Asansol (আসানসোল), a coal-mining-industrial-commercial centre, is the second largest city in West Bengal, after Kolkata. It is the 29th most populous city in India, with over a million residents. It is a sub-division located in Bardhaman District, in the western periphery of the state.
The entire stretch from Andal to Barakar and covering Raniganj, Jamuria , Asansol, Burnpur , Neamatpur , Kulti and Barakar , composed of a long stretch of about 40 kilometres along Grand Trunk Road forms one urban agglomeration, all of which falls within Asansol subdivision. The gaps between the almost contiguous urban centres are filled with collieries and small settlements. It should properly be considered as one city. The Chittaranjan - Rupnarayanpur urban centre is also closely linked. For the purposes of planning the entire stretch from Panagarh to Barakar is overseen by the Asansol Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA).
Being the central city for the coal belt, Asansol is heavily industrialized though many of the industries have fallen on hard times in recent years, leading to its transformation into a trading town that utilizes its position as the transport centre. The largest employers in the area are Eastern Coalfields (a subsidiary of Coal India Limited) and IISCO Steel Plant of Steel Authority of India Limited. Other major industries are Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, Hindustan Cables Ltd., Disergarh Power Supply, Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), Burn Standard, Reckitt and Coleman, couple of cement plants, such as Burnpur Cement, and quite a few refractory units; such as Kabita Refractories.
Initially people of Dravidian and Austroloid stock inhabited this region. Around two thousand five hundred years ago, it became an area of significant Jain activity. According to some, the last Tirthankar of Jain religion, Mahavira Vardhamana, used to live and work in the area. The district and headquarters town thus came to be known as Bardhaman. Some identify the spread of Jainism in West Bengal with the Aryanisation of the region. Evidence of major Jain activity exists in the Jain temples on Pareshnath Hill in neighbouring Jharkhand. There is an old Jain temple at Begunia on the bank of the Barakar river. A number of temples in neighbouring Bankura district also bear evidence of major Jain activity in the region.
Later, the area was possibly part of the Vishnupur kingdom, where the Malla dynasty ruled for around a thousand years till the advent of the British. There is a Vishnupur style temple in Chhotodighari village providing a clue to its links with Vishnupur. The local dialect and culture of the region has closer affinities with those of Bankura and Vishnupur than the other neighbouring areas. It is evident that the area was part of different kingdoms at different points of time.
In 1774, Suetonius Grant Heatly and John Summer of the East India Company, claimed discovery of coal, and organised mining in the Ranigunj-Asansol area started subsequently. The early exploration and mining operations were carried out in a haphazard manner and demand was limited. Regular mining operations started in 1820, led by an agency house, Alexander & Co. In 1835, Prince Dwarkanath Tagore bought over the collieries and Carr & Tagore Co. led the field. For the entire 19th century and a major part of the 20th century, Ranigunj coalfields in the Asansol region was the major producer of coal in the country, before it spread to other parts of the country.
Many new companies started coal mining operations. There was stiff competition and rivalry amongst them often leading to litigation. At the behest of William Princep, Carr & Tagore Co. joined hands with Gilmore Hombray & Co. in 1843 to form Bengal Coal Co., which opened up the coal mining activities in a big way. They had their headquarters at Sanctoria. Over a period of time, there were a number of companies in the fray – Birbhum Coal Co., Equitable Coal Co., Madhu Roy & Prasanna Dutta Co., Bird & Co., South Barakar Coal Co., Andrew Yule and Company Ltd., Balmer Lawrie and so on.
The discovery of coal brought in the railways. In India, the first operational railway track was between Mumbai and Thane in 1853. In the eastern sector, the first train ran from Howrah to Hughli in 1854. It was officially opened in 1855 up to Ranigunj (194 km). It was extended through the Sahibganj loop up to Varanasi in 1862 and to Delhi in 1866. The line to Mumbai via Allahabad was opened in 1870. The present main line via Patna was opened in 1871. The present grand chord via Gaya came in 1906. The Howrah-Bardhaman chord was opened in 1917.
Asansol became an important centre of railway activity. The railway settlements grew with the growth of the locomotive shops. It also brought in the European and Anglo-Indian communities, who were to play a pivotal role in the life of Asansol. Durand Institute (now renamed Swami Vivekananda Institute), reputed to be the oldest railway institute in Asia, was a major centre of European and Anglo-Indian activity. The old churches of Asansol and the leading schools were built to cater primarily to these communities. It was much later that Indians were allowed into the schools. There were a handful of Armenian businessmen. Old timers still recall the shops of Gregory at Asansol and Johannes at Burnpur.
While Asansol emerged as an important centre of East Indian Railway, ultimately becoming the divisional headquarter in 1925, Adra emerged as a major centre of Bengal Nagpur Railway.
