An earthquake which destroyed colonial India’s pioneering agricultural research institute in Bihar brought not just the institute to Delhi but also gave Pusa Road its name.
Today, those familiar with Pusa Road might know that it derives its name from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, popularly known as Pusa Institute. The institute had moved to its current Delhi address only in 1936. Then named the Imperial Agricultural Research Institute, it had originally been established in 1905 in a government estate called Pusa in Bihar’s Darbhanga district — the location is currently in Samastipur district.
According to a paper titled ‘History of Agricultural Research in India’ by Anwesha Borthakur and Pardeep Singh in a 2013 issue of Current Science, establishment of the institute — much like most early developments in agricultural research in colonial India – was closely tied to the recurrence of famines and starvation deaths.
“During the severe famines of 1899-1900, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, was convinced that the Government of India must urgently concentrate on the agricultural sector to overcome damage caused by the frequent famines. As a consequence, Agricultural Research Institute (now the Indian Agricultural Research Institute), together with a college for advanced agricultural training, was established at Pusa in the year 1905,” it states.
The original site was in proximity to the influential British indigo planters of Bihar and was conceived as beneficial to their interests as well.
This centre of research on wheat cultivation, cattle improvement, development of new crop varieties, drainage and soil reclamation was severely hit by the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake in which over 10,000 lives were lost.
The August 27, 1934 edition of The Indian Express recorded the decision to transfer the institute to Delhi after the earthquake: “It is understood that the Standing Finance Committee of the (Union) Assembly has sanctioned today a scheme for the removal of the Imperial Institute, Pusua (sic) to Delhi involving the approximate cost of Rs 36 lakhs.”
The institute’s new home was located to the northwest of the new imperial capital city of New Delhi. According to journalist R V Smith’s book ‘Delhi: unknown tales of a city’, up to 1935, this area was nazul land – which earlier belonged to Bahadur Shah Zafar and had been taken over by the municipal committee – where villagers of Todapur-Dasgarha grew wheat and vegetables.
Today, apart from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the New Delhi area also houses the Pusa Institute of Technology and IHM Pusa — prominent engineering and hotel management institutes — which derive their names from an estate in Bihar with which they have no relation.
Meanwhile, the Pusa of Bihar continues to be a centre of education and agricultural research, housing a number of institutions such as Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, a regional research station of Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and a centre of Borlaug Institute for South Asia.
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