S. K. Bose & Niraj Agarwal
Owing to difficult terrain and bad road and river communications, even in the early twentieth century, it was an extremely hazardous task for the Calcutta mint and the Authorities in Fort William to send remittances of small coins to the treasuries set up in their newly occupied territories in Assam and North Bengal. The situation became more aggravated due to existence of coins of the local rulers of Assam, Cooch Behar, Sikkim and even Nepal.
To cope with the situation and to meet the demand of small coins in the tea gardens, for payment of daily, weekly or monthly wages, many of the garden authorities had introduced their own medium of exchange or tokens bearing mostly the denomination, year of issue and the name of the issuing garden. As the said tokens took the role of currency in the geographical area of the respective tea gardens with the tacit support from the authorities of the East India Company and later on by the British India Government, the situation of scarcity of small legal tenders was to some extent managed. The Calcutta Mint, as per direction of the Government Authorities, later on, also issued such tokens as and when orders were placed by the tea gardens. The situation was however more acute in Assam and Sylhet where there was no virtual communication. In this respect the position of the Darjeeling hills was comparatively better as the railway connection up to the foothills of Darjeeling had already completed by 1878 AD and subsequently upto Darjeeling on 4thJuly, 1881.
The scarcity of small changes was continue to be so high that even in 1943 some of the tea gardens in dooars in North Bengal had printed thick paper tokens for payment of the dues of the daily labourers of the garden.
Besides the Government, the individual indigenous bankers cum traders, functioning in different tea gardens in the above areas as the bankers to the gardens were also used to arrange small coins from Calcutta (Kolkata) for garden finance against bāttā (premium for the service).**
During the nineteenth century, a good number of traders from Rajasthan migrated to Assam and had attempted to explore the business opportunity in eastern and north eastern India. The British rule and administration of East India Company, mixed with their trading activities opened numerous possibilities for such traders in doing business in this part of the country. The British administrators also had interest about the people who were loyal and would not revolt if some sort of support given to them for peaceful trading activities. These trading community from Rajasthan quickly picked up the local languages and set up various types of business locally, including import and export of commodities within the country. Later on, some such resourceful trading families, with their sound financial conditions and a trustworthy behaviour became indigenous bankers in all difficult areas by issuing and accepting hundies (Bill of Exchange) for transfer of funds and lending money to the tea gardens, when needed. They also accepted the tokens issued by the gardens to the garden labourers and ultimately encashed in bulk from the respective gardens. These bankers also used to arrange small coins for the gardens and almost became intermediary between Calcutta Mint and the gardens vis-a-vis local markets.
Among many, the following firms or trading houses in Darjeeling and adjoining areas, as indigenous banker, left a good impression on the locals for their integrity in business.
They were/are M/S Padamchand Ramgopal, Ganpatram Kanhaiyaram, Ramjasrai Radhakishan, Jodhraj & Co., Chanduram Agarwal & Sons,, Hardeodass Goenka & Co., Jethmul Bhojraj and a few others. Similarly In Assam, M/S Chunilal sarawgi, Saligram Maheswari, Haribilas Agarwala, Sew Narayan Khemani, Hanutram of Barogola, Ramsukhdas, Nawrangram Ramdayal Poddar,Mayasingh Meghraj Kothari, Gajasinghpana Chand Bhutria Nemchand Pichar Oswal, Ratanchand Mayasingh, Ganga Prasad Kedia, Surajmall Jalan, and others were most prominent trading houses. In Assam, these traders, popularly known as Marwaris, have entered in Assam almost simultaneously with the East India Company. In the absence of local entrepreneurs, gained a strong foothold in Assam and ultimately by dint of business acumen became controller of Assam economy, not to speak about tea industry, where they became, step by step, owner of almost all the tea gardens established by British and local capitalists.
Recently, we have come across one of such families having the role of bankers in Darjeeling, who used to bring small coins in bulk to meet the local demands. A wooden crate, containing 6,400 pieces of British India one paisa dated 1936, which was duly packed and sealed has recently been discovered in their private store room. The said crate indicates / shows the system followed by the Mint in sending remittance during that period. In fact, even after independence, sending remittance in wooden box or crate by the mint through Reserve Bank of India continued. The above crate, for security reasons and to avoid being tampered with, were crisscrossed by strong wires and sealed. The legend of the lead seal can be read as – H. M. ș MINT CALCUTTA (i.e. His Majesty’s Mint, Calcutta) on the upper and lower periphery, in a curved manner and the royal insignia in the centre.
The total weight of the said crate, along with the coins inside is 35.5 kg, and the box itself is 22.5 inches X 7.25 inches with a height of 6.5 inches in size. All around the box, indistinct seals can be noticed such as DARJEELING on the left top of the box (can be seen in photograph), PICE Rs.100 on the backside. Some illegible numerical figure can also be noticed outside of the box.
Inside the box, there were rolled packed small coins, each rolled packet contained thirty two pieces of one paisa with a total value of eight annās or half rupee. Again, two such rolled packets were stacked one on the top of another packet. There were twenty such paired packets in each row. The box contained five such rows with a total two hundred packets valued to Rs 100/- only. All the one paisa copper coins, issued in 1935, packed and placed in the crate are still in a very good shiny condition.
The care that was taken in packing the crate by the mint indicates that Rs.100 was a high value remittance during the material time. The period relate to the Emperor Gorge V, when monthly salary of a clerk serving in Imperial Bank of India was Rs.12/- only.
We may now peep into the history of the establishment of India Government British mint in contemporary Calcutta (Kolkata). The first mint was established in 1757, which was located where the GPO (General Post Office) Calcutta stands today. Though it was established in Calcutta, the mint used to produce coins in the name of ‘Murshidabad’. After 1757, the first mint was abandoned and a new mint with the modern machinery brought from England was established at the site of Gillet Ship Building Establishment. Construction of the third mint had started in 1824 at 60, Strand Road, Calcutta and finally production started in August 1829. This mint was named as ‘Old Silver Mint’. The layout of this mint building was influenced by the
‘Temple of Athena’ in Athens (Greece). In 1860, an annexe was built, which was known as the Copper Mint. In 1952, this mint was finally shifted to New Alipore, where it is still functioning in full swing. Alipore mint not only produces coins, they also undertake preparation of medals, decorations such as ‘Padmaśree’ etc. Besides such work this mint also produces coins of other countries.