The extensive growth of railways in the country led to the development of the iron and steel industry. In 1870, James Erskine set up the Bengal Iron Works. It was also known as Barakar Iron Works. Some sources attribute the development to Hoare Miller and Co. of Kolkata. It is possible that James Erskine was an employee of that company. The first blast furnace using coal instead of charcoal went into production at Kulti in 1875. In those days, the place was more easily identified as Kendwa. Kulti was a smaller village than Kendwa. It utilised low-grade iron ore available locally. It was in 1901 that the country’s first iron ore mine was developed at Pansiraburu in Singhbhum district (then in Bengal, now in Jharkhand), as part of Manoharpur Ore Mines and linked to Kulti. In 1904, Kulti is credited with having produced steel from open hearth furnaces. However, with stiff competition from imported material, the steelmaking facilities were closed down. The ownership of the pioneering plant changed hands many times. The farsighted control of the plant by Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee, who had founded Martin & Co. with Sir Acquin Martin, kept it going.
Also famous industries beside Iron and Coal was the Raleigh Cycle of UK in collaboration with Abhijit Sen. The Sen-Raliegh cycle factory was located in the outskirts called Kanyapur. Later the company was taken over by government and renamed to CCIL. Raleigh, Humber, Balaka, Rudge , Arjun, Swathi was few of the models from its stable. During its prime Raliegh cycle was one of the most sought after brand. But slowly it declined and lost to its competitors.
Also another major industry was Hindustan Pilkinton Glass factory. Its glass was one of the Asia's famous glass. The factory was located in the prime area of the city. But due to labor problem the industry was closed.
Burn & Co promoted The Indian Iron and Steel Co. Ltd. in 1918. G.H.Fairhurst is credited with having founded the plant at Burnpur (then better known as Hirapur). Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee and T. Leslie Martin were also associated with it. Sir Biren Mookerjee joined a little later and played a major role in the development of the plant. Iron production started at Burnpur in 1922. Kulti Works of Bengal Iron was merged with IISCO in 1936. Steel Corporation of Bengal (SCOB) set up the steelmaking facilities at Burnpur in 1939. SCOB was merged with IISCO in 1952 and Martin Burn was then the managing agent of the company. Indian Standard Wagon (ISW) (later renamed Burn Standard) set up its wagon factory at Burnpur.
Another major development of the colonial culture was the establishment of clubs. The British are credited with the formation of such leading clubs as Asansol Club, Burnpur Club, Kulti Club and Dishergarh Club. In its initial days, these clubs did not admit Indians, who had their own organisations such as Hirapur Indian Association (later renamed Bharati Bhaban). Subsequently, Indians gained admission into the British clubs.
The growth and development of trade unions was a corollary of industrial development. Labour wages were low but the conditions of the rural areas were so pitiable that the area witnessed considerable influx of population not only from the neighbouring districts but also from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (then the United Provinces). The countryside was weighed down by excessive land revenue and lack of development. Famines were a regular feature.
Damodar Valley Corporation, the first multipurpose river valley project in the country, had a major presence in the periphery of the area with two dams at Maithon and Panchet (at both places the river forms the border with Jharkhand). The artificial lakes behind the dams have added considerably to the natural beauty of the area and are centres of picnicking.
With the nationalisation of the railways East Indian Railway became Eastern Railway and Bengal Nagpur Railway became South Eastern Railway. Asansol became divisional head quarters of Eastern Railway. Andal has the largest marshalling yard in Asia. While the diesel loco shed at Andal can accommodate 101 locomotives, the electric locomotive shed at Asansol can accommodate 118 locomotives.
Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (CLW) was the first locomotive workshop in India. It has been named after the great freedom fighter, leader and statesman Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. It initially produced steam locomotives. The production activity started on 26th January, 1950 the day when India became a Republic. The first steam locomotive Deshbandhu was dedicated to the nation by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India. With the roll out of first CLW built WAG-9 electric locomotive Navyug on 14th November 1998, India joined the select club of five countries which can manufacture electric locomotives with 3-phase technology. In 2006, CLW produced Dr Silver, a 6000 HP three-phase locomotive with remote diagnostic system. Until 31st March 2006 CLW has produced 3380 electric locomotives.
Sen Raleigh Industries started production in their cycle factory at Kanyapur, near Asansol, in 1949. Pilkington set up a glass factory at Asansol. The Jaykay group established an aluminium plant at Jaykaynagar, near Asansol. The Dhakeswari textile mill was set up at Suryanagar on the banks of the Damodar. Bengal Paper Mill was established at Ballabhpur, Ranigunj. Hindustan Cables Ltd. set up their plant at Rupnarayanpur.
