Assam came under British rule on February 24, 1826 after the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo. Its main town, Guwahati, however, had been occupied by the British two years earlier, on March 28, 1824. Immediately after the occupation, David Scot, Agent to the Governor General at Fort William for Assam was given additional charge of the town that was to be treated as cantonment for British troops from where they would move to other parts of the region.

Sanitary conditions in the town then were very poor and troops stationed here began to die of malaria and kala azar in large numbers. The East India company’s government grew concerned and a Town Improvement Committee (TIC) was formed in 1836 with the district magistrate and civil surgeon as members. The committee received a grant of Rs 3000 from the Bengal Government and for the next fifteen years it was this committee that took care of civic problems. In 1848 the government accepted the committee that took care of civic problems. In 1848 the government accepted the committee’s suggestion to levy a house tax in south and north Gauhati for municipal purpose” and it was this tax, apart from occasional government grants, that constituted the main source of municipal revenue even till 1864.

On June 11, 1852 Major H Vetch, the then Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup, who by virtue of his post was also Chairman of TIC, received a petition signed by 113 residents of Guwahati praying for the establishment of a Municipal Board under the 1850 Bengal Municipal Act that had become operational in other Bengal towns. The government accepted the proposal on principal and a notice declaring the intention of the government “to constitute a municipal board for Gowhatee” was published in the Calcutta Gazette in its July 11852 issue. 

On January 15, 1853 the Bengal Government instructed the Commissioner of Assam to nominate “two respectable inhabitants of Gowhatee for appointment in conjunction with the magistrate as commissioners for the purpose”.

Accordingly, the first statutory Municipal Board of Gowhatee came into existence with Capt Rowlatt as ex-officio president of the Board and James Harriot and CK Hudson as municipal commissioners. Civilians Town Committee.

It is amusing that immediately after the formation of the Gowhatee Municipality, a petition was submitted by fifty inhabitants of the town to the Commissioner of Assam urging “the abolition of the Gowhatee Municipal Board”. Their argument was that the 113 persons who had originally appealed for the establishment of the municipality were neither respectable citizens nor tax-payers as their “income was less than Rs 5 a month”.

The task before the new Municipal Board was challenging. The town had no pucca roads, it was mosquito-infected and there were only forty tanks to supply water to its inhabitants. One of the early decisions taken by the Municipal Board therefore was to prohibit the entry of elephants inside town since the pachyderms caused immense harm to the kuccha roads.

In 1876 the municipality was elevated to Class I category. Manick Chandra Baruah who became a Municipal Commissioner in 1883 was later, in 1913, also to become its first civilian chairman. Some other civilians who were commissioners of the municipality for long periods were Rai Saheb Bhuban Ram Das and Rai Bahadur Mahendra Mohan Lahiri. According to W W Hunter, the total revenue collected by the municipality in 1875-76 amounted to 2,727 pound sterling. The heart of town then included Pan Bazar, Uzan Bazar and Fancy Bazar. From 1876 taxes were imposed on bullock-carts, horse-carts, boats and traders of the city. The municipality began supply of tap water in the year 1887 and in 1888 streetlight were introduced.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the activities of the Guwahati Municipality included collection of house tax, organizing anti-smallpox vaccines, checking house to house to house for kala azar followed by preventive injections, supervision of drains, arranging disposal of human waste, establishing vernacular schools, etc. During 1906-07 Rs 4500 was spent for development of two main roads. Streetlights were replaced by carbide gaslights in 1910 and electric lights in the 1920s.

On January 27, 1974, the 121-year-old Guwahati Municipality was elevated to a Corporation. Radha Govinda Baruah and Lakhyadhar Chowdhury became its first and second mayors while Govinda Kalita and Saroj Kumar Sengupta were the first two deputy mayors.

In 1853 the municipality had begun functioning from a small room adjacent to the katchury. By the 1880s the old single-storied structure had been pulled down and a new one built in its place. However, this structure could not withstand the 1897 earthquake and was destroyed completely. In the first quarter of the 20th century, a double-storied Assam-type structure was built in its place, and today it is from this structure, adjacent to the Deputy Commissioner’s office, that the Guwahati Municipal Corporation still functions to serve a city of 1.4 million people.