Steel City Inspired by Pittsburgh, a Coal-Fueled Company Town Thrives in India

By Moore, Daniel | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

Steel City Inspired by Pittsburgh, a Coal-Fueled Company Town Thrives in India


Moore, Daniel, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


JAMSHEDPUR, India - Here in the blast furnace, near the confluence of two rivers, the coal and iron ore never stop cooking.

Even through the oppressive humidity and downpours of monsoon season, even on India's Independence Day, the metallic lava flows ceaselessly through a network of tubes. It eventually will be molded into shapes, cooled, cast into slabs or billets, then loaded onto trains or trucks - destined for use in wires, beams, auto parts, pipelines.

With seven blast furnaces, Tata Steel's Jamshedpur Works - a massive plant carved into the jungles of northeastern India - churns out 10 million tons of steel each year and employs some 35,000 workers.

The 10th-largest steel producer in the world plans to add more capacity in coming years, meaning the surrounding city of 800,000 people - established more than a century ago in consultation with Pittsburgh steelworkers - will see wider roads, more bungalows, more saplings planted in the parks, a new shopping mall complex.

Jamshedpur, India's Steel City and among the most enduring company-administered towns in the world, is a testament to both the country's industrial prowess and its energy challenges.

Although the plant helps build infrastructure to support the country's sprawling mega-cities and usher in middle-class amenities for India's population approaching 1.3 billion, it also intensely consumes natural resources.

Jamshedpur's growth has been built in part on a resource that makes Tata Steel's metal among the cheapest to produce in the world: Coal and other raw materials arrive by rail from Tata Steel's own mines and collieries, which lie 100 miles to the north. It also sends much of its steel to a nearby plant operated by its sister company, Tata Motors. The largest automaker in India, Tata Motors has sold more than 9 million vehicles.

Both on and off the plant floor, this city - triangulated by the converging Subarnarekha and Kharkai rivers - shows what Pittsburgh might look like today if the U.S. steel industry had never collapsed. Closely intertwined with India's accelerating prosperity, it's emblematic of the challenges the country faces in undertaking global environmental goals.

Finding purpose in Pittsburgh

Jamsetji Tata, an industrial tycoon who in the late 19th century founded a world-class hotel and textile mills, spent his later years convincing anyone who would listen - the Indian and British governments, academics, governors - that rich mineral deposits of iron ore and coal existed beneath the green hills of northeastern India.

The deposits, which seemed on par with those in other countries that were exploiting their resources and building their economies, were there for the taking. All he needed was some technical help in developing a site that could thrust India into the industrial age.

In 1902, he took a whirlwind trip to the United States, where he studied the coking process in Birmingham, Ala. Near the end of the trip, Mr. Tata went to Pittsburgh, where the steel industry was churning out half of all U.S. output and company towns were springing up along the southwestern Pennsylvania region's rivers.

"It was at Pittsburg(h) in Pennsylvania ... that Mr. Tata at last attained his purpose, and found precisely the advice and help he sought," author Frank Harris wrote in a 1925 biography of the founder, later updated and distributed by Tata Steel today.

Julian Kennedy, an engineer and consultant in Pittsburgh who had "encyclopedic" knowledge of steelmaking, drafted the original plan for a settlement on 3,564 acres of thickly forested tribal land in India. After Mr. Tata died, his son, Dorabji Tata, oversaw construction of the town beginning in 1908.

The original plan was not complicated. Mr. Kennedy drew up a gridiron layout to accommodate as many as 10,000 residents.

Experts see it as an unusual formative experiment of urbanism, right around the time cities like New Delhi were being constructed as political and social centers. …

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