The proximity of Sir Stuart Hogg Market or I should say New Market from my office makes it an ideal location for my afternoon post-lunch walks. I have gone to this market so many numbers of times that I have got used to all the lanes and by-lanes that interconnect each other within the market premises. Being a blogger with a keen interest in the heritage of my city I always wanted to write a blog about this market but somehow it keeps getting delayed with other priorities.
While once photographing the outer sections of the market I came across a Coat of Arms which I initially thought that of Sir Stuart Hogg but it really did not make sense. A quick search led the logo or emblem to the erstwhile Calcutta Municipal organization. Now here things got little interesting, why would the city municipality have storks in their coat of arms? You actually do not see any storks in the city so why have them on your logo? As I searched deeper and deeper into old documents I got to know something which I was unaware of. Firstly, I got to know more about the city’s municipal organization and its heritage and secondly, about the real reason for having a stork in the coat of arms.
To be precise the birds depicted is that of Greater Adjutant Stork a bird that we no longer see in the city of Calcutta or Kolkata. In India, it can only be seen around Assam and the bird has discretely shifted into the endangered list. Along with Vultures these Greater Adjutant’s were scavenger birds and were below the vultures. What the vultures left behind were devoured by these Greater Adjutants. These birds were known to finish up even to the level of eating away the bones. The locals started calling these birds as Haadgila (Haad = Bones – Gila = Swallowers) for its fierce appetite.
Greater Adjutant belong to the Stork family and has a huge appearance, rising up to a height of sixty inches, length of fifty-four inches and with a wingspan of around 100 inches. These birds clearly have a large beak and these could easily dig into a corpse and were strong enough to crack open a bone and eat the marrows inside which the vultures could not. This unique ability of this bird made it an ideal scavenger bird which ensured rotting corpses get completely removed.
Calcutta before the formation of the municipal body was a small city surrounded by the Maratha Ditch and usually, the garbage of the city slowly started getting dumped in the outer limits of the city. Even though the central districts which were a jewel in the crown for the English the outer limits were slowly becoming garbage dumps. Dead animals were usually left to rot and the filth became unbearable. To control this situation various committees and boards were formed over the years which ultimately became the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
The contribution of these Haadgila’s to clean up make it an ideal for them to be used in the official coat of arms. Thus in the year 1896 College of Arms which is based in London and solely responsible for granting and assigning of Coat of Arms in the British Empire allotted this Coat of Arms to the municipal corporation of the city.
This coat of arms represented two Adjutant Birds holding serpents in their beaks and carrying a Crown on their shoulders described below.
Arms: Per chevron Or and Sable, a lion passant guardant Gules between two palm-trees eradicated in chief Vert, and a ship under sail in base Argent.[ An 18th-century ship of the line.]
Crest: Issuant out of an eastern crown, a sea-lion holding in the dexter paw a lotus-flower leafed and slipped proper.
Supporters: Adjutant-birds holding in the beak a serpent proper, charged on the shoulder with an eastern crown.
Motto: PER ARDUA STABILIS ESTO (Latin) The steep slope Be Sure (English translation)
By two patents dated 26th of December 1896.
Now my question is where are these majestic birds now? Why don’t I see them anymore in my city? Why its existence in my city has been completely forgotten? Well, there is actually a very simple answer, their food sources were dramatically decreased due to the improvement of sanitation and other municipal-related activities. Calcutta was no more a place that these birds migrated to anymore.
So with time, the coat of arms got replaced with a new logo and the citizens of my city completely forgot about its existence.
Formation of Calcutta Municipal Organization Over The Years
While doing this research I also managed to dig deep into the development of municipality of Calcutta which ultimately was responsible for the vanishing of these birds and that also became another interesting story.
1727 – A Mayor and Mayor’s Court
A Corporation consisting of a Mayor and nine Aldermen with a Mayor’s Court gets constituted under a Royal Charter. The courthouse mentioned here was built on the same ground where now we see St. Andrews Church. This is the very reason this stretch of street bears the name “Old Court House Street“.
A municipal fund was set up and taxes from the house were accumulated for the city’s improvement. John Zephaniah Holwell who was one of the survivors of the Black Hole Massacre became an Alderman rising up to the Mayor of this court.
1794 – Justices of the Peace
Justices of the Peace were appointed under the government of Sir John Shore with a statute from King George III. Under Lord Wellesley in 1803 thirty prominent citizens of the city were selected to form the Town Improvement Committee.
