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‘Commodities must be controlled’: economic crimes and market discipline in India (1939–1955)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2014

Rohit De*
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Yale University. Email:


It was a hot afternoon on 10 April 1950, in the town of Chapra in the eastern Indian province of Bihar. As most people had retired indoors to avoid the heat, the women's clothing store run by Kedar Nath had suddenly become a hive of activity. His munib (accountant) had gone home early on receiving news of the sudden illness of his son, and his shop had been visited by the local Magistrate and the Deputy Superintendent of Police, the leading figures in the district administration. The Magistrate, Mr S. K Ghatak, ordered Kedar Nath to open up his stores and make his registers available, and in this process discovered that Nath had twenty-five more saris than were accounted for in the stock register. Kedar Nath's relation protested that the saris had been bought that very morning, and that his munib's unexpected absence had resulted in the stocks not being updated immediately. The district officials were not convinced and Kedar Nath was arrested for not having proper accounts of the clothes in his stock. The district court convicted Kedar Nath for violating the terms of Bihar Cotton, Cloth and Yarn (Control Order) 1948, and the Essential Supplies (Temporary Powers) Act 1946 (ESA), and sentenced him to a fine and a month of rigorous imprisonment.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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