other water-borne diseases but, unless accompanied by the introduction of an efficient drainage scheme, leads to the stagnation of a large volume of waste water and a corresponding rise in the incidence of fever.' In the column of the Sanitary Board, it was mentioned, 'During the year, seven new schemes of water supply were taken up. Six schemes were under the consideration of the Board in their initial stages and twelve were proceeded with'.

It may be noted that, the expenditure on the water supply was not always in a deplorable condition, it was stated in the Resolution No.1352 San.(Municipal Department, Sanitation, 22nd July, 1911) that - 'The total expenditure by municipalities on conservancy, drainage and water supply during the year 1909-10 continued to increase and amounted to Rs.24,88,154 which is Rs.2,90,774 in excess of the figure of 1908-9. It is satisfactory to note that there was a marked improvement in the working of the septic tank instillations on the bank of the Hooghly and it is reported that analysis shows the effluent to be virtually sterile as it passes into the river. The Sanitary Commissioner's laboratory was enlarged during the year and all water analysis (both chemical and bacteriological) are now undertaken at it. From this resolution, we come to know about the condition of the than water supply programmes. It was spited like that - 'During the year under report, sketch projects for six water supply schemes (at Uttarpara, Puri, Bankura, Kalna, Satkira and Patna respectively) were under consideration and 13 water supply schemes (at Darjeeling, Monghyr, Bhagalpur, Naihati, Bhatpara, Jessore, Gaya, Sreerampore, the South Subarban Municipality, Hooghly-Chinsura, Howrah, Khulna and Kurseong) were either under construction or had reached the stage when tenders for the contracts had been called for. A comprehensive and expensive scheme for the supply of water to the whole of the Jherria Coal Fields was also under examination. From the statistics furnished by the Sanitary Board, it appears that (exclusive at Calcutta) there are at present in the Province, municipalities possessing water works on a more or less elaborate scale, which serve a population of rather over half a million and the total capital cost of which up to the 31st December 1910 was approximately Rs.48 lakhs ....... It is obvious that a substantial beginning has been made towards the proper equipment of the towns in Bengal in this respect, the more or so when it is remembered that the majority of there installations were constructed since the commencement of the century. It is estimated, moreover, that in two years the quantity of filtered water supplied to the inhabitants of municipalities in Bengal will be increased by about 75 per cent ......' In 1913-14, with the surrender of the public work cess to the district boards, which increased their income to a considerable extent, the grant-in-aid was discontinued for the rural water supply. At the District Boards, conference of 1923, it was decided to spend money from the public works cess on rural water supply.

To secure the supply of un-polluted water, the British Govt. took the measure of disinfection of the wells with Permanganate of Potash. In 1906 in the 39 Annual Report of the Sanitary Commissioner for Bengal, Lieut -Col. F. Clarrson had stated that 'Besides treating with this drug a few wells in Midnapore town and some suspected wells and tanks in Burdwan, little was done in this direction in Lower Bengal, where wells are rarely used as a source of drinking water supply. In Birbhum, the permanganate of Potash was supplied to Panchayets to disinfect the drinking water in cholera affected villages. In Gaya town a large number of towns were disinfected. This useful measure was taken in Saran, Champaran, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Monghyr, Bhagalpur, Purnea, Santhal Parganas, Cuttack, Puri, Sambalpur, Hazaribagh, Ranchi and Palamau ...............'

It was from 1925-26 that Government again started making an annual grant of Rs.21/2 lakhs which, for sometime, was reduced to Rs.2 lakhs. In this regard, one can mention, the Resolution No.2175 of the Local Self-Government Department, Government of Bengal, in the year 1926-27, where it was clearly stated-The expenditure on water supply declined from Rs.9.1 lakhs to Rs.8.62 lakhs. Altogether 11 district boards spent larger amounts than in the previous year. Burdwan, Bankura, 24 Parganas, Mymansingh, Pabna and Malda which spent larger sums than their augmentation grants deserve special mention.

