One hundred years of economic change in Bengal: Re-visiting the economic life of a Bengal district. CPRC Working Paper 201.

Abstract

In 1910, J. C. Jack, a British Settlement Officer of the then Faridpur district (which is now divided into five districts) of British India, wrote a book entitled The Economic Life of a Bengal District. Jack provided a comprehensive description of the economic life of Greater Faridpur. His description included a detailed analysis on the district, its inhabitants, their homes and manner of life, the composition of the domestic budgets of households, people‟s income and economic conditions, indebtedness and taxation. Now 100 years later, through the use of secondary data, field visits and focus group discussions, this study explores the dynamics of the evolution of the economic life in Greater Faridpur over the last 100 years (1910-2010).

Such investigation suggests that there have been large increases in population and population density in Greater Faridpur. There has been important change in the religious composition of the population, with the proportion of Hindu population declining considerably over the decades. There have been significant improvements in physical infrastructure, such as roads and other forms of communication, and social infrastructure, such as health and education. Also, there have been significant changes in the structure of the economy. One hundred years ago, it was predominantly an agro-based economy. Over the years, non-agricultural economic activities have increased considerably.

At the household level, important changes are observed in the composition of expenditure on food and non-food items. The major change is noticed in the proportion of expenditure on rice; compared to Jack‟s time the proportion of spending on rice by households declined substantially. A rise in the relative importance of non-rice food items and non-food items in the consumption basket appears to be the major cause behind such a change. Finally, the composition of poverty seems to have been changed in Greater Faridpur. Compared to Jack‟s time, the proportion of non-poor households increased and that of moderate poor declined. The estimate from the Household Survey of 2005 suggests that the proportion of households in extreme poverty in 2005 was higher than that in 1910. Increased landlessness and lack of work opportunities were the major factors behind the rise in extreme poverty. However, in recent years, poverty has seemed to decline, both in the rural and urban areas, because of expanded economic activities in the rural areas, increased work opportunities in the farm and non-farm sectors, a rise in the inflow of remittance money and an increase in different development works.

Citation

CPRC Working Paper No. 201, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, London, UK, 978-1-906433-98-7, 33 pp.

One hundred years of economic change in Bengal: Re-visiting the economic life of a Bengal district. CPRC Working Paper 201.

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