Friday, December 9, 2022
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Tata Steel helped shape post-Independence India

Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav

Independence Day is a festival of freedom for us; a freedom won with hardships and sacrifice, and for which we should be eternally grateful to the martyrs and freedom fighters of our nation. Over these 75 years, India has come a long way. Our stature before the world, continues to grow and we are being looked at as a ‘potential super-power’.

We should all be proud that Tata Steel is considered a true pioneer of the country – the original nation-builder. We were established as the first truly Indian enterprise and an organisation that was built on the foundation of nation building. When our founder JN Tata envisioned a steel plant for the country, this was built on his strong belief of strengthening India’s industrial base. We are firmly on track to a glorious 100th year of Independence, and Tata Steel will be there to contribute to, and celebrate, our collective achievements.

Soon after India won her hard-fought battle for Independence in 1947, the country was hit by the Partition and its after-effects. In the next couple of years, the Government had the task of nation-building to make India self-sufficient. Serious efforts began to boost industry and commerce and build a stable economy.

The Tatas were ready to take part in the Herculean task of nation-building. The badly needed steel for the new Five-Year Plans came from the Tata factory – steel for the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, the Bhakra Nangal project, the Damodar Valley Corporation and many more important projects. Tata Steel played a key role in the recreation of post-Independence India.

Initiatives such as Leave with Pay, the Workers’ Provident Fund Scheme, the Workmens’ Accident Compensation Scheme, Maternity Benefits, Eight-Hour Working Days, Free Medical Aid, Retirement Gratuity and Profit-Sharing Bonus were introduced by Tata Steel long before they were enforced by law.

The swadeshi movement and birth of an idea

India’s Swadeshi Movement began in the early 1900s. The Swadeshi Movement encouraged Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata to set up Asia’s first ever privately-owned integrated iron and steel plant. His interest in iron making was triggered in 1882 when he came across an official report on the Chanda district which identified large deposits of high-quality iron ore but also noted a lack of suitable coal in the region. His idea of endowing his country with its own iron and steel industry gained support within the government and in 1907, when the Swadeshi Movement was at its height, the Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd. was incorporated.

Helping protect Indian interests during the world wars

During World War I there was a requirement for substantial amounts of steel to oppose the German aggression. During the war no fewer than 26 vessels carrying Tata Steel material were sunk. The war effort took almost 80% of Tata Steel’s production.

Through innovative efforts like stopping the manufacture of highly profitable ferro-manganese in favour of using its blast furnaces to convert pig iron into the steel that the war effort required, Tata Steel supplied 1,500 miles of rail and 300,000 tonnes of steel material at concessional rates for the military campaigns.

During the years of World War II, Tata Steel again made a major contribution in supplying the materials necessary for war. The Company pledged its entire output to the war effort. The war also greatly challenged the ingenuity of Tata Steel’s scientists and in the course of the next five years the Company produced 110 varieties of steel, despite the fact that there were hardly any worthwhile facilities available anywhere in the country except in the plant.

Modernising to put India on the fast track

The economic liberalisation reforms did away with the Licence Raj. In 1991, after being bailed out of bankruptcy by the International Monetary Fund, the Government of P V Narasimha Rao initiated several breakthrough reforms, including opening up international trade and investment, deregulation and initiation of privatisation.

The 1991-1992 government policy was a momentous change from the earlier trade controls and restrictions and brought with it a new era of growth for the country.

Embracing these new liberalisation measures, Tata Steel, under the guidance and leadership of its senior officers, embarked on a series of modernisation and restructuring initiatives which helped it grow from strength to strength. The full impact of economic liberalisation, which meant that steel could be easily imported, was felt in 1993-94.

Steel-ing India for a brighter tomorrow

From being a harbinger and, later, a symbol of Indian industrialisation and national pride, Tata Steel has evolved into an enterprise that has claimed its place in the global business space.

The turning point, clearly, came in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, when India’s economic liberalisation forced the Company to revisit its business processes, including its approach to quality and customers.

Over the last decade, the Company has taken to the global stage with the same zeal that once made it a national entity.

Keeping employee welfare at heart

Every generation of Tata Steel management and employees continues to live Jamsetji’s dream each day. Even before the steel plant was set up in the remote little village of Sakchi, the Company set up a hospital to bring much-needed medical care to the region. That was in 1908; the first ingot of steel rolled out of the Sakchi plant four years later, in 1912.

There were also several industry firsts in those early years: an eight-hour working day for labourers was introduced long before it became the norm around the world; free medical aid was introduced in 1915; the maternity benefit scheme was launched in 1928; the retirement gratuity scheme was introduced in 1937.

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