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TATA STEEL MARCH
I visited Kalinganagar in northern Odisha after a gap of three years. The place has transformed spectacularly from work-in-progress to a finished product.

The surge in demand for consumer goods was reflected in the marketing blitz of the Chinese handset manufacturer Oppo, with logos flashed over some 500 metres through the crowded bazaar. A hundred bed, well-equipped TS Medica Hospital with rich facilities for outpatient and inpatient treatment greeted you. At the crafts training centre, over a dozen women engaged themselves in high quality handicraft work using traditional skills of tribal art. Multi-storeyed housing clusters, reminiscent of metros, for the middle class, sprawling housing colonies with piped water supply, 24x7 electricity, clean roads, schools, temples...  greeted you.

It was a Sunday. That didn’t  keep the top brass of Tata Steel’s Kalinganagar (TSK) plant away from briefing me on the changes that have happened. At the end of 2014 when I visited the plant, construction work was nearing completion. The three million tonne green-field plant commenced commercial production in May 2016.  Today the plant produces world class flat, light, high-tensile strength steel in its sophisticated facilities. The executives explained with passion  the working of the large blast furnace, steel melting shop, rolling mill and took me around the sinter plant, coke oven batteries, utilities... of the sprawling complex. 

 

Employs over 3000...

Over 3000 persons, drawn largely from Odisha, are employed in the plant. The operations are highly automated with sophisticated instrumentation systems. At the control room, I found two young women, among the six qualified operators, closely monitoring performance at the computer screens. The enthusiastic woman operator referred with pride to the extensive training provided to attain proficiency, skills and confidence in quick time. 

The flat products of TSK cater to a wide range of sectors: ship building, defence, energy and power, infrastructure, aviation, material handling, excavation, to name a few. For the plant, handling millions of tonnes of iron ore, coal, manganese and other raw materials,one could not but admire the shop floors so clean! The executives explained with pride the plant operating to high levels of efficiency resulting from the care bestowed in opting for technologies and supplies from reputed manufacturers across the globe, operated and maintained with care. 

 

Biju Patnaik’s dream steel town 

Kalinganagar has an interesting evolution. Biju Patnaik, the tall leader (both figurative and physical) was the Union Minster of Steel and Mines in the Morarji Desai government during 1977-79. Later, as Chief Minister of Odisha he focused on the economic development of his state through its abundant mineral wealth. In 1994, at the invitation of Biju Patnaik, IE produced a comprehensive issue on the state’s economy. In the detailed two hour long interview, Patnaik talked of his dream of industrialising the state using its rich natural resources. He identified Kalinganagar for developing the steel sector and 13,000 acres of land was acquired. I remember his laying the foundation stone for a large capacity steel mill by the British steel tycoon, Swraj Paul (sadly it did not take off).  After liberalisation over a dozen steel producers, including Arcelor Mittal, Posco and Tata Steel, evinced interest in building massive steel capacities. Sadly, most of these did not progress largely due to difficulties in acquiring the required land and to policy bottlenecks. I remember B Muthuraman and later H M Nerurkar as heads of Tata Steel spending months honing liberal relief and rehabilitation measures and in convincing land owners of the benefits that would flow.  Close to 1200 of these agreed to part with their lands and have been resettled and provided with handsome employment, education, housing and other livelihood-enriching benefits.  

Community, very purpose of our being

Global CEO and Managing Director T V Narendran explained: “engaging with the communities, building trust and equity with them has been fundamental to Tata’s ethos. These have been guided by our founder over a century ago. We believe that the community is not just another stakeholder but is the very purpose of our existence that demands priority. For more than a hundred years we have been having cordial relations with the community.

“We had difficult times in 2005-06 facing problem of land acquisition. We patiently built the trust of the communities pointing to our record in other locations. For over five years, we spent our time liberally building this trust and taking the community along. Thanks to this effort, we are far better today than we had imagined. There is appreciation that many of the promises we made like setting up a modern hospital have been fulfilled. This is just the start of a long journey. The community will see benefits flowing in abundance.

“We have also been developing entrepreneurship with the help of Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust. The focus is on developing local entrepreneurs to run a variety of businesses like mechanic shops, imparting skills in plumbing, electric work... The micro enterprises created provide sizeble employment,” he said.

 

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