Sunday, July 13, 2008


The RIN Mutiny: a brief history:-Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

HMIS Talwar at Bombay Harbour.
HMIS Talwar at Bombay Harbour.

The RIN Mutiny started as a strike by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy on 18 February in protest against general conditions. The immediate issue of the mutiny was conditions and food, but there were more fundamental matters such as racist behaviour by Royal Navy personnel towards Indian sailors, and disciplinary measures being taken against anyone demonstrating pro-nationalist sympathies. By dusk on 19 February, a Naval Central Strike committee was elected. Leading Signalman M.S Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphist Madan Singh were unanimously elected President and Vice-President respectively. The strike found immense support among the Indian population, already gripped by the stories of the Indian National Army. { read about I.N.A.:-}   The actions of the mutineers was supported by demonstrations which included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the Royal Indian Air Force and local police forces. Naval officers and men began calling themselves the "Indian National Navy" and offered left-handed salutes to British officers. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Pune, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. Widespread rioting took place from Karachi to Calcutta. Notably, the mutinying ships hoisted three flags tied together — those of the Congress, Muslim League, and the Red Flag of the Communist Party of India (CPI), signifying the unity and demarginalisation of communal issues among the mutineers.
The mutiny was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M. S. Khan, and Vallab Bhai Patel

of the Congress, who had been sent to Bombay to settle the crisis. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah

on behalf of the Muslim League. Under these considerable pressures, the strikers gave way. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League widespread arrests were made. These were followed up by courts martial and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either of the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence.

Events of the Mutiny:-
After the Second World War, three officers of the Indian National Army (I.N.A.), General Shah Nawaz Khan,

Colonel Prem Sehgal

and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon

Freedom fighter, Indian National Army colonel and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's close associate G S Dhillon, in Delhi on December 22, 1950.

were put on trial at the Red Fort in Delhi

for "waging war against the King Emperor", i.e. the British sovereign personifying British rule. The three defendants were defended at the trial by Jawaharlal Nehru,

Bhulabhai Desai

and others. Outside the court, the trials inspired protests and discontent among the Indian population, who came to view the defendants as revolutionaries who had fought for their country.READ ABOUT THE TRIALS:-

HMIS Hindustan at Bombay Harbour after the war

HMIS Hindustan at Bombay Harbour after the war.

The mutiny was initiated by the ratings of Indian Navy on 18 February 1946. It was a reaction to the treatment meted out to ratings in general and the lack of service facilities in particular. On 16 January 1946, a contingent of 67 ratings of various branches arrived at Castle Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort BOMBAY(Mumbai). This contingent had arrived from the basic training establishment, HMIS Akbar, located at Thane, a suburb of Bombay, at 1600 in the evening. One of them Syed Maqsood Bokhari went to the officer on duty informed him about the galley (kitchen) staff of this arrival. The sailors were that evening alleged to have been served sub-standard food. Only 17 ratings took the meal, the rest of the contingent went ashore to eat in an open act of defiance. It has since been said that such acts of neglect were fairly regular, and when reported to senior officers present practically evoked no response, which certainly was a factor in the buildup of discontent. The ratings of the communication branch in the shore establishment, HMIS Talwar, drawn from a relatively higher strata, harboured a high level of revulsion towards the authorities, having complained of neglect of their facilities fruitlessly.
The INA trials, the stories of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

, as well as the stories of INA's fight during the Siege of Imphal and in Burma were seeping into the glaring public-eye at the time. These, received through the wireless sets and the media, fed discontent and ultimately inspired the sailors to strike. In Karachi, mutiny broke out on board the Royal Indian Navy ship, HMIS Hindustan off Manora Island. The ship, as well as shore establishments were taken over by mutineers. Later, it spread to the HMIS Bahadur

Line-up of ships of the RIN on the Bombay dockyard breakwater during the mutiny.

. A naval central strike committee was formed on 19 February 1946, led by M. S. Khan and Madan Singh. The next day, ratings from Castle and Fort Barracks in Bombay, joined in the mutiny when rumours (which were untrue) spread that HMIS Talwar's ratings had been fired upon. Ratings left their posts and went around Bombay in lorries, holding aloft flags containing the picture of Subhash Chandra Bose. Several Indian naval officers who opposed the strike and sided with the British were thrown off the ship by ratings. Soon, the mutineers were joined by thousands of disgruntled ratings from Bombay, Karachi, Cochin and Vizag. Communication between the various mutinies was maintained through the wireless communication sets available in HMIS Talwar. Thus, the entire revolt was coordinated.
Victims of police firing on a crowd that had demonstrated in support of the mutiny.
The strike by the Naval ratings soon took serious proportions. Hundreds of strikers from the sloops, minesweepers and shore establishments in Bombay demonstrated for 2 hours along Hornby Road near VT (now the very busy D.N. Road near CST). British personnel of the Defence forces were singled out for attacks by the strikers who were armed with hammers, crowbars and hockey sticks. The White Ensign was lowered from the ships.
Signs of liberation started to occur in Flora Fountain. Vehicles carrying mail were stopped and the mail burnt. British men and women going in cars and victorias were made to get down and shout "Jai Hind" (Victory to India). Guns were trained on the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Yacht Club and other buildings from morning till evening.
1000 RIAF men from the Marine Drive and Andheri Camps also joined in sympathy. By the end of the day Gurkhas in Karachi

had refused to fire on striking sailors.
The strike soon spread to other parts of India. The ratings in Calcutta, Madras, Karachi and Vizag also went on strike with the slogans "Strike for Bombay", "Release 11,000 INA prisoners" and "Jai Hind".

Victims of police firing on a crowd that had demonstrated in support of the mutiny.
On 19 February, the Tricolour Indian flag of India

was hoisted by the ratings on most of the ships and establishments. By 20 February, the third day, armed British destroyers had positioned themselves off the Gateway of India. The RIN Mutiny had become a serious crisis for the British government. An alarmed Clement Attlee,
 the British Prime Minister, ordered the Royal Navy to put down the revolt. Admiral J.H. Godfrey, the Flag Officer commanding the RIN, went on air with his order to "Submit or perish". The movement had, by this time, inspired by the patriotic fervour sweeping the country, started taking a political turn.
The naval ratings’ strike committee decided, in a confused manner, that the HMIS Kumaon  
HMIS Kumaon  

had to leave Bombay harbour while HMIS Kathiawar was already in the Arabian Sea under the control of mutineering ratings. At about 1030 Kumaon suddenly let go the shore ropes, without even removing the ships’ gangway while officers were discussing the law and order situation on the outer breakwater jetty. However, within two hours fresh instructions were received from the strikers’ control room and the ship returned to the same berth.
The situation was changing fast and rumours spread that Australian and Canadian armed battalions had been stationed outside the Lion gate and the Gungate to encircle the dockyard where most ships were berthed. However, by this time, all the armouries of the ships and establishments had been seized by the striking ratings. The clerks, cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators of the striking ship armed themselves with whatever weapon was available to resist the British Destroyers that had sailed from Trincomalee in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The third day dawned charged with fresh emotions. The Royal Air Force flew a squadron of bombers low over Bombay harbour in a show of force, as Admiral Rattray, Flag Officer, Bombay, RIN,{Admiral Sir Arthur Rullion Rattray (1891–10 August 1966)} issued an ultimatum asking the ratings to raise black flags and surrender unconditionally.
In Karachi, by this time, realising that little hope or trust could be put on the Indian troops, the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch had been called from their barracks. The first priority was to deal with the mutiny on Manora Island.

A couple of abandoned ships at Manora Island
Ratings holding the Hindustan opened fire when attempts were made to board the ship. At midnight, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to proceed to Manora, expecting resistance from the Indian naval ratings who had taken over the shore establishments HMIS Bahadur, Chamak and Himalaya and from the Royal Naval Anti-Aircraft School on the island. The Battalion was ferried silently across in launches and landing craft. D company was the first across, and they immediately proceeded to the southern end of the island to Chamak. The remainder of the Battalion stayed at the southern end of the Island. By the morning, the British soldiers had secured the island.
The decision was made to confront the Indian naval ratings on board the destroyer Hindustan, armed with 4-in. guns. During the morning three guns (caliber unknown) from the Royal Artillery C. Troop arrived on the island. The Royal Artillery positioned the battery within point blank range of the Hindustan on the dockside. An ultimatum was delivered to the mutineers aboard Hindustan, stating that if they did not the leave the ship and put down their weapons by 10:30 they would have to face the consequences. The deadline came and went and there was no message from the ship or any movement. Orders were given to open fire at 10:33. The gunners' first round was on target. On board the Hindustan the Indian naval ratings began to return gunfire and several shells whistled over the Royal Artillery guns. Most of the shells fired by the Indian ratings went harmlessly overhead and fell on Karachi itself. They had not been primed so there were no casualties. However, the mutineers could not hold on. At 10:51 the white flag was raised. British naval personnel boarded the ship to remove casualties and the remainder of the mutinous crew. Extensive damage had been done to Hindustan's superstructure and there were many casualties among the Indian sailors.
HMIS Bahadur was still under the control of mutineers. Several Indian naval officers who had attempted or argued in favour of putting down the mutiny were thrown off the ship by ratings. The 2nd Battalion was ordered to storm the Bahadur and then proceed to storm the shore establishments on Manora island. By the evening D company was in possession of the A A school and Chamak, B company had taken the Himalaya, while the rest of the Battalion had secured Bahadur. The mutiny in Karachi had been put down.
In Bombay, the guncrew of a 25-pounder gun fitted in an old ship had by the end of the day fired salvos towards the Castle barracks. Patel had been negotiating ferevently, and his assurances did improve matters considerably However, it was clear that the mutiny was fast developing into a spontaneous movement with its own momentum. By this time the British destroyers from Trincomalee had positioned themselves off the Gateway of India. The negotiations moved fast, keeping in view the extreme sensitivity of the situation and on the fourth day most of the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle.
Immediate steps were taken to improve the quality of food served in the ratings’ kitchen and their living conditions. The national leaders also assured that favourable consideration would be accorded to the release of all the prisoners of the Indian National Army. A very grave situation was tackled in a very timely manner and a real disaster was averted by the prudent action both by the strikers and the country’s leadership.
The mutiny caused a great deal of panic in the British Government. The connections of this mutiny with the popular perceptions and changing attitudes with the activities of the INA and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was taken note of and its resemblance of the revolt of 1857 also caused alarm among the British administration of the time. The fact that the mutiny of 1857 sparked off from a seemingly trivial and unexpected issue of greased cartridges, and that later historical analysis had revealed deep seated resentment among the then subjects of the East India Company led to fears that an identical situation was developing in India.
The Controversy: Political abandonment of the Mutineers

