The making of steel, a key ingredient for industry and infrastructure, is intricately linked to the economic development of a nation.
When India gained Independence in 1947, our country needed an agricultural as well as an industrial revolution.
Steel was essential to building factories, dams, power plants and other infrastructure. It was also essential to scaling down the import of capital goods — needed to industrialise India. As the largest steel maker in the country, Tata Steel played a key role in the task of nation building. But that dream for an Atmanirbhar India built on steel started much earlier, nearly 80 years before India’s Independence.
Building on a Dream
In 1867, just a year before the formation of the Tata group as we know it today, Jamsetji Tata attended a lecture given by Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle. This fortuitous event set in motion the transformation of India’s industrial destiny. Jamsetji took to heart Carlyle’s idea that a nation that controls iron, controls gold too. He saw in this the hope of India’s industrial revolution, self-reliance and economic liberation.
Jamsetji was determined to build a steel plant that would compare with the best in the world. He relentlessly pursued that dream, undeterred by the hostile investment environment of colonised India, discriminatory government policies, the complexities of prospecting for steel in barely accessible areas and his own age and failing health. He travelled around the world to gather the best of knowledge, technology and talent. His passion and that of the visionary leaders that followed, continue to inspire Tata Steel today.
A Swadeshi Enterprise
Tata Steel came into being in 1907 as the Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO) and holds the distinction of being India’s first integrated steel company. The Company’s establishment coincided with a time when the nation was swept up in Lokmanya Tilak’s call for the Swadeshi Movement. The Tatas appealed to the people of India to raise capital and they responded. The Tata office was besieged by an eager crowd of native investors. In just three weeks, the entire capital required for the construction was secured. Years later, Sir Dorabji, Jamsetji’s son, wrote about how proud he was that such a generous sum had been raised for the industrial development of the country.
The first ingot of steel rolled out of a 100,000 tonne Tata Steel plant in 1912. The plant attained capacity production by 1916, at the height of World War I, and put up its first expansion programme, the Greater Expansion Scheme, for sanction by the shareholders the same year. The plan was approved. Tata Steel launched the expansion immediately after the war and increased production to 420,000 tonnes of saleable steel in a year, by 1924. By the early 1930s, it was providing 72% of India’s requirement of steel, covering the gamut from defence requirements to railway infrastructure, manufacturing industries and iconic projects like the Howrah Bridge.
Tata Steel also invested in boosting and leveraging swadeshi intellectual capital. It set up the Jamshedpur Technical Institute in 1921 following which the Company set up its Research and Control Laboratory in Jamshedpur. This kickstarted the research and development of new types of steel and the launch of new brands like TISCROM, TISCOR and Tata Sun — all propelling Tata Steel to become the largest integrated steel plant in the British Empire by 1939 and forever changing the way Indian steel was viewed on the global stage.
Securing Indian Industry
Such was the importance of Tata Steel to India’s economy and future that it had the support of some of the biggest leaders of India’s freedom struggle — Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Rajendra Prasad. Soon after Independence, the Company came to play a critical role in India’s growth ambitions.
The era of planned large-scale industrial and infrastructure development commenced in 1951 with successive Five-Year Plans. The steel for these plans — which included iconic projects like the Bhakra-Nangal Dam, power plants, heavy engineering industries, railways and other transportation, entire cities like Chandigarh and more — came from Tata Steel’s plant at Jamshedpur.
The Company launched a 2 million tonne expansion programme in 1955 to meet the growing needs of a newly independent India. When the Government decided to build three public sector integrated steel plants in 1956 to produce enough steel to maintain the tempo of economic progress, Tata Steel contributed to the setting up of these plants by helping train engineers and technicians.
The next big leap in India’s industrial development came in 1991 when the Government liberalised the economy. It was a turning point for Tata Steel too. Unshackled from earlier trade controls and restrictions, and anticipating the needs of the now liberalised country, the Company embarked on a series of modernisation and restructuring initiatives. Primary among these was the start of the Cold Rolling Mill in Jamshedpur, which equipped Tata Steel to meet demands from an even wider range of industries.
Apart from key international acquisitions, Tata Steel has also made clear and decisive moves to support India’s tomorrow. Commissioned in 2015, Tata Steel Kalinganagar was the Company’s greenfield project with state-of-the-art equipment and modern facilities. The plant is designed to have minimal carbon footprint and is currently in Phase II of its expansion plans. With the Company intending to increase capacity to 40 million tonnes per annum by 2030 in India, acquisitions such as Bhushan Steel and Neelachal Ispat Nigam Limited place the Company firmly on its growth trajectory. Tata Steel’s focus on creating a circular economy and carbon neutrality has also led to the creation of an expanding Steel Recycling Business and the planned set-up of sustainable systems.
Setting Workplace Standards
Tata Steel has been a pioneer in employee welfare schemes and community initiatives, even before legislation mandated them. These includes the eight-hour workday, leave with pay, workers’ provident fund scheme — all of which were later adopted by the International Labour Organization and enacted by law in India.
The Company’s people-first approach continues to translate to milestones such as industrial harmony and industry-first initiatives like menstrual leave and equal benefits for LGBTQ+ employees. Tata Steel is also the first company in India to deploy women in all shifts in mines, and the first Indian company to open core mining operations to the transgender community.
Strengthening today, making tomorrow
Today, Tata Steel continues to play a pivotal role in nation building. The Company’s range of products and brands has rapidly expanded across market segments like automotive, construction, industrial and general engineering and agriculture to address our nation’s diverse needs.
More than a third of infrastructure projects in India now use Tata Steel. The Company has helped build at least 40 major airports and almost all metro rail networks, partnering the nation to meet the demand of commuters, which is poised to increase multi-fold.
Tata Steel’s products are used in two-thirds of the country’s flyovers and bridges, including landmarks like Mumbai’s Bandra-Worli Sea Link and Assam’s Bogibeel Bridge. It plays a vital part in powering the nation — from the equipment needed for mining, reinforcing dams that produce hydroelectricity, fortifying solar module mounting structures, constructing power plants and strengthening transmission lines. The Company has even gone into building sports infrastructure like the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, which is the world’s largest cricket stadium.
Tata Steel continues to explore uncharted territories in innovative technologies and materials to develop new businesses and value-added products while acting responsibly to ensure a long-lasting positive impact on society and the environment. The Company’s commitment to nation building and India’s future has been forged in steel.