S.P. Chatterjee Memorial Lecture Series

Prof. S P Chatterjee :

Prof. Shiba Prasada Chatterjee known as the Father of Indian Geography was born on 22nd February, 1903 at Calcutta. He had a brilliant academic carrier. He obtained his master degree in Geology in 1926 from Banaras Hundu University. There after, he proceeded to France and England for higher studies. He had the privilege of carrying out research in Geography the guidance of the then celebrated French Geographer, E de Martonne on Le plateau de Meghalaya. This pioneering study earned him D. Lit. Degree from de’l University de Paris at Sorbonne, and eventually in 1936. On the other hand he obtained Teachers ‘ Diploma from the University London later he made a comparative study of the British and French Educational system and his disseration on this subject earned him the Ph. D. degree in Education from the same University. This was only the beginning of his educational, scientific amid international activities which expanded many folds in the years to come the geographic world shocked to now the sad demise of Prof. Chatterjee on 27th February, 1989.


Contribution to teaching of Geography:

Chatterjee’s primary concern from the beginning of his career was teaching and research. He joined the Rangoon university as Head of the Department of Geology and Geography in 1928. He served that department till 1932 when he left for Europe for higher studies. On his return to India, Chatterjee joined the University of Calcutta and with great efforts was able to introduce Geography as a discipline in the Calcutta University, at first in the Teachers training Department and subsequently at the honours level in 1939 and 1941 respectively. He took charge of the Geography department in the capacity of Prof. and Head. His attachment with thid department lasted lifelong and he remained there as Emeritus Professor after his retirement in 1967.

Chatterjee’s reputationas a teacher went far and wide invitations came from Universities all over the world. Assignment came on to him as Visiting Professor at the Universities of Georgia ( Athens) and Austin ( Texas) in the USA in 1963, at Mascow University and at the Universities of Paris and Heidenberg in 1963 and at the California State University during the period 1970-72.

Establishment of the Geographical Society of India: Chatterjee felt the necessity of establishing a Geographical Society of all Indian Character. Calcutta being premier center for the study and teaching in Geography in undevided India was considered as the appropriate place to start the Geographical of India. Thus, the Calcutta Geographical Society, now known as the geographical Society of India, was established by his efforts in 1936, research journal of the soceity is known as Geographical Review of India which is, perhaps the first of its kind in the country and has reputation about its quality and regularly in publication.

The Other geographical and scientific Societies in the country and abroad have drawn inspiration from him. Chatterjee also encouraged young Geographers regularly by contributing in the Observer, a magazine of the Student Geographical Association, Calcutta.

Creation of National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation: Chatterjee formulated for the first time, a proposal for the compliation of the National Atlas of India, containing maps of the various features of the nation. The authorities in the Central Ministries were very impressed and convinced about the essentiality of the project. It was at the instance of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, that the National Atlas Organisation was established in 1956. S.P. Chatterjee was appointed the first Honorary Director of the Organisation. This organisation produced Bharat Rashtriya Atlas ( in Hindia ) in 1957. This paved the way of preparing Atlases including the formidable National Atlas of India in eight volumes ( in English). These Atlases have been highly appreciated in India and elsewhere and Chatterjee rightly earned the famous Murchison Grant from the Royal Geographical Society. The name of the Organisation in 1978 in order to widen the scope of activities of the Organisation. Under the direction of Chatterjee the activities of the Organisation multiplied and its status elevated to such a mapping organisation employing perhaps the largest number of geographers under one roof in the world. The Irrigation Commission of India in late Nineteen Sixties approached Chatterjee to compile the first ever Irrigation Atlas of India. The offered to collaborate by providing data on various aspects of irrigation. The first collaborative venture in the form of Irrigation Atlas of India was published in 1970 under the guidance and direction of S.P. Chatterjee. After his retirement from the Directorship of National Atlas Organisation in 1969, his association continued as the Chairman of the advisory Board of the Organisation.

Contribution to International Geography and Cartography: As a foremost geographer of the country Chatterjee had been attached with various international events related to geography and cartography. He attended the International Geographical Congress held at Washington, D.C. in 1952, presiding over the section on Urban and Rural Settlements. He also presided over the section of Geographical Cartography and Photography in the International Geographical Congress held at Stockholm in 1960. In the 20th International Geographical Congress held at London in 1964, he acted as Chairman of the Section of Population Geography.

Chatterjee was elected as the Vice-President of the International Goegraphical Union (IGU) at its Congress in Stockholm in 1960 and in the subsequent International Geographical Congress in London he was elected to Presidentship of the IGU for the term 1964-68. His devotion to his duties as bend of an international body was exemplary. He went over to almost every part of the world, meeting Geographers in Seminars and conference. He succeeded in pursuing the Government in India to extend invitation to organise the International Goegraphical Congress in India and for the first time in Asia the Congress was held in New Delhi in 1968. Chatterjee was accordingly appointed as the Chairman of the National Committee for holding the Congress. This event undoubtedly brought great prestige to Indian Geographers and helped them to develop colser relations with the International Comnunity of Geographers.

