This Day in History (1-Dec-1990) – Chunnel makes breakthrough

The idea of tunneling beneath the English Channel began circulating in the early 19th century. In 1986, Britain and France signed a treaty authorizing the construction of a tunnel running between Folkestone, England, and Calais, France. Construction on the Chunnel (channel-tunnel) began in 1988. On December 1, 1990, 132 feet below the English Channel, workers drill an opening the size of a car through a wall of rock. This was no ordinary hole–it connected the two ends of an underwater tunnel linking Great Britain with the European mainland for the first time in more than 8,000 years. After workers drilled that final hole, they exchanged French and British flags and toasted each other with champagne.

Over the next four years, nearly 13,000 workers dug 95 miles of tunnels at an average depth of 150 feet below sea level. Eight million cubic meters of soil were removed, at a rate of some 2,400 tons per hour. The completed Chunnel would have three interconnected tubes, including one rail track in each direction and one service tunnel. At a cost of over $21 billion, the 31.4 mile-long Channel Tunnel was completed in 1994, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterrand. With regular maintenance and upkeep, the Chunnel allows for millions of passengers travel between London and Paris each year – both for business and pleasure!

A company called Eurotunnel won the 55-year concession to operate the Chunnel, which is the crucial stretch of the Eurostar high-speed rail link between London and Paris. The regular shuttle train through the tunnel runs 31 miles in total–23 of those underwater–and takes 20 minutes, with an additional 15-minute loop to turn the train around. The Chunnel is the second-longest rail tunnel in the world, after the Seikan Tunnel in Japan.

The Channel tunnel was one of the largest construction projects of the 20th century and remains a marvel of engineering even today. It was selected by American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1996.


This Day in History (25-Aug-1997) – Konkan Railway line in Goa, except for a short stretch between Pernem and Maharashtra border, becomes operational

The Konkan Railway, 741-kilometre line connects Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka States — a region of criss-crossing rivers, plunging valleys and mountains that soar into the clouds. Apart from setting a trend for other infrastructure projects in the country, the Konkan Railway provides concrete proof of the skills of Indian engineers, their discipline, team spirit and courage.  On July 19, 1990, the Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL) was incorporated as a public limited company and E. Sreedharan, a senior railway official, as its first Chairman and Managing Director. The company set itself a challenging target of five years to complete the work. With a total number of over 2,000 bridges and 91 tunnels to be built through this mountainous terrain containing many rivers, the project was the biggest and perhaps most difficult railway undertaking during this century, at least in this part of the world. There were challenges posed by the terrain and the elements. Flash floods, landslides and tunnel collapses affected work at many places on the project. The region was also thickly forested, and construction sites were often plagued by wild animals.

To enable quicker construction, several innovative practices were adopted. Piers for major bridges were cast on the riverbanks itself and launched using cranes mounted on pontoons. The technique of incremental launching of bridge spans was used for the first time in India.  The biggest challenge, however, came from the nine tunnels that had to be bored through soft soil. No technology existed anywhere in the world for this purpose and the work had to be carried out through a painstakingly slow manual process. Excavation was almost impossible due to the clayey soil that was saturated with water owing to a high water table in the region. Several times tunnels collapsed immediately after they had been dug, necessitating work to be redone. Nineteen lives and four years were lost while constructing the soft soil tunnels alone. In all, seventy-four people perished during the construction of the line. Trains carrying passengers started running along the full route between Mumbai and Mangalore from May 1998.



This Day in History (15-Aug-1982) – Doordarshan’s national programme and the first nationwide colour transmission started by Delhi Doordarshan

The Indian Television Network was started in New Delhi in 1959 to transmit educational and development programmes on an experimental basis with half-an-hour programming. Doordarshan was established in 1976.  For the initial years of its existence, Television in India spread haltingly and transmission was mainly in black & white. The thinkers and policy makers of the country, frowned upon television, looking on at it as a luxury Indians could do without.  Television has come to the forefront  in year 1982. India was gearing up for the Asian Games, a colourful spectacle. But most of the country was in the danger of seeing it in shades of black and white. Until a Union Cabinet decision changed the way people saw television forever. In the beginning, it was a temporary permit, with the Union Government allowing the import of 50,000 colour television sets by November of that year. But by the end of it, the Indian viewer was ready to spend Rs.8,000 on an Indian set and up to Rs.15,000 on the imported version.

The government raked in the money, earning Rs.70 crore in customs revenue from imported sets, with one lakh sets imported into the country. In December 1982, India Today reported a virtual craze in Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai where shops were practically emptied of television sets for Indian use, even as recipients of the sets in India willingly paid the concessional 190 per cent customs duty. I&B Minister Vasant Sathe’s brainchild, it opened the doors to expanding the television market in a big way, organising it and bringing in the bigger players. It was television’s hardware revolution.

As Bhaskar Ghose, former director general of Doordarshan told India Today in 1999, “Colour was just a metaphor for a switchover to high technology.” It was followed by Doordarshan’s networking phase. In 1982, television transmitters jumped from 35 to 100, by 1990, the figure was getting ready to cross the 400 mark. Critics called it India’s taste for modern consumerism, a hand-maiden of the commercial film industry. But for the Indian consumer, it was much more than that. It was an opportunity to see the world in all colour.