The Hooghly District Board spent Rs.16,600 in sinking tube-wells, masonry wells and repairs of tanks and wells. This Board got a loan of Rs. 1 lakh from Government for the improvement of rural water supply. It is hoped that when the scheme of water supply for rural areas is fully carried out one-fourth of the district will be saved from the scarcity of drinking water. In this resolution, the importance of tube-wells was explained like this-'In many areas within recent years tube-wells have become a popular source of water-supply. Where tube-wells are possible, they have many advantages. There is little risk of contamination and if the tube is a small one the cost is much cheaper then that of digging a tank or constructing a Pucca well.' It should be noted that, in the 1920's the Ministry of Local Self-Government wanted to launch a complete programme of rural water supply in the districts, for which it required the corporation of the District Boards. It was stated in the above mentioned Resolution that - 'The Ministry of Local Self-Government will at an early date address a circular to the different District Boards calling for certain definite information about a complete programme of rural water-supply in the districts, but in the meantime the Minister desires to draw the attention of the District Boards to the necessity of having such a programme and estimate for each district, so that the whole problem can be investigated with more definite data than it has been possible neither to do.'

With a view to assist the district boards for improving rural water-supply, the Government of Bengal in 1929, adopted the policy of advancing loans to the district boards. By their loan policy the Government offered certain facilities for loans to be raised at a low rate of interest for water supply projects. The district boards were to submit proposals for loans both for tube-wells on the one hand and for ordinary wells and tanks on the other. In the Annual Report of the Chief Engineer, Public Health Department, Bengal for the years 1932-33, it was stated by the Chief Engineer, F.C. Griffin that -'In connection with the rules for management of water works, the following business of the department was carried on

1. Checking the monthly returns of the various sewerage, pumping stations of municipal authorities.

2. Scrutinizing the annual budget estimates of municipal sewerage and water works.

3. Examination of the periodical inspection reports and others on machinery and filters at the various waterworks pumping stations of municipalities.

4. Dealing with the monthly reports on analysis of water issued by the Director of Public Health Laboratory, Medical Officer, Darjeeling, and Public Analysists, Khulnaand Rajshahi.

It should be noted that the municipal water supply was regulated by the Bengal Municipal Act III of 1884 and the Act laid down that it was lawful for every municipality to provide a sufficient supply of water for domestic use of the inhabitants. When water rate was imposed within a municipality, it was bound to provide water. A municipality was to construct water-works and the State Government was to advance from the public funds the cost of carrying out any water-supply scheme sanctioned by the Govt. and such advance was recoverable under the Loans Act, 1914. But it was not at all proved to be a fruitful measure.

In the 'Swasthya Samachar' Patrika the Bengali Zamindars were accused for their negligence to improve the condition of their respective villages. It is clear that up to 1930, the Govt.'s attitude towards the matter of rural water supply was not so much debatable. Though some signs of disputes and grievances were visible. It was a period of observations, experiments and implementations. At that time, the British Raj was inclined to get pure water through scientific and modern measures, later on for which the co-operation of the native people was utmost needed. From 1920's their policy on water supply became much more transparent than previous ones.

In British India sanitation was a negligible part of the public health policies. The Indian Medical Service' itself was run by the military department which catered to the needs of the military establishment first and white civilians next. Very little fund had spared for the sanitary improvement of the country. The office of a Sanitary Commissioner was launched in 1864 but its main activity of sewerage control was confined to the urban areas. The usual sector knew no sanitation. It should be noted that, Roland Ross was the first to appeal to the Government for funds from enormous Indian revenues for controlling mosquito menace in the rural sector to eradicate malaria. The Government was in no mood to spend on rural remition and Ross had to give up and go back to England.

This situation was changed in 1880 when at the time of Lord Ripon, the Government was harping on the formation of local self-government and self-taxation for various rural reforms including sanitation. According to Mark Harrison, the impact of local self-government upon sanitation in India is still extremely unclear. But Hugh Tinker contends that only in Bengal there was a real demand for (sanitary) services and some willingness to pay for them. As for example, in 1884 the then Sanitary Commissioner for Bengal Dr. Lidderdale urged the importance of appointing officers of proper education.

