“Land-Profiteering or Speculation: Fixing the Fiscal Geography of Calcutta” A talk by Dr. Debjani Bhattacharyya

School of Cultural Texts and Records,
Rabindra Bhavan,
Jadavpur University

21 July 2014 (Monday) at 3.00 p.m.

A special talk on “Land-Profiteering or Speculation: Fixing the Fiscal Geography of Calcutta” was presented by Dr. Debjani Bhattacharyya, Department of History, Emory University at the School of Cultural Texts and Records. A part of the “Envisioning the Indian City: Spaces of Encounter” project, the talk was hosted and moderated by Prof. Supriya Chaudhuri.

Drawing upon the final chapter of her recently completed PhD thesis, Dr. Bhattacharyya began by outlining her interests in urban historiography and located her discourse within the larger framework of studying the creation of a ‘market’ in urban land as a central project of ‘colonial urbanism’ in Calcutta from 1820 to 1920, and the parallel emergence of urban property as a juridical economic entity.

The idea of urban property speculation was the central topic of her discussion. After briefly defining urban historiography in the context of Indian cities in general and Calcutta in particular, she looked into the question and analytic of urban property which till the late 19th century remained as a non-revenue generating space. Dr. Bhattacharyya drew attention on the importance of understanding whether any political and modernising principles of land improvement and property regulation was shared across economically productive spaces like agricultural fields, forests, plantations in the 19th century, and non-economically productive spaces (non-revenue generating) like urban property.

While property tax was introduced for the first time in the late 1860s resulting in houses being seen as revenue-generating entities, a land acquisition bill was yet to be introduced.

The talk went on to focus on the housing crisis in the city, its history, the role played by unions and promoters and their relation to landowners. Engagement in artificial property and irrational speculation in land prices led to profiteering and the emergence of what may be called ‘fictitious capital’. The discussion then shifted to understanding the socio-political conditions of the state and its relation to landowners and promoters. The government of a state is seen as an entity which plays an important part in either facilitating or even preventing speculation. The discussion concluded with the contemporary situation in Kolkata and speculative possibilities for the future. There were questions and answers at the end.

Reported by Pramantha M. Tagore



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