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The state of West Bengal is immersed in a potpourri of rich history, culture and heritage. In many ways, the state has a unique identity in the context of India. With a population of over 82 Million, West Bengal is the fourth most populous state in India, and ranks first in terms of population density. West Bengal is predominantly an agriculture driven state, however, there has been a rich tradition of industrial setups since the start of the industrial age in India. The state is actively engaging investments in industrial sectors to ensure resurgence in of a glorified past as a leader in industrialization in India. West Bengal is a state with progressive thought and forward vision. The people of the state are generally identified by a strong sense of culture and cognizance. West Bengal has earned the distinction of being one of the “food basket” states of India.
The state is endowed with strategic geographical standing - being the corridor to the North East, having access to the Bay of Bengal and being a hub of an important trade route; Kolkata forms the fulcrum of the state and is the third most populous urban agglomerate in India. The development of the state will be realized in augmenting urbanization and literacy rates, a sound educational system and efficient infrastructure. Nevertheless, the challenges of inclusiveness, equitability, environmental sustainability, an alarming infrastructure deficit and skewed population skills continue to constrain the state’s forward march. This vision document seeks to identify the critical development challenges facing the state and sets out a goal-oriented vision backed by an action plan for each of the identified challenges. The vision is built to facilitate speed, scale, financing possibility, sustainability and entrepreneurship. The vision also represents a conscious break from the past, looking at quantum rather than gradual improvements.
The economic drivers of the state lie predominantly in a number of industrial thrust areas, both in the services and manufacturing sectors. The state is making an effort to regain its position as a critical hub for multifarious industries, notably iron & steel, petroleum sector, agro based industries, cutting edge technology and the services sector. West Bengal is home to one of the largest consumer markets in the nation. It is the third largest economy. The state’s agricultural output ranks third in the nation. West Bengal has been a leader in ushering reforms in various sectors.
The Social Indicators for the state paint an unflattering picture. Despite the rich cultural heritage and historical importance that the state was endowed with, these have not translated in terms of a transformation in social indicators. Progress, while being made, has been at a slower than expected pace and can be attributed primarily to the lack of “a collective dream” of the people towards realizing a better today. The state lies in a non-descript spectrum of social matrix achievements, and a renewed zest is required to bring West Bengal to the forefront of social value streams.
West Bengal faces an exciting, yet challenging period in which it’s faced with the opportunity to make the State progressive and amongst the upper echelons of development. West Bengal can achieve this based on a longterm multi-variable approach with impetus on various sectors. Vision based development is multi-faceted and multi-sectoral and involves not only changes but also transformations in the social, political, technological as well as economic realms. These realms are closely knit and interdependent. West Bengal stands on the cross roads of being in a position to formulate, implement and evaluate the overall upliftment from its existing state to an envisioned one; by reflecting on the past, understanding and overcoming limitations, but more importantly, bring about change by bold transformations that are not inhibited by present realities.
The total area of the state is 88,752 sq Km having a dense population of more than 80 million people of which about 72% live in the Rural areas covering 85427.26 sq Km, i.e., 96% of the total geographical area and the population density is 903 per square kilometer.
Topography / Physiography
The major physiographic divisions of West Bengal can be grouped as follows:
(1) Extra peninsular mountainous terrain of Darjeeling Himalayas
(2) Piedmont plain of North Bengal comprising Bhabar-Terai belt
(3) Peninsular shield area of South-Western Bengal
(4) Gondwana platform
(5) Vast low-lying alluvial tract of the southern and eastern part
(6) Coastal tract of Bengal basin.
The northern mountainous terrain covers Darjeeling and part of Jalpaiguri districts. The southwestern Peninsular tract is, in fact, the eastern extension of Chhotonagpur plateau exhibiting rolling topography comprising Purulia, Medinipur, Bankura, Birbhum and part of Bardhaman districts. This hilly-cum-undulating topography is gradually smoothened eastward to give place to upland of laterite and finally to the low-lying alluvial plains which in the further south from the shore line of the Bay of Bengal in the deltaic region. The general slope of West Bengal is towards south, though in the south-western part, an easterly slope is conspicuous.
