Gaurav C. Garg

HistoryNew York University (NYU)

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

HistoryNew York University (NYU)

Capital City: Local Businesses and Global Development Institutions in Calcutta’s Economic Decline

By the 1960s, Calcutta was in deep crisis. It was then India's largest city, its greatest industrial center and most important port. But its local businesses and urban and regional economy were beginning to grind to a halt, largely due to the poor development of Calcutta's social- physical infrastructure and urban services. Calcutta's troubles became the occasion for the unprecedented involvement of Ford Foundation and World Bank in the city's revival efforts from the early 1960s. The Ford Foundation committed funds and sent to the city the "greatest concentration of urban planning talent ever assembled." Together with state officials, it drew up a comprehensive urban development plan, which set the template for Calcutta's development for the next few decades. The World Bank chose Calcutta for its first urban project in India, and more significantly, as the first city in the world to receive a multi-sector urban development assistance from it. The involvement of global development institutions, however, stands in sharp contrast to the attitude of local businesses, which seemed to be very reluctant in joining Calcutta's revival efforts. This was despite the repeated pleas by the important local chambers of commerce to its members to do something to "help" Calcutta, since the city's "existence, improvement and growth" was an "economic necessity." My dissertation project centers global development institutions and local businesses in a study of Calcutta's urban-economic decline. It seeks to understand the underlying reasons for their contrasting responses to Calcutta's crisis, and interrogate their role in city's decline and unsuccessful revival efforts. It locates the "Calcutta experiment," as the Ford Foundation used to call it, in the global history of urban development regimes, and in conversations in urban studies surrounding the role of local businesses in the social, spatial and infrastructural construction of cities.