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Current Affairs

Capitalist Punishment: How Tata Steel Killed a City

Capitalist Punishment: How Tata Steel killed a city
Despite litigation, Tata Steel has kept Jamshedpur deprived of basic civic amenities by denying it the right to have an elected municipal body. Mathew Samuel and Shalini Rai report

Mathew Samuel
Shalini Rai
2015-02-28 , Issue 9 Volume 12
Jamshedpur is a city of long, uncomfortable silences. These silences are interspersed with sounds of sirens from the Tata Steel factory, announcing the start and end of a workday. For the residents of Steel City, everything, including their work, revolves around Tata Steel. Ironically, the people of this city are taciturn and scuttle attempts at conversation with a smile and quietly walk away. Especially, if the attempted conversation is about Tata Steel and how India’s largest conglomerate has purloined Jamshedpur’s past, pillaged its natural wealth and enslaved its populace in a vicious cycle of exploitation.
But first, let us meet Phagu Soren, among the lakhs of the poorest of the poor, who are the original residents of Jamshedpur, but now exist on its fringes. Soren lives near the banks of the Subarnarekha river in a rectangular tenement with a mud floor, a roof made up of burlap sacks and plastic bags and propped up by bamboo sticks. On a February afternoon, he sits gazing silently at the river, whose name translates into ‘streak of gold’, with an old shopping bag in one hand and an old cotton cap on his head.
Soren, who is in his mid-40s, but can easily be mistaken for a septuagenarian, does not speak much. But his eyes — which have turned rheumy already — tell a tale of exponential injustice and institutionalised exploitation. If Soren could, he would tell me, you and everyone else who cares to listen, how Tata Steel, a company with the self-proclaimed motto of ‘Values Stronger Than Steel’ took away his livelihood, bled dry the natural resources of his town and dealt a death blow to his way of living by poisoning the air of his ancestral home. But Soren goes on living stoically, silently, resignedly. His options are not just limited. They are non-existent.
Soren is forced to breathe the air that has been rendered highly toxic by poisonous gases from Tata’s biggest steel plant in India, forced to drink water unfit for human consumption from the Subarnarekha and condemned to see the once verdant, bountiful Dalma Hills, in the shadow of which generations of his family were born and raised, turn into denuded mounds of bare earth and protruding rock.
Still, Soren does not speak. He only listens — to government officials, Tata Steel executives, environmental activists and anglicised journalists, who talk in rehearsed tones about institutionalised corruption, non-existent land rights, missing civic amenities, unending environmental apathy and unacceptable corporate strong-arm tactics.
To get Soren to break his stoic silence would take ‘Values Stronger Than Steel’. But Tata Steel, the flagship firm of the House of Tata, seems to live up to these ‘values’ only in a superficial 3,000 crore ad campaign.
On ground, in Jamshedpur — a city named after Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group of companies, with a market capitalisation, by conservative estimates, of 3.72 lakh crore — the ad campaign and Tata’s longstanding synonymity with Indian industrialisation, ethical capitalism and social philanthropy, appear to be a cruel joke played ceaselessly on its long-suffering residents.
It also ridicules the premise on which former Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata claimed to have modelled the Nano, the so-called people’s car. Recalling his strong feeling of empathy at seeing a family of four travelling on a two-wheeler during a heavy downpour, Tata had professed anguish at the incident and thus was the Nano born, he had revealed.

PROTRACTED LITIGATION, STALLING TACTICS
By a cruel twist of fate, aided and abetted by cleverly drafted petitions and strategic loopholes in legal formalities, Jamshedpur now has the dubious distinction of being the only city in India whose residents do not have the right to self-government. Consequently, Jamshedpur does not have a municipal body. Though attempts at giving the factory town such a municipal body have been going on since 1967, the Tata Group has managed to successfully stall this by means of protracted, “deliberately misleading” litigation. In Steel City, the everyday civic requirements of building and maintaining roads, sewerage, supply of water, street lighting etc, are left to chance and to the goodwill of the Tatas.
