The Indian state of West Bengal borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Assam and Sikkim. The Himalayas lies in the north of the state and the Bay of Bengal is at the south. In between them, the river Ganga flows eastwards and its main distributary, the Hooghly River, flows south to reach the Bay of Bengal. The Siliguri Corridor, which connects North-East India with rest of the India, lies in the North Bengal region of the state. Geographically, West Bengal is divided into a variety of regions—Darjeeling Himalayan hill region, Terai and Dooars region, North Bengal plains, Rarh region, Western plateau and high lands, coastal plains, Sunderbans and the Ganga Delta.
In 1947, when India gained independence, the state of West Bengal was formed with 14 districts, as per partition plan of the then Bengal province of British India. The former princely state Koch Bihar joined as a district in 1950, and the former French enclave Chandannagore joined as part of the Hooghly district in 1954. The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 led to addition of Purulia district to the state and to enlargement of West Dinajpur district. Later, larger districts such as West Dinajpur, 24 Parganas and Midnapore were bifurcated. Till 24 June 2014 West Bengal was divided into 19 districts.
West Bengal is now divided into 21 districts which includes the Alipurduar district and the Kalimpong district under five divisions and divisions are administered by Divisional Commissioners. Kolkata, the capital of the state, constitutes the Kolkata district. Other districts are further divided into administrative units such as subdivisions and blocks, administered by SDO and BDO, respectively. The Panchayati Raj has a three-tier structure in the state. The atomic unit is called a Gram Panchayat, which is the Panchayat organisation for a collection of villages. The block-level organisations are called Panchayat Samiti, and the district-level organisations are named Zilla Parishad.
West Bengal is bordered by three countries: Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh; and five Indian states: Sikkim, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Assam. Sikkim and Bhutan are located at the north of the state, Nepal at the northwest, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattishgarh at the west, Odisha at the southwest, the Bay of Bengal at the south, and Bangladesh and Assam are at the east. West Bengal is the only state of India that has both the Himalayas in the north and the Bay of Bengal at the south. In between them, the river Ganga enters the state from west, before it branches off into its main distributaries: the Hooghly River, which flows southwards to reach the Bay of Bengal, and the Padma River, which flows eastwards into Bangladesh.
The districts that are located at the north of the Ganga—Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar, Malda, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur , Alipurduar and Kalimpong — are often referred to collectively as North Bengal. Kalimpong is a newly added district of West Bengal. Geographically, this area is divided into the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region, the Terai and Dooars region, and the North Bengal plains. The Siliguri Corridor, also known as Chicken's Neck, which connects North-East India with rest of the India, lies in this region. The Indo-Bangladesh enclaves are either enclaves or exclaves of the Cooch Behar district or the Jalpaiguri district.
The districts on the south of the Ganges—Bankura, Bardhaman, Birbhum, Purulia, Murshidabad, Nadia, West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Hooghly, Howrah, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas—constitute a variety of geographical regions such as the Rarh region, the Western plateau and high lands, the coastal plains, the Sunderbans and the Ganga Delta. Kolkata, the capital of the state, constitutes the Kolkata district.
The uninhabited South Talpatti Island, which surfaced in the Bay of Bengal in the 1970s near the Indo-Bangladesh border, is claimed by both India and Bangladesh.
After India gained independence in 1947, the province of Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Pakistan (later giving rise to Bangladesh in 1971). At the time of its creation in 1947, the state of West Bengal was divided into 14 districts—Bankura, Birbhum, Burdwan, Calcutta (Kolkata), Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Hooghly, Howrah, Malda, Midnapore, Murshidabad, Nadia, West Dinajpur and 24 Parganas. Cooch Behar district was a princely state named Koch Bihar till 20 August 1949, when the state formally agreed to join India. Transfer of administration was started on 12 September 1949 and was completed on 19 January 1950, when Cooch Behar became a district of West Bengal. Chandernagore, which was earlier part of the French India, had voted to join India in a plebiscite in 1949. Formally, it joined India in 1952 and finally became a part of the Hooghly district of West Bengal on 2 October 1954. The States Reorganisation Act of 1956 reorganised boundaries of the Indian states along linguistic lines. As this act was implemented, the then West Dinajpur district was enlarged with the addition of some areas from Bihar, and the Purulia district was formed on 1 November 1956 from parts of the Manbhum district of Bihar.
