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City loses birthday, founder

The City of Joy has no birthday. Nor is there anyone in particular who can be called the founder of the city.

This, at least, is the finding of a committee appointed by Calcutta High Court. Headed by former Visva-Bharati vice-chancellor Nimai Sadhan Basu, the committee had an unusual brief: going into the city’s history to find out when it was born and, if possible, find the founder.

The committee was constituted by the court after the Subarna Roy Chowdhury Parivar Parishad challenged the rationale behind celebrating the city’s birth anniversary every year on August 24. The panel confirmed the generally-held belief that the city grew out of a conglomerate of rural settlements.

The Roy Chowdhury Parivar Parishad had claimed that Job Charnock could not be called the city’s founder as a populace already lived there when Charnock landed in 1690.

The committee, comprising (besides Basu), historians and scholars Barun De, Arun Dasgupta, Sushil Chaudhuri and Pradip Sinha, got the brief in March 2002 and took about nine months to complete its research.

The report was submitted to a division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice J. Biswas, on Friday. While appreciating the quality of the research undertaken, the judges allowed the petitioners — one of the oldest families of the city — to appeal to the committee in case of further grievance.

In its findings, the committee observed: “Calcutta does not have a birthday. Its origin is part of a general process of rural settlements... It is generally held and commonly taught that Calcutta was founded by Job Charnock when he raised an English flag on a ghat on the bank of the river (Hooghly) at Sutanuti.”

The report said Charnock could not be called the founder as the city did not begin with his arrival. Charnock landed at Sutanuti on December 20, 1686, four years before he bought the three villages of Sutanuti, Kolikata and Gobindapur, where rural settlements already existed.

“In 1690, Calcutta was not a pestilential marshy land inhabited by only lower-class people,” the report said. The presence of high-caste groups was documented at Sutanuti, Kolikata and Gobindapur, right up to the Kalighat shrine.

It is not possible to single out any one as the founder of the city, the scholars said, adding that several other names would automatically figure in the list of those who contributed to the growth of the city.

Ajit Panja and Smarajit Roy Chowdhury represented the Parishad, advocate-general Balai Roy and Tarun Roy appeared for the state and Alok Ghosh appeared for the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

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