Development of means of communication and transport

Means of transport refer to the ways and modes by which people and commodities are moved from one place to another. On the other hand, means of communication refers to the ways in which news and messages get transmitted from one place to another. The development of means of communication and transport is considered to be an important hallmark of any modern civilization. The modern means of transport which were developed during the British rule include railways, roadways, shipping, and airways. Modern communication networks which were introduced by the British include posts and telegraphs.

Development of Means of Communication and Transport

In the pre-colonial period

Prior to the British Rule, the means of communication and transport which had existed in India were relatively backward. There were no modern rail or road networks which connected important industrial and commercial centres located far apart. The network of communication was also backward and unreliable.

A major reason for such backwardness was the self-sufficient nature of village economy prior to the colonial times. Villages were self-contained, producing enough to meet the day-to-day needs of their inhabitants and hence there no need to search for advanced modes of communication and transport. Bullock carts, pack-horses, donkeys and other such animal driven modes were used to transport goods on land. Along the river basins and in coastal areas, crude boats and their accessories were used. There was little awareness regarding steam engines and navigation canals.

Development under British Rule

The English East India Company was initially a commercial entity which had confined its activities to coastal areas. Post Battle of Plassey, the Company began its territorial expansion and a need was felt for development of modern means of communication and transport. The following were the reasons:

  • Market Access: The British merchants needed to access Indian markets located in the interiors of expanding British Empire. The British were also exploring fields for raw materials required for the growing British industries. Hence, it was necessary to transport goods from ports to the interiors and vice versa in an efficient manner.
  • Territorial Control: For territorial expansion wars and conquests became necessary. The troops and their supplies were to be moved from different places for which a reliable and strong network of transport became imperative.
  • Administration: With the Empire expanding, a need was felt to maintain links between provincial capitals, administrative headquarters and far off places. This required a reliable communications network.
  • Finance Capitalism: Infrastructure, particularly railways provided a lucrative Investment avenue for British capitalists as it generated high returns for them.

Hence, the political, administrative and economic needs of the Company led to the development of modern means of transport and communication in India. Nevertheless, they were useful for India's economic development in later stages.

Importance of Railways

  • For Transportation: It was realized by the British that railways could be an efficient means of transporting goods. Industrial Revolution in England had created a huge demand for raw materials. Also, markets were needed for the sale of finished industrial goods. It was argued by Englishmen like R.M. Stephenson that railways would provide an easy and cheap mode of transport for serving the British industrial and commercial needs.
  • Promising Investment Avenue : Industrial revolution had created a class of capitalists with surplus capital who had been looking for avenues to invest their surplus. Construction of railways in India proved to be a lucrative investment for them. The Government of India had promised assured returns of minimum five percent for private companies investing in railways construction.
  • Military reasons : Railways were also felt necessary for a quick and efficient movement of troops for expanding the territories of the Empire and to quell any internal rebellion.

Evolution of Indian Railways

When Lord Dalhousie came to India in 1849 as Governor General, he expedited the process of developing railways. He was an ardent supporter railways and had prepared an extensive programme of building the main trunk lines across British India. The earliest railway lines included,

  • Bombay - Thane Railway Line, opened in 1853.
  • Calcutta - Ranigunj Railway Line, opened in 1854.
  • Madras - Arcot Railway Line, opened in 1854.

Over 6400km of railway network was built by private companies by 1869. After that, the Government of India took the task of building railways.

Impact of Indian Railways on Indian Industry

  • Initially, the railway fares were determined by individual railway companies due to the commercial nature of their operation. The fares were fixed not on the basis of what the population could bear, but with an intention to maximize their profits.
  • Fares were discriminatory against Indian industries, charging higher rates from Indian industries as compared to their British counterparts.
  • Fares also discriminated routes which connected two hinterland regions against those routes which are leading to the ports. This was meant to facilitate the movement of goods in favour British interests as against the connectivity needs of India.
  • Due to a virtual absence of competition from other modes of transport, railway companies enjoyed a monopoly in fixing the prices within their routes.

Such discriminatory rate structure not only limited the growth of railway traffic but also hurt the industrialization of India.

