The European Commercial Companies had set up base in different places early during the Mughal era: the Portuguese in Panaji in 1510, the Dutch in Masulipatnam in 1605, the British in Madras in 1639 and the French in Pondicherry (present-day Puducherry) in 1673. From the mid-eighteenth century, there was a new phase of change. Commercial centres such as Surat, Masulipatnam and Dhaka, which had grown in the 17th century, declined when trade shifted to other places. Company agents settled in Madras in 1639 and in Calcutta in 1690. Bombay was given to the Company in 1661 by the Portuguese. The Company established trading and administrative offices in each of these settlements. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the trade of the English East India Company expanded, colonial port cities such as Madras, Calcutta and Bombay rapidly emerged as the new economic capitals.
From the early years, the colonial government was keen on mapping. This knowledge provided better control over the region and helped to gauge commercial possibilities and plan strategies of taxation.
From the late 19th century onwards the British handed over some responsibilities to elected Indian representatives to collect municipal taxes. The growth of cities was monitored through regular headcounts. By the mid-19th century, several local censuses had been carried out in different regions. The first all-India census was attempted in 1872. Thereafter, from 1881, decennial (conducted every ten years) censuses became a regular feature. This collection of data is an invaluable source for studying urbanisation in India.
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