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Day 3 – Q 5.Did the development of railways by the British had any positive impact on the Indian economy and society? Critically examine.

5. Did the development of railways by the British had any positive impact on the Indian economy and society? Critically examine. 

क्या अंग्रेजों द्वारा रेलवे के विकास का भारतीय अर्थव्यवस्था और समाज पर कोई सकारात्मक प्रभाव पड़ा? समालोचनात्मक जांच करें।


The first passenger train in India ran between Bombay and Thane in 1853. The political condition and economic trend of the 19th century induced the British to construct railways all over India. Though introduced to further the economic exploitation of British, it had positive impact on Indian economy, society and administration.


Positive impact on Indian economy and society:

  1. Social impact: 
  • It connected people from hitherto unknown lands and they mixed with one another irrespective of caste and race.
  • Movement of people was facilitated. Women and Dalits were benefited majorly as they could travel without any constraints.
  • It helped in the development of new labour class who were instrumental in times like Non-cooperation movement.
  • It only took a journey by train to remind the hostile treatment of Indians by the British as 2nd or 3rd class citizens in their own countries. This brought a feeling of fraternity among Indians.
  • It helped in mobilization of national leaders. With this, they were able to exchange their ideas and discussed the problems and shaped popular public opinion against foreign rule.
  • e.g. Dadabhai Naoroji pinpointed the misuse of railways to justify his economic drain theory by British.
  • It was used by Indian national congress to connect Indian intelligentsia from different parts of India.
  • Gandhiji used railways to travel all over India and familiarize Indians on ideas of swaraj and satyagraha. 
  • Helped Vernacular press: which with the help of Indian railways could penetrate the interiors of subcontinent. Now, their ideas and critique of British could be read by common people as the circulation of newspapers and journals increased.
  1. Economic Impact:
  • Railways united the entire Indian economy as one part of India depended on movement of goods and services of other parts.
  • It helped in movement of Indian goods and provided market for Indian producers. It integrated the markets and increased the trade.
  • It facilitated the investment in different industries as now the movement of finished goods became easy. Jute, Cotton, Iron and steel industries were established in times to come.
  • It provided employment and helped several subsectors like mining, construction and so on.

Negative impact on Indian economy and society:

  • It became another front for the humiliation of Indians by the British who used it to further their racial superiority.
  • It helped for the easy mobilization of force by British which was used to suppress any popular uprising.
  • Railways ruined the India’s traditional handicrafts industry which became uncompetitive compared to British goods whose outreach of market increased by the railways.
  • Railways, though helped in increasing the food security ruined Indian peasants who suffered due to surplus of food grains because of easy movement provided by the railways.
  • The very nature of railways was to increase economic exploitation and policies of British helped it. E.g.
    • Capital investment in railways was restricted to British alone which increased the drain of wealth in the form of interest payment.
    • Indian goods faced high fright charges compared to British goods which made Indian products more uncompetitive.
  • In the long run, railways under British rule did not alter the basic structure of Indian economy. It only facilitated swift movement of British resources which was useful in maintaining their imperial hegemony.


British introduced railways with ulterior motive of economic exploitation. Though railways had its drawbacks as illustrated above, with the Advent of railways – regional specialization began to occur and trade (both domestic and foreign) flourished. Railways made possible the establishment of a well-knit market and as Karl marks observed “Indian railways in India truly became the forerunner of modern industry”. 

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