The cities and towns that Tata companies have created are symbols of an all-encompassing relationship with employees that incorporates workplace, home and family in a single organic whole
"Each city is an archetype rather than a prototype, an exaggerated example from which to derive lessons for the typical," said American architect Robert Venturi. The cities and towns that the Tatas have created around some of their industrial facilities reflect an originality in conception and execution that reflects the truth of Mr Venturi's contention.
Jamshedpur, Mithapur, Babrala and Mathigiri are unique in their own ways, different from one another in tone, tenor and character, but there is a similarity of principle that underpins all four — mere functionality has taken a backseat to a blending of the practical and the aesthetic with the environment in which these cities are rooted.
There is more to the environment bit than the ground beneath and beyond where the cities sit; there is what can be called the people factor. The Tata cities are tangible manifestations of a commitment to employees that stretches further than any formal or mandated contract. They are symbols of an all-encompassing relationship between company and employee that incorporates workplace, home and family. Just as importantly, they are catalysts for the development of the regions and the people surrounding their suburbs.
The Tata companies that sustain these cities are cast in the mould of caretakers rather than gatekeepers. This attitude has allowed Jamshedpur and its siblings to grow and prosper in a manner that befits the particular circumstances of their individual evolution, without being encumbered by any unilateral doctrine. The stories that follow explain how.
The origins of Jamshedpur, home today to the majority of Tata Steel's operations and a significant part of Tata Motors', are tied to an idea espoused by Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group. Writing to his son Dorab Tata in 1902 about his concept of a city for the workers of the proposed Tata Steel plant, he stated: "Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches."
Jamsetji Tata had passed away by the time Jamshedpur, situated in Jharkhand in eastern India, came into being, but his spirit of caring and giving has come to represent the nature of the city. This was a cluster of tribal settlements before it began the journey of morphing into an industrial hub and a model for modern India's urban landscape and lifestyle.
Sanjiv Paul, vice president, corporate services, Tata Steel, believes that the city holds the key to the inherent competitive advantages that the company enjoys. "Tata Steel attracts the best talent in the country because of the lifestyle provided in this oasis in the middle of nowhere," he says.
Tata Steel maintains Jamshedpur's public utilities much like a municipality, only better. It takes care of road maintenance, water and electricity supply, streetlights, healthcare, sanitation and more. The standard of these activities is so good that Tata Steel floated Jusco as a separate entity so as to share its knowledge and expertise.
The water here is of such high quality that Jamshedpur is one of the few Indian cities where one can drink directly from the tap. Tata Steel arranges for the cleaning up of over 120,000 tonnes of garbage a year, keeping the city squeaky clean. It provides electricity well enough for residents to take the service for granted. The company also spends Rs25 crore a year on the Tata Main Hospital, which takes care of employees as well as the general public.
Jamshedpur is among the greenest of India's cities, with a plethora of parks, playgrounds and tree-lined streets. It is also an exemplar in education, having a literacy rate — 75 per cent — that is unparalleled in eastern India. Tata Steel runs eight primary schools, nine high schools and a college, while supporting many more schools indirectly. Community initiatives are as high on the Tata agenda as education and this has spawned a wide variety of programmes, most notably on Aids awareness and drug abuse.
Complementing the contribution that Tata Steel has made to Jamshedpur, albeit on a lesser scale, is Tata Motors, which has a 1,200-acre township of its own within the city. Tata Motors provides accommodation to all its employees and there are about 40,000 residents in the township. There are facilities for water treatment and sewage disposal, a hospital with 500 beds, dispensaries, markets, a sports stadium, playgrounds, parks and recreation centres, academies for theatre, music and dance, and a hobby hub that fosters creativity in employees and their families.
As with Jamshedpur and Tata Steel, so with Tata Chemicals and the two centres it has created around its operations: Mithapur in coastal Gujarat (in western India) and Babrala in Uttar Pradesh (northern India). Distinct in layout and geography, Mithapur and Babrala serve the needs, and then some, of the company's chemicals and fertilisers plants respectively.
The Mithapur story began in 1939, when the Tatas took over the Okha Salt Works. Okhamandal, the region where Mithapur is situated, was an undeveloped and desolate place where many kingdoms and civilisations had thrived in the past. Mithapur, privately owned by Tata Chemicals, is part of the 5,398-acres of freehold land obtained in the 1930s from the government of the erstwhile princely state of Baroda.