Before discussing the sanitary improvements and the problems from 1900, it is necessary to highlight some important events prior to 1900. It may be noted that since 1881 District Boards were being set up in the rural and semi-urban areas and the actual responsibility for public health was left to the municipalities between 1888 and 1893. During this period a Sanitary Board was set up in each province, with the administrative and public works' officers apart from the Sanitary Commissioner and the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals. In 1881, the Superintendent of Vaccination was made the Deputy Sanitary Commissioner of each province and had to supervise general sanitation as well as vaccination. It was stated in the Report on Vaccination in the Province of Bengal (1875-1880-81) that 'The total number of persons vaccinated and re- vaccinated during the year 1879-80 was reported to be 1,742,995 against 1,315,884 in the preceding year and 1,285,39 in 1877-78. During the year i.e. 1880 under report Surgeon Major T.E. Charles was Superintendent General of Vaccination ....................... This office has been abolished under the new arrangements for compulsory vaccination, which provide that vaccination in the town shall be controlled by the Health officer, while the suburbs will become a part of the Metropolitan circle'.

In 1904 the Plague Commission Report recommended improvement of the Sanitary Department for dealing with plague and other diseases and establishment of adequate laboratory accommodations for research, teaching, serum and vaccine production. In October, 1906, the Government of Bengal instituted a Drainage Committee and this Committee advised the Government to open a Drainage Department under the Public Works Department. The Committee suggested that insufficient drainage, high water level, sitting up of river, water logged condition and dense village vegetations should be carefully looked into along with the provision of abundant supply of quinine whenever necessary. By 1909, the Government seemed to have accepted the theory of insufficient drainage and was persuaded to introduction of a Drainage Bill in Bengal. By the Resolution of 1912, the Local Govt. was authorized to select the Sanitary Commissioners from the officers of the Provincial Sanitary Department, provided no officer of less than 15 years service was appointed without the previous sanction of the Imperial Government. In the same year, in the Resolution of the Municipal Department (No. 1928 San.) it was written that - 'Eleven drainage schemes were in the course of preparation in the Sanitary Engineer's Office, and five others were either examined or revised, while work was in progress in sixteen schemes. In many cases progress has been regrettably slow and although the contractor is often to blame, it is clear that the Municipal Commissioners themselves could do a good deal to accurate the progress of work.' It was further stated that 'In order to stimulate the inception of adequate drainage schemes in suburban municipalities. The Bagjola canal has been excavated and improved at Government cost and it is hoped that the various municipalities in the vicinity will make use of it as an outlet for their drainage. '

So far, however, the local bodies had not shown the desire and in some cases did not have the ability to profit by the help thus afforded by Government. In the Resolution No. 1428 San. it was clearly stated that-'A step in a new direction has been taken by the proposal to create a special Public Works Division for the purpose of investigating drainage conditions. The water-logged condition of various districts forbids the formation of well-considered drainage schemes and owing to the absence of systematic observations from the records of the past, the exact wants of different localities are unknown. It is a common and oft-repeated cry in Bengal that the cause of malaria is largely due to defective drainage. What is needed is a systematic investigation by an expert establishment, which should be able to submit a definite and authoritative report regarding the localities in which the drainage is defective, stating the extent and nature of the defects and the possible remedies and their approximate cost. This information will now be collected by the special officer appointed for this purpose, who will first investigate the conditions near the Bhairab river in Jessore.' Not only that it was also written that - 'it has been decided to organize a sanitary service for the province, with Health officers in charge of the larger municipal towns and properly trained and qualified Sanitary Inspectors for other towns and rural areas. The details of the scheme are now being worked out and the course of training for the inspectors drawn up. The organization of the service in municipal towns will first be taken up, as they are compact and move easily managed areas, but it is hoped, within a reasonable time, to extend the scheme to the rural areas also.'

In 1914, the Bengal Municipal Sanitary Officer's Act was passed which was an important enactment placing new statutory obligations on municipality by which they got the right to appoint Sanitary Inspectors and Health Officers in municipal towns. By the Montagu -Chamesford Reform of 1919, the Central Legislative became responsible only for legislation relating to infections and contagious diseases, for census and statistics, sanitary control of ports and India's international health relation. Thereafter, reorganization of Public Health Department became a marked feature in different provinces. In some provinces the health staffs were deputed by the local Govt. to serve under the local bodies in Bengal, they were servants of the district boards and municipality. Thus the Act of 1919 was definitely an important step towards decentralization of health administration. This pattern was introduced in Bengal in 1921 and before that the Bengal Village Self-Government Act of 1919 provided for Union Boards establishing a network of self-governing units which could be utilized for the decentralization of public health measures in rural areas. The Govt. gave some grants in aid to District Boards and they were all virtually self-financed by local tax and cesses. Henceforth, sanitation became their jurisdiction, but Govt. kept a tight control over them through the District Board nominees and the District Magistrates. In the forward of the Health Book of Howrah Municipality, it was stated that, 'Destructive criticisms and finding faults' are very easy and there are plenty of defects existing in the town, 'but progress' in sanitation is possible by formulating a definite sanitary programme under each separate head as 'Conservancy', 'Drainage' ............... and trenching methods etc. Within a short times i.e only 5 years, as funds permit'. In this Health Book, there was a list of the staffs of the Public Health Department with their salaries which will help us to know the then structure of the above mentioned department.

