About Bombay Chamber and its Early History
“…I had not realized …how great a part has been played by the [Bombay] Chamber in the history of Bombay”
Lord Brabourne, Governor of Bombay
The Chamber was founded in 1836 by seven Britishers and three Parsees “to encourage a friendly feeling and unanimity among commercial men on all subjects involving the common good, to promote and protect the general mercantile interests of this [Bombay] Presidency, to collect and classify information on all matters of general mercantile interest, to obtain the removal … of all acknowledged grievances...” In those days there was an entrance fee of Rs 150 and a monthly subscription of Rs 20. Other objects and duties included simplification and facilitation of business practices, communication with public authorities on all matters of mercantile interest and to carry out arbitration of disputes among members.
The role of the Chamber in the development of the city and the region is of particular significance. It was largely responsible for the first railway built in India-The Bombay-Thana railway completed in 1853. The Chamber has been represented on the Port Trust and intimately connected with it since its inauguration in 1873. The Chamber initiated a scheme for collecting port statistics and in 1860 and was placed in sole charge of all returns concerning external trade of the Bombay Port, such as import-export manifests and daily arrival returns. The Chamber was also instrumental in obtaining Government sanction for the construction of wind and current charts of Indian seas.
The Chamber's relentless advocacy of an efficient nationwide postal system and standardized postal rates led to the passing of the India Postage Act of 1854. The Chamber opened a weighment and measurement department in 1870. The Chamber advocated and petitioned the government relentlessly for standardization of weights and measures, until in 1932, the Bombay Weights and Measures Act was passed. It set up machinery for arbitration of commercial disputes in 1880, established customs of trade and gave decisions regarding weather-working days at the Bombay Port, a function that it carries out even to this day.
Another important tradition that owes its origin to the Chamber and is followed to this day is the timing of the presentation of the Budget. The Chamber stressed the need for the presentation of the Finance Member's annual financial statement to be made no earlier than 5 pm on the last day of February, or if that day be a Sunday, on the previous day. The Finance Minister still continues to present his annual budget accordingly every year.
The Chamber’s internal governance practices have always been open and inclusive. The practice of making a detailed Presidential address at annual meetings was introduced in the Bombay Chamber in October 1870. The presentation of Accounts in a published form was also done first by the Bombay Chamber in 1860-61 and the Bombay Chamber was the first organization in the country to have its annual accounts audited by a professional firm of auditors in 1881-82.
Today, the membership of the Chamber is over 4,000 and includes most reputed large and medium, professionally managed, corporate manufacturing and commercial companies, financial institutions, multinationals, public sector companies, auditors, architects and chartered accountants. The member companies of the Chamber together contribute roughly one third of India’s GDP in the manufacturing and services sector. The Chamber provides a forum for interaction of its members and formation of considered industry opinions and viewpoints. The Chamber provides services to its members through dissemination of information, publications, special studies and through activities like organizing business delegations, seminars and training programmes. The Chamber also provides labor advisory services for its members. Other services include visa facilitation services to its members and issue of non-preferential certificates of origin.