The river Ganga flowing from west to east (as Padma, through Bangladesh) and to south (as Bhagirathi) constitutes the major drainage of the central southern part of the state. The drainage is controlled by a number of rivers and streams, viz., Damodar-Kangsabati-Ajoy-Mayurrakshi etc. in the western part. In North Bengal, the Tista, the main drainage channel is controlled by Jaldhaka-Torsa-Raidak-Sankosh-Gangadhar rivers, etc. which are in turn, linked with the Brahmaputra river. Besides, Jalangi, Churni, Jamuna, Ichhamati, Bidyadhari, Matla, Raimongal, Gosaba etc. are some of the principal tributaries or distributaries of Bhagirathi draining different parts of the state.
Bengal is proverbially associated with delta. The South Bengal Delta, one of the biggest of its kind is formed by the combined effect of two major rivers, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra along with their tributaries. Major part of the delta is in Bangladesh. An area of approximately 65,000 sq. km. of the Bengal delta is situated in the state of West Bengal. Topographically, the area is gentle to moderately flat with certain microrelict of at places. Drainage is consequent in nature, parallel to sub parallel in the north-western part gradually changing to dendritic to anastomosing towards south-east and anastomosing in tidal flat region. Structurally, Ganga-Brahmaputra delta can be divided into two parts. An imaginary line may be drawn from Kolkata to Maymansingh in the north-east, to understand the division. The slope in the north-western part of this line is only 2 to 3 degree, but, it increased to 6 to 12 degrees in the south-eastern part. Geoloists gave the name of this line as ‘eosine hinge zone’ or ‘KolkataMaymansingh Hinge Zone’.
There are 4 marked seasons: (a) cold, dry weather from December to February; (b) hot, dry weather from March to May; (c) monsoon period from June to September; (d) post monsoon period in October and November. Over 70 per cent of the rain falls between June and September. The mean annual rainfall varies from 1026 mm at Nalhati in the Birbhum District to as high as 5323mm in Buxa in the Jalpaiguri District. The state also has as long as 350 Km of coastal line. The other important characteristic is that Southern West Bengal has the confluence of Fresh Water Rivers and Tidal water river system.
Vulnerability to floods
West Bengal has been no exception as far as sufferings approximately 55.8% of the region is susceptible to floods. Furthermore, complicacy is implicated by the origination of major floodproducing rivers beyond the state jurisdictional limits, viz, Teesta, Torsa, Joldhaka, Kaljani etc. from Sikkim and Bhutan are mainly responsible for disastrous flash flood in North Bengal; also heavy rainfall in the catchment area of the river Ganga in U.P. results in heavy onrush of water in the downstream of the Bhagirathi causing floods in its adjacent districts. The heavy rainfall in Western plateau [Ranchi] results in large inflow into the reservoirs of Maithon, Panchet, Messanjore etc. causes the necessary release of large volume of water from reservoirs. The heavy discharge from the DVC system and Mayurakshi system within a short span of time with onrush of water through the rivers causes inundation and water logging in vast areas. In addition, many of the rivers flowing through the State originate from northern Bangladesh causes flood in time of heavy rainfall.
In 2009–10, the tertiary sector of the
economy (service industries) was the largest contributor to the
gross domestic product of the state, contributing 57.8% of the state
domestic product compared to 24% from primary sector (agriculture,
forestry, mining) and 18.2% from secondary sector (industrial and
manufacturing).Agriculture is the leading occupation in West Bengal.
Rice is the state's principal food crop. Rice, potato, jute,
sugarcane and wheat are the top five crops of the state.Tea is
produced commercially in northern districts; the region is well
known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. State industries
are localised in the Kolkata region, the mineral-rich western
highlands, and Haldia port region. The Durgapur–Asansol colliery
belt is home to a number of major steel plants. Manufacturing
industries playing an important economic role are engineering
products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather,
textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches, and
wagons. The Durgapur centre has established a number of industries
in the areas of tea, sugar, chemicals and fertilisers. Natural
resources like tea and jute in and nearby parts has made West Bengal
a major centre for the jute and tea industries.