The fundamental lacuna in the administration of Jamshedpur comes from a lease agreement that appears to have been so drafted as to be deliberately ambiguous. Under the agreement, the land occupied by Tata Steel constitutes less than half of Jamshedpur’s estimated area of 37,000 acres. However, Tata is required to provide civic amenities to “the inhabitants of Jamshedpur”.
According to Census 2011 data, Jamshedpur city is the third largest in eastern India after Kolkata and Patna, with a population of more than 13 lakh and is governed by the Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee (JNAC). Jamshedpur is an Urban Agglomeration (UA) under the Million Plus UA/City category. Made up of the urban settlements of Jamshedpur (under the Notified Area Committee) with a population of more than 6 lakh; Mango (under the Notified Area Committee), with a population above 2 lakh; and the Nagar Panchayat of Adityapur, with a population above 1.7 lakh, it is a factory town placed as nobody’s responsibility.
Today, only the residents of the ‘inner circle’, the elite neighbourhood of Jamshedpur’s Telco Colony and its vicinity, can claim to have access to civic amenities. This is a virtual idyll — with whitewashed bungalows, manicured gardens, pristine parks, a lake with clear waters and upscale boulevards.
At the far end of the civic spectrum lies the ‘other Jamshedpur’ — where the majority resides in shanty towns, in brick houses awaiting a coat of plaster, amid overflowing, clogged drains, non-existent roads and air pollution that is far above ‘harmful’ levels. This Jamshedpur lives in the Brobdingnagian shadow of the Tata Steel factory, that behemoth spewing multicoloured smoke — white, black and red — from hazy morning to starless night, with mechanical regularity, blotting out everything else.
This side of town lives in constant fear of waterborne diseases and an overwhelming number of its residents suffer from respiratory ailments. They bear the daily ignominy of crossing stinking mounds of garbage on the way to their children’s schools (at least half-a-dozen) built in close proximity to the Tata Steel plant. There are no civic amenities available to its more than 12 lakh people. This part of Steel City seems to have steeled itself to face a life of civic abuse and institutional ennui.
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FROM INCEPTION TO IMPLOSION
• 1922 The Bihar and Orissa Municipal Act comes into effect
• 1924 Jamshedpur is declared a notified area vide Notification No. 5960
• 1967 The Bihar government issues a proposal to convert the Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee (jnac) into a municipality
• 1973 The municipality proposal is dropped
• 1984 After a lease agreement between Tata Steel and the Bihar government, the former takes the responsibility for providing municipal services in Jamshedpur
• 1998 Jawaharlal Sharma files Writ Petition (Civil) No. 154/88, seeking conversion of the jnac into a municipality
• 1989 The Supreme Court directs the state government to issue a notification under Section 390A of the Bihar and Orissa Municipal Act, declaring its intention to convert Jamshedpur into a municipality within eight weeks
• 1990 The state government issues a notification under Section 390A to constitute a municipality in Jamshedpur ® 1991 tisco challenges the notification by way of a writ petition in the Patna High Court; notification stayed
• 1992 A fresh jnac is constituted ® 1992 The hc vacates the stay order
• 1993 74th Constitutional Amendment introduced; Article 243Q provides for a municipality/industrial township
• 1994 In compliance with the 74th Amendment, the Bihar government promulgates an ordinance and amends the Bihar Municipal Act
• 1998 Notification issued to dissolve the JNAC
• 1998 Notification challenged by way of a writ petition in the hc
• 2000 The hc disposes off the writ petition and directs the state to issue an appropriate notification
• 2000 Bihar Reorganisation Act promulgated; Jharkhand state constituted
• 2003 Sharma files a writ petition praying for the state to replace the jnac with a duly elected municipal body
• 2005 The hc issues a direction to conduct municipal polls
• 2005 Tata Steel lease renewed; Tata empowered to levy charges for municipal services, contrary to Part IX of the Constitution
• 2005 The state government issues a notification expressing its intention to declare Jamshedpur a municipality
• 2005 The notification is published in the official gazette
• 2006 The hc disposes off a writ petition and remits the matter back to the government
• 2006 Tata Steel files Special Leave Petition No. 14926/06 challenging the hc judgment and order dated 23 June 2000 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 517/06 ® 2006 The SC issues a notice
• 2008 The sc grants leave; asks status quo to be maintained
• 2008 Sharma files an application for impleadment (IA No. 3) in ca No. 467/08 before the sc and the same is allowed vide order dated 1 May 2008; the SC directs that the petition be put up for hearing and order in October 2008. The matter is still pending before the apex court
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How did things come to such a pass in Jamshedpur? And why does the rest of the country not raise an outcry about this glaring disregard for civic responsibility by Tata Steel, bound as it is by law, through constitutional obligations and by means of corporate social responsibility clauses? To answer this, one has to go back more than a century, to examine the groundwork on which the teetering edifice of Tata Steel stands.