Surprisingly for events of the magnitude and reach that the mutinies came to be, the mutineers in the armed forces got no support from the national leaders and was largely leaderless. Mahatma Gandhi, in fact, condemned the riots and the ratings’ mutiny, his statement on 3 March 1946 criticised the strikers for mutinying without the call of a "prepared revolutionary party" and without the "guidance and intervention" of "political leaders of their choice". He further criticised the local Indian National Congress leader Aruna Asaf Ali, who was one of the few prominent political leaders of the time to offer her support for the mutineers, stating she would rather unite Hindus and Muslims on the barricades than on the constitutional front. Gandhi's criticism also belies the submissions to the looming reality of Partition of India, having stated "If the union at the barricade is honest then there must be union also at the constitutional front" The Muslim League issued similar statements which essentially argued that the unrest of the sailors was not best expressed on the streets, however serious the grievance may be. Legitimacy could only, probably, be conferred by a recognised political leadership as the head of any kind of movement. Spontaneous and unregulated upsurges, as the RIN strikers were viewed, could only disrupt and, at worst, destroy consensus at the political level. This may be Gandhi's (and the Congress's) conclusions from the Quit India Movement in 1942 when central control quickly dissolved under the impact of British repression, and localised actions, including widespread acts of sabotage, continued well into 1943. It may have been the conclusion that the rapid emergence of militant mass demonstrations in support of the sailors would erode central political authority if and when transfer of power occurred. The Muslim League had observed passive support for the "Quit India" campaign among its supporters and, devoid of communal clashes despite the fact that it was opposed by the then collaborationist Muslim League. It is possible that the League also realised the likelihood of a destabilised authority as and when power was transferred. This certainly is reflected on the opinion of the sailors who participated in the strike It has been concluded by later historians that the discomfiture of the Mainstream political parties was because the public outpourings indicated their weakening hold over the masses at a time when they could show no success in reaching agreement with the British Indian government.

Naval Uprising Statue, Colaba
The only political party to give unconditional support to the revolt was the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI). As soon as it got news of the revolt it came out with a call for a Hartal in support of the mutineers. BLPI members Prabhakar More and Lakshman Jadhav led the textile workers out on strike. Barricades were set up and held for three days. However, attempts to contact the mutineers were foiled by British troops.
Possibly the only major political segment that still mentions the mutiny it is the Communist Party of India. The literature of the communist party, certainly see the RIN Mutiny as a spontaneous nationalist uprising that was one of the few episodes at the time that had the potential to prevent the partition of India, and one that was essentially betrayed by the leaders of the nationalist movement However, at the time, the CPI attempted to diffuse the situation, co-operating with the Congress and the Muslim League in trying to keep the peace.
More recently, the RIN Mutiny has been renamed the Naval Uprising and the mutineers honoured for the part they played in India's Freedom. In addition to the statue which stands in Mumbai opposite the sprawling Taj Wellingdon Mews, two prominent mutineers, Madan Singh and B.C Dutt, have each had ships named after them by the Indian Navy.

Legacy and assessments of the effects of the Mutiny
The most significant factor of this mutiny, with hind-sight, came to be that Hindus and Muslims united to resist the British, even at a time that saw the peak of the movement for Pakistan. This critical assessment starts from events at the time of the mutiny. The mutiny came to receive widespread militant support, even for the short period that it lasted, not only in Bombay, but also in Karachi and Calcutta on 23 February, in Ahmedabad, Madras and Trichinopoly on the 25th, at Kanpur on the 26th, and at Madurai and several places in Assam on the 26th. The agitations, mass strikes, demonstrations and consequently support for the mutineers, therefore continued several days even after the mutiny had been called off. Along with this,

the assessment may be made that it described in crystal clear terms to the government that the British Indian Armed forces could no longer be universally relied upon for support in crisis, and even more it was more likely itself to be the source of the sparks that would ignite trouble in a country fast slipping out of the scenario of political settlement. It is therefore arguable that the mutiny, had it continued and confronted the threat of the RIN commander Admiral Godfrey to destroy the fleet, would have put the British Raj on the path of a maelstrom of popular movement which would have seen British exit from south-east Asia under very different circumstances than eventually happened. Certainly, the forces at Godfrey's disposal was sufficient for him to carry out his threat of destroying the RIN. However, to control the result of those actions, compounded by the outpourings of the INA trials was beyond the capabilities of the British Indian forces on whom any British General or politician (including Indian leaders) could reliably trust. The navy itself was marginal in terms of state power; Indian service personnel were at this time being swept by a wave of nationalist sentiments, as would be proved by the mutinies that occurred in the Royal Indian Air Force. In the after-effect of the mutiny, a Weekly intelligence summary issued on 25 March 1946 admitted that the Indian army, navy and air force units were no longer trust worthy, and, for the army, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made". It came to the situation where, if wide-scale public unrest took shape, the armed forces could not be relied upon to support counter-insurgency operations as they had been during the "Quit India" movement of 1942. The mutiny has been thus been deemed "Point of No Return"
Also, the USA's historic hostility towards Imperialism certainly made it unlikely that Atlee's government would have sought solution by force. The involvement of the Communist Party also cast a very red tinge to this ultimately mass movement that, if confronted, had the potential to have been the flashpoint for the post-war powers, as was seen in Vietnam.
However, probably just as important remains the question as to what the implications would have been for India's internal politics had the mutiny continued. This had become a movement characterised by a significant amount of inter-communal co-operation. The Indian nationalist leaders, most notably Gandhi and the Congress leadership apparently had been concerned that the mutiny would compromise the strategy of a negotiated and constitutional settlement, but they sought to negotiate with the British and not within the two prominent symbols of respective nationalism—-the Congress and the Muslim League.. By March 1947, the Congress had limited partition to only Punjab and Bengal (thus Jinnah’s famous moth-eaten Pakistan remark).
In the after-effect of the mutiny, Weekly intelligence summary issued on the 25th of March, 1946 admitted that the Indian army, navy and air force units were no longer trust worthy, and, for the army, "only day to day estimates of steadiness could be made". . It was decided that; if wide-scale public unrest took shape, the armed forces (including the airforce- for Quit India had shown how it could turn violent) could not be relied upon to support counter-insurgency operations as they had been during the Quit India movement of 1942, and drawing from experiences of the Tiger Legion and the INA, their actions could not be predicted from their oath to the King emperor .
Reflecting on the factors that guided the British decision to relinquish the Raj in India, Clement Attlee, the then British prime minister, cited several reasons, the most important of which were: which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army - the foundation of the British Empire in India- and the RIN Mutiny that made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj.
Although Britain had made, at the time of the Cripps' mission in 1942, a commitment to grant dominion status to India after the war; these events and views held in 1946 by the administrations of the Raj would suggest to the reader that, contrary to the usual narrative of India's independence struggle, (which generally focuses on Congress and Mahatma Gandhi), the INA and the revolts, mutinies, and public resentment it germinated were an important factor in the complete withdrawal of the Raj from India.
In the same breath, whether awarded any credit for India's independence or not, the events at the time show that the strategy of Azad Hind (derived from the embryo of the Free India Legion) of achieving independence from Britain by fermenting revolts and public unrests - although a militarily a failure

 The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny RIN MutineerS Memorial In  COLABA Mumbai    

Thursday, February 25, 1999
Hero’s honour for Royal mutineer
Follow up
by Reeta Sharma
TOMORROW will be a historic day in the life of this self-respecting Punjabi from Siar village, near Ludhiana. He would be presiding over the "induction ceremony" of ‘INS Madan Singh’, named after him in recognition of his role in India’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule. The honour has come his way 52 years late. An incredible optimist he laughs off the delayed honour and grins: "It did appear like a mirage all these years but it’s better late than never."
Mr Madan Singh held his head high for all these 52 years despite the tag of having been dismissed from service after a ‘Commission of Enquiry’ set up by the British Colonial rulers found him guilty. He was charged with leading the historic ‘Royal Indian Naval mutiny’ of 1946. Although India became Independent in August 1947, no review of or rethinking about the mutineers was ever done all these years.
Nobody knows what happened to hundreds of mutineers who were dismissed from service. However the two main leaders, former leading telegraphist B.C. Dutt and telegraphist Madan Singh are still around. While Mr Dutt settled in Maharashtra, Mr Madan Singh worked in several parts of the world after dismissal. But eventually he came back to settle in his own country, "as that is what I always yearned for".
Here is a follow up on his life, packed with events which are gripping.
Mr Madan Singh continues to assert that "The mutiny in the Navy was the immediate cause of India’s freedom. The British rulers were simply shaken. Nevertheless, the role of the mutineers has been ignored and they were denied due recognition."
He vividly remembers even the minutest detail of the mutiny. "The roots of the mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) lay in the British themselves who indulged in blatant racial discrimination over the years. The simmering discontent over ill-treatment, poor service conditions, lack of a redressal forum, humiliating of our Indian political leaders, etc pushed us to the wall and then to the mutiny. However the immediate cause was the arrest of B.C. Dutt who was put under detention. His crime was that he had painted slogans like, "Jai Hind".
"After the outbreak of the mutiny, the first thing that we did was to free B.C. Dutt. Then we took possession of Bucher Island (where the entire ammunition meant for Bombay Presidency was stocked) and telephone and wireless equipment, including transmitters at Kirki near Pune. Our quick actions ensured that all naval ships were fully under our command."
"Simultaneously we the Indians ratings at RIN had formed a ‘Naval Central Strike Committee’ (NCSC) to coordinate and direct the activities of the various units outside the HMIS Talwar. Leading Signalman M.S. Khan and I were unanimously elected President and Vice-President, respectively.
There is another crucial point to be recalled today. You see, next to the Castle Barracks there was an ‘iron gate’ closer to the town hall of Bombay. It was cleverly wired to the system so that in the event of an enemy trying to capture Bombay, a press of the switch would blow up the whole of Greater Bombay. This was the scorched earth policy of the then British government.
"Fortunately for us, this ‘iron gate was heavily manned by Indians who obviously obeyed our command when General Lockheart attempted to capture it. When he tried to advance towards the gate, the NCSC ordered firing which led to many casualties among the British sailors."
Sadly hundreds of mutineers were arrested and imprisoned either with the prisoners of world war or in solitary confinement as was the case with both Mr Madan Singh and Mr B.C. Dutt. The ‘Commission of Enquiry’ dismissed all of them from service. The national leadership, according to the various accounts and statements, seemed to be divided on the role of the mutineers. No wonder they were forgotten for good.
Mr Madan Singh had an extremely hard life after his dismissal in July 1946. "I went to my village Siar. I felt hurt when I overheard my father telling someone that I have come to see him only to take money from him. I left my village penniless and joined as a reporter with the Bombay daily, Free Press Journal. The great Sadanand was the proprietor and Natarajan was the Chief Editor at that time. Within a year I got disgusted at a majority of journalists reporting on the basis of handouts issued by the British authorities. The final blow was struck when I was an eyewitness like other journalists to the shooting of a leader of mill workers at point blank range. But my report was not carried. All papers carried the handout released by the British government with no mention at all of the killing of the leader. Crushed by agony and humiliation, I confronted Natarajan who directed me to meet Sadanand. I had always revered this illustrious old man who treated Churchill and Sardar Patel in the same way. When I barged into his room he very calmly said: "Your report was absolutely correct but I am sorry to have disappointed you. I hope you will one day understand my turmoil. My 18 ventures of newspapers have one by one been banned by the British. By keeping this one alive, even at such a cost like not using your report, we are at least able to point out some misdeeds of the British and motivate our people to eventually rise against the slavery". "I understood him fully but I still resigned because I knew that I won’t be able to swallow it day in and day out. Sadanand gave me the warmest ever send off in Free Press Journal. I reached Calcutta with only Rs 6. On the third day of my stay on the streets of Calcutta I got a job on a salary of Rs 150 a month with Dalmia Jain Airways. When I raised the issue of my petty salary, they rebuked me in the most humiliating manner. I walked back like a whipped dog, swallowing my pride for I could not afford to let this job go".
But Mr Madan Singh was an extraordinary worker with a brilliant brain and expertise in his line. No wonder then that by the seventh week of his job with Dalmias, the company raised his salary by five times. By 1952 he got admission into a regular course run by BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), in International License in Radio Electronics nowadays known as AVIONICS. "These were the most stressful three years of my life. Minimum pass marks were 75 per cent, whereas in London University one was required to secure only 45 per cent." Mr Madan Singh not only passed out with 83 per cent, which was rare for even an Englishman, but also was the first ever Indian to make it. BOAC handpicked him and he worked in their foreign service wing.
By 1990 he came back to lead a retired life in India. Rear Admiral (retd.) Satyinder Singh wrote him five letters requesting him to apply for the status of a freedom fighter. "But I wrote back that if it is such a thing which one can get for the asking, it is not worth having it." However when Beant Singh former Chief Minister met Mr Madan Singh his childhood friend he was aghast on learning the fate of mutineers. He personally approached the Ministry of Home in Delhi in this regard. "So finally I have received a letter from Commodore Dina Bandhu Jena, VSM inviting me to the ‘Induction Ceremony’ on February 26, 1999 at Bombay."
His face was embossed with the serenity of the sea shore at sun set.

