The making of a township

Print edition : March 12, 2004

Jamshedpur, a predominantly tribal village when the Tatas set up there the country's pioneering steel works, is now a bustling township that is home to more than seven lakh people.

SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Jamshedpur

Inside Tata Steel in Jamshedpur.-SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

JAMSETJI NUSSERWANJI TATA'S interest in setting up an iron and steel industry in India began soon after he chanced upon a document in 1882 by German geologist Ritter Von Schwarz about the financial prospects of iron-working in Chanda district near Nagpur in the Central Province. But since the region lacked suitable coal, and iron ore itself was not in abundance and was far too scattered, prospecting operations were abandoned. In 1903-04, the Tata team, which included eminent geologist C.M. Weld and Jamsetji's eldest son Dorabji Tata, investigated another site at Durg, 224 km from Nagpur, after Dorabji came across a geological map of the region showing large deposits of iron ore. Conditions in Durg were perfect but there was no water, and as a result this site too was abandoned. Interestingly, 50 years later, on this very site the Bhilai steel plant came up.

The Tatas' search for an ideal location for their steel plant finally ended in December 1907, when on the advice of the geologist P.N. Bose, a village called Sakchi, near the confluence of the Subarnarekha and the Kharkai and surrounded by dense forests, was chosen. The Kalimati railway station was just a few kilometres away.

Construction work began on February 27, 1908. In February 1912 the steel works was commissioned and the first steel ingot was rolled.

Within a few years the harsh, wild surroundings, sparsely populated by tribal people, started turning into a well-planned township. Dorabji was the driving force behind developing a model town at Sakchi. In 1919, Sakchi was renamed Jamshedpur, after Jamsetji, by Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India. From a population of just 6,000 in 1910, Jamshedpur (now in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand), is at present home to over seven lakh people.

"Even though Jamshedpur is not technically a metropolis, the reason why its residents do not wish to shift to bigger cities is the quality of life Jamshedpur has to offer," Rajen Sahai, head of the print and electronics media, corporate communication of Tata Steel, told Frontline. It is not just any other industrial township with housing colonies and a hospital close to the main factory. Covering a total of 64 sq km of leasehold land, Jamshedpur, right from its infancy, not just catered to the financial needs of its inhabitants, but was concerned about their well-being. As it is a planned township, a lot of importance is given to the environment. Complete with parks, lakes and a wildlife sanctuary it is one of the greenest industrial towns in the country. In the past 10 years, 5.15 lakh trees were planted all over the town under the Green Millennium Count Down Programme.

The Jubilee Park, covering 225 acres (90 ha), was set up by Tata Steel in 1957, on the occasion of its golden jubilee. Adjacent to the park is the Tata Steel Zoological Park and Safari Park. The Nature Education Centre inside the Zoological Park maintains an excellent library.

Jawaharlal Nehru, with J.R.D. Tata (right) and Dr. Zakir Hussain, then the Governor of Bihar, after he unveiled a 12-foot-high bronze statue of Jamsetji Tata at the inauguration of the Jubilee Park in Jamshedpur on March 1, 1958.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

The town's drinking water is considered to be of the highest quality compared to that supplied in the towns and cities in the country today, and has been available on tap for the past 60 years. The drinking water here is popularly known as Aqua Tis. It comes from the Dimna reservoir and the Subarnarekha. Jamshedpur is kept almost clinically clean, with over 120,000 tonnes of garbage a year removed from the town by conservancy vehicles run by Tata Steel. Providing electricity to the town and maintaining electrical installations is the responsibility of the Town Electric Department. The Jubilee Park owes its privileged position of being one of Jamshedpur's main tourist attractions entirely to the Town Electric Department. Three times a week and on selected national and State holidays the whole park is lit up. Maintenance of Jamshedpur, however, is expensive. "To run Jamshedpur, Tisco incurs an average annual expenditure of around Rs.139 crores,'' said Sahai.

The Tatas have contributed immensely to the development of education in Jamshedpur. Today the industrial city can boast of a literacy rate as high as 75 per cent, which, according to the company, is unparalleled in eastern India. Tata Steel runs eight primary schools, nine high schools and a college. Apart from this, the town has five company-aided schools and six schools supported indirectly by Tata Steel. Further, the company extends Millennium Scholarships - unlimited number for engineering - and 50 scholarships for other professional courses. For the uplift of women in the region, the company provides 20 scholarships exclusively for them, and also organises domestic management programmes. It also undertakes awareness programmes on relevant issues such as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), alcoholism and drug abuse.

The Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), one of the oldest business schools in the country and among the best in Asia, close relationship with the Tatas ever since it was established in 1949. A number of people from the top brass of the Tatas have served as chairmen of XLRI's board of governors. The list includes: Jehangir Gandhy, chairman and managing director (CMD) of Telco (Tata Motors); R.S. Pandey, managing director, Tisco (Tata Steel); Sarosh Gandhy, MD, Telco; and J.J. Irani, MD, Tisco. The current MD of Tata Steel, B. Muthuraman, is a member of the board of governors of the XLRI.

What makes the XLRI one of the most sought after institutions is not only its formidable reputation in imparting management education, but also its stress on the all-round development of a student. Speaking about the success rate of the students in finding jobs, the institute director, Fr P.D. Thomas said: "Companies vie with one another to reach the campus for recruitment; so much so that it becomes a challenge for the placement committee to schedule the process acceptable to the corporates and the students alike." Like the Tatas, the XLRI too gives as much importance to social development as it does to its area of core competence. The institute has for long been involved in promoting literacy, adult education, income-generation projects and health care for the poorer sections of Jamshedpur in general and East and West Singhbhum districts of Jharkhand in particular.

Jamsetji died in 1904 before witnessing the full realisation of his dreams. But to Dorabji, he entrusted the execution of his vision for the town. In a letter to his son, dated 1902, Jamsetji wrote: "Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches." Today, a full 100 years after Jamsetji's death, Jamshedpur can proudly claim to be every bit the way its founder envisioned it.

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