Years after independence, West Bengal was still dependent on the central government for meeting its demands for food; food production remained stagnant and the Indian green revolution bypassed the state. However, there has been a significant spurt in food production since the 1980s, and the state now has a surplus of grains.The state's share of total industrial output in India was 9.8% in 1980–81, declining to 5% by 1997–98. However, the service sector has grown at a rate higher than the national rate.
in terms net state domestic product (NSDP),
West Bengal has the sixth largest economy (2009–2010) in India, with
an NSDP of 3663 billion Indian rupees, behind Maharashtra (8179
billion), Uttar Pradesh (4530 billion), Andhra Pradesh (4268
billion), Tamil Nadu (4177 billion), and Gujarat (3704 billion). In
the period 2004–2005 to 2009–2010, the average gross state domestic
product (GSDP) growth rate was 13.9% (calculated in Indian rupee
term), lower than 15.5%, the average for all states of the
country.[The state’s per capita GSDP at current prices in 2009–10
was US$956.4, improved from US$553.7 in 2004–05,but lower than the
national per capita GSDP of US$1,302. The state's total financial
debt stood at ₹1918350 million (US$29 billion) as of 2011.
The state has promoted foreign direct investment, which has mostly come in the software and electronics fields; Kolkata is becoming a major hub for the Information technology (IT) industry. Rapid industrialisation process has given rise to debate over land acquisition for industry in this agrarian state. NASSCOM–Gartner ranks West Bengal power infrastructure the best in the country. Notably, many corporate companies are now headquartered in Kolkata include ITC Limited, India Government Mint, Kolkata, Haldia Petrochemicals, Exide Industries, Hindustan Motors, Britannia Industries, Bata India, Birla Corporation, CESC Limited, Coal India Limited, Damodar Valley Corporation, PwC India, Peerless Group, United Bank of India, UCO Bank and Allahabad Bank. In 2010s, events such as adoption of "Look East" policy by the government of India, opening of the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim as a border trade-route with China and immense interest in the South East Asian countries to enter the Indian market and invest have put Kolkata in an advantageous position for development in future, particularly with likes of Myanmar, where India needs oil from military regime.
As of 2011, the total length of surface road
in West Bengal is over 92,023 km (57,180 mi);national highways
comprise 2,578 km (1,602 mi) and state highways 2,393 km (1,487 mi).
As of 2006, the road density of the state is 103.69 km per 100 km2
(166.92 mi per 100 sq mi), higher than the national average of 74.7
km per 100 km2 (120 mi per 100 sq mi). Average speed on state
highways varies between 40–50 km/h (25–31 mi/h); in villages and
towns, speeds are as low as 20–25 km/h (12–16 mi/h) due to the
substandard quality of road constructions and low maintenance.
As of 2011, the total railway route length is around 4,481 km (2,784 mi). Kolkata is the headquarters of three zones of the Indian Railways — Eastern Railway and South Eastern Railway and the Kolkata Metro which is the newly formed 17th Zone of the Indian Railways. The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) plies in the northern parts of the state. The Kolkata metro is the country's first underground railway.The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, part of NFR, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Dum Dum, Kolkata, is the state's biggest airport. Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri is a customs airport that has international services to Bhutan and Thailand besides regular domestic services. Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport, India's first private sector airport, serves the twin cities of Asansol-Durgapur at Andal, Bardhaman.
Kolkata is a major river-port in eastern India. The Kolkata Port Trust manages the Kolkata and the Haldia docks. There is passenger service to Port Blair on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and cargo ship service to ports in India and abroad, operated by the Shipping Corporation of India. Ferry is a principal mode of transport in the southern part of the state, especially in the Sundarbans area. Kolkata is the only city in India to have trams as a mode of transport and these are operated by the Calcutta Tramways Company.
Several government-owned organisations operate bus services in the state, including the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation, the South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation, and the Calcutta Tramways Company. There are also private bus companies. The railway system is a nationalised service without any private investment. Hired forms of transport include metered taxis and auto rickshaws which often ply specific routes in cities. In most of the state, cycle rickshaws, and in Kolkata, hand-pulled rickshaws, are used for short-distance travel. Large-scale transport accidents in West Bengal are common, particularly the sinking of transport boats and train crashes.