This Day in History (7-Aug-1947) – BEST services were started by Mumbai Mahanagarpalika

In 1873, the Bombay Tramway Company Limited was given the licence to operate trams in the city. The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) was given the right to purchase the company after first twenty years or after every seven years thereafter. On 9 May 1874, the company started with horse-drawn tram of two kinds on road — those drawn by one horse and those drawn by two. In 1905, the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited (B.E.S. & T Co. Ltd.) bought the Bombay Tramway Company Limited. The first electrically operated tram-car appeared on Mumbai’s roads in 1907.  Unlike the horse-drawn tram, the electric tram drew praise from public for its comfort and low fare. To handle rush-hour traffic double-decker trams were introduced on Mumbai’s roads in September 1920.

In 1913 there was debate in the Mumbai municipality whether to introduce motor buses to supplement the tramway service in the city. The main factor against its introduction was the high accident rate for a similar service in London. On 15 July 1926, 24 single-deck buses started operating on three routes. Despite stiff opposition and protests by taxi-drivers, the service ran without a hitch, transporting six lakh (600,000) passengers by the end of that year.

One of the terms of the agreement of 7 August 1905 between the Bombay Municipal Corporation and the Bombay Electric Supply & Tramways Company Limited (B.E.S.&T. Company) gave the Bombay Municipality the right to buy the company at the end of forty-two years. It was also laid down that if the right was exercised on 7 August 1947, the municipality would have to pay forty lakh rupees as goodwill, in addition to the agreed price of the company’s assets. On 7 August 1947, the Municipal Corporation took over the B.E.S.&T. Company Ltd and it was municipalised to form the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking which was again renamed to Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (B.E.S.&T Undertaking) in 1995. BEST celebrates 7 August annually as “BEST Day”.


This Day in History (1-Apr-1869) – Income Tax was imposed

The present tax system in India virtually owes its’ origin to the British legacy. The prevailing economic scenario that existed in the post Sepoy Mutiny period forced the British rulers to impose a tax on income to augment government funding. Accordingly, in the year 1860, an Act to tax income was passed. Income arising out of profits from trade profession and property was taxed fixing the basic exemption limit of income for taxation at Rs.500.  The Act was in operation till 1865 when it ceased to exist.

However in the year 1867, again due to the demanding situation of the economy a Licence Tax was imposed for identical purposes for one year and thereafter, with effect from 1st April 1869 an Act to impose Income Tax was reintroduced with variable rates for different ranges of income slab starting from Rs.500 to Rs.1,00,000 and above. Finally, as an outcome of the recommendations of All India Income tax Committee formed in 1921, by Act XI of 1922 Income Tax Act 1922 was enacted merging two existing Acts on Income Tax and Super Tax. In this Act apart from laying a foundation and making a proper tuning of the administrative machineries and functionaries, the operative portion of the statute was also given a more meaningful rationale. Concept of ‘previous year’, ‘income’, ‘taxable income’, ‘total income’, obligation of an ‘employer’ were all introduced .

Due to the impact of flow of money in few hands in the post second world war period and after the independence of the country in 1947, it was felt necessary both to augment government funding and to have a control on the economy with certain checks and balances. The 1922 Act was found to be inadequate. In 1954 John Mathai Commission or Taxation Enquiry Commission was set up to carry out an in depth study of the tax laws and their administration. Thereafter in 1956 at the request of the Government of India, famous economist Prof Nicholas Kaldor made an examination of the tax policies of the country and made quite a number of proposals for broadening the tax base and removing the prevalent inequalities. The primary structure of the present day tax system mostly depended on these studies and recommendations. Resultantly, Income Tax Act 1961 was enacted in the Parliament which came into operation with effect from 1st April 1962.



This Day in History (16-Mar-1830) – London’s re-organised police force (Scotland Yard)

Scotland Yard (officially New Scotland Yard) is a metonym for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service, the territorial police force responsible for policing most of London. In 1829, home secretary Sir Robert Peel, by an Metropolitan Police Act introduced in Parliament, set up the first disciplined police force for the Greater London area. As a result of Peel’s efforts, the London police force became known as Bobby’s boys and later simply as bobbies.

The task of organising and designing the “New Police” was placed in the hands of Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne. These two Commissioners occupied a private house at 4, Whitehall Place, the back of which opened on to a courtyard. The courtyard was used as a police station. The location had been the site of a residence owned by the Kings of Scotland before the Union and used and occupied by them and/or their ambassadors when in London, and known as ‘”Scotland”. The courtyard was later used by Sir Christopher Wren and known as “Scotland Yard”.  It was this address that led to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police being known as Scotland Yard. The Scotland Yard entrance became the public entrance to the police station, and over time the street and the Metropolitan Police became synonymous.  Scotland Yard became the name for police activity in London though the headquarters is no more at the same location.

Although Scotland Yard’s responsibility is limited to metropolitan London, its assistance is often sought by police in other parts of England, particularly with regard to difficult cases. Some of its most infamous cases handled by Scotland Yard ranges from Jack the Ripper in 1888 to the 2005 London bombings. Scotland Yard has become internationally famous as a symbol of policing, and detectives from Scotland Yard feature in many works of crime fiction. They were frequent allies, and sometimes antagonists, of Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous stories. It is also referred to in Around the World in Eighty Days. Many novelists have adopted fictional Scotland Yard detectives as the heroes or heroines of their stories. In the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming mentions a recurring fictional character who works for Scotland Yard.