March 2005

How green is my valley

An extended pocket of lush green in the heart of mining country, Tata Steel's township in West Bokaro is a model of what social investment in the community can achieve

To arrive at the Tata Steel township of West Bokaro, you drive through colonies of other nearby collieries. What you see is everything you would expect from a typical mining town — unsanitary, bare, sooty, languid and makeshift. But as you enter the area maintained by Tata Steel, the ambience changes with surprising swiftness. Your spirits are immediately lifted by green parks, roads, clubs wit manicured and colourful gardens, freshly painted quarters and children enjoying the outdoors.

Tata Steel mines about 4.5 million tonnes of coal annually and extracts nearly 13 million cubic metres of rock from its captive mine in West Bokaro. To sustain this level of production the company requires advanced support services for engineering and heavy equipment like dumpers and excavators. Since the area in which the mine is located is underdeveloped, the company has to be self sufficient in many of its activities.

"We have our own power houses and water supply management. Again, for the manufacture of spares we have our own workshops," says A. M. Mishra, general manager, West Bokaro collieries. "This is because even if you want to outsource work it is not so easy to find the right people to do it."

The residential quarters for Tata Steel's staff

For the population of about 3,700, of which about 200 are officers, Tata Steel provides housing and accommodation. Apart from paying the taxes on their perks, the company provides electricity, fuel, drinking water, and even cooking gas free of cost. The company has ensured education for its employees' children by constructing the infrastructure for schools and tying up with agencies to run them. It even subsidises the fees for one child in each family. It takes care of recreational needs with social activities at the club. "People agree to work and stay in this area only if you give them good living conditions," says Mr Mishra. "Providing the basics is a necessity, not a luxury."

The town administration runs branch offices in each of the four zones of the town. "Residents don't have to come all the way to the main office and their issues get sorted out promptly," says M. M. Prasad, head, civil and structural maintenance.

The company has about 4,000 acres of land surrounded by villages. The Tata Steel Rural Development Society (TSRDS) regularly goes into the countryside, providing services like drinking water through water tankers and by installing tube wells and digging wells. In some villages the Society provides roads and even transformers for electricity.

TSRDS also seeks to create employment opportunities for villagers by encouraging carpet weaving, rope making and other small-scale industries. Many of the villagers hold jobs at the colliery itself. "We have got the right only to mine this leased land," says Mr Mishra. "We have to negotiate directly with the landowners for our operations. Very often they seek employment with the company instead of compensation. They see it as an improvement in their social status."

Further, to ensure that mining activity does not leave behind a devastated landscape, the company refills the land it excavates. The dumps created undergo afforestation consistently, which makes for dense patches of unexpected greenery.

"The costs of these activities have to be considered in the right perspective," explains Mr Mishra. "People living in such an adverse environment expect help. We provide it; not just because we cannot take industrial peace for granted, but since we see it as a social investment in the community."

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