On the Opening of the Bhopal State Railway (1912)
"An account of my life (Gohur-i-ikbal)" by Sultan Jahan Begum, Nawab of Bengal, translated by C. H. Payne, John Murray, London, 1912.
Made available by the Internet Archive.
Source: Library of the University of California, Riverside
Selected and edited with comments by R Sivaramakrishnan. Posted to IRFCA on: September 17, 2008.
Sultan Jahan Begum (1858 - 1930) ruled Bhopal, a native state, at a time when India was modernizing under the aegis of her British rulers. The story of her life is rather long reading, but mirrors an India in transition. It contains a chapter (X) on the Bhopal State Railway, rather, on its opening. Extracts:
THE BHOPAL STATE RAILWAY
Colonel H. Daly, in his Memoirs of General Sir Henry Dermot Daly, thus describes the state of Central India in the middle of the last century : " In the Central India of 1868 there was an entire lack of railway communication. The Great Indian Peninsular Railway extended only as far as Khandwa, while the terminus on the northern side of the province was Agra. In roads also Central India was deficient. With the exception of the Grand Trunk road from Bombay to Agra, which passes through Indore, Goona, Sipri, and Gwalior, there was practically not a yard of metalled road in the Agency.
It was a fortunate thing for the Province when, in 1868, Sir Henry Daly was appointed Agent to the Governor-General. It was a time of great distress. For two whole years the country had been devastated by famine, the horrors and hardships of which were increased tenfold by the absence of means of communication, which rendered any effective system of relief an undertaking of the utmost difficulty. The wretched people fled from district to district, but only to find, on every side, starvation and death awaiting them. In the words of Sir Henry Daly's official report (quoted in the Memoirs referred to above) : " Thousands perished from sheer starvation, and thousands from cholera and sun-stroke. Villages, and even districts, were depopulated, and there were none left to tell how many of the inhabitants had sunk under the miseries that oppressed them. Scindia computes the casualties in the neighbourhood of Gwalior at 92,987. Bodies and bones were found in nalas, and on the plains, under trees, and upon the wayside: and this over a vast space." In urging the
Government to open up this portion of the country, Sir Henry Daly wrote : " This province, which yields an annual revenue of three millions sterling (two of which are received by the Government of India on account of opium exports), is without a mile of communication which can be used in the rainy season. Malwa, as regards the extent of cultivation, is still in a backward state: population is scanty, lands which would bear cotton and opium lie waste. With roads and a line of rail, Malwa would be to Central India what Bengal is to the North- West Provinces." [Footnote 1: It was entirely through the influence and unceasing, efforts of Sir Henry Daly that the Chiefs of Central India began to realize how essential railway communication was to the development of their territories.] The Maharaja Holkar led the way by constructing a line from Khandwa to Indore, and his example was soon followed in Gwahor and Bhopal. In less than ten years' time, Sir Henry Daly had the satisfaction of seeing Central India traversed by a network of roads and railway lines, made and laid down at the expense of the Chiefs themselves, who thus became, by his instrumentality, the pioneers of the trade and prosperity of their province. The people of Central India will never forget what they owe to Sir Henry Daly. It is given to few people to win the confidence of an Indian community as he won theirs. The qualities that made him succeed are best described in the words of Colonel H. Daly. "He possessed," says that writer," an extensive knowledge of the history of India generally, and of the States of Malwa in particular. He had a clear and precise conception of the Indian character, and, above all, he possessed a perfect temper, a buoyant good nature, and the faculty of impressing his own high spirits and bonhomie upon those with whom he was brought into contact. Personal influence was the keynote of his success." [Footnote 2: 2 Among the many evidences of the interest which he took in the ruling families of Central India, and of his anxiety to promote their welfare, is the College which he established at Indore for the sons of the Chiefs of the Province. That Colonel Duly now occupies the place which his father filled with such distinguished ability, is a happy circumstance for Central India. Of the many characteristics of his father that are reflected in Colonel Daly, none is more conspicuous than his desire to advance, to the utmost of his power, the intellectual and social well-being of the ruling Chiefs and their families : and there is good reason to hope that the Daly College will, under his fostering care, develop into a great Indian Public School, to the lasting benefit of this important Province.]
