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History of Public Works

In the early days of public works in British India, P.W.D. was responsible for construction and maintenance of building and roads and irrigation projects like canals, dams and reservoirs etc. The management of Public Works Department during this period was not at all systematic and was under the control of Military Board of Imperial Government. But the arrangement did not prove to be much effective. Drawing attention of the Government to the unsatisfactory management and state of affairs in public works, the Court of Directors of the East India Company, in early1850, instituted a Commission each of the presidencies for investigation. The order became effective in December, 1850 and the Bengal Commission submitted its report in March, 1851. The members of the Commission were unanimous on the inability of the Military Board in the management of the public works department. Lord Dalhousie founded the public works department through which works programme like construction of roads, bridges and other public utility works including extension of irrigation projects were undertaken.

The Commission submitted a new proposal for department management. The basic features of the proposal as accepted by the Court of Directors were as under:


The Control of P.W.D. was removed from under the Military Board and placed under the Chief Engineers.
P.W.D. came under the control of respective provincial Government.
The Chief Engineers to be assisted by the Superintending Engineer & Executive Engineer.
The independent officers of the Chief Engineers were dissolved.

The Governor General of India issued an order No. 430 of 1854 on 21st April, 1854 by which the responsibility for management and control of the Public Works Department was entrusted upon the Bengal Presidency with effect from 1st May, 1854:

In 1866, P.W.D. was divided into three branches namely, Civil (Roads, Building & Irrigation), Military and Railway. This very year the then Governor General, Lord Lawrence (1864-68) introduced the system of investing in public works by borrowing from the public. The New policy saw implementation of some important projects like Midnapore Canal (1872), Orissa Coast Canal (1882), Rajapur Drainage Canal (1882) etc. During 1870, local government system was introduced by the government. As per a government decision taken in May, 1882 during the tenure of Lord Ripon (1880-84), the local government body in India were recognized following the British Rules. In 1893, provincial services were created in each of the provinces of India. The technical branch staffs were divided into three categories: (i) Engineers (ii) Upper Subordinates (iii) Lower Subordinates. And the engineers were divided into separate services, viz., Imperial Services and Provincial Services. While the Engineers were recruited in England and reserved for the British people only in case of the former services, in case of the latter, appointments were available to the recognized community of the Indians only.

With the complete separation of the Military branch in 1895, the P.W.D. became an exclusive civil department. The P.W.D. became responsible for public works relating to roads, buildings, irrigations and railways from this time. Beside, with the integration and development of local government system, Special types of public works were entrusted upon District Boards and Municipalities.

In 1905, the railways branch was segregated from the P.W.D. and was converted into a separate department under the management and control of Railway Board. The first railway line in India was commissioned in 1853 from Bombay to Thane and train services were introduced. Till 1905 about 3600 miles of railway track was constructed by the P.W.D.

Increased initiative by the British Government for more development increased the work load of P.W.D. considerably. In 1920, P.W.D. was divided into two separate departments, viz., Public Works and Irrigation.

Surface Roads of pre-independence period were maintained by Works and Building Directorate, which subsequently nomenclatured as P.W. Directorate under the administrative set up of P.W. Department.

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Mamata Banerjee

Hon'ble Chief Minister