Welfare as the motto

Print edition : March 12, 2004

SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity; rather its effort is to integrate the tribal people of Jharkhand into the fabric of society at large.

THE year 2004 is a special one for the Tatas. It marks the death centenary of Jamsetji Nursserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata business empire, and the birth centenary of J.R.D. Tata, who gave full expression to the former's vision. Jamsetji's vision of a Tata iron and steel company is inextricably linked with the region in which the plant was built 97 years ago and its people. In the State of Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar, Jamshedpur, the chosen site of the Tatas' iron works, enjoys as important a place as the State capital, Ranchi.

It is Tata Steel's philosophy of returning to the land and the people what it gets from them that has made Jamshedpur and its surrounding areas a model for development and progress. For a State dominated by a tribal population, Tata Steel's social work is not restricted to charity, an approach that often runs the risk of dependence and isolation; rather, its continuous effort is to integrate the tribal people into the very fabric of society. The company has helped increase agricultural productivity among the tribal people through assured irrigation, encouraged and assisted them in forming self-help groups, and given them vocational training in areas such as software management, basic computer operations, shorthand, driving, and midwifery.

Tata Steel's Tribal Cultural Society, through its Tribal and Harijan Welfare Cell, has for the past 50 years been involved in a number of programmes, including education, health, women's development and drinking water supply. The cell is responsible for the welfare of 52 villages and four urban slums.

While bringing the tribal people out of isolation, the cell has been careful in preserving their unique culture. The Tribal Culture Centre, set up in 1990, has a room to exhibit tribal artefacts, a herbal garden, a library and an amphitheatre to promote tribal art and cultural traditions. The cell also offers scholarships to meritorious tribal students.

In 1979, at the behest of J.R.D. Tata, the Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS) was formed. The society began its work with 32 villages; today it reaches out to over 700 villages, not just in Jharkhand but in the neighbouring States of Bihar and Orissa.

In order to improve the quality of life of the tribal people, TSRDS implements a number of income generation schemes and provides assistance in animal husbandry, traditional arts and cottage industry. It also helps them start cooperatives and manage the sales of their products. It facilitates rural agencies and banks to liaise with the self-help groups and with individual entrepreneurs.

In order to combat deforestation, TSRDS, has since the 1980s, been on a mission to create awareness and form `save forest groups'. Forty-one such groups protect 1,700 hectares of land. Women's groups were formed to raise saplings that were transplanted in plantations and households.

The TSRDS can be credited with saving tribes such as the Birhores, the Sabars and the Paharias from the brink of extinction. The itinerant Birhores were compelled to live in temporary houses called `kumbas' when the depleting forest resources could no longer sustain them. They were forced to give up their traditional way of life and turn to other means of livelihood. Most of them became casual labourers. It was then that TSRDS stepped in and built mud houses for them on the fringes of the forests. This project was started in 1984 with 22 mud houses. The Birhores were taught trades linked with the forest. Similarly, TSRDS provides the Sabars and the Paharias, who are now engaged in agriculture, with lift irrigation assistance.

In collaboration with Humana People to People India, TSRDS has launched Project Uday, which aims to provide medicare and eyecare services and safe drinking water, construct low-cost toilets, and help dispose garbage without polluting the environment. Sixty villages have been covered under this project. The project also facilitates the empowerment of women in rural areas. TSRDS has also collaborated with Impact India Foundation and the Indian Railways to sponsor Lifeline Express - the world's first hospital on wheels. This project enables Tata Steel to reach healthcare facilities to inaccessible villages. The company has supported five such projects, which is a record in the corporate sector.

Tata Steel has always promoted sports and nurtured sporting talent. Among its employees, past and present, there are five Padma Shris, 20 Olympians, 30 Arjuna awardees and 50 other sportspersons who have done India proud in the international arena.

The company started two academies, the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in 1987 and the Tata Archery Academy in 1994. Archery is a traditional sport among the tribal people in the region. The academy was set up primarily to nurture this native talent and elevate it to world standards. Cadets chosen for a four-year training course are put up in a wing of the sports hostel at the J.R.D. Tata Sports Complex. They are provided a balanced diet as prescribed by a medical panel and educational and recreational facilities. The training schedules are planned out, and the latest training methods are used.

The TFA nurtures budding football players in a scientific way. Its strategy is simple: "Create superstars from small wonders." Youngsters are chosen carefully for a four-year training programme. The popularity of the TFA has increased over the years and today it is a household name in Indian football.

In the 1999 pre-Olympic games, 12 out of the 20 members of the Indian national football team, including the captain and the vice-captain, were TFA alumni.

In order to promote sports, Tata Steel has built up impressive infrastructure. The JRD Tata Sports Complex has a football ground of international standards, an eight-lane mono-synthetic track, two basketball courts and tennis courts, grounds for archery, hockey and volleyball, chess and boxing centres and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Apart from this, there is the Keenan Stadium for cricket, which has a seating capacity of 22,000, and the Sumant Moolgaonkar Stadium at Telco.

Jamshedpur, over the years, has hosted innumerable national and international sporting events, including the Tata International Chess Tournament, the Asian Power Lifting Championship and basketball matches featuring the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. The company also regularly organises sporting events for physically challenged persons.

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