Monday, December 11, 2023

P N Bose: The man who laid the foundation for India’s Atmanirbhar steel industry

Bose brought home a unique blend of patriotism, science, and pursuit of material wealth that had sought to create a strong and Independent India.

Jamshedpur, May 12: History never forgets cathedral builders but rarely remembers the stone makers and foundation layers whose contributions are more often than not quietened by the dinning march of time. Pramatha Nath Bose is one such name that we cannot afford to forget particularly when India is ready to redefine her destiny under the proud banner of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Bose was a pioneer in the true sense of the word. At the turn of the 20th century when the nation was gripped in its long and hard struggle towards independence, it was Bose who wrote to Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, the visionary founder of Tata Group, about the treasure trove of iron ore in Mayurbhanj in Odisha that became the foundation for the country’s modern steel sector. 

A geologist by training, Bose was born on May 12, 1855 in Gaipur, a small village located some 60 kms north east of Kolkata. After his early education in Krishnagar College and later at St. Xavier’s College, Bose went on to secure a graduation in science from London University before returning to India in 1880 to become the first Indian graded officer to join the Geological Survey of India (GSI).  While his initial work focussed on the Siwalik fossils (now housed in the British Museum) what he did in GSI over the next two decades includes several pioneering efforts including the discovery of petroleum in Assam, and several mineral and coal deposits across India and Myanmar. He even helped in setting up the first soap factory in India!

His vision for the future of his country came wrapped in a unique scientific temperament that was clearly ahead of its time. In his single-minded pursuit of India’s independence, Bose believed that the future of the country’s industrialisation had to be built on a strong foundation of science. His vision was also a unique blend of then prevailing strong swadeshi spirit that saw the pursuit of material wealth for the collective good of the country as something to be proud of. India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad would later recall Bose’s contribution thus: “He could even at that age foresee great potentialities for industrial expansion by the development of geological resources, particularly of coal, iron and steel.”  

Jamsetji Tata invested his capital and entrepreneurial ability, to give Bose the resources to help set up India’s first iron and steel industry where he invested his knowledge of science and geology. He was aware of the fact that all his previous geological discoveries were used by the British Raj and thus, when he discovered rich iron ore reserves in Mayurbhanj, he brought it to the notice of Swadeshi industrialist, J N Tata, through his now famous letter of February 24, 1904, that led to the establishment of TISCO (now Tata Steel) at Sakchi in today’s Jamshedpur in Jharkhand state. Just a year before that, he had quit GSI, citing its discriminatory policies against his fellow countrymen.

The deep sense of patriotism felt by Bose towards his country had made him reflect on the cause of poverty in India and search for possible solutions. He later wrote: “There is scarcely a section of our population that may be said to be prosperous. Our artisans, our peasants, our labourers, our educated classes, all are sunk in poverty. The outlook for them is equally gloomy. The Government services can offer only a few drops of water among thirsty millions. The only remedy that is likely to be of very wide application and is likely to afford substantial relief to all classes of our people is the development of our industries. It is industries alone which can relieve the distress of the mass of the people by lightening the pressure upon land; it is industries alone that can relieve the distress of our middle classes by affording them openings other than clerkships.

Today as the second largest steel producer in the world, when India stands head and shoulder above the rest, we owe a great debt of gratitude to P N Bose who legacy can be found in every ounce of steel that says ‘Made in India.’

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