1)Faridpur Waterworks extension - 17,000.00

1) Health Officer-Rs.500-20-700

2) Assistant Health Officers-Three Buy Rs.100-10-150-5-175

3) Inspector of Vaccination-One, Pay Rs.50-5-100

4) Vaccinators and Birth registrars - Eleven, Pay Rs.30-2-60

5) Death Registrars-Twelve, on Rs.30-2-60

6) Conservancy, Overseers-Ten, on Rs.50-5-125

7) Trenching ground Oversees - One on Rs.50-5-125

8) Assistant Conservancy Oversees - Five on Rs.30-2-60

9) Cattle Superintendent (Veterinary Assistant) - One on Rs.60-5-125

Apart from them, other 20 staffs were - 10) Midwives, 11) Office establishment, 12) Ambulance, 13) Peons, 14) Disinfection, 15) Rickshaw coolies for midwives, 16) Conservancy Jamadars, 17) Public Latrine Sweepers, 18) Private Latrine establishment, 19) Motor Mechanic, 20) Road cleaning, 21) Drain and Sewer cleansing, 22) Road watering, 23) Trenching grounds and Night-soil depots, 25) Conservancy Railway, 26) Gowkhana, 27) Burial Ground care-takers, 20) Dome for carrying corpses, 29) Market and slaughter house etc.

It may be noted that the British authority after blamed the local bodies for their negligence in the matter of sanitation, on the other hand geographical condition and the jurisdiction of the municipalities did matter. In the same report it was written that- 'Howrah city is low lying and is difficult to drain. Some portions of the town are drained directly into the river Hoogly by means of sewers, open pucca drains and open Kutcha channels.

But the other drains for the major portion of the town find their outfall through circuitous routes in paddy fields and over low lying lands in some cases miles away beyond the jurisdiction of the municipality.

In the Resolution No.1837 M of the Municipal Department in the year 1912, it was stated that, The total capital outlay declined from Rs.2,33,651/- to Rs. 1,65,933/-while the expenditure, account of establishment, repairs etc. rose from Rs. 1,15,636/-to Rs.1,16,574/-. The Municipality of Howrah incurred the largest capital expenditure viz. Rs.59,358/-. Schemes were under consideration at Dacca, Mymensingh and Suri Drainage for Ranaghat and Kushtia have been sanctioned and the work will be commenced shortly ministrative approval of Govt. was conveyed to the Katwa drainage scheme and to the combined drainage and water supply scheme for Bankura. The detailed plans and estimates for the latter have since been sanctioned. The Baruipur scheme and the second portion of the Bhatpara scheme were completed during the year under review and the Burdwan Municipality has taken up the work in connection with the drainage of the town according to a modified scheme costing 1,50,000. 'From this passage it is quite clear that the British Raj had a planned programme for sanitation but the problem laid elsewhere, i.e. the fund shortage of the local authorities. In this regard, one can mention the statement of the Commissioners of the Presidency Division such as - 'No work of importance under this head (Bagjolla Khal project) was carried out in the districts of Jessore and Khulna. The districts reports do not show that the municipalities in these two districts, and the smaller ones in the other districts, made any systematic efforts to carryout drainage schemes. Their resources are limited and unless they make a genius effort to expand their income by increased taxation they cannot expect to undertake any expensive scheme of improvement'. It may be said generally of the ................... municipalities that the prevailing tendency is to keep down taxation as low as possible, and the natural consequence is that though many of them have long been in existence. Very few have done much to effect any real Sanitary improvement'. It is quite clear that the British Govt. wanted to do something for the people of rural Bengal with the money which would be earned as taxes from these people only. But these people were not in a stage to bear the tax burden properly. So the question of colonizing their body happened only when the money of the colonized was used for this purpose. This was a common feature of then health policy in rural Bengal.