The steel industry was expanded in a big way. A new plant was set up in neighbouring Durgapur. The plant at Burnpur was expanded. There also was considerable expansion of townships and other facilities. Nehru Park (formerly Lahmeyer Park) was built utilising the natural contour of the terrain on the banks of the Damodar. The airstrip at Burnpur can handle small aircraft.
Along with the expansion of the steel plant at Burnpur the outdated open top blast furnaces of Kulti were closed and the Kulti Works emerged as the pioneer and later as the largest producer of spun pipes in the country. It also produced a wide range of foundry products.
While most of Bengal is flat alluvial plains, Asansol subdivision lies on exposed Gondwana rocks and consists mostly of undulating laterite soil. It forms the lower edge of the Chota Nagpur plateau, which occupies most of Jharkhand.
It is located between two mighty rivers, Damodar and Ajay. Another mighty river, Barakar, joins the Damodar near Dishergarh. A small rivulet, Nunia, flows past Asansol. The Ghagarburi temple on its banks attracts devotees round the year.
While Dhanbad district lies on the western side, Durgapur sub division of Bardhman district lies on the eastern side. To the south, across the Damodar river are the Purulia and Bankura districts. To the north are Dumka and Birbhum districts. Dhanbad district across the Barakar river in Jharkhand is also a major mining area and has close links with Asansol. Both lie in the Damodar valley.
The city's economy is primarily based on the coal and steel industries. Situated in the Damodar River valley, the city has evolved and expanded over time to a current population of one million, ranking it 23rd in India. It is located about 200 km from Kolkata.
Technological obsolescence proved to be a bane for the Asansol industrial belt. As the British industrialists left, the Indian trading community, which took over the British-owned industries and mines, failed to handle the situation properly, leading to labour trouble and industrial decline. The government stepped in and took over the mining and many of the industrial activities. The non-coking coal industry was nationalised in 1973. The coalmines in the Ranigunj coalfields were placed under Eastern Coalfields Ltd., a subsidiary of Coal India limited, with its headquarters at Sanctoria.
The Indian Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., then the third largest private company in India, was taken over by the government on 14th July 1972 (please see discussion for clarification). It was made a subsidiary of SAIL in 1979 and has been merged with SAIL in 2006. However, the overall decline in industrial activity continued and many of the factories have closed down.
The industrial growth that has taken place since the opening up of the Indian economy in 1991 is yet to make an impact on the Asansol industrial region. However, with the continued good performance and development of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, extensive activities of Eastern Coalfields, and the sanction of major investment for the modernisation of the IISCO Steel Plant of SAIL, things have started looking up again.
The entire region sits on layers, or seams in technical terminology, of coal. Reserves of coal in West Bengal (mostly in Asansol) are estimated to be 22.62 billion tonnes. ECL has 107 operating mines, a majority of them in Asansol. Superior quality non-coking coal is mined in the region. The entire export of coal from the country is being done from Ranigunj coalfields.
With around two centuries of coal mining in the region, most of the coal, mineable by underground methods, in the upper seams have been exhausted and underground mining has been extending to deeper seams. However, substantial volumes of coal are available in the pillars and walls of coal left behind to support the roofs of underground mines. Such coal remaining in the seams near the surface can be mined by open cast methods.
The development and availability of heavy duty earth-moving equipment has led to the development of large open cast mines in the last 20 years or so. ECL’s total coal production of 27.25 million tonnes in 2004-05, is expected to rise to 46 million tonnes by 2011-12. Out of this 32.84 million tonnes is expected to be from the open cast mines. The annual production of Sonepur Bazari open cast project, a major project in the area, is proposed to be raised from the level of 3 million tonnes in 2004-05 to 8 million tonnes by 2011-12.
Underground coal mining brings with it the problem of subsidence. As per the law, when coal is taken out from an underground mine it is to be filled in with sand. However, the laws were not there in earlier days and even when it was there, private mine owners had violated this for decades and left behind big gaps beneath the surface of the earth. At places, the surface is subsiding and creating havoc in the area.
Coal mining, particularly underground mining is a hazardous activity. There are many elements of uncertainty and people have been daring enough to take calculated risks. Experienced mine managers opine that the entire mining operations would come to a halt if such risks were not taken. Small accidents taking place, now and then, do not attract attention of the outside world but large accidents hit the newspaper headlines. It must be noted that although the media focus is on the workers killed, mining engineers have also been killed in such accidents. In 1952, 12 people were killed because of roof collapse in Dhemo Main colliery. In 1954, 63 people were killed in Newton Chikli, near Ranigunj, as a result of inundation. In 1956, 28 people were killed in Baro Dhemo colliery because of inundation. In 1958, 175 people were killed at Chinakuri because of explosion of fire damp. In 1994, 55 people were killed in New Kenda, near Jamuria, as a result of fire/ suffocation by gases. Such accidents have a serious emotional setback for people in the area and continue to be the talking point for years. Rescue operations, as for example, the one at Mahabir colliery, attract wide spread public attention.
