In the early years of Calcutta, the bustees were seen as a passing phenomenon, a blot on the landscape that would, in time, go away. Bustee residents were regarded as inferior, uncivilized, and best ignored. The 1870s, however, witnessed mounting popular concern regarding such living conditions--not out of any solicitude for the suffering inhabitants but rather out of fear that the bustee might become a breeding ground for diseases that could threaten the town as a whole. Some of the infamous "tanks" (earthern reservoirs) around which bustee huts clung were filled in an effort to clean up the sites. Street sweepings were used as fill because Calcutta was short of soil, until doubts were raised about this practice when it was learned that mysterious gases were being produced. A health officer told of a woman who had not been able to extinguish her cooking fire, which had burned continually for several weeks, causing marvel and fear among the bustee dwellers, to whom it was "the tongue and the breath of the devil." 55 Of more general concern at the time was that filling in tanks only contributed to greater congestion as more huts were built on the former tank sites.
Improving bustees entailed opening up roads even if it meant