With the arrival of Europeans brought about new changes in the development of towns. They first developed some coastal towns such as Surat, Daman, Goa and Pondicherry. The British after consolidated their power in India developed three main cities - Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkatta as the administrative headquarters and trading centres. With the extension of domination they developed new towns, depending on its location, purpose and resources. The newly developed towns are known differently as hill towns, industrial towns, court towns, railway station towns, cantonments and administrative towns.
Unique features of urbanisation under the British
In the beginning of eighteenth century, the policies of the British proved harmful to the process of urbanisation. Later, the economic policies followed by the British led to the rapid transformation of India’s economy into a colonial economy and development of cities.
With the help of one–way free trade predominance of British, Indian manufacturing industries were destroyed. The effect of this wholesale destruction of the Indian manufacturing industries, led to the ruin of the millions of artisans and craftsman. There was a sudden collapse of the urban handicrafts industry which had for centuries made India’s name in the markets of the entire civilised world.
Towns and cities long famed for their specialized products gazed continually shrinking market. As a result, old populous manufacturing towns such as Dacca, Murshidabad, Surat and Lucknow lost their previous importance. The entire industrial structure crashed down under stiff competition of imported goods.
The traditional industrial base of Indian cities, made by the indigenous handicraft production was destroyed by Industrial revolution. The high import duties and other restrictions imposed on the import of Indian goods into Britain and Europe led to the decline of Indian industries. Thus, India became the agricultural colony of Britain.
The transformation of India’s economy into a colonial one – a market for the manufactures and source for the supply of the raw materials to her industries hit hard the industrial and commercial base of a number of towns.
The gradual erosion of king’s power led to the demise of towns associated with their rule. Agra once an imperial city in the first quarter of 19th century was surrounded by extensive ruins all around. The native rulers lost their kingdom to the British by means of various policies of the colonial power.
Another factor which contributed to the decline of the urban centres of the pre-British period was the introduction of the network of railroads in India since 1853. The introduction of the railways resulted in the diversion of trade routes and every railway station became a point of export of raw materials. The railways enabled British manufactures to reach every nook and corner of the country and uprooted the traditional industries in the villages of the country.
III. The Growth of New Urban Centres
British developed new centres of trade like Calcutta, Madras and Bombay on the eastern and western coastal areas. Madras (1639) Bombay (1661) and Calcutta (1690), cities which the British largely created and fortified. All those were earlier fishing and weaving villages. Here they built their homes, shops and churches as well as their commercial and administrative headquarters.
From the mid-eighteenth century, there was a new phase of change. As the British gradually acquired political control after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the trade of English East India company expanded.
A new trend of urbanisation began in the latter half of the nineteenth century as a result of the opening of Suez Canal, introduction of steam navigation, construction of railways, canals, harbours, growth of factory industries, coal mining, tea plantation, banking, shipping and insurance. Changes in the networks of trade were reflected in the development of urban centres.
An urban area is one that has a high population density engaged in occupations other than food production, living in a highly built environment.
a. Port cities
The British arrived in India for trading. Madras, Calcutta and Bombay became the important ports. They played important role in trade. These cities became the prominent commercial areas with tall European – styled buildings. The English East India Company built its factories and fortified them for the protection for their settlement. Fort St. George in Madras and Fort William in Calcutta were the best examples.
b. Cantonment towns
The British occupied the Indian territory and political power by their military force. So they needed strong military camps and established the cantonments. The cantonments were thus an entirely new kind of urban centres. Army people began to live in these places and gradually they were grown up a city. For e.g. Kanpur, Lahore.
c. Hill stations
Hill stations were distinctive features of colonial urban development. Although Hill stations were not unknown, prior to their founding by the British in India, they were few and had a small population and were often visited for specific purpose. For e.g. Srinagar was a Mughal recreational centre, Kedarnath and Badrinath were Hindu religious Centres. The British coming from a cool temperate climate, found the Indian summer season inhospitable. So the cool climate of Indian hills was seen as protective and advantage. It protected the Europeans from hot weather and epidemics. So they built up the alternative capitals in cool areas, like Darjeeling was the alternative of Calcutta, Dehradun was the alternative of Delhi. Hill stations became strategic places for billeting troops, guarding frontiers and launching campaigns. Hill stations were developed both in North and South India, e.g. Simla, Nainital, Darjeeling, Ootacamund and Kodaikanal. Simla (Shimla) was founded during the Gurkha war (1814-16). Darjeeling was wrested from the rulers of Sikkim in 1835. These hill stations were also developed as Sanatoriums (places for soldiers for rest and recovery from illness). The introduction of railways made hill station more accessible.
d. Railway towns
Railway towns were also a type of urban settlements and were established in 1853 after the introduction of railways by the British. By the nature of railway transport, all the towns were located on the plains. Eg. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta.