| Do you mean to say that Tatas propose to make steel rails to British specifications?
Why, I will undertake to eat every pound of steel rail they succeed in making.
-- Sir Frederick Upcott,
Chief Commissioner for the Indian Railways.
|Glimpses from the Past|
The origins and ascent of Tata Steel, which has culminated into the century long history of an industrial empire, emerge from the illustrious efforts of India's original iron man and the remarkable people who thereafter, have kept the fire burning.
The story of Tata Steel is a century old. And so is the story of steel in India. Etched with the visions and hardships of a single man, the story has flowed through ages to re-define steel in every way. The saga, which started in 1907, completed a century of trust in 2007 and carries on. Over the years this one company has discovered different avenues of effective steel utilisation and its story defines and re-defines conventional wisdom in more ways than one.
For the next seventeen years, Jamsetji maintained a book of cuttings on minerals available in India. A steady flame burnt in his heart, before blast furnaces were to be lit in Jamshedpur. Now he was sixty and blessed with more than enough for his needs. If he undertook this project, it would be for the sake of India.
in December 1907 that the explorers found their way to Sakchi - at the confluence of the rivers Subarnarekha and Kharkai. A couple of miles away was the railway station of Kalimati. They had come to the end of their search. On 27th February 1908 when the first stake was driven into the soil of Sakchi the dream had come alive. Erecting a plant of this nature in the wilderness was called by contemporaries ‘a titanic enterprise’. Communications were slow; machinery was hauled over vast distances from home or abroad; labour had to be trained. There was then no pool of technicians or scientists at home to draw upon.
Tigers killed two tribal labourers. An elephant driven frantic by the din of dam construction, stampeded over a number of huts and flattened them. One night, a bear crawled into the hut of the railway superintendent and delivered a cub under his table. Such was the adventure and hardship of the men who worked to build India’s first Steel & Infrastructure Plant.
When Tatas issued shares on 26th August 1907, for the first time in the financial history of the country, the Indian people - the masses, the affluent and the common people - joined hands to put up the first truly Indian enterprise. It did not take long for work to begin thereafter. Land for the site, mines and quarries were acquired in 1910. The Government contributed their bit by connecting railway to Gorumahisani. The first steel ingot was rolled on 16th February 1912 - a momentous day in the history of industrial India.
On 2nd January 1919, Lord Chelmsford, viceroy of India, steamed into Kalimati station in his white and gold coach. After seeing round the works, the viceroy spoke from the steps of the new director’s bungalow : “It is hard to imagine, that 10 years ago this place was scrub and jungle; and here we have now, this place set up with all its foundries and its workshops and its population of 40,000 to 50,000 people. This great enterprise has been due to imagination and the genius of the late Mr. Jamshedji Tata… This place will see a change in its name and will no longer be known as Sakchi, but will be identified with the name of its founder, bearing down the ages, the name of the late Mr. Jamshedji Tata – Hereafter, this place will be known by the name Jamshedpur.”
So saying, he unveiled on the archway atop the director’s bungalow, the new name. The name of the station too was changed form Kalimati to Tatanagar. East of Suez, the Tata Iron and Steel Company was the only steel producer in the British Empire. TISCO obtained its first colliery in 1910, adding six more in course of time. Several mines were spread over the states of Bihar, Orissa and Karnataka. The Tatas soon became the first to own a fully mechanised iron ore mine in India at Noamundi. The Coal Beneficiation Plant at West Bokaro undertook beneficiation of low-grade coal, thus helping in the conservation of the fast dwindling resources of high quality coal. The collieries, the mines and the quarries together furnish the bulk of the raw material requirements of the plant.
When the entire world was reeling in the Great Depression, the Tatas survived and supplied nearly three-fourth of the country’s steel requirements. By the Second World War, Tatas’ production capacities had expanded enough to make their prices lower than those of steel produced in England, raising them to an authoritarian position.
A former vice-chairman of Tata Steel, J.D. Choksi, summed up the unique position of the company in the Indian context. ‘There are’, he wrote, ‘certain corporations the world around, which stand out form their fellows. They need not be the largest or the most prosperous in their country or even in their given field, but their achievements and traditions are epochal and in peoples’ minds, identify the trade or industry to which they belong with themselves. They may be in trade or commerce opening up new frontiers and new territories. The Tata Iron and Steel Company is such a corporation. It is part of the geography and landscape of India – as much a part of her as her great mountain ranges and rivers.’
For generations to come, such a company is to be held in trust for the nation.
|N.A. Palkhivala, who as deputy chairman was closely associated with Moolgaokar, said that with Moolgaokar you felt that ‘he was not building a factory; he was building a nation.|
|Glimpses from the Past|
At the end of the second world war, Tatas turned to land transport – the manufacture of locomotives. Telco – The Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company, the original name of Tata Motors Ltd. – started operations in an old workshop of the East Indian Railway at Jamshedpur. At its peak, the company reached the target of 100 locomotives a year and was proud to produce them with 98% indigenous parts. Over a period of fifteen years, 1,155 locomotives steamed out from the workshop as well as 950 road rollers, 5,000 railway wagons and several boilers.
The company, however, was heavily dependent on one customer, the nationalized Indian Railways, which dictated the price. So Telco looked for diversification. The opportunity came in the form of a report that Daimler – Benz A.G. was interested in locating a partner to start an assembly and manufacturing plant for commercial vehicles in Asia. Tatas had the confidence to take the risk and signed an agreement with Daimler – Benz.
Steadily, one aggregate after another was manufactured at Jamshedpur and the plant grew. As the country did not then have an automobile ancillary base, the company had to set up large forge and foundry shops. It was decided to encourage and develop good firms to manufacture ancillary components. A fledgling design section was entrusted with the task of modifying the Daimler-Benz designs to suit India’s road operating conditions. The results were beyond expectations. Telco acknowledges its indebtedness to its collaborator.
Over 70% of the medium and heavy commercial vehicles on Indian roads are made by Telco. For several years, such was the demand for Telco trucks that they commanded a premium price in the market, but Telco held its price line. When asked the questioned, then chairman and managing director of Telco, Mr. Moolgaokar, why he did that. He replied: ‘Profits should come from productivity and not by raising prices in a favourable market. Our greatest asset is customer affection.’
In the mid-1960s the company decided to set up a second unit in western India, at Pune. On a vast, barren and rocky land in Pune, the first thing Telco did was to plant trees – not a few but in their thousands. It was the way Moolgaokar worked. Trees needed water. So, an artificial lake was created with a circumference of our kilometers. A quarter century ago, when few were environment conscious, some directors looked upon this idea of Mr. Moolgaokar as a waste of money. Only as the trees came up, did the workshop rise on the land. ‘We did not have to create a lake to produce a truck. But we did’, says J.R.D. Tata proudly.
A proud moment for Telco was the visit of a Japanese delegation. The delegation drove around the huge automobile shops of Telco in Pune. Occasionally the Japanese stopped to inspect the more sophisticated machinery designed and built at the Telco plant. After the visit they lunched at the guest house overlooking a beautiful lake, perhaps reminding them of Japan, where ponds play such a vital role in beautifying gardens. On the lake is one small island with Saras cranes walking ever so delicately on their thin, tall grey legs. On another larger island, birds flock from as far as Tibet and the Soviet Union. In the delegation there was a thoughtful gentleman whose demeanour was marked with distinction. He turned to the executive director of Telco and said that what impressed him is not just the machines Telco has built, but that in the huge workshops they visited, there was not a scrap of paper or cotton waste lying on the floor. To the Japanese, cleanliness is the hallmark of perfect standards.
The man who made Telco a company following the highest standards of quality, was Mr. Sumant Moolgaokar. In a country where the attitude of many is to tolerate slipshod work saying chalta hai (it passes), he expected and obtained standards of excellence and precision and passed it down the line to managers, supervisors and workers. ‘There is a belief in our country’, he said, ‘that our culture and our character cannot allow our people to attain consistently high standards and shoddiness and carelessness are our God-given ways of life. But, if with faith in them, you ask our men for the best, they rise to a belief in their work and create a momentum towards improvement. Often I have seen men who were considered ordinary, rise to extraordinary heights. Do not accept second rate work; accept the best and ask for it; pursue it relentlessly and you will get it.’
The company’s Engineering Research Centre at Pune is the pride of Telco. At first, it designed a host of modifications for its heavy and medium vehicles. In the mid-eighties, Japan’s light commercial vehicles (LCVs) hit the market with some of the most distinguished names in the automobile industry – Nissan, Toyota, Mazda. The public anxiously waited to see whether an Indian designed vehicle could at all compete with Japan. In 1985-86 Telco’s share of the LCV market was almost nil. By 1988-89 one out of every three LCVs was a Telco product.
The Times of India headlined its obituary on Moolgaokar, ‘Nation-Builder’.
The TATA Motors of today is driven by the vision and direction of the Chairman, Mr. Ratan Tata. His vision has driven the people who work in TATA Motors to create and manage with a passion and determination to achieve the seemingly impossible. In the 90s he envisioned that TATA Motors will produce the truly first Indian car, keeping in mind the Zen's size, Ambassador's internal dimensions, price of a Maruti Alto and running cost of diesel, which, combining all these, become Tata Indica V2. Tata Indica perfectly understood Indian conditions and satisfied them. The Indica V2 was spacious enough to accommodate large Indian families, and off course the entire luggage that came with them. The powerful engine of the Tata Indica ensured it took the burden of the extra weight.
|Sir Dorabji, knighted by now, spoke of his father on the occasion: “To my father, the acquisition of wealth was only a secondary object in life; it was always subordinate to the constant desire in his heart to improve the industrial and intellectual condition of the people of this country; and the various enterprises which he from time to time undertook in his life-time, had for their principal object the advancement of India in these important respects.”|
|Glimpses from the Past|
The first commercial scale hydro-electric plant was built on the Fox River in Wisconsin in 1882. It had a capacity of 200KW. Jamsetji had an interest with others in trying to generate hydro-electric power on the borders of Goa at Doodhsagar Falls – the power generated was to be consumed by Bombay state. Goa was a Portuguese territory and the electricity had to come to British India. The idea seems to have been dropped by him for a better one. He had earlier recommended a Bombay architect, David Gostling, to Robert Miller, who wanted to explore the Doodhsagar Falls in Goa.
Gostling used to spend some months of the year in Lonavla, a hill station of the Western Ghats. Three miles away, going towards the valley is Khandala, with a sharp gradient into the valley. Lonavla with its heavy rainfall could proide the catchment area, and the harnessed water racing down 1800 feet via Khandala could create an artificial waterfall. When Gostling spoke about this scheme, Jamsetji immediately saw the possibilities. However, the power would have to be transported across a distance of 50 miles to Bombay, a feat which had not been attempted anywhere till then.
Jamsetji Tata was fond of picnics and boating trips. So one day after the rains when he asked his friend Nusserwanji Guzder for a launch to go around Bombay harbour, Mr. Guzder was sure he was going on a picnic. Much to his surprise, Mr. Guzder saw Jamsetji turn up at the pier with all his top executives. Jamsetji ordered the launch to go the Roha creek. When the launch reached there he pointed to the rainwater gushing from the river Roha. ‘All this water from the Western Ghats is wasted. We should harness it – to produce hydro-electric power.’ The question was, how? At the turn of the century, every plant producing hydro-electric power was located at the foot of a waterfall like the one Jamsetji had himself seen at the Niagara Falls. Jamsetji envisaged creating a reservoir on the brink of the Western Ghats and to speed the flow of water through pipelines to the foot of the hills and let the artificial ‘waterfall’ turn the turbines.
Jamsetji was at first sceptical of transmitting power over such a long distance to Bombay; “No one would suspect that it is possible so to dam the valley (in Lonavla) as to turn it into a lake. The valley is several miles away from the discharge down the ghauts, where the power would be developed. These particulars indicate many engineering difficulties which have taken years to solve, and of which we naturally desire to reap the benefit,” Jamsetji wrote.
On 10th May, 1901, Jamsetji spelt out the two hydro-electric schemes.
It involved a dam to hold the water first, funnel it through bug pipes via Khandala, and then release it to the valley at Khopoli, where the generating plant would be established. To lay such giant pipelines down the uneven and craggy rocks of the mountains was a feat of considerable skill. With the supply of hydro-electric power, it was hoped Bombay would become a ‘smokeless city’, free from the soot and grime of coal-burning textile mills and other factories. It is difficult to imagine nowadays when there is a power shortage that Tata Electric had to tempt potential customers to lift their electric power.
Jamsetji worked to develop a strategy on his hydro-electric scheme. While others worked on the ground in India, he went to London and recruited support there. The British administrators were not slow to recognize the advantages of hydro over steam generated power.
Jamsetji worked under colonial rule, and this posed its problems with his proposal for an institute of science, but surprisingly, on both the steel and hydro-electric project, government-wise he had less problems, for the officers he dealt with were men of their word. The only gift they would agree to receive in India was a hamper at Christmas, consisting of tinned ham, wine and the like.
Jamsetji’s comparatively small scheme enlarged to a series of three artificial lakes linked with each other, to ensure there was never a shortage of water. in addition to the Walwhan dam at Lonavla, was the Shirwata, 7680 feet long and 93 feet high and containing 16 million cubic feet of stone. It was hailed as an achievement greater than the first Aswan dam built in 1902.
An army of 7000 workers moved in, and the months to follow witnessed installation of pipelines purchased form Essen, Germany; waterwheels from Switzerland; generators from America and cables from England. Huge pipes seven feet in diameter were laid, each on rough-hewn rock for solid support, ach so well soldered that there was no seepage, though the water flowed at enormous pressure through them. After ninety years, they still hold.
Exactly four years after the foundation of the Walwhan dam was laid, Lord Willingdon pressed a switch and the first mill – Simplex – received electric power. One third of all mills followed, as would the Bombay Electric Supply and Tramways (BEST). Two more electric companies were floated by Tatas to supply power to Bombay.
Prior to 1st April 2000 the Tata Electric Companies comprised of the following three Companies:
The Tata Hydro-Electric Power Supply Company Limited, established in 1910.
| Of all the Companies with which I have been concerned, none has had to overcome so many difficulties compounded with bad luck, as have been the lot of Tata Chemicals.
The evening breeze is cool at Mithapur, on the coast of Saurashtra. As you walk along the beach, the waves caress the sand gently. It is the same area that yields its treasures for Tata Chemicals to extract gypsum, salt, bromine, potash, magnesium salts, which are then upgraded into numerous basic chemicals that we live by, and in turn, gives India the raw materials essential for the manufacture of glass, ceramics, textiles, pesticides, leather goods, and a host of other industries. The Tata Chemicals complex is one of the most integrated facilities of its kind in the world.
As Jamshedpur is the mother of India’s engineering industry, Mithapur – the city of salt – is the mother of India’s heavy chemical industry.
J.R.D. Tata became chairman of Tata Sons in 1938 and Tata Chemicals was launched in 1939, the year the Second World War broke out. Its first consignment of turbo-generators was sunk at sea. The second was ordered from Sweden, a neutral country. The manufacturers, to avoid the war zone, shipped it to Archangel in the Soviet Union. By then, Russia was at war.
The first years of Tata Chemicals were disastrous. An international expert advised J.R.D. Tata that they were in the wrong place doing the wrong job. ‘This is not the first time we have done this’, an undaunted J.R.D. Tata is said to have replied, ‘when we go to a place we arouse hopes in people.’ For their sake as much for any other reason, Mithapur had to succeed.
For the first sixteen years of its existence, Tata Chemicals could declare no dividends. Its story is one of success snatched out of repeated failures – a tribute to the men who had faith and nerve to take the knocks so that India could have a self-reliant, basic inorganic chemical industry of its own.
During this period Tata Sons and Tata Industries guaranteed all loans, did not take their share of their commission as managing agents, and continued to provide the managerial skills.
The rewarding business was production of soda ash of high quality. The formula and the process were the well-guarded secret of about six companies in the world. Tata Chemicals had cracked the code. It was negotiating with a German firm to raise its capacity from 80 to 200 tonnes of soda ash per day. At that time, a thirty-one year old chemical engineer called Darbari Seth was asked on his way back from America to visit the German firm. With his experience in America, he was not impressed by what he saw. O his return, he told the management board that India did not need foreign help. ‘We can do it. What is more, we should not aim at 200 but at 400 tonnes which is the optimum capacity. And doing it ourselves, we shall spend much less than what has been budgeted for the 200 tonnes plant.’ Of the sixteen on the management board, only one agreed with him – J.R.D. Tata. He was asked to take over the design, the engineering, fabrication and installation of the new equipment and machinery to renovate the Mithapur chemical complex.
The average age of the working team was then only twenty-nine. They worked with missionary zeal, and in the first fortnight the plant touched a production capacity of 545 tonnes one day. The breakthrough had come.
In 1962, the rains failed. Where the average rainfall was 18 inches, only 7 fell. Mithapur was fed by two lakes. Apart from the town, it was the chemical complex that devoured large quantities of fresh water which came from the two lakes. The grim news came that the lake water would run out by October end. Friends from other parts of India wrote letters of sympathy. The union leaders were talking of Mithapur being evacuated. ‘Mithapur will shut down over my dead body’, said Seth. The company did not wait till the lakes dried up by the end of October. A dedicated team under Seth generated and implemented, on war-footing, some 200 ideas, big and small, to conserve fresh water, to substitute fresh water, and to produce fresh water within the complex. The team laid five and a half miles of fresh water pipes from some wells to the Mithapur water works. Then, in a defiant mood, the company declared a ‘Lakeless Week’ for the town and factory when no water was drawn from the lakes.
The fact that 16,000 people and the works could survive without drawing lake water for a week was as much a morale booster as a material triumph. By revamping the technology of water usage, consumption was reduced from twenty-two lakh gallons per day to five lakh. There was pride in the achievement, and the humblest of men felt that he had played a part in the survival of the city and of the works from which he earned his livelihood. Had they caved in at that time, Mithapur may have never restarted.
For three successive years in the 1960s the rains continued to fail, but production kept rising and now stands at above 2200 tonnes per day. While insulating the operations from the vagaries of the rains, self-reliance on the water front has been achieved in a very innovative manner by substitution, conservation and re-use.
A company that suffered such travails at its start is today amongst the most profitable within the Tata group.
|Gregory Peck, who returned to stay at the Taj in 1980 after twenty-eight years, said: ‘The old Taj is the same – like a jeweled crown.|
To perceive a need and to meet it is one secret of good business. In the mad, mad rush of the cotton boom, Bombay was called ‘the city of gold’, but not every prospect pleased – houses stood cheek to jowl in the Fort area and unhygienic conditions prevailed. Rats seemed to be the rulers by night. The bubonic plague which broke out in 1896 was ascribed to these conditions and it dragged on for four years.
The number of the middle class, especially the British segment was rising. More people were coming into the city, people engaged in trade and banking, and the ‘burra sahibs’ contemptuously called them ‘boxwallas’. They complained there were no decent hotels to stay in. Watson’s Hotel at Esplanade mansion at Kala Ghoda was supposed to be the best, but far below European standards. Great Western and Pyrkes Apollo Hotels were others. Their rooms were small, ventilation poor and heat unbearable, more so with the mosquito curtains.
The 1880s and 1890s were a time of great construction in Bombay. The Grand Victoria Terminus was built, and after it, the Municipal Corporation Building, another beautiful structure, followed by the Churchgate headquarters of the B.B. & C.I. Railways (now Western Railways).
One day without consulting anybody, not even his sons or partners, he announced his plan to build a grand hotel. It was his personal contribution and money he was putting – not that of Tata & Sons. Along the present Yacht Club at Apollo Bunder was a little bay, where yachts used to scull. The British were reclaiming the land and he bought a substantial site of two and a half acres on 1 November 1898, on a 99 year lease.
There was no laying of a foundation stone, but a traditional coconut was broken and a Parsi diva (oil lamp) was lit, perhaps by the well or spring between the present swimming pool and the lifts. This ceremony took place in 1900.
The prospectus drawn up for the hotel-to-be underlined some features:
The Hotel, when completed, will be five storeys high, and will accommodate, beside hotel boarders to the number of 500, a number of permanent residents. Immense cellars, below the ground floor level will contain the refrigeration plant, which will cool the rooms of the inmates, and will also enable their food to be stored in a manner foreign to India. The ground floor will be occupied by the offices, first – class restaurants, and shops for the sale of articles generally desired by travelers. The first floor will be mostly taken up with a grand dining room, drawing room, reading rooms, billiard room, and a few grand suites, all provided with electric fans. The second, third, fourth and fifth floors will contain bedrooms, mostly double, and furnished in the Continental style with sofa, tables and chairs, and other furniture, and on each floor, bathrooms and lavatories. The kitchens, etc., will be on the top of the house, with a roof garden. The Hotel will be lighted throughout with electric lights, and many lifts, also worked by electricity will convey residents from floor to floor with comfort. A Turkish bath will also be fitted up in the Hotel.
Jamsetji personally went to order the electrical machinery from Düsseldorf, and chandeliers from Berlin. Furthermore, he made sure that if perchance electricity failed, a back-up system of gaslights was at hand. There was the in-house soda bottling plant, an electric laundry, fans from the USA – and the first spun-steel pillars from the Paris exhibition where the Eiffel Tower was then the latest wonder of the world. These pillars, a hundred years later, hold up the ceiling of the Banquet Hall.
For all his projects, Jamsetji got the costing done thoroughly by Burjorji Padshah, but not for the Taj. It was his gift to the city he loved; as the Taj Mahal at Agra was Shahjehan’s memorial to the woman he loved. It cost about Rs.25 lakh.
The Gateway of India was yet to be built. There, facing the mouth of the harbour, the Taj rose in its solitary grandeur.
Jamsetji gave an outstanding hotel to his city because of his deep love for Bombay, a city he was proud of. From the day it opened, the Taj Mahal was recognized as one of the best in the world.
Lovat Fraser, of the Times of India,said that Jamsetji told him that the idea of a grand hotel was worthy of Bombay. The idea had long been simmering in his mind, and he had made much study of the subject. He had not the slightest desire to own a hotel, however; his sole wish was to attract people to India, and incidentally to improve Bombay.
Jamsetji’s dream had come true – the hotel had become a magnet.
Many an interesting story is invented round the Taj being designed by an Italian / French architect, who after his exertions went home and returned to find the building was put the wrong way round – what should have been in the rear was in the front and vice versa. Heartbroken, he went to the top floor of the Taj and flung himself out of the window. Dramatic! Touching! But not true. AS anyone who stayed at the then non-air conditioned Taj in the summer would attest, the late afternoon breezes that blow across Colaba do not spring up from the harbour but sweep in from across Back Bay. The U-shaped wings of the hotel were positioned to trap this breeze and extract the most benefit. Indeed, the necessity to draw whatever relief there might be from the torrid heat of Western India was certainly the inspiration behind the hotel’s two most original features. At the time, the clientele Mr. Jamsetji expected was from abroad and his endeavour was to make the hotel as cool as possible. Thus, it had high ceilings and wide corridors, which would be conducive to air circulation. Furthermore, the Wellington Mews – another property Jamsetji bought – behind the hotel site was where the horses and carriages were housed, and these could roll in directly from the west side.
For four generations, the staff of the Taj has poured out affection and care to make the name ‘Taj’ synonymous with elegance and beauty.
‘The Taj is the only hotel of its kind in the world,’ they say. It is, in more senses than one.