It was during an interview with Sir Henry Daly, who came to Bhopal for the purpose, that Her Highness finally agreed to the construction of a State Railway from Itarsi to Bhopal, promising to contribute funds from the State treasury, and to persuade the Kudsia Begam to advance money from her private purse. Soon afterwards, a letter was received from the Agent to the Governor-General, in which, after thanking Her Highness for her offer to provide funds for the railway, he informed her that His Excellency the Viceroy was only awaiting the decision of the Kudsia Begam before giving his sanction to the undertaking. It was then decided that a sum of thirty-five lakhs of rupees should be guaranteed, of which twenty-five lakhs should be contributed by the State in annual instalments of five lakhs, and ten lakhs by the Kudsia Begam in instalments of two lakhs, the whole amount to be advanced free of interest. Information to this effect was sent to the Government of India, and it was settled that interest at the rate of 4 per cent, should be paid to the State and to the Kudsia Begam from the profits of the railway, and that should any surplus still remain, it should be divided between the aforesaid parties and the Government, the latter being responsible for the execution of this contract, which was to hold good in perpetuity.
The Chief Engineer of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway prepared and forwarded to Her Highness two plans, each showing a different route for the new line, one passing through Chauka Bishankhera, and the other through Bhut Plassy and Yar Nagar. The choice was left to Her Highness, and she decided in favour of the former, as it would pass through a more thickly populated area, and would command a heavier carrying trade.
These preliminaries being concluded, other details regarding
the making of the line, its boundaries, and the sites for the stations were arranged ; and it was agreed that any disputes that might arise between the State and the railway authorities should be referred to the Government for settlement, and that the decision then given should be regarded as final. His Excellency Lord Lytton wrote to Her Highness, expressing his satisfaction with the arrangements that had been made, and stating that the Agent to the Governor-General had been instructed to draw up an agreement. On December 29th, 1877 (23rd Zil Hijjah, 1294 a.m.), this document was received through the Political Agent, and was duly signed, sealed, and returned, a copy being preserved in the State office.
At this juncture Her Highness foresaw that a branch line connecting her capital with Itarsi would be of no great advantage to the State unless it could be continued beyond Bhopal to join the Gwalior State Railway at Ujjain, or be carried on through Bhilsa to Gwalior, thus opening up direct communication with Agra and the north of India. After much correspondence, it was agreed that the survey should be continued through Bhopal as far as Sehore, and that, on the completion of the line from Agra to Gwalior, Bhopal should be connected with it. At the same time the State and the Kudsia Begam agreed to advance fifty lakhs of rupees instead of thirty-five, the former contributing thirty-five lakhs and the latter fifteen. A plan of the Bhopal station was next prepared. Her Highness, however, objected to the proposed site, owing to the instability of the soil and the difficulty of obtaining a good water-supply. It was, accordingly, decided that the Political Agent and Nawab Sidik Hasan Khan should select a site together, but that no further steps should be taken in this direction until the survey of the line should be completed.
In November 1878, the Agent to the Governor-General sent his First Assistant, Captain Barrow, to Bhopal with a letter to Her Highness, in which he again thanked her on behalf of the Viceroy for her liberality, and forwarded for her perusal a copy of the amended agreement. Her Highness accepted all the terms, but made certain suggestions in regard
to the size of the waggons to be used on the new line, and stipulated that the work should be commenced on the first day of January 1880. A favourable reply having been received, preparations were made by the State to assist the work in any way that might be necessary, a special officer being appointed for this purpose. On October 14th, the agreement, which had been returned to the Government of India for ratification, was sent to Her Highness by the Political Agent, together with a request that the first instalments for the year 1880 might be paid to avoid all possibility of delay. Some years later, owing to the death of the Kudsia Begam, and to other altered circumstances, this agreement had to be considerably modified. The arrangement as to the division of profits was finally settled in a supplementary agreement, dated October 14th, 1890. The clause runs as follows:
"The profits accruing on the aforesaid railway shall be divided in perpetuity between the British Government and the Ruler of Bhopal in proportion to the capital contributed by each party at the close of the period for which the accounts are made up. In the event of the railway being worked at a loss during any half-year or other period for which the accounts may be made up, such loss shall be borne by the British Government and the Ruler of Bhopal in the same proportions. This agreement shall take effect from January 1st, 1891."
