Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sir Dorabji Tata: The man who built Jamshedpur

The origin of Tata Steel lies in J N Tata’s endeavour to usher industrialisation and therefore economic independence for India.

He was moved by Thomas Carlyle’s (a British essayist, satirist, and historian, whose work was hugely influential during the Victorian era) mention in a speech: “The nation which gains control of iron soon acquires control of gold”.

P N Bose’s historic letter to J N Tata in 1904 spoke about iron deposits of Mayurbhanj. That brought the Tata expedition team to the tribal belt in Eastern India, which was then scouting for possible location to set up India’s first steel plant. The experts for this project came from USA and Charles Page Perin was its chief consultant.

Born on August 27, 1859, Sir Dorabji Tata was the eldest son of J N Tata. He took over the mantle to unfold the vision of his father, JN Tata. It was Sir Dorabji Tata who explored Central India for iron ore, riding in bullock-carts. He added many achievements of his own and was knighted in 1910.

Sir Dorabji Tata gave shape to the vision of India, strengthened by Steel and Power. He appealed to the nation to be part of the grand plan to build a steel plant in India. He inspired 80,000 Indians to join him in the journey to industrialisation.

The response to the call for a ‘Swadeshi’ (Indian) entity was overwhelming, and within three weeks the entire amount was raised. On August 26, 1907, after a period of due diligence, Tata Steel was registered in India as Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) with an original capital of Rs 2,31,75,000. In 1908, the construction of the works began and the steel production started on February 16, 1912.

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As a chairman of the Company from its establishment in 1907 till 1932 for almost 25 years, Sir Dorabji Tata worked tirelessly to build, from the ground up, the nation’s first steel plant. He saw in every challenge, the opportunity to surmount the difficulties and gave his all. Sir Dorabji Tata was deeply interested in the welfare of the labourers. He was always mindful of the ideals of conduct laid down by J N Tata in the treatment of its employees and workers.

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During the labour strike in 1920, he came to Jamshedpur and listened to the grievances of the workers and due to him the strike came to an end.

Sir Dorabji Tata experienced his biggest challenge in 1924, when the ambitious expansion programme of Tata Steel ran into stormy weather. It was his audacity that had led the Company into undertaking a five-fold expansion programme in the post-war period. There was not enough money to even pay salaries to employees. Mustering up his never-say-die spirit, Sir Dorabji Tata pledged his entire personal wealth which included even his pearl-studded tiepin and his wife’s Jubilee Diamond, twice the size of the legendary Kohinoor. The Imperial Bank gave him a personal loan of Rs 1 crore which he used to bring out the company from a difficult situation, saving it from extinction.

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He was acutely aware that every tonne of steel that is made in the company is the hard work of thousands from the mills, collieries, mines, stockyards and offices of Tata Steel. Keeping them in mind, he introduced first-ever initiatives like 8-hour day, maternity leave, provident fund, accident compensation, free medical aid and many more welfare measures, long before they became legal obligations.

Having worked tirelessly for human advancement, he put all his wealth in a Trust that fueled the advancement of learning, contributing to several innovations that would take India ahead. He initiated cancer research, set up Indian Institute of Science and provided impetus to fundamental research and the study of social sciences. Later, the Trust helped establish the National Centre for Performing Arts to encourage aesthetic development.

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A keen sportsman from his early boyhood, he was an outstanding rider and once in his youth took only nine hours to ride from Bombay to Pune. He also distinguished himself as a tennis player and played football and cricket for his college at Cambridge.

Sir Dorabji Tata steered India’s entry into the world of international sport by choosing and financing four athletes and two wrestlers for the Olympic Games of Antwerp in 1920, even before India had an Olympic body. As a President of the Indian Olympic Association, he financed the Indian contingent to the Paris Olympics in 1924 and was chosen to be a Member of the International Olympic Committee. In1928 Olympics at Amsterdam, India won Gold medal for the first time in hockey.

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His charities were numerous and munificent. He made a gift of Rs 25,000 for the benefit of the workmen at Jamshedpur on the first Founder’s Day celebrations in 1932. In order to help and assist the less fortunate, he executed a Trust for charitable purpose, covering property worth over three crores of rupees.

Sir Dorabji Tata is known as the ‘architect of Jamshedpur’, wherein the city has been modelled in lines of his father’s vision of providing quality life to the employees. When he founded the Company in 1907, Sakchi was just brushwood and jungle. In 10 years, the township had 50,000 residents. In order to run an industry that required a little over 1,500 acres, the Tatas went on to manage a city of 15,000 acres.

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His passion for enterprise and self-reliance epitomise what Tata Steel is today. And if Tata Steel continues to set benchmarks for excellence, inspired by the actions and passion of visionary stalwarts such as Sir Dorabji Tata.

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