It should be noted that, though the sanitary measures taken by the British Raj in rural Bengal were not beyond the criticism, but as Imrana Qadeer opines-'Most of the medical interventions on a mass scale were occurred after 1912 through the ultimate autonomy of the Sanitary Commissioners which also expanded services into the areas under the auspices of the District Board of Health. The Sanitary Policy of 1914 formally took note the local knowledge systems, conditions and diversity of life and the need to study and understand these before intervening. Though the rural services were afflicted by the lack of resources, they did not make it. Clear to those within the organization that, if the government took the initiative, then 'the people, once they enjoy the benefits of these measures will realize the importance of sanitary measures? This perception of reality, however came largely from the local intelligentsia and a handful of British administrators who could perceive the potentials and constraints of the local population when they worked at the ground level. The insistence of Punjab Sanitary Commissioner to give space to tikadars and the work of Patrick Goddes on urban planning that focused on the needs of the city's poor, one example of such insights.

It is quite surprising that Qadeer overlooks the role of the Sanitary Commissioners in Bengal, who had repeatedly urged for the improvement of the sanitary condition in all over Bengal. For example, it was stated in the Report on Sanitation in Bengal for the year 1913 by the then Sanitary Commissioner W.S. Clemesha that - 'Twenty-five temporary Sub-Assistant Surgeons were engaged at the instance of this office to render gratuitous medical aid to the people in the flooded areas of the Burdwan Division, ............' He also stated that - 'Dr. C.A. Bentley continued his researches during the year and has submitted valuable reports, Dr. Khambata, Deputy Sanitary Commissioner, Rajshahi Circle, was deputed to enquire into the prevalence of malaria around Sara Bridge works.' In 1910, in the Annual Report of Sanitary Commissioner it was written like that - Towards the later part of the year under report, the Govt. of India passed final orders on the recommendation made by the committee to consider the question of malaria prevalence in India. In the accordance therewith the Govt. of Bengal appointed a Provincial Malaria Committee with the members of the Bengal Executive Council in charge of the Municipal (Medical) Department as President, the Sanitary Commissioner as member and Secretary and five other ordinary members.

I have started my paper with an intension to highlight three aspects of rural health policy in colonial Bengal from 1900-1930, .which I have shown step by step using my research materials. It is required to link rural Bengal's past and present as the present is the epilogue of the past. So in brief, I must say that, after 1947, Bengal saw the face of progress in this sector. Particularly the panchayets received the help and aids of the NGOs, nationally and internationally. I must mention, the project on The Rural Sanitation Programme, supported by UNCEF and implemented by the Ramkrishna Mission Parisad in the 90s. As a result of this, very low-cost single/ duel pit latrine construction on a large scale had started.

In 1991, if we came to the question of irrigation, it was neglected during the colonial period and it is still neglected by the West Bengal Government. The rural people have to face a lot of miseries during floods and rainy season every year whatever had done by the Britishers for water supply and sanitation, the picture remains, unchanged in the rural sector. Even now-a-days people are suffering from malaria, cholera and other water borne diseases. So naturally a question comes into my mind that is it justified to accept the theory of colonizing the body which has been depicted by David Arnold who is influenced by Michel Focult or go with the concept of decolonizing it as Sunil. S. Amrit says. Here I would like to first mention what Arnold says -'Colonialism used-or attempted to use-the body as a site for construction of its own authority, legitimacy and control. In past therefore, the history of colonial medicine, and of the epidemic diseases with which it was so closely entwined, serves to illustrate the more general nature of colonial as well as its coercive processes.'