It was on June 12th, 1882, that a private letter from the Chief Engineer of the railway informed Her Highness that trains had already begun to run between Itarsi and Hoshangabad, while, at the same time, intelligence was received through the State Vakil that the Agent to the Governor- General would come to Bhopal to open the line, and that the ceremony would take place on November i8th, (29th Muharram, 1303 a.h.). Her Highness at once set about preparing for his reception, and orders were issued for decorating the city in a manner worthy of so great an event. Invitations were sent through the Political Agent to the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, the Deputy Commissioner
at Hoshangabad, the Chief Engineer of the Railway, and to all the officers at the Residency and the Agency. Special instructions were given to the Mohtamim of kar-khana to arrange conveyances for the various visitors, and to see to their comfort on the journey from Itarsi to Bhopal.
The Political Agent arrived on November 11th, and the Agent to the Governor-General on the evening of the i6th. Official etiquette prohibits the firing of salutes after sunset, and visitors whose arrival takes place at such an hour are not usually accorded a public reception. The Political Agent, however, informed Her Highness that in the Gwalior State public receptions had taken place after sunset, and, though such had never been the custom in Bhopal, he considered that the unique character of the occasion and the rank of her visitors would justify a departure from ordinary rules. Her Highness willingly consented to this proposal, and the necessary orders were given for carrying it into effect.
On November 12th, the Political Agent, accompanied by Mr. Cook, the State Engineer, and the Mohtamim of the kar-khana, went to the railway station to select a place for the opening ceremony. It was agreed that the large goodsshed would lend itself admirably to their purpose, and extensive arrangements were made for its adornment. Colonel Bannerman, Agent to the Governor-General, with his staff, reached Bhopal at 7.30 p.m. He was met at the Aish Bagh by the Political Agent and the Naib-ul-riyasat, the State troops, with the band and the mahi-maratib, forming a guard of honour. Colonel Bannerman shook hands with those present, and the Naib-ul-riyasat apologized for the absence of Her Highness, who, on account of the indisposition of the Nawab Sahib, was unable to receive him in person. A procession was then formed, and the visitors were escorted to the camp which had been pitched for their accommodation, the entire route being brilliantly illuminated and decorated with triumphal arches. The salute announcing their arrival was fired on the following morning. On the next evening, the Commissioner of the Central Provinces arrived, and he too was accorded a public
reception. On the morning of the i8th, Colonel Bannerman called upon Her Highness at the Shaukat Mahal, while the Nawab Sahib paid a visit to the Commissioner. Later in the day all the other guests visited the palace and paid their respects to Her Highness.
The opening ceremony took place at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. As stated above, the place selected for the assembly was the goods-shed, and, so well had the decoration committee done its work, that it may safely be said that no goods-shed ever wore a more impenetrable disguise. It was surrounded without by troops: the State cavalry on the eastern side, the infantry on the west, a battery of artillery at one end, and a line of elephants, magnificent in their State harness, at the other. Her Highness's seat was in the centre of the building : the Agent to the Governor-General and the other European guests occupied the space on her right, and that on her left was reserved for officers of the State and purdah ladies, for whom special accommodation had been made.