Building roads, improving drainage, creating public markets, proper slaughterhouses and creation of burial grounds were some of the tasks that was entrusted to this committee.
1803 – 1814 Town Improvement Committee
Funds from public lotteries were used extensively for town improvement. Significant work includes the construction of Town Hall and the construction of Beleghata Canal. Also undertaken were road constructions.
1814 – 1817 Lottery Commissioners
This committee further raised funds by lottery and carried on improvements such as road repairs and new road constructions.
1817 – 1836 Lottery Committee
Till date, there were a total of seventeen lotteries held in the city and the newly formed committee took road construction as one of its priorities which included Cornwallis Street, College Street, Wellesley Street, Wood Street, Kyd Street, Free School Street, Creek Row and Mangoe Lane.
1833 – First Proposal for Elected Committees
A Combination of a representative from Chairman of the Justices, Commissioner of Police, Chief Presidency Magistrate was made by D M Farlan who had proposed the election of the Municipal Committee by the taxpayers of certain qualification in each of the four districts in which the city was then divided. This, however, did not materialise.
1836 – 1847 Fever Hospital Committee
Lord Auckland appointed a committee for the establishment of a fever hospital in the year 1836 and also for local management and taxation. This committee had esteemed members from the Indian society like that of Dwarkanath Tagore and Prasanna Kumar Tagore. In 1840 the town was also divided into four divisions.
1847 – 1852 The Board of Seven
This period saw Governor General Lord Ellennborough and Lord Hardinge carry on by forming a board of seven consisting of J H Patton, F W Simms, T J Pearson, H E Watts, Chandra Mohan Chatterjee, Tarini Charan Banerji and Dinabandhu Dey. This committee continued with the city improvement works.
1848 – 1856 Further Changes
Lord Dalhousie took over as the Governor General and he made some quick changes. He passed some acts which changed the number of commissioners. In 1856 the commissioners were also declared to be a “Corporation“. In 1859 first ever underground drainage in the country was inaugurated in this city which took almost sixteen years to build.
The Act of 1863 and the Justices
Sir Cecil Beadon the then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal passed a new act with which property of the town of Calcutta and the general management of its municipal affairs were transferred to a Corporation. This Corporation consisted of all the Justices of the Peace for Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha with the chairman of the Justices appointed by the Government.
Achievement includes improvement of water supply from taps, brick sewers, pipe sewers, pumping of sewage and the construction of Municipal Railways.
1876 On an Elective Basis
Sir Richard Temple the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal placed the constitution of the municipal government on an elective basis. The Justices of Peace handed over the administration to seventy-two commissioners of the corporation. Of these seventy-two (later on increased to seventy-five) commissioners two-thirds were elected while the rest were appointed by the government.
During this time the drainage system was completed, the tram was introduced (1880). Sir Henry Leyland Harrison was the chairman of the corporation.
1899 – The Mackenzie Act
Under Sir Alexander Mackenzie the then Lieutenant Governor saw the passing of the Calcutta Municipal Act of 1899. The city saw the massive earthquake of 1897 during this time.
The Act of 1923
1923 saw a new Calcutta Municipal Act instrument by Sir Surendra Nath Banerjea as the first minister for Local Self Government. The new act provided for a Mayor election every year who would preside the day to day activities of the corporation along with five Aldermen and ninety Councillors.
Maniktalla, Cossipore, Chitpur, Garden Reach, some portions of Tollygunge and Dock Extension were added to the jurisdiction.
Around 1933 Chittaranjan Das became the first Mayor of Calcutta and Subhas Chandra Bose his Chief Executive Officer. The city was ruled by the Act until March 1948 when the State Government superseded the Corporation. The number of councillors by now became eighty-one.
1951 – Calcutta Municipal Act
After India’s independence, a new act came into place which had seventy-six Councillors.
1962 – Introduction of Adult Franchise
Municipal elections were introduced and by now the wards were increased to one hundred the 1951 Act provided for an elected Mayor, a Deputy Mayor and five Aldermen elected by the Councillors.
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act of 1980
It became an autonomous corporation with a cabinet form of Government in the Mayor-in-Council. Apart from the provision of the full-time political executive, the Act created three authorities in keeping with the widely accepted democratic norms the Corporation, the Mayor-in-Council and the Mayor.
Coat of Arms has now changed into a Logo or Emblem but to me, my city with its glorious history of the nation will forever be etched in gold.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation Archive on Web
President of India’s (Digital) Library
Hubert de Vries for Coat Of Arms