Padma Bhusan Prof. Shiba Prasad Chatterjee, known as the doyen of Indian Geography, was born on 22nd February 1903 at Calcutta (Kolkata) and is the founder Director of National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organization. He had a brilliant academic career. He obtained his master’s degree in Geology in 1926 from Banaras Hindu University and then proceeded toFrance to England for higher studies. He had the privilege of carrying out research in geography under the guidance of the then celebrated French Geographer, E.de Martonne on Le Plateau de Meghalaya. This pioneering study earned him D.Lilt, degree from de’l. Univ. De Paris at Sorbonne, and eventually published in 1936. He also obtained Teachers’ Diploma from the University of London. Later he earned the Ph.D degree in Education from the same University.
His primary concern was teaching and research. He joined Rangoon University as head of the department of Geology and Geography in 1928 and in 1932 he left for Europe for higher studies. On his return to India, Chatterjee joined the University of Calcutta and introduced geography as a discipline in the Teachers’ Training Department and subsequently at the Honours and Masters level in 1939 and 1941, respectively. He took charge of the Geography Department as professor and head. He remained attached with this department lifelong and served as Emeritus Professor even after his retirement in1967. He also felt the necessity of establishing a geographical society of all India character and Calcutta was chosen as the appropriate place to start with. Thus, the Calcutta Geographical Society now known as the Geographical Society of India came into being in 1936.
He formulated for the first time, a proposal for the compilation of the National Atlas of India, containing maps of various features of the nation. A discussion on this subject with late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1953 resulted in his instant approval of the project. The then Ministry of Natural Resources & Scientific Research after consultations with other Ministries decided to set up an Advisory Board in March 1954 for formulating a scheme for preparation of National Atlas of India. The Advisory Board gave a favourable report and also provided a tentative guideline about the scope and contents of the atlas. Subsequently in April 1954 the same Ministry sanctioned a skeleton staff of 7 posts on a temporary basis to help Professor S.P.Chatterjee in giving shape to the Board’s suggestions. The order also sanctioned creation of additional 56 temporary posts and Padma Bhusan Prof. S.P.Chatterjee was appointed as the Honorary Director of the Project. The institution thus created was named National Atlas Organization from that date. The Geography Department of the Calcutta University located at Senate House in those days provided the first shelter to the organization. The name of the organization was modified as National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organization in 1978.
As a foremost geographer of the country Chatterjee had been attached with various international events related to geography and cartography. He attended the international geographical Congress held at Washington D.C in 1952. He was elected as the Vice-President of the International Geographical Union (IGU) at its Congress in Stockholm in 1960 and in the subsequent international Geographical Congress in London he was elected to presidentship of the IGU for the term 1964-68.
He prepared a map of Bengal showing the distribution of population according to religion which was later published by Survey of India. He was the first Indian Geographer to carry out complete land use survey of Howrah district of West Bengal in 1950. The name Meghalaya was coined by him for the Garo , Khasi and Jaintia plateau which was later adopted by the Government of India to name the newly formed north eastern states covering those plateaus.
His unique work Bengal in Maps was published soon after the partition of the country. His contribution in producing National Atlas of India in1957 has been hailed as a landmark in geography and cartography. He also contributed the chapter on ‘Himalayan Mountain Ranges’ in the New Encyclopaedia Britanica. Of late , he engaged himself in writing text books on geography. His latest venture was the comprehensive volume of Economic Geography of Asia. He was conferred the most prestigious Murchison Grant by the royal Geographical Society, London in 1959 for the publication of the first very National Atlas of India in 1957.
He was model of indomitable will and total dedication.