The 1946 rebellion of the sailors of the British Indian Navy

One of the most spectacular episodes of the intense revolt against the British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy in 1946. On February 18 of that year the sailors and shipmen of the British Indian Navy battleship HMS "Talwaar" went on strike. They invited  the masses of Bombay to join in the struggle they had started. As a result, anti- British imperialist sentiments started to spread like wildfire throughout the region. One of the most spectacular episodes of the intense revolt against the British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy in 1946. On February 18 of that year the sailors and shipmen of the British Indian Navy battleship HMS "Talwaar", who were at the time posted to the Bombay harbour, went on strike. They were protesting against the bad food and adverse conditions.
Although on the first day it was limited to a peaceful hunger strike, the signs of an imminent and much bigger rebellion against the British rulers were evident. On February 19, the sailors announced the strike to the Naval personnel stationed in the fortress and to those in the Naval Barracks. They took over the Naval trucks, boarded them, hoisted red flags on them and started patrolling the city of Bombay. They were inviting the masses of the city to join in the struggle they had started. As a result, anti British imperialist sentiments started to spread like wildfire throughout the region.
On the eve of February 19 1946, much wider layers of the Naval personnel had joined in this revolt. The union jacks on most of the ships of the Royal Indian Navy in the Bombay harbour were torn down and the rebel sailors hoisted red flags along with the flags of the political parties that were involved in the struggle for independence.
Within 48 hours the British imperialists were faced with the largest revolt ever of their Naval units. The message of this rebellion started to spread by word of mouth and then over the radio (the radio station had been taken over by the rebels) to military garrisons and barracks across India. Some of the leaders of the sailors broadcast the message of the uprising and revolutionary songs and poetry were also broadcast round the clock. The revolt spread to 74 ships, 20 fleets and 22 units of the Navy along the coast. It involved Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Madras, Cochin and Vishapatam. On February 20 only 10 ships and 2 naval stations were not in complete revolt.
In the beginning this revolt was considered to be spontaneous but that is not completely true. On the eve of February 19 a strike committee had been formally set-up. Signalman M.S Khan and petty officer telegraph operator Madan Singh were elected unanimously to the positions of president and vice president of the committee. Both of them were under the age of 25. One was a Muslim and the other a Sikh, and this was a conscious act to reject the religious divide being injected into the liberation movement by the native bourgeois leaders and their British masters.
Apart from the other tasks charted out for the strike committee, one of the important objectives agreed upon was to involve the political parties in this movement and gain their support. Tragically the Communist Party of India (CPI) had lost the leadership of the independence movement due to its disastrous policy of supporting the British imperialists under the so-called "anti fascist front" policy dictated by the Stalinist elite in the Kremlin. This had led to a rapid diminishing of support for the CPI in the liberation movement. The nascent Indian bourgeoisie and their leaders were at that time negotiating a settlement with the British. They were as hostile as the British to any revolutionary upsurge at this delicate juncture in the history of the subcontinent.
Gandhi reflected this by openly condemning the uprising of the sailors. The CPI leaders once again lost the opportunity to link up with the revolutionary masses. They did nothing to connect the Naval revolt with the strikes which were taking place in the textile industry, on the railways and in other sectors throughout India. Even leaders like Subhash Chandra Bose were unable to connect this movement with the revolt taking place in the British Indian army. He was rather more involved in an adventurist binge and had gone too far in launching the INA (Indian National Army) to fight British forces, under the auspices of the reactionary Japanese regime!
Congress and the Muslim League were not prepared to back the revolt for they feared the penetration of revolutionary and class struggle ideas into the movement which they had done so much to tear apart along religious lines with cunning and deception. In spite of this betrayal and contemptuous attitude of the national bourgeois leaders, the revolutionary momentum of the uprising gave it an impetus of its own. Revolutionary zeal, sentiment and passion were booming. The whole country was filled with the echoes of the slogan, "long live the revolution".
These slogans electrified the whole of Bombay. One of the poets of the era, Josh Malihabadi wrote enthralling verses an example of which was,
My task is my growth; my name is martyr
My slogan is revolution, revolution revolution.

On the February 21 the British shock troops opened fire with live ammunition on the sailors as they came out of their barracks in the Bombay fortress. This provocation changed a peaceful uprising into an armed rebellion. There were armed clashes between the British elite troops and the rebellious sailors throughout the day. On the first day one death was reported in Bombay, but on the second day 14 sailors were martyred in Karachi. The industrial workers who had joined the revolt with the sailors were subjected to brutal attacks by the British forces.
On February 22 and 23, 250 sailors and workers were slaughtered by the imperialist forces. According to various eyewitnesses interviewed, on February 21 it seemed that the oppressed masses of the whole subcontinent had risen up in a revolutionary movement against British rule. In these events the revolutionary strike committee had shifted its command to the "Narba" fleet. The sailors had now aimed the barrels of their guns on the ships and were now targeting the British Naval installations and command centres on the coast. Sirens were being sounded from all the ship decks. They were announcing through the loud speakers that to defend their comrades in the cities and in the harbour they would destroy the British military bases and installations if they dared to attack.
The British government in London was in shock. The British Labour Prime Minister Clement Atlee, in sheer desperation ordered the uprising to be crushed through brute military force. The commander of the British Indian Navy, admiral Godfrey threatened the rebellious sailors with "surrender or be perished". The so-called leader of the independence movement and one of the stalwarts of the Indian National Congress, Sardar Vallabhbai Patel, openly came out on the side of the British. He denounced the uprising and supported the imperialists' ultimatum. In this uprising the national leadership of India, both Hindu and Muslim, became allies of the British imperialists. This exposed their real class character and their collaborationist role in the saga of transition from British to native rule to independence.
Meanwhile the British fighter aircraft were carrying out threatening sorties over the rebellious fleet. In such conditions Sardar Patel gave the following infamous statement: "Only a small band of insolent, hot headed and insane youngsters are trying to get involved in politics through these acts, when they have nothing to do with politics".
Isolated, disillusioned and desperate after the treacherous role and attitude displayed by the "national leadership" towards the uprising, M.S. Khan put before the strike committee, the proposal of surrender. But the 36-member committee rejected this plea. Several tense hours passed. The mainstream "national leadership" intensified its efforts to isolate the Naval uprising from the mass movement for independence that was surging across the subcontinent. Demoralization was setting in amongst the members of the strike committee.
Another session of the committee commenced in the early hours of February 24 on the battleship HMS Talwaar. Now it had become more evident that there was no option but to surrender and lay down arms. At 0600 hrs on February 24, 1946 black flags were raised from the deck to announce surrender. In its last session the strike committee passed a resolution that was the last message of the revolutionary sailors to the toiling masses of the South Asian subcontinent. The resolution stated, "Our uprising was an important historical event in the lives of our people. For the first time the blood of uniformed and non-uniformed workers flowed in one current for the same collective cause. We the workers in uniform shall never forget this. We also know that you, our proletarian brothers and sisters shall also never forget this. The coming generations, learning its lessons shall accomplish what we have not been able to achieve. Long live the working masses. Long live the Revolution".
After the surrender most leaders and activists of this uprising were prosecuted incarcerated and executed inspite of their surrender. The nationalist bourgeois leaders refused to raise any protest. Not a squeak not a whimper came out from these nationalist parties masquerading as the stalwarts of independence.
However, this episode stands as one of the greatest chapters in the story of the struggle for independence from British rule. In spite of the fact that this uprising was defeated the movement showed the British what was in store for them in the future. One of the effects of this uprising was that the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was forced to announce that the British would leave India before June 1948. Such was the blow inflicted upon the confidence of the British rulers by this naval uprising that they were forced to beat a retreat. The British, in connivance with the native bourgeois leaders, hastened the process of partition along ethnic and religious lines. After this episode they manoeuvred in such a way as not to leave the subcontinent united in any form whatsoever, either as a confederation or whatever political superstructure they may have envisaged before these revolutionary events.
The policy of divide and rule, that the British had learned from the emperors of Rome, now came into full play. The living body of a culture that was thousands of years old was cut in half and the blood of 2.7 million innocent souls was shed.
There is a criminal silence and elusiveness about the details of this glorious episode in the education syllabi in both India and Pakistan. Several other similar events and great episodes have yet to see the light of the day. Still, the memory of that naval uprising haunts the echelons of power from London to Islamabad to Delhi. The task of learning and carrying out the message and the aspirations of the sailors' strike committee of the February 1946 falls to today's rising generation of youth and workers. This can only be accomplished by carrying out a successful Socialist Revolution in any of the present day countries of the subcontinent. A socialist victory in any of these states would inevitably lead to the formation of a voluntary Socialist Federation of the South Asian Subcontinent.






