Focused Series »

Indo-European Origins
Northern California
The Caucasus
Imaginary Geography
Home » Cartography, Economic Geography, South Asia

Industry, Insurgency, and Illumination in India

Submitted by on May 14, 2014 – 3:15 pm 7 Comments |  
NE India Light MapThe “nightlight” map of Burma posted in the previous GeoCurrents article reveals an interesting contrast with northeastern India. Although India’s far northeastern region is generally considered one of the least developed and most insurgency beset parts of the country, it is well illuminated when contrasted with neighboring Burma. To highlight this contrast, I have taken a detail from Google’s Earthbuilder “Earth at Night 2012” world map and added national boundaries (at approximate locations).

India Oil Pipelines MapThe most surprising feature of this map, to my eyes, is the bright cluster of lights in eastern Assam, not far from India’s northeastern extremity. As it turns out, this area contains the substantial cities of Dibrugarh (population 186,000) and Tinsukia (population 108,000), both of which are major industrial centers. According to the Wikipedia, Dibrugarh is “presently one of the 10 richest revenue NE India Oil Mapdistricts of India.” Industrialization here is based largely on local oilfields, which were the first to be exploited in India. Some reports indicate the presence of shale oil in the vicinity, which could result in enhanced production though fracking, although such a scenario does not seem likely in the near-term The center of oil production is the town of Digboi, located in the same general splotch of light. The Wikipedia description of the town provides its own form of illumination:

With a significant number of British professionals working for Assam Oil Company until the decade following independence of India, Digboi had a well-developed infrastructure and a number of bungalows unique to the town. It has eighteen holes golf course as part of the Digboi Club. It has guest houses and tourist residential apartments laid on Italian architectural plan to promote tourism in upper Assam.

“‘Dig boy, dig’, shouted the Canadian engineer, Mr. W. L. Lake, at his men as they watched elephants emerging out of the dense forest with oil stains on their feet]” This is possibly the most distilled – though fanciful – version of the legend explaining the siting and naming of Digboi.

Brahmaputra Braided RiverWikipedia articles on the region and its cities make much of the Dibrugarh Airport and its new “state-of-the-art and integrated terminal.” Infrastructural development is evidently a major issue in this remote corner of India. Other discussions focus on the potential use of the Brahmaputra River for shipping, although the obstacles here are considerable. The Wikipedia article on Assam frames this matter in rather understated terms:

The Brahmaputra suitable for navigation does not possess sufficient infrastructure for international trade and success of such a navigable trade route will be dependent on proper channel maintenance and diplomatic and trade relationships with Bangladesh.

The Brahmaputra has a gargantuan flow, but it is also a classic example of a braided river, with ever-shifting, rock- and gravel-choked channels. Maintaining shipping routes in such an environment would be quite a challenge, to say the least.

South Asia Light Map“Nightlight” maps of India as a whole are also interesting. What strikes my eye is the correlation between the large relatively non-illuminated areas in east-central India and the zones of Maoist (or Naxalite) insurgency, which is a huge security problem for India even though it receives little attention in the global media. A report in Eurasia Review suggests that a recent merger of several insurgent organizations 1639px-India_Naxal_affected_districts_map.svgmight result in an expansion of this rebellion to the south, potentially having a “significant impact for the Maoist movement in the tri-junction area of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.” This area, not surprisingly, is another dark zone on the nighttime map of India.


Previous Post
Next Post

Subscribe For Updates

It would be a pleasure to have you back on GeoCurrents in the future. You can sign up for email updates or follow our RSS Feed, Facebook, or Twitter for notifications of each new post:

Commenting Guidelines: GeoCurrents is a forum for the respectful exchange of ideas, and loaded political commentary can detract from that. We ask that you as a reader keep this in mind when sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Xezlec

    To make a dumber and less subtle observation: the area around Uttar Pradesh and Punjab looks a bit like India’s version of the American northeast. I wonder what cultural similarities there might be between those regions, owing to their dense, urban populations.

    • Actually, that is an important observation, but more fitting for Haryana along with Punjab, rather than Uttar Pradesh (and Punjab). Even Pakistan’s Punjab appears as well illuminated, despite the country’s major electricity shortage.

      It is a bit surprising to me that Punjab and Haryana are so much better illuminated than Maharashtra, which is India’s leading state by economic criteria. I suspect that this shows Punjab’s greater rural prosperity, owing to the fact that it is the center of India’s Green Revolution.

  • Alexander Richards

    Might the Kerala dark spot not be more to do with that being the location of the Western Ghats- much as the dark in the Western US has geographic rather than political reason? c.f. also the Thar Desert to the north in contrast with the Indus river, the Chin Hills and the Himalayas.
    I think I can also make out the Cardamom Hills and southern extent of the lower Eastern Ghats. Indeed the area around Hyderabad doesn’t seem to have a particularly strong correlation between light density and the Naxalite areas at all, though it may be more pronounced further north. Perhaps the intervening 7 years have shifted the effected areas around?

    Here’s a good geographic outline of the major features for comparison

    • Excellent points. The Hyderabad area is a major urban area, and quite a high tech center as well, yet it is shown as being in the “Red Corridor” of Maoist insurgency on most maps. I suspect that such maps exaggerate the area of insurgency,which seems to be mostly confined to rugged, rural areas with poor infrastructure.

  • Peter Rosa

    Now that I saw this feature I cannot unsee it … there is a very large dark patch in eastern India that looks like a huge bird’s head, with the beak pointing to the west. The base of the head is right where the peninsula widens, and within the head is a much more illuminated patch that’s shaped like a downward-pointing flag on a pole.

    • Interesting, but I am not sure if I see it. Is this what you have in mind?

      • Peter Rosa

        That’s the upper part of it, and the beak. I would extend the “head” southward to the coastline.