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Interview with Mr. H.H. Nerurkar (HN), vice president, Tata Steel

by Nityanand JayaramanSpecial to CorpWatch
June 10th, 2006

10 June, 2006. Chennai. 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

        On May 24, 2006, published the article "Stolen for Steel: Tata Takes Tribal Lands in India." The article dealt with the Kalinganagar incident, where police opened fire on a group of adivasis (indigenous peoples) who had gathered to stop construction of a steel factory by Tata Steel in Jajpur district of Orissa. Thirty six people were injured and 13, including a boy, were killed. Adivasi communities have flatly refused industrialization on grounds that it pollutes and robs local communities to enrich corporate bosses.

        The Tatas would like to be known for their philanthropy. But scratch beneath the surface, and one finds all the markings of just another corporation.

        In response to the Corpwatch article, Mr. H.H. Nerurkar, vice president Tata Steel, met me in Chennai to "clarify" Tata's position. In the course of an hour-long conversation, Nerurkar laid out a roadmap according to which Tatas will mine ore, build factories in Orissa, and contribute to the upliftment of Orissa in general, and the adivasis in particular. He outlined the details of a program to train youth from families evicted to make way for industries to become construction labourers sent to work on industrial and infrastructural projects in various parts of the country.

        The Government of India considers construction workers as "one of the most numerous and vulnerable segments of the unorganized sector in India . The building and other construction works are characterized by their inherent risk to the life and limb of the workers. The work is also characterized by its casual nature, temporary relationship between employer and employee, uncertain working hours, lack of basic amenities and inaqdequacy of welfare facilities."

        Nerurkar admits that despite 100 years of upliftment programs for the adivasis by Tatas, the lot of the adivasis remains pathetic. Indeed, with the proposed onslaught on tribal lands, lifestyle and culture by mining companies and industries, once-self-sufficient adviasi communities in India may become entirely dependent on hand-outs by industry or the State.

        Strangely, rather than question the displace-and-rehabilitate programs, he recommends increased "looking after" of tribal communities. Corporations, Governments and even many among adivasi societies seem convinced that adivasis and other marginalized communities have no inherent right to choose their path of development. The right to say "No" to industrial development is being termed unviable or unreasonable. Instead, corporations and the Government are making it seem as if tribal development and the economic betterment of the poor can only piggy-back on some grandiose industrial plan for "development."


        H.H. Nerurkar (HHN): I would like to clarify certain things and place our version before you. First, I must say that the story is factually accurate. We have no problems with that.

        The land was acquired in 1992 itself by the Government. At that time, people were paid Rs. 37,200 per acre. But for several years, no industrialization was taking place. Only Nilanchal and MESCO had come. Typically, when land is acquired, one ensures that the land is vacated. Here it was not done. Everybody [whose land was taken] was paid 37,200. Tata's paid Rs. 300,000 per acre for the land. People did not like that Government was profiting. In such situations, logic doesn't work. So the Government offered an ex-gratia payment by Rs. 25,000 and increased the amount for housing.

        But people were not satisfied. You have written about the Maharashtra Seamless incident in May 2005. By this time, we said we can't keep on indefinitely waiting. Along with the Collector, we put up a camp for informing people. On the first day, 60-70 people came. Next day onwards, nobody. So in October/November, we decided to hold a medical camp. For the first 4-5 days, Tata Steel won't come anywhere near the camp. Tata Steel Rural Development Society was to run the camp. On the first day, 200 people came. On the second day, the camp was burnt.

        Nityanand Jayaraman (NJ) : When was this?

        HHN: In November.

        NJ: Was a police complaint filed?

        HHN: Yes.

        HHN: How long to wait? In November 2004, we signed the agreement. In December 2004, we had paid the amount and registered. We had started boundary wall construction even by August 2005 at a very slow pace. In January 2006, we started work in one corner of the plot. That was nearly one kilometer from the villages. We didn't want to provoke them.

        NJ: How large is the plot?

        HHN: 2400 acres. We were only flattening the boundaries between plots within our area. You know the small bunds separating plots. We were flattening that. There were three bulldozers. We suspected that people will attack us. And then you have written what happened, and that is what happened. It was a tragic event.

        NJ: You say that Tata Steel had begun this work. But your Director Mr. J.J. Irani has written that Tatas was not involved in any way? [1]

        HHN: Mr. Irani may have said something in a press conference and the reporters. . .

        NJ: No sir. He had written to the editor of a newspaper.

        HHN: He did not know. Tatas is a big organization. Perhaps he was asked "Were there any Tata Steel people there?" It is wrong to say we were not there. We were there. We had not anticipated that things would turn out this way. We expected some people to come and shout some slogans and go. I never thought it would turn out like this.

        NJ: But the police seem to have come prepared for a war rather than to deal with a band of slogan shouters?

        HHN: In Maharashtra Seamless, police were not prepared. One police inspector and ADM (Additional District Magistrate) were beaten up. You have written about it. They broke the ADM's nose and teeth. The policeman was attacked with a farsa. You know farsa? It is a long curved knife.

        That is why this time people must see we are prepared.

         NJ: So everybody knew that these people were not just the slogan shouting kind? That they were serious about their demand? Was it only a small group, or were there many people?

        HHN: Many people. More than 500.

        NJ: Would you consider them a fringe group?

        HHN: No. Not a fringe group.

        NJ: Mr. Sanjay Choudhury seemed to suggest that only a few people were upset.

        HHN: No. No. Some people have instigated, but they have large support. What happened there is horrible. We have not been able to communicate directly with people, which is why this is happening.

    We decided in February after every national leader came and gave assurances and went away. We said, let's get in touch with people directly. In all fairness, people have not got a good deal. In Nilanchal and other project, people still haven't been given jobs or what was promised. Nilanchal is a Government company. People say, "how can we trust you?" We are saying come to the mines, and see how we have protected people and the environment. We want to take people in small batches to Jamshedpur. People have three main concerns:

        1.      That steel plants pollute.

        2.      That [host] communities are not happy.

        3.      How to trust Tatas and Government to give compensation and livelihood?

        Many of these people are illiterate and downtrodden. They have never seen anything positive in life. What will they do? How will they get employment. The plant will come up after three years. For them, we have a special program. We'll train them in construction work. Do you know that there are three to four places in Chennai where construction workers are trained? After training construction workers here, a person comes from Singapore to certify them. We want to train the tribals in construction work. Construction jobs are immediate. The trained persons will find work at construction sites all over the country. We'll also speak to our partners like L&T etc.

        These people have never seen anything positive in life. So we'll give them training. It will be a residential course. We'll take them and give them 10 days of attitude improvement training. We'll get them to kick their habits - guthka, smoking. We'll tell them "Don't be disappointed with life. It can be better." We'll finish the first batch of 30 in three weeks. In all, we'll train about 1100. About 200 or so are ITI trained. I'm obliged to train only 1100, but personally I want to train another 400 to 500 more. Empty mind is devil's workshop, you know.

        The problem with displacement is immediate. If I take your land [and only give compensation], you have no work but only money. That is why money is not adequate. The biggest problem with rehabilitation is that only some people gain. Those who are smart. The poor lose out. We will appoint a reputed NGO or form a Working Committee with local representatives to monitor each family for five years. If today his income level is 100, it should be much more a few years down. I don't want this disturbance to cause any damage.

        The environmental concerns are not an issue. This plant will be similar to any plant in Japan or Germany. Pollution, environment, water are not issues with Tata Steel.

        NJ: If that's the case, why the opposition?

        HHN: There are left wing elements like Rajendar Singh. . .

        NJ: Elements? Sir, can you please clarify what "elements" mean?

        HHN: You know CPI ML kind of inclination. He is part of that outfit. We have tried to go and talk to anybody. You discuss and suggest. If it is reasonable, we'll do. But these people won't come and talk.

        We are not starving in Jamshedpur. This country is growing at 7.8 percent. Steel consumption is 36-40 kg/capita. We need to develop. India's demand for steel is 40 million ton per annum. In 2020, it will be 100 million tons. If we don't produce steel, who else will?

        NJ: Why set up in Orissa, then?

        HHN: There is no compulsion. We wanted to put up in Orissa. See Naxals etc are thriving because there is unhappiness in people. People were promised something. The promise was not kept.

        Nerurkar talks about Tata's service to the adivasis. Jamshedpur is a shining example of Tata's commitment to the upliftment of the adivasis, he says.

        NJ: Sir, do you have a break up of how many adivasis and people from other communities are there among your senior management.

        HHN: We're a secular company. Fifteen years ago, we decided not to maintain [such records] on communal lines. So we don't really know. But adivasis have benefited. We're an excellent mix of people. There is at least 20 percent adivasis in the workforce.

        NJ: But among the senior management? How many adivasis? How many Brahmins, for instance?

        HHN: We have no adivasis in our top management. At my level, there are none. Most of the adivasis are in the workforce. At my next level, at GM levels about 5 percent or so. I was talking to some adivasi leaders. We go to put these kids through some English medium.

        NJ: Sir, Tata Steel has been around in Jamshedpur for more than 100 years now. But it seems like 100 years of tribal upliftment by Tatas has not worked. I mean, with 100 years of help, not one adivasi person could make it to the top management?

        HHN: Tata Steel has improved the standard of living. There are many special initiatives for tribal development. In spite of doing all this, tribals have not reached where they ought to have, even in Jamshedpur. Tribals have to be looked after much more.

[1] Tata Sons Director Jamshed J. Irani wrote to Financial Express that "No officer of Tata Steel was present, nor was there any other involvement from the company, which resulted in police firing."