For his contribution, Chatterjee had been honoured by several Geographical Societies all over the world, viz. The Association of Japanese Geographers, Tokyo, American Geographical Society and the Chinese Association for the Advancement of Science, Taiwan.

Contribution to National Development and Planning: At the time of the partition of the country Chatterjee prepared a map of Bengal, showing the distribution of population according to religion. This map was inter published by the Survey of India. Chatterjee was the first Indian Geographer to carry out complete land use Survey of a district of West Bengal ( Howrah) in 1950. He was appointed as a member in Damodar Valley Diagnostic Survey, the Board of Land Use, Committee on National Resources of the Government of West Bengal. Executive Committees of India Council of Social Science Research. The name “Maghalaya” coined by him for the Garo, Khasi and Jaintin Plateau has been adopted by the Government of India to name the recently formed state in north eastern India covering those plateaus.

Contribution to the Development of Geography and Cartography: Prof. S.P. Chatterjee has a variety of interests in thrust areas ranging for Geomorphology to the evolution of human settlements. However, cartography had been his basic field of interest. His unique work Bengal in Maps was published soon after the partition of the country. During the same time he contributed papers on a variety of subjects, viz, economic surve of Europe, mineral and mineral products, geomorphology, glaciology, population and regional pattern, floods and hydrology, teaching of geography, geography and national planning, soils and the like. After the establishment of National Atlas Organisation, his contribution in producing National Atlas in India in 1957 has been hailed as a landmark in Geography and Cartography. He was approached by the Government to write the chapter of physiography of the country for the Gazetter in India. His close association with Damodar Valley Corportion resulted into the preparation of Planning Atlas of Damodar Valley Region in 1969. His Presidential Address to the 21st International Geographical Congress (New Delhi, 1968) in Toward Global Peace and Harmony: Approachment Between Developing and Developed Countries has been considered as a valuable contribution towards the understanding of problems of the world.

The 21st International Geographical Congress organized by Chatterjee at New Delhi in 1968 was significant in many aspects. It brought out a large number of publications covering various aspects of geography of India and the developing countries. The most impressive number and quality to congress publications, again demonstrate the sincerity and imaginations of a great Geographer. He was approached by the International Association of Agricultural Economist based in Italy to contributed a chapter of India for their publication entitled world Atlas of Agriculture. He contributed the chapter on “Himalayan Mountain Ranges” in the New Encyclopaedia Britanica.

He was entrusted to write the Progress of Geography on behalf of Indian Science Congress Association. His explanatory notes in National Atlas Plates have been used as a basis of research of all sorts. Besides, over a hundred articles brought out by him in different journals, his works are far too many to enumerate in this short sketch.

Of late, he engaged himself in writing text books on geography. His latest venture was the comprehensive volume of Economic Geography of Asia. Formal awards in recognition of the contributions made by Chatterjee in the field of learning were conferred on him on many occasions. The most prestigious was the Murchison Grant by the Royal Geographical Society, London in 1959 for publication of the first ever National Atlas of India in 1957. Earlier, during his student days in Paris he earned the Gaudy Medal of Societe de Geographic Commerciale de Paris in 1937. He was a life patron of the Geographical Society of India, Calcutta and was made the first ever Indian National Cartographic Society in 1981. The National Geographical Society of India, Varanasi decorated him with the Jawahar Lal Nehru Medal in 1963. Considering his valuable contribution to international Geography and raising the status of Indian Geography, he was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1985, with this recognition, role of Geographer in national planning has also been recognized.

Personality : Prof. S.P. Chatterjee was a model of indomitable will and total dedication. Demand of extreme hard work, the snarl of apparently insurmountable difficulties never seen to have deterred him from pursuing a cause which he thought to be right and proper. He was a perfect “Karmayogi” or a person totally dedicated to noble work.

The success achieved in elevating the status of Geography in India from a state of insignificance to that of honour and importance bear testimony to the sustained efforts put in and the magnificent obsession to the cause of geography that this great geographer had cultivated in his life. His life was a perennial sources of inspiration of all of his innumerable students and associates in fact any student of geography in India.

SP Chatterjee Memorial Lecture Series

12005Thematic Mapping & CartographyDr. Prithvish Nag,Director, NATMO.
22008Ubiquitous MappingDistinguished Professor A.R. Dasgupta, BISAG, Gandhinagar
32009The Influence of Oceans on the Indian Summer MonsoonProf. P. V.Joseph, Professor Emeritus, Department of Atmospheric Science & Former Director, India Meteorological Department, Govt. of India
42010Prof. S.P Chatterjee