Later, some large districts were divided into smaller districts. On 1 March 1986, the district of 24 Parganas was bifurcated into two districts—the North 24 Parganas district and the South 24 Parganas district. On 1 April 1992, the West Dinajpur district was bifurcated into the North Dinajpur district and the South Dinajpur district. On 1 January 2002, the erstwhile Midnapore district was bifurcated into the Purba Medinipur district and the Paschim Medinipur district.
Since 2007, the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state has been revived by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and its supporters in the Darjeeling hills. The Kamtapur People's Party and its supporters' movement for a separate Kamtapur state that covers the North Bengal has also gained momentum in the 2000s.
A district is governed by a District Collector, who is better known as a District Magistrate (DM) in the state of West Bengal. A DM is an officer from either Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or West Bengal Civil Service (WBCS), and is appointed by the State Government of West Bengal. Each district is divided into subdivisions, except the Kolkata district, which contains urban area only, administered by Kolkata Municipal Corporation. A subdivision is governed by a sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), better known as a Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO). Other than urban units such as town municipalities, a subdivision contains 'community development blocks' (also known as CD blocks or blocks). A block consists of urban units such as census towns and rural units called gram panchayats. A block is administered by a Block Development Officer (BDO), who is appointed by the Government of West Bengal.
A gram panchayat, which consists of a group of villages, is administered by a village council headed by a Pradhan. As per the West Bengal Panchayat Act, 1973, each Block has a Panchayat Samiti, whose members include the Pradhans of the constituent gram panchayats, and the MLAs from the block. A Panchayat Samiti is headed by a Sabhadhipati. The third tier of the Panchayati Raj is Zilla Parishad, a district level organisation with the Sabhapatis of the constituent Panchayat Samitis and the MLAs from the district as its members. A Zilla Parishad is headed by a Sabhadhipati. For the Darjeeling district, the Zilla Parishad has ceased to exist, but a similar organisation for the Siliguri subdivision exists, which is designated as a Mahakuma Parishad.
The Gorkha Hill Council, formed in 1988, administers three (out of four) subdivisions of the Darjeeling district: Darjeeling Sadar, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Gorkha Hill Council manages the departments of Public Health, Education, Public Works, Transport, Tourism, Market, Small scale industries, Agriculture, Agricultural waterways, Forest (except reserved forests), Water, Livestock, Vocational Training and Sports and Youth services. District administration of Darjeeling, which is still responsible for election, panchayat, law and order, revenue etc., also acts as an interface between the Council and the State Government.
A District Superintendent of Police, better known as a Superintendent of Police, heads the District Police organisation of West Bengal Police. This is as per the Police Act of 1861, which is applicable to the whole of India. The Superintendents of Police are officers of the Indian Police Service. For every subdivision, there is a Subdivision Police, headed by a Police officer of the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police or Deputy Superintendent of Police. Under subdivisions, there are Police Circles, each headed by an Inspector of Police. A Police Circle consists of Police Stations, each headed by an Inspector of Police, or in case of rural areas, by a Sub-Inspector of Police.
The Calcutta High Court has the jurisdiction of the state of West Bengal. Though most of the districts have more courts other than a District Court, not every subdivision of the state has a Court.
A group of districts forms a division, which is administered by a 'Divisional Commissioner'. West Bengal is now divided in twenty one districts, grouped under five divisions:
The following is a list of the basic demographic data for the districts of West Bengal by their population rank in India