near Gateway of Bombay 100 Years AgoIndiaTICCA GADIS. These horse-drawn Victorian carriages that were the only mode of transport to come to Bombay in 1882 after The Bombay Tramway Company Limited was formally set up in 1873. Motor taxis were introduced in 1911 whereas motor buses started plying in 1926. Today, the Victorias in front of the Taj have been replaced by black and yellow taxis. But, one can still hire a Ticca Gadi for a negotiated sum and drive along the sea face for an experience.

horse-drawn tram on colaba causeway - Mumbai
Marine Drive (1930)

Bombay 100 Years Ago

Bhendy Bazaar, Mumbai (1880)

Reversing Stations and Catch sidings









Limited Bus Service




The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking | Of The Brihan Mumbai Mahanagarpalika
3/21/2012 11:18:31 AM


Tram car arrives

In 1865, an American Company applied to the government for a licence for running a horse-drawn tramway service in the city. The licence was granted on certain conditions, but the project did not materialize just because a war ended rather abruptly. It was the American Civil War. The boom in trade brought by the war was suddenly over, and there was a financial crash. The city’s economic life was badly disrupted. A large number of firms went into liquidation. The disaster snuffed out the tramway project.
The Times of India of 27th November 1871 carried an announcement put out by the Bombay Omnibus Company. According to it, a bus service was proposed to be run between the Malbar Hill and Fort in the mornings and evenings for the convenience of the Europeans residing on the hill. The monthly season ticket was priced at thirty pounds. However, owing to unsatisfactory response, the scheme had to be dropped, as the Times of India of 8th December reported.
A few years had to elapse before a similar project was mooted. This time it went through rather smoothly, and the Bombay Tramway Company Limited was formally set up in 1873. The contract granted the Municipality the right to buy up the concern after the first twenty years, or after every period of seven years thereafter. After this contract was entered into between the Bombay Tramway Company and the Municipality, the Government of Bombay enacted the Bombay Tramways Act, 1874, under which the Company was licensed to run a tramway service in the city. The tram-cars were of two kinds : those drawn by one horse and those drawn by two. The Company started with a fleet of twenty cars and two hundred horses. When it closed down in 1905, it had as many as 1,360 horses.
Single compartment electric tram
Single compartment electric tram
fare was brought down to two annas; it dropped down to one anna in 1899.
In the early days of the horse-drawn tramway, the novelty of it provided quite a thrill. But that was not the only reaction. There were those, like the drivers of ‘shigrams’ and ‘reklas’, who were agitated as they saw in this new means of transport a threat to their occupation. Some of them would express their protest and displeasure by inserting dust and bits of stone in the grooves of the rails so that they should be clogged, and the wheels should go off the rails. Naughty boys would enjoy themselves thus obstructing the tram-cars. Once, as reported, a man playing the trick was caught redhanded by the Company’s officials, and they administered a sound thrashing to him on the spot without bothering about the formality of an inquiry. They say the passengers in the tram-car thus sought to be obstructed were quite pleased with what they said was a proper lesson.
However, partly because of such incidents and partly because it was an unfamiliar vehicle, the tram-car was not at first received with the enthusiasm shown for the railway. The Company had to make a special effort to persuade the public that this mode of transport was fast and smooth, and that it was cheap too. The persuasion included free rides in the first few days. On the third day (12th May, 1874), the Times of India expressed its doubts about the prospects of the tramway. It offered some suggestions too : The vehicle must move faster; the fares must be brought down; more interesting than either, passengers should be prohibited from resting their feet on the seats. Characteristically for the times, a section of the educated people was suspicious of the innovations imposed by the white foreigners, and to them the tram-car was one such innovation. Dadoba Pandurang Tarkhadkar, renowned grammarian voiced the sentiments of that section when he wrote : "Our people here are in distress for lack of employment, and yet these seven or eight years some wealthy fellows from Boston in far-away America have been carrying on this business of running for hire vehicles are dwinding in number, and these fellows, sitting in America, are regularly making hundreds of rupees, by putting the wool over our eyes. The people of Mumbai should have at least resolved not to travel by these tram-cars, just as the people of Calcutta and Madras did. Instead, they are helping bring greater poverty to the country".
This is an extract from Shishubodh. Some eighty years later, in 1964, a move was organised to ask people to desist from travelling by buses as a protest against a rise in fares. It too met with a poor response.
It was only to be expected that people should air their grievances and suggestions about the tramway service through the newspapers. An interesting letter of the kind appeared in the Times of India of 28th July 1903. It would seem that there was a regulation that only four passengers should occupy a bench, and not five as usual, if even one of them was a woman. A soldier was fined fifty rupees for breaking the regulation. Referring to this, the letter-writer complained that officials of the company were habitual offenders in this respect. He appealed to the administration to clarify the regulation. In this connection, one Mr.E.W. Fox suggested in the Times of India of 1st June 1905 that the city fathers should get the company to limit the seats to four per bench. Obviously Mr.Fox had a sense of humour, for he added : "Five persons to a bench means friction. If such friction were to generate static electricity who would be responsible for it? But why should the city-fathers worry about it? They go about in their private vehicles as if they are Lords of the Bombay Parliament".
The Municipality could have taken over the Company in 1894 - at the end of twenty-one years - as stipulated by the contract, but it waived the right. This gave the Company a further seven years’ - till 1901.
In 1899, the Company applied to the Municipality for permission to run its tram-cars on electricity. The application inter alia pleaded that considering the heavy expenditure the company would have to incur on the new project, the Municipality should waive its right of taking it over in 1901. But even before the application was disposed of, the Municipality decided to exercise its right to take over the Company. This gave rise to several legal complications, but finally in 1905, a newly formed concern, "The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company limited" bought the Bombay Tramway Company. During its thirty-one year’s tenure, the old company had served the city well with its network of tramway routes. From Museum, one route went south-west to Sassoon Dock, another north-east to Wadi Bunder, yet others to the central part of Mumbai, to points like Lalbaug. Jacob Circle and Opera House. Two east-west routes ran from Carnac Bunder to Dhobi Talao, and from the J.J. Hospital to Grant Road. On the first day (9th May 1874) of its service the number of passengers carried was 451 and the takings amounted to Rs.85. On the last day (1st August 1905) the number of passengers was 71,947 and the takings amounted to Rs.4,260. These figures should give a fair idea of how the service had expanded during the years.
Before starting work on a new route the Tramway Company had to secure the approval of the Municipality and the permission of the Government. These were given after due consideration was accorded to the views and recommendations of all those concerned with the new route. The correspondence all this entailed, and unexpected difficulties, often confined the project of a new route to files for years together. By then sometimes the need for the route would become so urgent that the Municipality had to step in and pursue the project on its own. One such project was of the Girgaon Naka-Gowalia Tank route. It was first sent up by the Company to the Municipality in 1905 for approval, which came promptly. But the improvement Trust had just planned a road from Chowpatty to Gowalia Tank. The Government directed that work on the new tramway route should not begin till the road was laid. It was also necessary to strengthen the Frere Bridge over which the route was to pass. The correspondence started, and had kept swelling when the World War started. The War ended, but the project had not moved. It did not move for a few more years.
Finally the route came to be regarded as a ‘must’, and in 1922 it was the Municipality which started putting pressure on the Company to start work on it. Meanwhile, further difficulties cropped up. The estimate of the cost of the project had become out of date. Prices had soared, and the project was not financially viable any longer. At last, with some reluctance, the Company agreed to take up the project, and the track was laid by April 1924. But another two years had to elapse before the route was opened to traffic. This was because there was difference of opinion about the fare to be charged on the route. The route had its first tramcar on 11th February 1926.
Mumbaites gave a warm welcome to the electric tramcar. The service was formally inaugurated on 7th May, 1907 by Shri Vallabhdas Thakersey, the then Chairman of the Municipality. Among those who attended the function were Mr.Sheppard, the Municipal Commissioner, Mr. R.M. Philips, Deputy Police Commissioner, Sir Bhalchandra Krishna Bhatwadekar, the Collector of Customs, Sir Harikisondas Narottamdas, Shri Ibrahim Rahimtulla and Members of the Municipality, besides important officials of the Company like the Managing Director, Mr.Remington, and the Chief Engineer, Mr.Cooper.
At five-thirty that afternoon the first electric tram-car, specially decorated for the occasion, started from outside the Municipal Office, went as far as the Crawford Market, and returned to the point from where it had left. After this ceremonious, inaugural run, four tram-cars kept plying on the various routes till eleven in the night. People jostled one another to board them.
The service started regularly from the next day. It drew nothing but praise : praise for its speed, its comfort, and its low fares. But, unfortunately, there occurred a bad accident on the very first day. A passenger, named Shri Malvankar, fell off a running tram; one of his legs got under a wheel. The leg had to be amputated.
The accident was much talked about, and much written about too. Suggestions were sent in telling the Company how to prevent such accidents. One was that there should be something more effective than a chain on the ‘wrong’ side of the tram-car to stop intending passengers from getting in that way. Another was that there should be more stops than the six provided on the route from Colaba to Bori Bunder. And many more of the kind. But not all of the letters carried complaints and suggestions. There were bouquets too-plenty of them.
3 compartment trams
Three compartment trams
The order for the first electric tram-car had been placed with the Brush Electrical CompanyofLondon. The vehicle arrived in Mumbai in January 1906. There used to be an Upper Class in the tram-cars; it was removed after some time.
By 1910 the service was up against a problem no city transport service can hope to escape for long. The problem was of the rush-hour traffic. The commuters being mostly office goers, the pressure used to be particularly unmanageable immediately before and after the office-hours. There were not enough trams to cope with the rush. Trailers were attached to the trams, but they brought little relief. So the Company approached the Municipality for permission to run a triple car. But the Police Commissioner objected to it; and the proposal fell through. The pressure on the service kept on mounting. The next proposal was to use space which would provide for standees. It was approved by the Municipality. It worked till January 1914, when the approval was withdrawn.
Double Decker Tram


The passing years aggravated the problem of rush-hour traffic. The solution next thought of was the double-decker tramcar. It was accepted, and the first vehicles of the kind appeared on Mumbai’s roads in Spetember, 1920.