A CHEQUERED HISTORY , A CONVENIENT LEASE AGREMENT
The Tata Steel plant was established in Jamshedpur in 1907. On 21 June 1924, Jamshedpur was declared a Notified Area vide Notification No. 5960. On 21 August 1989, hearing Writ Petition (Civil) No. 154 of 1988, filed by a local resident named Jawaharlal Sharma, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Sabyasachi Mukherji, S Ranganathan and Kuldip Singh, ruled, “It has been brought to our notice that in 1967, the Government of Bihar under Section 390A of the Bihar and Orissa Municipal Act, 1922, had declared its intention to convert the notified area of Jamshedpur into a municipality… After considering the representations and facts and circumstances of the matter, the idea of converting Jamshedpur into a municipality was dropped in 1973… We are of the opinion that the government should consider the matter (a)fresh in the light of the facts and submissions and the points raised in the petition. We accordingly direct the government to issue (a) notification declaring its intent to convert Jamshedpur into a municipality under Section 390A of the said Act within a period of eight weeks from this date.”
On 23 November 1990, a notification was issued under Section 390A of the Bihar and Orissa Municipal Act, 1922, to constitute a municipality in Jamshedpur. However, on 11 January 1991, TISCO (Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited, now renamed Tata Steel) challenged the notification by way of a writ petition in the Patna High Court, after which the court stayed the notification. A new Jamshedpur Notified Area Committee (JNAC) was constituted on 11 March 1992 and the court vacated the stay order on 25 November 1992.
When the 74th Constitutional Amendment was introduced on 1 June 1993, Article 243Q provided for the setting up of a municipality/industrial township.
Here, too, the ubiquitous influence of the House of Tata was at work. Saryu Roy, former BJP MP from Jamshedpur West, explains how. “Most reliable sources at (the) highest (levels) in the urban development department, Government of India, once confided (to me) that the Tata Steel management owes much to (the) introduction of a new entity in the name of ‘industrial township’ in Article 243Q of the Constitution,” he says on his website. “(This) may be or may not be (true) but Tata Steel’s opposition to the municipal corporation in Jamshedpur is well known.”
In compliance with the 74th Constitutional Amendment, the Government of Bihar amended the Bihar Municipal Act on 30 May 1994 and introduced the provision of “industrial township… as and where required” as per the constitutional amendment.
Roy explains how the provision remained only indicative and could not be made exhaustive by framing specific rules for its implementation in practice. “It (the provision) says, ‘There shall be constituted (a) municipal corporation for a larger urban area; provided that a municipality under this clause may not be constituted in such urban area or part thereof as the governor may, having regard to the size of the area and municipal services being provided or proposed to be provided by an industrial establishment in that area and such other factors as he may deem fit, by public notification, specify to be an industrial township’.”
On 8 September 1998, another notification was issued and the JNAC , which was constituted in 1992, was dissolved. The 1998 notification was challenged on 28 April 2000, with a writ petition filed in the Patna High Court, which was disposed off with a direction to the state government to issue an ‘appropriate’ notification.
On 15 November 2000, the Bihar Reorganisation Act, 2000, was promulgated and the state of Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar. Yet, the residents of Jamshedpur continued to be treated as nobody’s wards. In 2003, Sharma filed another writ petition praying that the state replace the JNAC with a duly elected municipal body. In May 2005, the high court directed the state government to conduct municipal elections. In August 2005, when the Tata Steel lease was renewed for another 20 years, the company was empowered to levy charges for municipal services provided. This was contrary to Part IX (The Municipalities) of the Constitution of India.