Roadways in India

Evolution of Roadways in India

  • Pre-Colonial Times: Road network in India was poorly developed till the end of Mughal period. The roads that were built, including the trunk roads, were inadequate to meet the growing needs of a country like India. During the early years of the British rule, not much importance was given to roads. Much of their attention was focused towards building the railway network, leading to a neglect of the roadways.
  • Under British Rule :
    • Lord William Bentinck was among the earliest of British administrators to focus on road development.
      • He had initiated a project to connect Calcutta, the then capital of British India, with the frontier regions.
      • It was known as the Grand Trunk Road and connected Calcutta with Delhi. Work on it began in 1839.
      • The road was later extended to Lahore and Peshawar.
    • Lord Dalhousie had created a separate department, known as the public works department (PWD), to supervise and coordinate the construction of various works such as roads, bridges, canals etc. The PWD was under the charge of a chief engineer.
  • After the First World War: The construction of road network received a greater attention with good metalled roads being laid at important places. Though there was as slow down in road construction in the period before Second World War due to the financial burden posed by the construction of railways, the Second World War and post War period witnessed a rapid growth of road network. The Nagpur plan of 1943, with a ten year target of increasing the road length by over 1 lakh miles, had an objective of bringing all villages within a five mile radius of a main road.

Waterways in India

The British had modernized the waterways and made them into an important means of transport for commercial purposes. Until then, water transport was limited to the coastal regions and along smaller stretches of river courses. The British had developed inland navigation channels and introduced steam engine led vessels which were extremely useful for merchants as well as common people. Buckingham Canal was one such important navigation channel which connected Madras Presidency with Kakinada, a port town in Andhra Pradesh.

However, waterways were relatively less developed when compared to other modes such as railways and roads because most of the funds meant for public transportation system were allocated to railways.

Airways in India

  • The first air service in India was between Allahabad and Naini which was introduced by the Posts and Telegraphs Department for the delivery of air-mail.
  • India's first international air service was inaugurated by the Indian Transport Continental Airways Ltd. in 1932.
  • The years following 1932 witnessed a growth in air travel and by 1939 India had three companies looking after internal operations viz., Air Services of India, Total Airlines, and Indian National Airways.
  • The Second World War period witnessed a huge boom in the air transport service.

Postal System in India

Evolution of Postal System

  • Prior to the British rule: The postal system in India was unorganized, broken, and unreliable. Posts were sent over long distances by horses and postmen and the system had huge delays. There were separate postal systems for the government and the wealthy had their own arrangements. Common man faced great difficulties in sending a post.
  • During British Rule :
    • Lord Dalhousie introduced sweeping changes in the postal system of India.
    • He had modeled the postal system in India on the lines of the Penny-postage system of England.
    • The new system involved fixing a half-Anna postal stamp on the post and people could send posts all over the country at a cost of half-Anna.
    • He had also passed the Indian Post-office Act which created a network of post offices under the supervision of a Director General.The new system was immensely beneficial to the common people.

Telegraph in India

Importance of Telegraph in India

Electric telegraph was another major reform in the communication system that was introduced by Lord Dalhousie. He was impressed by the benefits reaped by governments in Europe and North America which had introduced telegraph network. He had realized that the telegraph system had the following benefits in India:

  • It could help the administrative need of keeping the government in Calcutta have a constant touch with the provincial capitals. By having a quick and direct communication link, the control of the Central Government over the Provinces could be maintained.
  • It could also serve the imperial needs by the military headquarters having a quick and direct communication link with various troop outposts which could aid in quick and efficient troop mobilization.

Evolution of Telegraph

The main trunk lines which were opened by 1852 were

  • Calcutta - Peshawar line which passed through Benaras, Allahabad, Agra, Ambala, and Lahore.
  • Calcutta - Bombay line.
  • Madras - Bombay line which passed through Bangalore, Poona, and Hyderabad.

Impact of Modern Communication and Transport

Negative Impact

  • The colonial exploitation of India got accelerated and India was quickly turned into an exporter of raw materials to feed the British industries and as a market for their finished goods. In a way, they had hampered the growth of indigenous industries in India.
  • Investment of British capital in this sector, amounted to a sizable drain of wealth in the form of interest payments
  • The efficient network of railways and telegraphs had helped the British to easily suppress many internal rebellions, including the Revolt of 1857, and strengthen the imperial control.

Positive Impact

  • The railway network had increased the contact among people at an unprecedented level.
  • Posts and telegraph network were useful for spreading patriotic ideas.
  • The growth of Indian nationalism was attributed to the advent of a modern network of communications and transport.
  • Indian agriculture witnessed a structural transformation with an increase in the cultivation of cash crops such as cotton, jute, tea etc.
  • It also gave rise to a new class - the working class or the proletariat which in later years played a significant role in freedom struggle.

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