Ahmedabad/Fall and rise of mill industry: before and after the establishment of railway

Before Establishment of Railway

Since its establishment, Ahmedabad had already earned a reputation as a trading and manufacturing centre, which export varies of textile products to other Indian cities and countries. Its economic and commercial background is based on textile industry, due to its rich traditional craftsmanship and strong business culture.

In 1818, the British started ruling Ahmedabad as a colony. The new ruling power made a profound impact on the textile economy by bringing new textile manufacture technology to Ahmedabad. Before the British rule, the local cotton merchants were still using indigenous manufacture methods. A British planter, Landon, introduced the latest manufacture technology from western industrial revolution to India. He directly affected the set-up of the first textile mill in Ahmedabad in 1858 by Ranchhodlal Chhotalal, a local entrepreneur. However, during the two decades after the establishment of the first mill, the other merchants were not very interested in modern textile maufacture.

After Establishment of Railway

After the BB & CI railway linked Ahmedabad from Bombay in 1864, in the beginning, Ahmedabad became a major entreport for distribution of imported goods. Journeys to Ahmedabad from other cities became much faster and frequent, and the shipment of goods took less time and organization. Dissemination of information and new ideas into the city is also facilitated. Although the railway helped to break down the isolation of the walled city, it brought the threat of competition from the mills of Bombay, which was already using new technology. The predominance of traditional Ahmedabad textile industry was weakened due to the competition, and cannot gain large profits from scarcities in commodities. Thus, Ahmedabad’s old economic reliance on handicraft textile production and mill industry would have to go. On the other hand, the railway company’s biased tariff policy which favoured long distance traffic to and from the ports was unfavourable to the export of goods in Ahmedabad and benefited Bombay, although Ahmedabad was closer to the markets of North India.

The merchant in Ahmedabad were determined to repossess the market and started to be interested in mill industry base on Ranchhodlal’s paradigm. New strategies were invented, resulted in a flux of new textile mills in the city. (see table 1) They are gradually built around the railway for convenient transportation. (see fig 1) Ambalal Sakarlal Desai,Chairman of the reception committee of the eighteenth session of the Indian National Congress held at Ahmedabad in 1902, declared that: “Gentlemen, as you entered the city, you must have noticed the tall chimneys on both sides of the railway tracts. These are our textile mills…” In the 1890s the textile mill industry of Ahmedabad was regarded as superior to its Bombay counterpart already. (see table 2)

An influence that the railway brought to the textile industry is that it brought the entry of persons belonging to diverse castes from different cities into the Ahmedabad textile industry field, which is one of the contributing factors to the demographic growth in the pre-independence era. (see table 3)

It can be seen that the railway firstly has a negative influence in the mill industry of Ahmedabad, but later the merchants in the city had overcome the competition threat from other cities, and manipulated the railway to improve the mill industry. This is possibly due to the strong textile business culture as mentioned earlier. The BB & CI railway punctured through the city and acted as a catalyst in the industrial development. Regarding the characteric of Ahmedabad’s urban morphology as a walled city which is enclose, lack of outside information and self-sufficient, without the insertion of railway, the merchants would possibly be still using the indigenous textile technologies, and the flux of cotton mill industry would be unlikely to happen. It can be proved from the fact that before the railway was contructed, even new technologies was brought into the city and the first textile mill was established, the merchants were still not very interested in modern manufacture, until they see the threat from Bombay.

On the other hand, the changes that railway brought to the urban fabric can be seen in the map, which shows the high density of cotton mills around the railway. In short, it is interesting to see how infrastructure brings both negative and positive influence to the industry of a city, and how it can become an opportunity for the industry to regain its share in the market. The boost in industry resulted in population rise, which furthermore brought out the congestion problems in Ahmedabad, and lead to the imbalance of the diversity and the accessibility in the city. It is further discussed in our other studies.


R. P. Misra, K. Misra ed. (1998) Million Cities of India: Growth Dynamics, Internal Structure, Quality of Life and Planning Perspectives: Vol.1. New Delhi: Sustainable Development Foundation

Mehta, Makrand. (1982) The Ahmedabad Cotton Textile Industry: Genesis and Growth. Ahmedabad: New Order Book Co.

Kenneth L. Gillion (1968) Ahmedabad: A Study in Indian Urban History. California: University of California Press.

Cotton mills in 1916 © 1921, Census of India, Government of India
Fig 1. Cotton mills in 1916 © 1921, Census of India, Government of India

ahmedabad.table 1.Wendy Guan

Table 2. Growth of cotton mill in Ahmedabad © 1957, N. N. Desai
Table 1. Growth of cotton mill in Ahmedabad © 1957, N. N. Desai
Comparison between growth of textile mills © 1958, H.Fukazawa
Table 2. Comparison between growth of textile mills © 1958, H.Fukazawa
Growth of Population © Unknown year, Census of India.
Table 3. Growth of Population © Unknown year, Census of India.

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