In this century-long saga of litigation, December 2005 saw the state government issuing a notification expressing its intention to declare Jamshedpur a municipality. On 8 December 2005, this notification was published in the official gazette. In June 2006, the Jharkhand High Court disposed off the writ petition and remitted the matter back to the state government.
However, expectedly, on 10 August 2006, Tata Steel filed a Special Leave Petition No. 14926/06, challenging the judgment and order dated 23 June 2000 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 517/06. In response, the Supreme Court issued notices on 25 September 2006 and 9 January 2008, granting leave and ruled that status quo shall be maintained (in Jamshedpur).
JAMSHEDPUR URBAN REGION
• A s per Census 2011, Jamshedpur is an urban agglomeration coming under the category of Million Plus UA /City. Jamshedpur city is governed by a Notified Area Committee and is situated in the Jamshedpur Urban Region
• A s of 2011, the population of Jamshedpur UA /Metropolitan region is 1,337,131. The male population is 696,858, while the female population is 640,273
• The cities that fall under the Jamshedpur UA are Jamshedpur and Mango (Notified Area Committee) and Adityapur (Nagar Panchayat). The towns included are Bagbera, Chhota Gobindpur, Chota Gamahria, Gadhra, Ghorabandha, Haludbani, Jugsalai Municipality, Purihasa, Sarjamda and Tata Nagar Railway Colony.
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Tirelessly working for the cause of setting up a municipality in Jamshedpur, Sharma filed an application for impleadment (ia No. 3) in ca No. 467/08 before the Supreme Court on 1 May 2008; the same was allowed vide the order dated 1 May 2008. The apex court then directed that the petition be put up for hearing and order in October 2008. However, six years later, the matter is still pending before the Supreme Court, and the people of Jamshedpur wait, like they always have.
“This is one of the longest-running instances of litigation in Jharkhand,” says Sharma, 72. “We started this battle for the civic rights of Jamshedpur in 1988, by filing a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking conversion of the JNAC into a municipality. This year, it will be 27 years since we began the never-ending litigation. The actions of Tata Steel are tantamount to criminality and include violation of constitutional provisions with regard to the functioning of municipal bodies.”
Under its lease agreement, renewed in 2005 for a period of 30 years, with retrospective effect from 1996, Tata Steel is bound by law to provide “civic services like conservancy, building and maintaining roads, sewerage etc, supply of water and maintaining water mains, pipes etc, street lighting and supplying electrical energy and similar amenities and various other civic amenities for the inhabitants of the town of Jamshedpur”.

Dark days Studies show that the ambient air quality in the city has deteriorated, Photo: Shalini Rai
However, even a cursory look around reveals that the Jamshedpur Utilities and Services Company (JUSCO) provides civic amenities only in name (JUSCO was carved out of Tata Steel in 2004 from its Town Services Division). Instead of penalising Tata Steel for its “delaying litigation” tactics, the steel behemoth, through JUSCO, was empowered to levy charges for municipal services provided to Jamshedpur residents.
“What services does jusco provide? We are condemned to live in a ‘backward’ area, even by the standards of Jharkhand. There are no civic amenities here; everything is done by locals on their own initiative,” a shopkeeper says on the condition of anonymity.
Despite repeated attempts by Tehelka to contact Ashish Mathur, managing director, JUSCO, over phone and by email, and by personal request to Sukanya Das, manager, corporate communications, JUSCO, there has been no response from either at the time of going to press.
HOW TO KILL RIVERS AND CHOKE A CITY
The oft-brandished argument by Tata Steel of having provided jobs to the people of Jamshedpur is typically fallacious and inaccurate. For starters, the mostly tribal population of this area, dominated by the Ho tribe, was engaged in subsistence agriculture. They had no need or requirement for a polluting steel plant of industrial proportions to first be set up on their ancestral land and then, systematically take away their traditional means of livelihood and deprive them of first right over their natural resources. A case in point is the deliberate cutting down of the Kusum trees in the early years of the 20th century, attributed to Tata Steel. These trees were a direct source of livelihood for the Ho tribals.