Fixing the fares used to be a constant ground for disagreement between the Company and the Municipality. The latter would seek to keep the fares low, and the former would argue at length how such fares were uneconomical and plead for a raise. The Managing Director of the Company issued a statement in 1909 which gave the fare-structures for local transport services in Europe, America and Australia, and in Calcutta to prove that the tram-fares in Mumbai were the lowest. He made other points too : The salaries paid to the Company’s employees and the other expenses were higher than those for a transport organization in any other city in India. More comfort and conveniences were available to the commuters than under the previous tramway organization. The service was more frequent, and speedier too.
With all such pleas and petitions proving of no avail, the Company applied itself to increasing its efficiency without affecting its profits. Mr.James Dalrymple of the Glasgow Tramways Corporation was invited as an expert to recommend ways of effecting economy and other improvements in the administration of the Company, after a detailed scrutiny of its working Mr.Dalrymple’s recommendations were as follows :
(1) The tramway service is excellent, except for its slowness. Between leaving the depot and returning to it, a tram-car moves, on the average, at only 4.8 miles per hour. It is only in the case of horse-drawn trams that so slow a speed can be defended. The present rate must be improved by at least one mile per hour. This will have to be done immediately. The people of Mumbai may not tolerate so sluggish a service for long. The Company should reckon with the fact that the local railway services are soon to be electrified.
(2) There must be a proper time-table for the trams. When it is enforced, conductors and drivers will not have unduly long breaks, as at present, after the vehicle has reached the terminus.
(3) There are more drivers and conductors in the company than needed.
(4) Not enough care seems to be taken by the officials of the Company to the appearance of the vehicles. This is not proper. The vehicles must have a smart turnout, paint and all. Bright-coloured tramcars will draw pasengers, and swell the income.
(5) The uniform worn by the running staff must be tidy. The starter must see to it that no one is allowed to be on duty if his uniform is slovenly.
(6) The far : A flat rate of one anna for any journey is the lowest fare you have anywhere. The cost of laying a new track is very high. The income from the route may be too small for it. Therefore careful thought must be given to every proposal to start a new route. In this connection, the trolley and the motor bus are worthwhile alternatives for consideration.
This brief story of the early tramways in Mumbai will not be complete without a mention of some of their characteristic features.
From the beginning the city transport was modelled on that of London. Horse-drawn tram-cars had started running in London in 1870. Four years later Mumbai adopted that mode of transport. This was the first time Indian city had such an organization. Mumbai was the first again in the use of double-decker tramcars. Thus Bombay Tramways all along gave the lead in securing effcieincy and punctuality in the service, and in charging low fare.
Change is the law of life. It has been very much so in modern life. Every aspect of human activity has to keep pace with the times. Mumbai’s tramways were no exception. They kept growing and changing in response to the environment with new routes to serve localities that had grown, enlarged capacity to meet greater pressure of traffic, better designed vehicles, and reforms in administration. Then another World War was on us. The city’s population suddenly started soaring, as never before. And soon it all gathered at such a pace that the tramcar was out of step, and seemed out of date, and it faded out one night. That was the night of 31st March, 1964. Those modest, if rather noisy, vehicles, had devotedly carried Bombayman up and down the city for ninety years. The last of them, packed to capacity, left Bori Bunder for Dadar at ten that night. Crowds lined the route all the way at that late hour to bid farewell to the much loved, if old-fashioned, transport of the common man. It was a sad farewell.
Motor bus appears

One of Mr.Dalrymples’ recommendations, made in 1925, was that the trolley bus should be tried out on some routes. However, the idea had occurred to Mr.Remington as early as in 1913. But with the outbreak of World War I, it had to be shelved like many other bright ideas. It was taken down from the shelf in 1919, and a trolley bus service between the Dadar Tram Terminus and King’s Circle was planned as an experimental measure. But the plan ran into difficulties, with its financial aspects causing disagreement with the Municipality. And finally, it was given up.
First bus in Mumbai

First bus in Mumbai
(1) It is not tied to the rails as the tram-car is.
(2) The vehicles can be quickly moved to the points where they are urgently needed.
(3) It can operate on relatively narrow roads.
The Great Debate started in 1913 : the trolley bus or the motor bus? And it went on cheerfully till 1926, with the Municipality, the B.E.S.T. Company, the Commissioner of Police and the others concerned with the problem joining the fray. Finally, 10th February 1926, the Company plumped for the motor bus. It was to run, as an experiment, on three routes. The routes were : Afghan Church to the Crawford Market, Dadar Tram Terminus to King’s Circle, via Parsi Colony, and Opera House to Lalbag via Lamington Road and Arthur Road. The approval of the Commissioner of Police and the Municipality having been obtained, the service on the first of these routes was scheduled to operate from 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 14th July carried the following announcement.

On and from to-morrow, 15th instant, a regular 10 minutes service will be run from AFGHAN CHURCH to CRAWFORD MARKET via WODEHOUSE ROAD and HORNBY ROAD from 6.30 to 23.20

StationFirst BusLast Bus

C. Lucas
Traffic Manager
As scheduled, Mumbai saw its first bus run on 15th July 1926. It received a hearty welcome from the people, just as the electric tram had. The Times of India of 16th July reported the inauguration of the bus service as under :
The Bombay Tramway Company’s new omnibus service commenced on Thursday, as already announced. A fleet of four buses plied from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market and back at an interval of about 10 minutes. The public took to the service favourably and, even allowing some margin for the initial rush due to the novelty of the thing, the public patronage appeared to be encouraging. The drive from Middle Colaba to Crawford Market occupied about 10 minutes and was generally comfortable.
An officer of the Company told a representative of the Times of India that the Company were closely watching the service with a view to making it perfectly agreeable to the public. Any of the slightest inconvenience felt by the public, he said, would be attended to by the authorities.
The buses will be disinfected everyday and kept neat and tidy. The quickness with which the distance is covered, the short intervals at which the buses are available and the regularity of the service, not to speak of the cheapness of the fares compared with a taxi or gharry, are factors which the public are likely to appreciate. Should there be adequate response and should the public demand warrant it, the Company are prepared to increase the number of buses. Two more are already in course of construction. The Company are also contemplating to run the service to the Parsi Colony at Dadar and it is expected the scheme will be materialised in a month’s time".
As was only to be expected, there were protests against the service by those whose interests were affected by it, just as many years earlier the introduction of the horse-drawn tram had provoked drivers of ‘reklas’ and horse-drawn vehicles into agitation. This time it was the ‘victoria-drivers and taxi-drivers’. But this agitation was mild and constitutional. The taxi-owners petitioned to the Commissioner of Police to give them protection against this fresh encroachment on their field of activity. They complained that the cheapness of the bus fare and the proximity of the bus stops to the taxi stands were depriving them of their income, and argued that the spread of the bus service to all the parts of the city would ruin the taxi trade, and also vest in the Tramway Company the practical monopoly of vehicular communication in the city.
The Police Commissioner rejected the taxi-owners’ representation firmly, if also persuasively. He stated that the competition of the bus service was absolutely legitimate, and that the police were under no obligation to help one class of public conveyance against another. He also pointed out that in all the big cities of the world taxi-cabs are in demand side by side with the buses, and that the class of people who ride in buses are different from those who use taxis. He added that if any kind of conveyance was going to suffer it was the victoria.
The victoria-owners followed the taxi-owners in their attempt to have the bus service withdrawn. The Chairman of the Victoria-Owners’ Association sent up a petition to the Standing Committee of the Municipal Corporation in this regard. It expressed the fear that the bus would soon drive the victoria off the roads, as the latter had already been facing serious difficulties on account of the rise in prices.
This petition too was ineffectual. Bus service started on 15th July 1926. The Times of India of 20th July 1926 commented on the bus service in its ‘Current topics’ column. It pointed out that buses were a particularly convenient mode of transport during the rainy season. It would seem from the note that in the first few days the service was largely patronised by the ‘Sahibs’. The taxi was expensive, and one could not be sure of getting it when one needed it. The victoria, of course, was much too slow a vehicle. Moreover, it had no fixed schedule of fares. All this seemed to make the Times feel confident that the bus was soon going to be popular.
This confidence of the Times was certainly not misplaced. The bus service did better and better, and within a year it started expanding. From January 1927, the Company started hiring out buses for private use.
Like the tram, the Mumbai bus established several ‘firsts’. For the first time in the country, the city had a bus running on diesel oil, a double decker bus and an eight-foot wide bus.
In the early days the bus fare used to be from two annas to six annas. There were no half fares for children till 1928. For some time return tickets used to be issued.
Another interesting feature : Between 1928 and 1930 each bus carried a letter-box for the convenience of the passengers, and the postal service as well.