On the other hand, according to Amrith, by claiming access to a unique truth about the human body, colonial medicine often led to a devaluation of indigenous knowledge, and the authorization of new modes of intervention in the lives (and on the bodies) of colonial subjects. But colonial medical discourse had complex relations with practice. The desire to know, to clarify and to quantity did not correspond to the will or ability to intervene. In general, only when key aspects of colonial rule are threatened did concerted state intervention come forth. That is to say, colonies used to mobilize their medical police at moments of crisis and emergency and particularly in response to epidemic disease, there is a reason why so much of the literature on medicine and colonialism, had focused on particular epidemics............... The very limitation of the earlier colonial attempts at transformation necessitated a change in approach. The chief transformations in the colonial era, so far as health practices are concerned, took place in the small and restricted realm of bourgeois civil society in the bed rooms and living rooms of the colonial middle class. Amrit marks the end of the Second World War as an important stage, where in public health come to be one of the service which any Government whatever its native, was expected to take responsibility for. The availability of effective technology of disease control after Second World War undoubtedly oriented the policies and goods of international public health in a particular direction. Specific technology allowed the architects of international public health to intervene intensively, but this intervention was a very narrow front. DDT, antibiotics and vaccines gave the power to WHO teams of just three men to vaccinate thousands of people over vast areas. Reported efforts to 'decolonize' public health through technology - by moving, away from colonial assumptions about the natives, cultures and behaviours remained unchanged. Amrith identifies 1930 as a starting period of decolonization, which extended upto 1965.

I have selected 1900-1930 for my research paper, so it is a juncture between colonization and decolonization in the field of public health as depicted by the two eminent scholars. Here my argument is this, it is not possible to capture or conquer completely human mind or body with the instrument of science and technology. As Imrana Qadeer points out, by the early 20th century mass campaigns against small pox, cholera and plague were accepted, atleast in principle, and public health policy was announced in 1914. But very little was done unless it directly affected the state's interest. Revenues remained the central focus in dealing (or not dealing) with epidemics. The Raj was more concerned with the health of the military than ordinary people. In this context, one can say that, the British Government wanted to get control over the wealth of India, their intention to colonize our body was 'just a co-incidence', or it has been interpreted 'dramatically'. The advent of western medicine does not mean the end of indigenous medical system. If there is a doubt to accept the term 'colonizing the body, then decolonizing it also becomes a 'myth'. The main objective of the British Raj behind the public health policy was the implementation of the power of imperialism, which was based on their military strength and the economic drain from our country. As J.A. Hobsen says, 'imperial expansion stands entirely distinct from the colonization of sparsely peopled lands in temperate zones, where white colonists carry with the modes of Government, the industrial and other arts of the civilisation of the mother country. The "occupation" of these new territories was comprised in the presence of a small minority of white men, officials, traders and industrial organisers, exercising political and economic sway over population regarded as inferior and as incapable of exercising any considerable rights of self-government, in policies or industry. He further says 'the civilisation of the lower races, ................. Even where good political order is established and maintained, as in Egypt or India, its primary avowed end, and its universally accepted standard of success, are the immediate economic benefits attributed there ............. It is maintained and believed that this course is beneficial to the natives, as well as to the commerce of the controlling power and of the world at large'. Here lies the significance of this statement - 'Modern British Colonialism has been no drain upon our material and moral resources, because it has made for the creation of free white democracies, a policy of informal federation of decentralization involving no appreciable strain upon the Government facilities of Great Britain.


1. J.A. Hobson, Imperialism : A Study, Gour Publisher, New Delhi, First Indian edition 2006, First edition 1902, Chapter8, p. 103.

2. Ibid, p. 105.

3. Zaheer Baber, The Science of Empire, Scientific Knowledge, Civilizaton and Colonial Rule in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1998, p. 7-8.

4. Ibid, p. 9-10.

5. Mark Poffenberger and Betsy McGean edited, Village Voices, Forest Choices, Joint Forest Management in India, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1996, p. 57-60.

6. Ibid, p. 135-136, 137, 139.

7. Ramchandra Guha and Madhav Gadgil edited, This Fissured Land, An Ecological History of India, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1992, p. 135.

8. Poffenberger, p. 137.

9. Guha and Gadgil, p. 135-136.

10. Jo Lowburry, Reclaiming the Forests? People's Participation in Forest, East India, p. 2.

11. Ibid, p. 2.

12. Kabita Ray, History of Public Health, Colonial Bengal 1921-1947, K.P. Bagchi, Kolkata1998, p.221.

13. Swasthya Samachar Patrika, 14th year of publication, Number4, Bengali year 1832, p. 304.

14. Kabita Ray, p. 222.

15. Municipal Department, Sanitation, Calcutta, The 9th July 1912, Resolution No. 1428, San. p. 3, para 14, para 15.

16. Municipal Department, Sanitation, Calcutta the 22nd July 1911, Resolution No. 1352, San. p. 3, para 14.

17. Ibid, p. 3-4, para 5.

18. Kabita Ray, p. 222-223.

19. 39th Annual Report of the Sanitary Commission for Bengal 1906, p. 13, para 27.