“My mother told me that we used to extract a lot of lac from Kusum trees at the time. The money she would make from selling it in the market was sufficient for many of our needs,” says Reesa Birua, 40, a Ho tribal. “Then company (Tata) officials began to chop down Kusum trees. My mother would say that she was left with no option but to go out and work.”
Pointing his fingers at Dalma Hills, Bildigram pradhan (headman) Haradam Sirka says, “Do you see those hills in the distance? Those hills are sacred to us. There were only these mountains and these rivers (Subarnarekha and Kharkai) and our forests, earlier. Now, we don’t even have clean water to drink because Tata dumps its slag into these rivers. There is always some road-building activity going on, leaving our homes covered in dust. We cannot sleep at night because they dump garbage here.”
As a gust of wind brings in its wake a terrible stench from the nearby open-air municipal garbage dump, Sirka adds, “This is not the home we remember. This is only Tatanagar… this is Jamshedpur.”
Today, the Subarnarekha and Kharkai rivers, which encircle Jamshedpur, are repositories of industrial effluents, in particular, slag. Choked of oxygen and filled with algae-like growth, they are a sad sight, their plight a direct result of irresponsible, criminal dumping of slag, a glass-like byproduct of iron-ore processing, by Tata Steel.
In August 2011, the Jharkhand High Court had directed the East Singhbhum deputy commissioner to probe the alleged dumping of slag by Tata Steel in Kharkai and Subarnarekha rivers. A division bench comprising Chief Justice (acting) Prakash Tatia and Justice HC Mishra gave the ruling while hearing a public interest litigation on the encroachment of water bodies filed by Saryu Roy. Tata Steel, while accepting that slag was being dumped, said it was done in public interest.
“Slag, dumped along the banks of the two rivers until 2003, helped in checking frequent flash floods,” said an affidavit filed by the steel company. The bench, apparently not convinced by the affidavit, said it seemed to be “cleverly drafted” and observed that the company accepted that slag had been dumped on river beds, but took refuge in saying it was done in public interest.
The condition of the air above Jamshedpur is hardly better. A survey conducted by the regional office of the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) in November-December 2014 has indicated a depreciation in the city’s ambient air quality due to an unabated increase in the number of smoke-belching vehicles.
In the localities of Bistupur, Sakchi and Golmuri, three major air pollutants — sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) — have crossed their permissible limits.
The JSPCB survey shows that the RSPM level in the three localities has gone way beyond the 100 mg/m3 (milligram per cubic metre) mark, prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board. At the jspcb’s monitoring station in Bistupur, the rspm level was 145.92
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HOW THEY DESTROYED A CITY
Jamshedpur’s air and water have turned unfit for consumption due to the direct actions of Tata Steel
POISON IN THE AIR
A recent survey by the regional office of the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSP) has indicated depreciation in the ambient air quality in Jamshedpur. According to the survey, which is being carried out on a monthly basis, the respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the localities of Bistupur, Golmuri and Sakchi has gone way beyond the 100 mg/m3 (milligram per cubic metre) mark, prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
At the JSPCB monitoring station in Bistupur, the RSPM level was 145.92 mg/m3 in November and 146 mg/m3 in December. Golmuri, on the other hand, recorded 145.78 mg/ m3 in November and 146.25 mg/m3 in December. Sakchi registered 106 mg/m3 in November and 107 mg/m3 in December.
The NO2 levels in ambient air in Bistupur, Golmuri and Sakchi were found to be 48.25 mg/m3, 49.49 mg/m3 and 45.26 mg/m3, respectively. The CPCB prescribed cap for oxides of nitrogen is 40 mg/m3. Similarly, SO2 levels in the three localities were 37.72 mg/m3, 37.71 mg/m3 and 36.41 mg/ m3, respectively, while the permissible limit is 35 mg/m3.