The Baro Dhemo colliery accident, where a large number of people were rescued after dewatering of the mine was inundated with water, provided the inspiration for a popular theatrical production in Bengali, Angar, directed by Utpal Dutta. The lighting effects by Tapash Sen, which recreated the flooding of a mine on the stage at Kolkata, was a sensation and people rushed to see it.
Bardhaman became a major administrative centre for the Muslim rulers and the subdivision was a part of the Muslim kingdoms in the region. It later became a part of the Bardhaman Raj functioning under the Mughals. When Mir Kassem, then Nawab of Sube Bangala, ceded Bardhaman along with Medinipur and Chittagong to East India Company in 1760 (three years after the Battle of Plassey), it was beginning of a new and eventful chapter for the region. Till that time the area was a wilderness of forest and jungle, dotted at long intervals with tiny settlements. The countryside was ravaged and plundered by outlaws.
Administrative changes started taking place with the advent of the British. While Badhaman Raj continued to function under British tutelage, changes were made to suit the requirements of British administration. One major change was that of parganas (administrative division) to thana (police station).
In 1837 when Bankura district was formed, the Asansol-Ranigunj area was part of Bankura district. In 1847, Ranigunj subdivision was formed with three police stations –Ranigunj, Kanksa and Neamatpur and it was made a part of Bardhaman district. In 1906 the subdivisional headquarter was shifted to Asansol and the subdivision renamed accordingly. In 1910, the police stations in Asansol subdivision were Asansol, Ranigunj, Kanksa, Faridpur and Barakar. In 2006, Asansol subdivision has the following police stations: Chittaranjan, Salanpur, Barabani, Asansol (North), Asansol (South), Ranigunj, Jamuria, Hirapur and Kulti. In 1968, Durgapur subdivision was carved out of Asansol subdivision. Additional Superintendent of Police is in overall charge of Police administration of Asansol being assisted by Dy.S.P(Hqrs,Dy.S.P(SR) and Dy.S.P,DEB Asansol.Asansol Police Lines which is located at the heart of the city is the head quarters of Asansol Police though the Police Office is located at Evelyn Lodge. Armed Police Inspector (API)Asansol is in charge of Distrct Armed Police who are deployed at Asansol. Reserve Office looks after desposition,leave,transfer/promotional matters of police personnel.Apart from that District Intelligence Officer-II is entrusted with intelligence related matters of this sub-division.
Asansol is a corporation administered by the Asansol Municipal Corporation. In 1850, a union committee was formed to look after the civic needs of Asansol. The municipality was approved in 1885 but started functioning effectively in 1896. It has been upgraded to the status of a corporation in 1996.
Asansol (Lok Sabha constituency) is composed of the following assembly segments: Asansol, Hirapur, Kulti, Barabani, Ranigunj, Jamuria and Ukhra.
In the elections to the first Lok Sabha held in 1951, Asansol was part of the Burdwan constituency. While Atulya Ghosh won the general seat, Mono Mohan Das won the seat reserved for Scheduled Castes. In the 1957 election for the second Lok Sabha, Asansol constituency was formed for the first time. Once again, the winners were Atulya Ghosh and Mono Mohan Das. In the 1962 election for the third Lok Sabha, Atulya Ghosh won from Asansol. For the 1967 election to the fourth Lok Sabha, the veteran leader and treasurer of the Congress Party, Atulya Ghosh, shifted to Bankura and lost what was described as a historic battle to J.M.Biswas of CPI. Deben Sen of Samyukta Socialist Party won the Asansol seat.
In 1971 and 1977 Robin Sen of CPI (M) won the Asansol seat. Ananda Gopal Mukherjee, the state Congress leader wrested back the seat in 1980 and retained it in 1984 for the eighth Lok Sabha. Thereafter, it has been a steady CPI (M) seat. Haradhan Roy won it in 1989, 1991 and 1994. Bikash Chowdhury won it in 1998 and 2004. On the incumbent’s death, Bangsa Gopal Chaudhuri won it in a bye-election in 2005.
Also note that now Asansol is more efficiently connected to Kolkata by road with daily ac - volvo buses as well as non-ac government buses. The sbstc government buses depart from Asansol at 6am, 6:30am, 7am, 8am, 10:30am and 4 pm and depart from kolkata(esplanade bus stand) at 7:00 am, 7:30 am, 12 noon, 12:30pm, 3:00pm and 4:30 pm.
City of Steel ; Asansol's changing profile is having an effect on its people too. The city and the fortunes of its people are looking up. There's a buzz in the air.
May 02, 2011; The Asansol I grew up in was a wonderful place with a strong resonance of the British way of life. My father was a doctor...