Tourist Bus
Tourist Bus
he people of Mumbai received the bus with enthusiasim, but it took quite some time before this means of conveyance really established itself. For several years, it was looked upon as transport for the upper middle class. Those were the days when the tram was the poor man’s transport. It carried you all the way from Sassoon Dock to Dadar for a mere anna and a half. The bus fare for the same journey was four annas. The organisation had to struggle to make the ends meet by drawing more and more passengers. However, they did come in growing numbers and the company kept expanding its service with confidence. In its first year - that is, by 31st December 1926 - about six lakhs passengers used the service; for 1927, the figure was about 38 lakhs. The Company started its operations with 24 buses. In 1927, the fleet had expanded to 49.
The next few years were uneasy years, with strikes (1928), communal riots (1929) and, most important of all, the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930-32). Inevitably, these events affected the transport system. 1930 was a particularly difficult year. The number of passengers carried by the service dropped rather suddenly, what with the strikes, the frequent ‘hartals’ and the trade depression. The Company had to be on its toes to meet all these difficulties. It also kept up its efforts to provide a faster and more comfortable service. In March 1930 concessional rates were introduced on short journeys. This worked immediately, sending up the number of passengers. It also enabled the company to fit in more trips per vehicle. Even then the income kept lagging behind the expenditure. But the company bravely kept the service going, for with its sense of commitment to the citizens it had always looked beyond the balance sheet. And it soon turned the corner. More and more passengers were attracted to the bus service. In those days of economic depression a large number of car-owners found that this public transport suited their pockets better.
In response to the pleas made by the Government and the Municipal Corporation, the Company extended its service to the northern part of the city in 1934. The first routes to be added were : (1) Byculla Bridge to King’s Circle, via Dadar and the Parsi Colony. (2) Lalbaug to Worli via Curry Road and Fergusson Road (3) Dadar to Mahim. Whatever doubts the Company had about public patronage were now set at rest. The number of passengers carried by the buses kept steadily increasing, and so did the income. The total expenditure, which had not increased at the same rate, was distributed over more vehicles. The Company was soon in a position to reduce the fares, particularly for the longer journeys. The bus routes were reorganised with a view to meeting the needs of the travelling public. An interesting experiment was the issue of a Whole Day Ticket during the Christmas Holidays. The ticket entitled one to travel anywhere in the city on the day - and that for just twelve annas. Started in 1935, this scheme achieved great popularity. It was withdrawn when the Second World War broke out.
Double-decker buses were introduced in 1937 in order to cope better with the growing traffic. The single-deck vehicle carried 36 passengers, the double-decker could take as many as 58. This, and its sheer size and look made the double-decker popular as soon as it was put on the roads.
The Second World War started in 1939. It had a sharp and immediate impact on the life in a city like Mumbai. There were the inevitable shortages. Road transport was hit by the shortage of tyres and the rationing of petrol. Owners of motor-cars found it rough going, and many of them switched over to the bus service. This created a problem for the service : too many passengers and too few buses. It was almost impossible to procure more vehicles. And the cost of running the buses, and maintaining them, kept on mounting. The Company however faced this situation resolutely.
Ways had to be devised to minimise the inconvenience caused to the passengers, and they were. The structure of the single-deck bus, for example, was so modified as to provide seats on top of it - without a roof, above them, of course. This enlarged the capacity of the bus to sixty, but the unlucky ones riding on the top were exposed to sun and rain. The sun they could brave, but not the rain. Why not put up a temporary roof, suggested the Regional Transport Authority. But the Engineering Department of the Company was sceptical : Could the chassis take all the additional weight? This should give some idea of the woeful insufficiency of buses in relation to the volume of traffic. The Company then came out with a novel proposal. The office in the city, it suggested, should stagger their working hours so that the pressure on the service during rush hours would be distributed a little more evenly. The pressure had, by pre-war standards, become almost alarming. Intending passengers would storm a bus when it had hardly pulled up at a stop. There would be sharp exchanges between conductors and passengers, and they did not always remain purely verbal. As a result the buses were often held. up. The overcrowding put a strain on the vehicles, and they were soon in a sorry state. Something had to be done about it, and that too quite soon. The Motor Vehicles Act had no provision for imposing a limit on the number of passengers a bus might carry. The very necessity for the provision brought it into existence before long. Accordingly no more than six standees were allowed on the lower deck. Those breaking the regulation were liable to prosecution. The regulation, a creation of the war years, became a permanent feature.
Limited stop service

Limited stop service
The Bus

A trolley bus service for the city was thought up for the first time by Mr. Remington in 1913. Once again, in 1937 one Shri S.R. Prasanna proposed to the Mayor that the trams and motor-buses should be replaced by trolley buses. The Mayor forwarded the proposal to the B.E.S.T. Company for its opinion. Scrapping of all the trams and motor-buses and acquiring a whole fleet of trolley-buses to take their place would have landed the Company in very heavy expenditure. Apart from it, it would have been impossible for a trolley-bus service to cope with the heavy traffic in a city like Mumbai. There was also a practical difficulty : Unlike a tram car, a trolley bus cannot change its direction without actually turning round. A trolley bus service would have been financially feasible only when new rails had to be laid to replace the worn-out ones on all the routes. But with the efficient way in which the tram tracks were maintained, this was not likely to happen in the near future. As for their capacity, three trolley buses would have been required to carry the load of two tram cars. The much appreciated convenience of ‘Transfer Tickets’ would have to be withdrawn. The fares would have to be increased A trolley-bus is more prone to breakdowns than is a tram car, as its electrical mechanism is more complicated than that of a tram car. If a road was under repairs the trolley bus service using it would have to be suspended. These and other objections of the kind were raised by the Company. They worked, and the trolley bus project once again came to nothing. And it all confirmed that the motor bus had come to stay and would stay for a long, long time in Mumbai.
The B.E.S.T. Company launched its motor-bus service on 15th July 1926 with a modest fleet of twenty-four vehicles. On 7th August 1947, the Municipal Corporation took over the Company. During the twenty-one years in between, the fleet had swollen to 242 vehicles.


Electricity arrives in Mumbai
The Gas Street Lamp Bombay Municipal Building  1900

Mumbai saw electric lighting for the first time in 1882. The place was the Crawford Market. The following year the Municipality entered into an agreement with the Eastern Electric Light and Power Company. Under the agreement, the Company was to provide electric lighting in the Crawford Market and on some of the roads. But the Company went into liquidation the following year, and the Market reverted to gas lighting. Thus ended the first scheme to provide electric lighting in the city.
Another scheme was taken up for consideration in 1891; and in 1894 the Municipality sanctioned funds for installing a plant to generate electricity. Thecurrent was to be supplied to the Municipal offices and Crawford Market. It was, and the two places were fitted up with electric lights. But by 1906, with the wear and tear of all those years, the machinery at the plant was in a bad way. The current would stop off and on. So, once again, Crawford Market went back to gas lighting. The Municipal offices, however, arranged to get the electricity it needed from the newly established "Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company".
This Company was originally established in England, as a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company, which had been trying since 1903 to bring electricity to Mumbai. The Brush Electrical Engineering Company was its agent. It applied to the Municipality and the Government of Bombay in 1904 for a license to supply electricity to the city. With the municipality approving the Company’s schedule of rates, the Government issued the necessary license : "The Bombay Electric License, 1905. When the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company came into being, it entered into a contract with the original licensee to take over the right of supplying electricity to the city.
The Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company (B.E.S.T.) set up a generating station at Wadi Bunder in November 1905 to provide power for the tramway. The capacity of the station was 4,300 kws. The needs of the city and of the tramway in respect of electric power were bound to grow. At a rough estimate the full capacity of the Wadi Bunder plant was not going to be adequate beyond 1908. The plant could not be expanded much either. So it was decided to set up another generating station, one with a higher capacity, near Mazgaon (Kussara). It started functioning in 1912. The pace at which the demand for electricity grew can be gauged from the fact that within three years the Wadi Bunder Station proved to be inadequate. The tram service had been expanding, and more and more power was needed for the industrial and commercial establishments, as well as for domestic purposes.
Within a year since the B.E.S.T. Company started generating electricity, the Government proposed to issue a license to another concern for the supply of electric power to the city. It was the Tata Company. Its capital and resources were such that the B.E.S.T. Company could hardly stand up against it, as a competitor. The B.E.S.T. Company had cause to worry as to what was going to happen to what it had set up, and its shareholders. Its interests were going to be very badly affected if the Tatas were given a license. It therefore asked for the appointment of a Local Inquiry Committee, under the Electricity Act of 1903, to which it would submit its objections in detail. The Chairman of the Municipality too expressed himself against the proposal to grant a license to the Tatas. There were informal discussions between the representatives of the Tatas and Mr.Remington, Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company, with a view to finding out if the differences regarding the proposed license could be settled. A settlement was finally arrived at. Under it, only those whose requirement of electric power was above 5,00,000 units were to be served by the Tatas. This agreement was to be effective for a period of ten years, to begin with. The Tatas were given a license, and they started generating electricity in 1911. The B.E.S.T. Company itself drew on the Tatas when its own production was inadequate. The generating station at Kussara was, of course, functioning. In 1918, owing to insufficient rainfall, there was not enough water in the dam which fed the Tata Plant. The B.E.S.T. Company had to come to the help of the Tatas to maintain their power supply.
Though the B.E.S.T. Company had to take some of the electric power it needed from the Tatas, it was trying to be self sufficient in this respect. But with the outbreak of the First World War, the whole situation changed. The price of coal shot up and the generation of electricity became an unprofitable business. This led the Company to close down its Kussara Station, and it began to get all the power it needed from the Tatas.
The agreement, under which this was done, was made in 1923. It was to be in operation for a period of fifteen years, initially. It could then be extended by a five years’ notice for further ten years. After that an annual renewal of the agreement was provided for. The supply of power under the agreement actually started in January 1925. When the first renewal was due there arose sharp differences of opinion between the Tatas and the B.E.S.T. Company. The most important of these related to those customers who needed more than five lakh units. The Company maintained that the condition in respect of such customers applied only to factories. Whether those whose needs of power increased to more than five lakh units in course of time were customers of the Tatas or the Company was a disputed point. About the same time, the Bombay Port Trust invited tenders for the supply of power. This set off a fierce competition between the Tatas and the Company for the contract. The Tatas quoted a lower rate than they were charging the Company, and the Company quoted almost the same rate. But the rate could have only meant a loss. And the Tatas would have run into legal trouble too, for the Port Trust was not ‘factory’ as required by the old agreement. Moreover, the rate quoted by the Tatas was unfair to the Company. Both the sides now recognised the need for a compromise, and the dispute was settled by leaving to the Company all the customers, except factories, who required more than five lakh units.
Even the Port Trust, which indirectly served as the cause of the compromise had to secure a ‘distributing license’ from the Government to avoid possible legal complications.
1905 to 1911 formed the first stage of the use of electricity in Mumbai. It was not so easily available then. And, of course, the common man could not just afford it. An electric bulb cost two rupees. To have electric lights in your home was status symbol. The luxury was within the means of only the affluent, and most of even those were not mentally prepared to bring this strange thing into their homes.
The second stage was from 1911 to 1920. It made the people of Mumbai fairly familiar with electricity. Electric lighting, everybody agreed, was a good thing, but the importance of electric power to industries was yet to be accepted. The textile mills and other industries still continued to use steam and oil engines for the power they needed. Once electric motors of high power were available, the resistance of these industrialists to recognise electricity as a blessing and a convenience weakened. The Company appointed load canvassers to visit homes and factories for this purpose. The impact of their persuasion was particularly registered by the domestic consumption, which went up considerably. Electrical appliances used in the kitchen and elsewhere drew more and more people to them.
The next phase - 1930 to 1947 - saw tremendous progress in the supply of electricity. A variety of electrical appliances were to be had in plenty. The common man realised what a great help electricity was, and yet, how cheap. The efforts of the B.E.S.T. had achieved their objective. An important development was the setting up of a show-room.
A show-room was set up in 1926 on the ground floor of Electric House, to give advice to customers on the use of domestic electrical appliances and of electric power, in general. The service was free of charge; but it was aimed at promoting the use of electricity. This service was modelled on similar lines as in England.
A good deal of useful work was achieved by the showroom, apart from instructing people in the use of gadgets. For example, it designed a special kind of electric iron for dhobis, and the tribe of dhobis took to it enthusiastically. Similarly, the showroom fabricated for individual consumers such apparatus as air blowers, sizing tanks and drying cabinets, according to specifications suited to their particular needs. These were not easily available in the market, as the demand for them was limited. With the import restrictions brought by the Second World War, such apparatus were even more sought after, and therefore the service offered by the show-room was even more appreciated.
The Lighting Bureau of the Showroom used to give special advice with regard to the lighting arrangements in offices and factories. The experts on the staff of the showroom would visit the place to see things for themselves before giving their advice. The showroom also started renting out electrical appliances. Refrigerators, which were included in the scheme, became so popular, right from the beginning, that the demand for them could hardly be met. Soon after the inauguration of the showroom. The Times of India of 14th July, 1926 carried a letter about the new service from a reader who signed himself ‘Electric’.
The letter said :
The Editor of The Times of India,

The Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company deserve to be congratulated on their organisation and speedy inauguration of an up-to-date motor bus service for the City of Bombay. Close upon this comes the news of the arrangements that are being made by the same concern to convert, "the poor men’s cottages into prince’s palaces". The report that the company is shortly opening a "showroom" at their Head Office at Colaba for the demonstration of domestic electrical appliances fit for Indian conditions will be received with great joy by all who, though poor, yet possess sufficient "sanitary conscience" to wish to do away once for all with the foul odour of coal and charcoal gas. The millennium does not seem to be far away when one reads that even at "Hackney, one of the most unattractive and depressing parts in London, the local authorities, by assiduous service, have so developed the use of electricity for cooking and heating in these small homes that it is becoming the universal agent, and the supply system contributes between thirty and forty thousand pounds a year to the relief of the rates". But how far the citizens of Bombay will avail themselves of the facilities offered greatly depends upon the efforts the organisers make to spread the "electrical idea" into the home of every family as well as upon the economic efficiency of the "new order of things".
It was in July 1921 that the Municipality proposed for the first time that the B.E.S.T. Company should undertake to provide street lighting. A scheme was drawn up for installing electric lamps at 47 street junctions. On 1st August 1923 the first lot of 36 lamps was on. They had tungsten filaments. Sodium vapour lamps were tried out on the Horn by Vellard (now called Dr.Annie Besant Road) in 1938.
The Indian Electricity Act of 1903 was repealed in 1910, and the new Act took its place. In 1922 the Indian Electricity Rules came into force. The State secured greater control on electric power. The generation of electricity came to be ranked among the major industries. One of the Rules required every concern producing electricity to supply it to whatsoever applied for it.
In its application to the Municipality for permission to supply electricity, the Brush Electrical Engineering Company proposed the following tariff :
(1) For lighting : eight annas per unit upto a specific limit (maximum demand). Three annas per unit for consumption in excess of it.
(2) For Power for Industries : eight annas per unit upto a specific limit (maximum demand). An anna and a half per unit for consumption in excess of it.
The tariff was approved. However, the Company’s method of fixing the specific limit was quite complicated. Somehow the pace of growth of consumption fell short of expectations. So an expert was invited to examine the tariff. Following his recommendations the rates were reduced in 1907. For lighting, the basic rate was kept at eight annas, but the subsequent rate was reduced from three annas per unit to two annas; and for industrial power the rate was slashed down to a uniform two annas per unit.
But the Company’s billing procedure continued to be complicated. And the consumers too continued to complain. Finally, in 1908, the Tramways Committee of the Municipality, which had Sri Pherozeshah Mehta as its Chairman, invited Mr.Remington, Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company, for a discussion of the matter. Apart from the billing the rate schedule was unfair to those consumers who did not have to keep their lights on late into the night. For them, electric lights cost one and a half times as much as gas lights. The tramway Company therefore wanted the specific limit to go and a uniform rate to be introduced. There were further discussions, and proposals and counter-proposals were bandied, for a good two years till a new tariff emerged. It was as under :
(1) Four and a half annas per unit for lighting, fans and small appliances, per every 250 units consumed in a month, one per cent discount in the bill, 35 per cent being the maximum discount so allowed.
(2) 3 annas per unit for hospitals.
(3) 2 annas per unit for industries.
This schedule was based on the assumption that the payment for the bills would be made at the Head Office of the Company on the Colaba Causeway and that it would be punctual. It was therefore specially stated in the schedule that those consumers who failed to pay their bills promptly would have to pay a deposit.
This schedule was introduced as an experimental measure for two years. It was then confirmed by the Tramways Committee after careful deliberations.
An interesting suggestion was made by the Greaves Cotton Company in 1912. It was regarding the use of electricity to supply heat. If concession rates were offered, the Company pointed out, dhobis would readily use electricity for ironing clothes, and so too would many industrialists. The prospect persuaded the B.E.S.T. Company to lower the rate to one anna per unit for such consumers. This was in 1913.
About the same time Mumbai had its first cinema houses, Four of them - the Alexandra, the Coronation, the Edward and the Gaiety - used to get their electric supply from the B.E.S.T. Company. It first struck the management of the Edward that putting up their own generating plant would mean a cheaper current. It promptly said that it would discontinue the use of its electric power unless a concession in the rate was granted. The Company, realizing what the loss of such customers would mean, promptly reconsidered the matter, and brought down the rate to three annas a unit. Electric illuminations at weddings were coming into vogue; they also were put in a special category for concessional rates. In 1915, the rate for cinema houses was further brought down from three annas to two annas per unit.
Then there was the shortage of electric meters in 1917. It meant that no new connections could be given. Undeterred, the Company announced that it would charge a rupee per point. If your flat had four points, you would have to pay four rupees to the Company every month, no matter how much current you consumed. The rate had been fixed on the basis of the average of all the bills for six months. This exposed the Company to the possibility of a loss, but it preferred some loss of revenue to the loss of consumers, the only alternative in the situation.
Soon the cost of generating electricity started going up, and in 1922 the B.E.S.T. Company approached the Municipality for permission to levy a 15 per cent surcharge on its bills for the supply of electricity. The Tramways Committee of the Municipality refused to oblige. In 1930, the Municipality asked the B.E.S.T. Company to lower its rates on the ground that an essential item like electricity should be available to the people at a cheap rate. The Calcutta Electricity Company was cited as an example in this respect.
The Company’s stand in this respect was explained by its General Manager in his letter to the Municipality in 1930. The points he made were : (1) The rates in force had been fixed in 1910, and there had been no increase in them since. In Bombay, electricity was the one item of which the price had not gone up for years together. (2) The Company got its electricity from the Tatas at so much per unit and it supplied it to its consumers as so much per unit. It was naively thought that the difference between the two rates was the Company’s profit per unit. It was not all that simple. The voltage of the power received from the Tatas had to be reduced, and this operation cost the Company quite a bit. Then there was the leakage on the lines carrying the current to the consumers. Such wastage ordinarily amounts to 15 per cent. That is, for every 100 units drawn from the Tatas, only 85 actually reached the consumers.
There was yet another point. What profit the company made on the supply of electricity helped it run its tramway service, which charged a flat rate of one anna, the lowest for any transport service in the world, as had been pointed out by Mr.Dalrymple. The bus service too was a liability, but it was being run to supply a real civic need. The attention of the Municipality was drawn to this fact.
Meanwhile, an expert was invited from England to examine the Company’s schedule of rates. He arrived in Mumbai in December 1929. His conclusion was that the rates were generally fair. Some modifications were made in the schedule on the lines suggested by him. Those were the days of a trade depression, and the Company showed its awareness of it by cutting down its rates wherever it could.
The State Government appointed a committee in 1938 to study the Company’s tariff and advise the Government on what the maximum rates should be for the various categories of consumers. The Government accepted the committee’s recommendations and asked the Company to give effect to them from 1st April, 1939. The revised rate were : 2 annas per unit for lighting and fans, three quarters of an anna per unit for electrical appliances; and four annas per month as the meter rent. There was a similar reduction in the rates for the other categories.
However, the Government gave an undertaking to the Company that it would not ask for further reduction for five years, and that the Company would be exempted from the Sales Tax during this period.
Any organisation supplying electricity tries to encourage its use by offering attractive rates. So did the B.E.S.T. Company. But it had to abide by its agreement with the Municipality which stipulated that such reduction in rates should apply to all the types of consumers.
The Company’s agreement with the Tatas regarding the supply of electric power was renewed in 1938. Now the power cost less to the Company, which in its turn passed the advantage to the consumers. For example, till 1934 the rate for lights was four annas per unit. By 1938 it had come down to 3 annas upto 14 units, and two and a half annas thereafter. There was a similar lowering of the rates for the other types of consumption.
Electricity was generated for the first time in Mumbai in 1905. During the next forty years its consumption went up from 1,50,000 kilowatts to 60,00,000 kilowatts. Used for a variety of purposes, both domestic and industrial - and that at a low rate - electric power assumed an important place in the life of the people. This underlined the necessity for some kind of a state control on its use, in the interest of the consumer, as well as of the producer.
The Government imposed a tax on electricity for the first time in 1932. The tax was imposed to help the State tide over the financial difficulties created by the trade depression, as the official explanation went. However, like several other taxes, the tax on electricity settled down to become a regular feature. The Municipality, as well as many other public bodies, protested strongly against the new imposition, but it was of no avail. With the tax added, electricity bills went up by more than fifty per cent and, as an inevitable result of it, the growth in the consumption of electricity slowed down. In 1936, and again in 1940, representations were made to the Government for repeal of the tax. Actually, the half annas impost of 1932 moved upto three quarters of an anna in 1938, and to an anna and a quarter in 1939! The latter jump was designed to cover the expenditure on prohibition.
This is the story of the early days of electricity in Mumbai - of its arrival and the expansion of its use. In modern life electricity is next only to air, water, food and shelter as a necessity. Electricity is certainly a blessing, but it can very nearly be a curse if man depends too heavily on it. All that he can do is to take every precaution against the blessing turning into a curse.