RIVERS TURN INTO SEWERS
In August 2011, the Jharkhand High Court had directed the East Singhbhum deputy commissioner to probe into the alleged dumping of slag by Tata Steel in Kharkai and Subarnarekha rivers. A division bench comprising Chief Justice (acting) Prakash Tatia and Justice HC Mishra gave the ruling while hearing a public interest litigation on the encroachment of water bodies filed by former BJP legislator Saryu Roy. Tata Steel, while accepting that slag was being dumped, said it was “done in public interest”.
An affidavit filed by the company said slag, dumped along the banks of the two rivers until 2003, helped in checking frequent flash floods. Not convinced by the affidavit, the bench said it seemed to have been “cleverly drafted”. It observed that the company accepted that slag had been dumped on the riverbeds, but it had taken refuge in saying it was in public interest.
Under its 2012 Green Rating Program Studies, the Centre for Science and Environment assessed Tata Steel’s performance with regard to its Environmental Impact and Natural Resources Consumption on ‘8-leaf’ international standards. Shockingly, it qualified for only two leafs — 25- 35 percent compliance with international green standards. FOGM/ m3 in November and 146 mg/m3 in December. Golmuri recorded 145.78 mg/m3 in November and 146.25 mg/ m3 in December. Sakchi registered 106 mg/m3 in November and 107 mg/m3 in December.
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A Jamshedpur-based general physician said that rising RSPM levels have both short- and long-term consequences. “Initially, people experience difficulty while breathing; then they suffer from persistent cough and lung infection,” he said on the condition of anonymity. “Later on, there may be a spurt in asthma cases. In more acute situations, air contaminants can cause cancer and irreversible lung and heart diseases. Higher SO2 and NO2 cause eye irritation.”

Steely resolve Tata Steel has tried every trick to thwart the setting up of a municipality, Photo: Shalini Rai
THE UNHOLY TRINITY OF IRONY, APATHY AND IMPUNITY
Essentially, the reality of Jamshedpur is a stark reflection of the nation’s corporate culture. Jamshedpur exemplifies the apathy of corporate functioning in India and the impunity with which industrial houses can break laws and keep evading justice, all the while pursuing an insidious policy of punishment through rewards and lauding legal and constitutional contravention through private recompense. The two instances below are characteristic and shocking in their brazenness.
The 17 January 1991 edition of the Amrita Bazar Patrika contains a single- column article headlined Russi Mody’s challenge to Laloo Govt. A staff reporter writes, “Mr Russi Mody, chairman and MD, Tata Steel, challenged the state government to set up a municipality in Jamshedpur. Ridiculing the frequent changes of power… he said in broken Hindi, ‘Yeh government to kya, is government ka baap bhi municipality nahin bana sakti hai (Not just this government, but even their overlords cannot form a municipality here)’ amid loud cheers. Mr Mody was addressing a gathering of anti-municipality activists at the children’s park opposite his residence. Mr Mody also mocked the judiciary, saying he would contest the municipality case in courts for at least 40 years. It may be recalled that TISCO has already obtained a stay order on the municipality from the Patna HC.”
After this stay order, the International Public Relations Organisation awarded TISCO the Golden Globe for running a comprehensive and effective pr campaign against the setting up of a municipality in Jamshedpur.
After a week-long effort, in which Tehelka’s questionnaire was directed from pillar to post (beginning from the jusco management and finally reaching the top rungs of the corporate communications wing, Tata Group) Kulvin Suri, chief, corporate communications, India and Southeast Asia, Tata Steel, wrote back. He repeated the same answers and made the same assertions that Tata Steel has been making all along, effectively denying any culpability for the shocking state of air and water in Jamshedpur. Suri went on to say that slag dumping has been done “in public interest for flood protection and to decongest the city”.