The town square at Mithapur, from where roads branch out in many directions, is symbolic of the central place the company enjoys in this community comprising employees and their families, teachers and merchants. Spread across 663 acres of land, Mithapur enjoys the advantages of urban infrastructure along with the beauty of its idyllic surroundings.
A department within Tata Chemicals takes care of Mithapur's administration. This department is responsible for developing and maintaining residential houses, schools, medical facilities, public spaces and welfare and sports activities. Mithapur has a high school, three primary schools, two junior schools and one pre-school; together they provide education to some 8,000 children and employment to over 200 teachers.
A well-equipped hospital, a mobile clinic, a family-planning unit and child-immunisation centres look after the healthcare needs of company employees as well as the people living in the 42 villages of Okhamandal. Other facilities include a market with 300 shops, a hospital, a cinema hall and six parks. The town has an assortment of parks and gardens to go with a 2-km-long beach and the two lakes at its outskirts attract a variety of migratory birds in the winter months.
Tata Chemicals operates all the municipal services in the town, and delivers an uninterrupted supply of electricity from its captive co-generation power plant. The company provides for the cultural and recreational needs of the community through the libraries, clubs, cinemas, playgrounds and public gardens it has established. To cater to the diverse needs of its staff and the local community, Tata Chemicals supports a large number of social and cultural institutions through grants.
Water is a precious commodity in Mithapur, which falls in the drought-prone Jamnagar district. Water is recycled back to a flush-pumping station and used to nourish plants and maintain gardens.
Fourteen hundred kilometres to the north of Mithapur, in the midst of a densely forested area, lies Babrala, developed in 1992 when Tata Chemicals' fertiliser plant was set up here.
This settlement is home to nearly 1,000 employees and their families. This, too, is an urban dwelling in a rural setting. Wide roads and a green environment characterise the town layout. Tata Chemicals has provided plenty of amenities in Babrala: spacious houses, a shopping centre, a clubhouse, a library, and health and sports facilities. The DAV Public School instructs students in both English and Hindi.
Environment is a key issue in Babrala and Mithapur, both of which are ISO-14001 certified. The emphasis is on waste reduction, proper garbage disposal and conservation of natural resources. Environmental awareness drives are held regularly and both towns have a 'no plastics policy'.
In the late 1980s, Titan zeroed in on Hosur in the impoverished Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu in southern India for its manufacturing operation. Several companies followed in its wake and the influx of industrial workers put a severe strain on the infrastructure in the area. While mapping the needs of its burgeoning employee community, Titan discovered that housing resources were meagre and substandard. Having provided its large, young workforce with decent disposable incomes, the watchmaker was now faced with the task of meeting the requirement of enjoyable living.
In 1991, Titan established a township spread over 110 acres at Mathigiri. Constructed with the help of acclaimed architect Charles Correa, it was designed in a manner that blended urban landscapes with the semi-rural milieu of the region, from where the majority of the company's employees came. "We did not want to unsettle our employees by providing a total urban environment," says N Sekar, senior officer, training and development, Titan.
Currently about 130 families live at Mathigiri, which has rows of duplex houses arranged in clusters around landscaped courtyards. Every house has an open space in the front and a private garden in a common courtyard at the back. There is a conveniently located shopping centre, a medical clinic, a sprawling recreation centre and other facilities aimed at encouraging a vibrant communal life. Blacktopped roads and landscaped common areas make this area pleasing to the eye.
The company also addresses the education needs of this community. The Titan School, started in 2001, teaches almost 350 children in classes ranging from pre-primary to the fifth standard. This school has an alternative approach and emphasises holistic rather than merely academic education. Children use the unconventional sight and phonetic reading method to learn. The school has no examinations till the fourth standard. "We believe in the integrated curriculum approach that does not burden a child, but allows for total personality development," says Sajeetha Barathi, the school's headmistress.
The company was also able to employ its spirit for innovation to circumvent some of the problems it encountered. Water shortage, the norm in Hosur, is unheard of in Mathigiri. This is because Titan invested in more than 50 rain-harvesting pits to raise the water table level. Arbitrary digging for bore wells is prohibited while gardening and landscaping is done with recycled water.
"The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap," said the late American philosopher Lewis Mumford. "But it is also a conscious work of art…" Having evolved from a deep consciousness of how interdependent a company and its stakeholders are, the cities and towns the Tatas have built reinforce Mr Mumford's hypothesis.