B.E.S.T. Company

It has been stated in the last chapter that the B.E.S.T. Company Limited purchased from the Bombay Tramways Company the right to run the road transport services in the city. However, it was not a direct transaction between the Bombay Tramways Company and the B.E.S.T. Company. On behalf of A, B bought some rights from C, and the rights finally came to D - D, in this case, being the B.E.S.T. Company quite a circuitous operation, wasn’t it?
On 12th March 1901, the Municipality informed the Tramways Company that it was taking over the transport system under the agreement concluded between the Company and the Municipality on 12th March 1873. Simultaneously, by a contract, the civic body gave the Brush Electrical Company of London the sole right to run an electric tram service in the city as well as to supply electricity. The Tramways Company then filed a suit, its plea being that the Municipality had not given it a proper notice as required by the agreement between them. But the plea failed, although the matter went up in appeal to the Privy Council. Meanwhile, on 27th June, 1905, the Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways Company was established in London under the English Companies Act, and on 22nd July 1905, it was registered in Mumbai under the Indian Companies Act of 1882. The Bombay Tramways Company, the Bombay Municipality, the Brush Electrical Company and the B.E.S.T. Company signed an Agreement on 31st July 1905 by which the B.E.S.T. Company was granted the monopoly for electric supply and the running of an electric tram service in the city. The B.E.S.T. Company bought the assets of the Tramway Company for Rs.98,50,000. They included horse-drawn tram cars and horses, bullock-carts and bullocks, immovable property, tramway lines and goodwill. The deed of sale was executed in London on 1st August 1905, and the very next day the B.E.S.T. Company started functioning in Mumbai.
Some of the important items in the agreement signed by the Municipality and the B.E.S.T. Company, granting the latter the monopoly of road transport in the city, were as follows :
(1) All the existing tramway routes will be taken over by the Company.
(2) The Company will have the right to start new routes, with the prior approval of the Municipality and the permission of the government.
(3) If the Municipality desires that a new route should be started, and the Company is not prepared to lay the track, the Municipality will get it laid at its own expense, and it will be handed over to the Company for operation on mutually agreed conditions.
(4) The tram fare between any two points on the system will be one anna.
(5) The maximum charges for lighting will be six annas per unit.
(6) The Company will be required to provide transport for the Municipality, if necessary. The rates for it will be special. They will cover the cost of the electric energy consumed, the wear of the machinery, and the incidental expenditure on the transport, and no more, Transporting night soil will not however be included in this agreement.
(7) For the existing routes the ground rent will be rupees three thousand per mile for a double track, and rupees two thousand per mile for a single track. When new routes are started, the rent will be fifty per cent less.
(8) The Municipality will have the right to purchase the Company 42, 56 or 63 years after the date of the agreement. Notice of intention to purchase will have to be given at least six months in advance. If there is no mutual agreement on the price to be paid, the matter will be left to the decision of an arbitrator. If the Municipality exercises the right of purchase after 42 years, it will pay, as compensation to the Company, rupees forty lakhs, over and above the price; after 56 years the compensation will be twenty lakhs, and after 63 years nil.
The B.E.S.T. Company had been established in England under the Companies Act of that country. Its registered office was in London and its Board of Management met there. As a result, the Company had to pay income-tax to the British Exchequer on the profits it earned in India, and as it was registered in Mumbai it had to pay a similar tax in this country too. This double taxation hit the shareholders in India rather badly. The Directors of the Company in London, drawing the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this in 1909, pointed out the likelihood of the Indian shareholders insisting on shifting the Head Office of the Company to Mumbai. Nothing came of it. And, later the Indian shareholders did insist on the winding up of the B.E.S.T. Company in London. The First world War started about the same time. The rates of the British income tax went up sharply, as did those of the other taxes. This made the double taxation even more unbearable to the Indian shareholders. The Company’s Directors made another fervent plea to the Chancellor of the Exchequer stating that there would soon be no alternative to closing down its London Office. They further argued that the Company made all its purchases in England, thus contributing handsomely to the country’s Treasury. Nothing came of this plea too.
And the London Directors’ apprehensions proved to be right! The Indian shareholders met, with Sir David Sassoon in the Chair, and passed a resolution to the effect that the Board of Directors in London should be abolished and the affairs of the Company should in no way be managed from London.
The British shareholders, meeting in London, passed the following resolution :
(1) The direction, control and management of the company’s affairs will vest in the Mumbai Office, from 1st April 1916, and meetings of every kind of the General Body, the Board of Directors and the shareholders of the Company will be held in Mumbai.
(2) From 1st April 1916 the Board of Directors of the Company will be constituted by Sir David Sassoon, Sir Shapurji Bharucha, Sir Ibrahim Rahimtoola and Mr.G.S. Wardlaw. A Local Board will be set up in London to look after the Company’s legal affairs there.
As a result of handling the entire management of the Company from Mumbai the Board of Directors planned to convert the Company’s capital in pound sterling into its corresponding/value in rupees; but, under the Company Law, the only way of achieving it was by winding up the old Company in London and establishing a new one in Mumbai. As the B.E.S.T. Company was registered under the English Companies Act, the law required that the shareholders meet in London in order to wind it up. Thus they met in London on 9th June 1920, and passed a resolution to wind up its affairs. The shareholders in Mumbai met on 30th June 1920, and approved the resolution passed at the London meeting.
The newly established B.E.S.T. Company had a total capital of Rs.3 crore and 90 lakhs, divided into 6 lakh ordinary shares of 50 rupees each, and 1 lakh 80 thousand preference shares of the same value.
The new Company got the formal approval of the Municipality. During the next twenty-seven years it underwent no fundamental changes. It is just a story of expansion. The city kept growing, and the Company’s activities kept pace with it, as was inevitable. The growth of the Company in fact provided a fairly accurate measure of the growth of the city, so closely linked they used to be. So they are even today.
It was an all-round expansion. There were more and more people working in the Company’s head-office, and the need for a spacious enough building for them became more and more pressing. So the Company purchased a plot of land situated on the Ormiston Road, and next to the Electric House, for one lakh and forty-four-thousand rupees from the Municipality to whom it belonged. Soon a modern structure started coming up on the plot.
This office building had Messrs. F. Mekint as the architects and Gannon Dunkeley & Co. as the contractors. The building work was supervised by Shri G.G. Lazaras and Shri K.M. Khareghat, the Company’s engineers.
The new building, named BEST House, was very modern in more than its facade. It was so in a variety of items from the doors and windows to the minor fixtures, not to speak, of course, of the furniture. On the first floor was a spacious auditorium equipped for the screening of films. An upto date device was an electric indicator on the ground floor which repeated, from the name plates outside the chambers of the officers, the ‘engaged’ or ‘out’sign. Near the indicator was the inquiry clerk’s counter. Another special feature was that the entire office building was air-conditioned. it was the first office building in Mumbai with this convenience, and served as a model to many in the years that followed.
The building was ready for occupation in 1936. Into it moved all the departments accommodated in the Electric House till then. Such departments as Consumers’ Services, Cash, Shares, Provident Fund, Audit and Accounts, which had to deal with the public, were housed on the ground floor, and the office of the General Manager on the first floor. The Traffic Department was housed in Electric House. When the BEST House was inaugurated, it received warm praises from the newspapers and leading city architects as a handsome structure.
It was an American who first thought of setting up such a concern in Mumbai to provide electricity and transport. Messrs Sternes Hobart, an American Company, first applied for permission to set it up. That was in 1865. The permission was granted. But it proved to be unavailing, because the economic life of the city was badly upset following the end of the American Civil War. The application was renewed in 1872, but there were two more applicants this time : Messrs. Lawrence and Company, and the British and Foreign Tramway Company.
By 1905, the British seem to have become more alert and enterprising, for in that year a British concern bagged the twin monopoly of supplying electricity and transport to the city. Oddly enough, Mr.Remington, the Managing Director of the Bombay Tramways Company, the American concern, was British and he became the Managing Director of the B.E.S.T. Company.
The B.E.S.T. Company won repute as a model organisation. It served the city well, by efficiently supplying two very real needs of its people. But ‘service’ was no more than a means to it, the end being making profit. And profits were made using every legitimate way! Legally an Indian concern, the B.E.S.T. Company somehow always bore a British impress!. The ‘Sahib’ cast a long shadow on it, - this was understandable, considering those days. All the equipment the Company needed used to be imported from England; so were the technical experts! Even when, after the reorganization, the London Office was closed down, Mr. A.T. Cooper was appointed Agent to the Company in London, in 1924, to make purchases on its behalf. Mr.Cooper had been earlier Managing Engineer of the B.E.S.T. Company. On retirement he went to London, where the Agent’s job seemed to be the very thing for him! There was another assignment for him too as consulting Engineer to the Company! The emoluments were generous; and, of course, there were the other benefits like gratuity and provident fund. Finally on 1st January 1945, Mr.Cooper retired from these posts. But by then, the times had changed. A new era was round the corner. May be because of this, or perhaps because it was more convenient, the London agency of the Company was entrusted to the London Office of an Indian concern, the Tata Company.
The Company had "Sahibs’ raj" till 7th August 1947, and that not merely in its administration. Even the social and festive occasions showed it. The New Year was ushered in with a ball dance in a big way, and a large number of Indian officers joined it, several of them with dutiful zest! Nowadays the Dassera is celebrated in the Head Office with lovely rangoli patterns decorating the floor. Times have changed indeed! One ‘Peel Sahib’ was the lord in the Kingsway Depot area. The Officers’ Quarters now house twelve or thirteen families. In those days, just three officers used to occupy all the space between themselves, each one being allotted about three thousand square feet of area! Even their poultry enjoyed spacious accommodation, right next to the masters’ flats. To enable Peel Sahib to reach the Workshop directly from his residence, a special staircase was put up.
This is not intended to cavil at it all, but to bring you the flavour of those spacious times. We must not forget that these ‘Sahibs’ did not just enjoy the good things of life, they also put in hard work. And in work, they laid down valuable traditions, and they gave the organization a strong foundation.
In course of time, the Board of Directors of the Company had a majority of Indians on it. But they did not meddle with the structure of the Company or with its norms of working.
It would seem that, on the whole, the ‘Sahibs’ had little faith in the efficiency of the ‘natives’. A glance at a list of the Company’s employees in those days will make it clear that a ‘native’ occupying a responsible position was an exception. In the workshops, even such relatively lower posts as foreman or assistant foreman were virtually reserved for whites. In fact, outside the administrative section, all the important posts were occupied by ‘Sahibs’.
The B.E.S.T. Company came into existence on 7th August 1905; it was dissolved on 6th August 1947, to make room for the B.E.S.T. Undertaking. Once before there had been a similar taking over when the Bombay Tramways Company ceased to exist. But this take-over was not quite ‘similar’. Now the ownership of the concern came to the Municipal Corporation. This was a week before the country became free. it was therefore a significant event in several ways. The B.E.S.T. Undertaking was the first ‘public’ enterprise in the country. To run it successfully was a national duty.

Bombay single deck Tram


File:Kolkata Tram.jpg