20. Kabita Ray, p. 223.

21. Government of Bengal, Local Self Government Department, Resolution No. 2175 L.S.G. (1926-27), para 10.

22. Ibid.

23. Kabita Ray, p. 224.

24. Government of Bengal, Public Health Department, Annual Reports of the Chief Engineer, Twentieth Annual Report of the Chief Engineer 1932-33, p. 11, Section VII.

25. Ibid, Appendices, p. 22, 24, 26.

26. Kabita Ray, p. 227.

27. Swasthya Samachar Patrika, Fifth Year of Publication, Bengali year 1323, p. 22.

28. Ibid, p. 22-23,

29. Ibid, p. 23.

30. Ibid, 9th year of publication, no. 5, p. 116.

31. 1913-14, Municipal Department, Municipal Resolution, Reviewing the Report on the working of the Municipalities in Bangal, p. 4, para 25.

32. 1911-12, Municipal Department, Calcutta, The 20th December 1912, Resolution No. 1837M, p.6,para24.

33. Annual Report of the Sanitary Board, Bengal 1935 by S.K. Haider, President, R.B. Khambata, F.C. Griffin, Joint Secretary, 27th February 1936, Passim.

34. Government of Bengal, Local Self-Government Department, Public Health, Calcutta, 18th September 1936, Resolution No. 3647 P.H, passim.

35. Government of Bengal, Department of Public Health and Local Self-Government, Resolution No. 1847 P.H, Calcutta, 24h December 1940, p. 2.

36. Mark Harrison, Public Health in British India, Cambridge University Press, p. 6- 35, Chittabrata Palit, Local Self-Government and Sanitation in Colonial Bengal, (1920-27) published in CLIO Journal, Vol. 5, January-December 2005, p. 80.

37. SwasthyaSamacharPatrika, 8th year of publication, No. 5, Bengali year 1936, p.120.

38. Kabita Ray, p. 8-9.

39. Report on Vaccination in the Province of Bengal (1875-1880-81), passim.

40. Kabita Ray, p. 10, Arabinda Samanta, Malarial Fever in colonial Bengal 1820- 1939, publisher ............., place ..............., year ................., p. 142.

41. Municipal Department, Sanitation, Calcutta, Resolution No. 1352, San (1911), p.4, para 15.

42. Municipal Department, Resolution No. 1428 San (1912), p. 3, para 15.

43. Ibid, para 16.

44. Swasthya Samachar Patrika, Bengali Year 1337.

45. Municipal Department, Resolution No. 1428 San (1912), p. 4, para 17.

46. Ibid, p. 4, para 18.

47. Kabita Ray, para 18.

48. Government of Bengal, Public Health Department, Health Book of Howrah Municipality (1916-1934), see forward.

49. Ibid, p. 7.

50. Ibid, p. 6.

51. Municipal Department, Resolution No. 1837M, p. 6, para 25.

52. Ibid, p. 7, para 25.

53. Municipal Department, Municipal Resolution (1913-1914), p. 4, para 26.

54. Continuities and Discontinuities in Public Health, The Indian Experience - an article by Imrana Qadeer in Amiyakumar Bengali, Krishna Soman edited, Maladies, Preventives and Curatives, Debates in Public Health in India, Tulika Books, New Delhi 2005, p, 82-83.

55. Report on Sanitation in Bengal for the year 1913, (Calcutta Bengal Secretariat Book depot, 1914), p. 4, para 42.

56. Annual Report of Sanitary Commission 1910, p. 16, para 47.

57. Official Website of UNICEF

58. David Arnold, Colonizing the Body, State Medicine and Epedemic Disease in Nineteenth Century India, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1993, p. 8.

59. Sunil S. Amrith, Decolonizing International Health, India and South East Asia, 1930-65, Palgrane Macmillan, Great Britain 2006, p. 15-17, p. 22-23

60. Imrana Qadeer, p. 84-85.

61. J.A. Hobson, p.251.

62. Ibid, p. 201-251

63. Ibid, p. 104-136.

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