As soon as Colonel Bannerman had declared the line open, a salute of thirty-one guns was fired, and Her Highness, having received the hearty congratulations of her many friends, arose and delivered the following speech :
" Colonel Bannerman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I render a thousand thanks to Almighty God that He has permitted the State of Bhopal and its Ruler to enjoy the benign protection of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen-Empress of India, through the benevolence of whose rule the light of Western science is now shining on this land, and through whom and the wise statesmen and brave soldiers sent to govern and protect us, we are able to look back upon years of peace and progress years that have transformed the pathless jungles of Hindustan into rich and fertile plains, vying in beauty with the gardens of Cashmere. When I think of the interest Her Majesty has always taken in the welfare of this State, of the friendship which she displayed towards my august Mother, Nawdb Sikandar Begam, and of her unfailing kindness to myself, I seek in vain for words to express my gratitude. Nor am I less grateful for the kind and courteous treatment I have always met with from the
Viceroys of India, their Agents in Central India, and the Political Agents in Bhopal. To you, Colonel Bannerman, my special thanks are due. I thank you most heartily for your congratulations on the completion of this Railway, and for your great kindness in coming here to-day to perform the opening ceremony. It is to yourself, to Sir Henry Daly, and to Mr. Griffin that congratulations should be paid on this memorable day, by whose advice this great work has been undertaken, and under whose supervision it has been carried out. I am very grateful to Colonel Kincaid for the good advice he has given to me and to the Wallajah-Amir-ul-mulk Nawab Sahib, and for his constant help in all matters connected with the making of this line. Let all praise be given to God who has permitted us this day to see the realization of our hopes, and to taste the first-fruits of our labours. I trust that the Bhopal State Railway will in every way prove a success, and that it will lead to as big an increase in the revenue of the State as was predicted when its construction was first contemplated. I now look forward to the time when the Bhopal line will be connected with the Great Indian Peninsular Railway at Bhilsa, which, besides conferring a great benefit on the travelling public, will, I am confident, make a very considerable increase in our profits.
"But the advantages of the Bhopal State Railway are not all in the future. It has given to me and my people the great advantage and pleasure of welcoming to Bhopal the Agent to the Governor-General for Central India, and the many other distinguished guests who have come here to grace this occasion. In the name of the State, I bid you all a most hearty welcome to Bhopal, and I thank you for the honour you have done me in accepting my invitation. To those officers who have taken part in the construction of this railway, I once more offer my congratulations on the successful completion of their labours. I am sending a telegram to His Excellency Lord Ripon to inform him that the Bhopal State Railway is now an accomplished fact. His Excellency will, I am sure, receive the intelligence with great satisfaction, and will regard this day as one worthy to be remembered in the history of his Viceroyalty. In conclusion, I pray for the everlasting prosperity of the great empire of Her Majesty the Queen, and I trust that, by the Grace of God, the friendly relations that have always existed between my State and the Crown may be strengthened day by day, and that Her
Majesty will never cease to regard me as her grateful and loyal servant."
At the close of this speech, a telegram was dispatched to His Excellency the Viceroy, informing him that the line was open. All the visitors then embarked on a train which had been kept in readiness, and were conveyed to the railway station, where they found their carriages awaiting them. In the evening, a banquet took place at the Lai Kothi, Her Highness, according to her custom, joining her guests at the conclusion of the repast. As soon as she had taken her seat, the health of Her Majesty the Queen was drunk, after which Colonel Bannerman rose, and, in a brief but interesting speech, described the great political and commercial advantages which the new railway would confer not only upon Bhopal, but upon the whole of Central India. He spoke in high terms of the enterprise which Her Highness had displayed in providing, without security and free of interest, practically all the money required for making the line. He had no doubt, he said, that the future would prove this outlay to be a sound financial transaction, and he expressed the hope that Her Highness's example would be followed by many other ruling Chiefs. After referring to the proposed extension of the line through Bhilsa to Agra, and the impetus which would thereby be given to the trade and agriculture of the districts through which it was to pass, he asked his hearers to join him in drinking to the health and long life of Her Highness the Begam, and to the success of the Bhopal State Railway.
Colonel William Kincaid, Mr. Crosthwaite, Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, and Colonel Thomson, also made congratulatory speeches, and, on their own behalf and that of the other guests, thanked Her Highness for the hospitable welcome which had been extended to them. The evening terminated with a display of fireworks. Colonel Bannerman and the Chief Commissioner left for Hoshangabad the next morning, and the other visitors departed in the course of the day........."
Facing p. 116 is an old photograph of a train approaching the Gadaroya bridge on the BSR.