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TATA’S IRONY AND STEAL COMPANY
Tata Steel is among the top 10 steel manufacturers in the world with a market capitalisation of 3.72 lakh crore by conservative estimates. It operates in more than 20 countries and has a commercial presence in over 50 countries. Tata Steel is headquartered at Jamshedpur in Jharkhand. The company was established in Jamshedpur in 1907. In the past few years, Tata Steel has invested in Corus (UK, renamed Tata Steel Europe), Millennium Steel (renamed Tata Steel Thailand) and NatSteel Holdings (Singapore). With these, the company has created a manufacturing and marketing network in Europe, Southeast Asia and the Pacific-rim countries. It has the capacity to produce more than 30 million tonnes of crude steel every year. The company produces crude steel and basic steel products, and makes steel for building and construction applications through Tata BlueScope Steel, its joint venture with Australia’s BlueScope Steel. Tata Steel has also set up joint ventures for the development of limestone mines in Thailand, procurement of low-ash coal from Australia and coking coal from Mozambique, and the setting up of a deep-sea port in Odisha. The company is exploring opportunities in the titanium dioxide business in Tamil Nadu, and will soon be producing high carbon ferrochrome from its plant in South Africa. Despite having a global footprint, the company has failed to provide basic civic amenities to the residents of the city where it is headquartered and where it has been a larger-than-life presence for more than a century now.
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Here is the detailed official response from Tata Steel. “In (the) early 1990s, till 2003, slag dumping was done in public interest along the river bank for flood protection works and as an effort to decongest the city by constructing a road (marine drive). This slag dumping along the river has provided some incidental benefits as well as flood protection of some low-lying areas and roads along the river. We can and do control what we emit and discharge. However, there is a mushrooming of industrial activity in the city and its surroundings. While we do our best to collaborate with relevant agencies on these aspects, given the above narration, the controls and restraints with regard to pollution control also needs to come from all stakeholders in their respective areas of activity and not Tata Steel alone. The fact is that the water in Jamshedpur taps runs so clean that it exceeds standards set by the who and the Bureau of Indian Standards. In addition, JUSCO also provides electricity to locals with an availability factor of over 99 percent. At present, there are two Sewage Treatment Plants within the lease hold area, which are fully functional, to treat sewage generated from the township as well as from steel works and (these) are complying with norms. The company caters to urban and industrial infrastructure like roads, bridges, residential and commercial complexes, recreational facilities and civil and structural construction. JUSCO’s green focus has led to intelligent illumination and energysaving devices for streetlights. It has planted trees of various local species making Jamshedpur one of the greenest cities in India. On top of that, the company has invested in a 24/7 helpline service as a part of its customer management system — called Jusco Sahyog Kendra — that allows customers to log and track complaints. It may not be out of place to mention that as a corporate, Tata Steel has been recognised as a responsible corporate for its corporate citizenship and sustainability practices.”
Well-known American philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky was once asked what he made of the term “corporate welfare”. In the context of Jamshedpur and Tata Steel, Chomsky’s reply resonates halfway across the world. Chomsky had said, “How is a corporation different from a partnership? We form a partnership, the government doesn’t have anything to do with it. A corporation is based on limited liability. That means that if you and I form a corporation, and some crime is committed, we have limited liability. That means that corporate manslaughter, which is a huge phenomenon, doesn’t get treated like manslaughter. In fact, it rarely gets treated at all. Yes, it’s their business. What else should they do? It’s like when people talk about greedy capitalists, that’s redundant. You have to be a greedy capitalist or you are out of business. In fact, it’s a legal requirement that you be a greedy capitalist and that you don’t pay attention to what happens to anyone else. You know, it’s not just Ayn Rand, that’s the law. So, these complaints don’t make any sense.”
But in Jamshedpur, these complaints do make sense. Because here lives Phagu Soren, one of its original residents, now violently deprived of their rights by capitalist manoeuvring and manipulation. Although he may not know Chomsky and may never make sense of his pronouncements, a place such as Jamshedpur, the virtual fiefdom of Tata Steel, has microcosmic reverberations for India and for the comprehensive sellout of its resources to capitalist conglomerates, which is now nearing completion. For Soren, there may be safety and solace in silence. But for our own sake, if not for his, let us hope one day he will tell his story and speak the truth about Tata.
With inputs from Manpreet Singh, Jamshedpur
letters@tehelka.com

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