Legend of the Lost - Death of Old SBI Building on Strand Road, Kolkata
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LEGEND OF THE LOST – The Bank of Bengal Building

Bank of Bengal Building on Strand Road

It is said that in those early days of British rule, General Wellesley felt the need to make a fund to meet the huge expenses of his war against the powerful Tipu Sultan and the mighty Marathas. The Bank of Calcutta was founded on 2nd June 1806, mainly to solve this problem and to serve the purpose. Much later, after more than half of a century after its inception, the Bank  opened four more branches in Rangoon, Patna, Mirzapur and Benares, during the first half of 1860s. For further expansion of the business, the authorities also intended to open a branch in Dacca and they started to negotiate with Dacca Bank (established in 1846). Finally Dacca Bank was merged and The Bank of Calcutta was renamed “Bank of Bengal” on 2 January 1809.

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The Bank of Bengal – archive picture

However, if we care to go through the pages of history, we will find that in those days Calcutta was the main trading centre of India and as such foundation of a bank was an absolute necessity. During that period, apart from The Bank of Bengal, there  were two more Presidency banks in India, which included the Bank of Bombay and the Bank of Madras. All these three Presidency banks were the result of royal charters and they worked as quasi central banks in India for many years, with the exclusive right to issue paper currency. However, in 1861, with the promulgation of the Paper Currency Act, this right was taken over by the Government of India.

With time all the three Presidency banks, as mentioned above, were merged with each other on 27 January 1921 and a new bank was born. The new reorganized bank was named “Imperial Bank of India”. After independence, The Reserve Bank of India, the central banking institution of India, acquired the controlling authority of Imperial Bank of India in the year 1955 and the Imperial Bank of India was rechristened on 30 April 1955 as the State Bank of India. At present, State Bank of India is a government- owned enterprise, with its headquarters in Mumbai.

In 1980 SBI started demolishing its old historical Calcutta Main Office building situated on Strand Road, as the foundations of the structure had grown weak. But faced with fierce criticism from various quarters for knocking down the historical heritage edifice, the SBI management had decided to recreate a portion of the old structure in two of the 14 floors of its neo-classical local head office building. The archives were planned in 1987 by the then SBI chairman Dhruba Narayan Ghosh and subsequently in 1997, ex-chairman DG Kakodkar sanctioned the said plan. Finally, the promised museum and archive was opened on 13th May 2007. Now in the 11th floor of the Bank’s building has become a home to the country’s first full-blown banking museum, but in the process of renewing the vintage building of the Bank of Bengal is lost forever.

 

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Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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