Tatas may get admin control of Jamshedpur again

H-Blast furnace at Tata Steel Jamshedpur Works, India’s largest blast furnace
H-Blast furnace at Tata Steel Jamshedpur Works, India’s largest blast furnace

Summary

The Jharkhand government has given the go-ahead for turning Jamshedpur into an industrial township under special provisions of the Indian Constitution, potentially allowing the Tata group to take over administrative control of the city.

New Delhi: Jamshedpur, India’s first planned city built by Tata group founder Jamshedji Tata, may finally come under administrative control of the Tatas, clearing a decades-old legal cloud over the place where India’s first steel mill stands.

The Jharkhand government last week gave the go-ahead for turning Jamshedpur, a town with a population of 1.69 million, into an industrial township under special provisions of the Indian Constitution, two people aware of the matter said. The Tata group is also in advanced talks with the central government for final approval.

A five-year-old public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court—which has proved to be a hurdle until now—is expected to reach a conclusion by January.

“The discussions are in final stages. The verdict in the PIL is expected by January. The idea is to nominate a municipal council comprising Tata Steel representatives, government nominees and local people in the nominated municipal council," said one of the people cited above.

“For all practical purposes, the Tata group has been providing local civic amenities for the past century, but there were a lot of grey areas legally since the Jharkhand government didn’t notify the establishment of the township," he added.

Some locals, however, are also opposed to the Tatas taking over responsibilities of Jamshedpur’s civic amenities. They are keener to have an elected body such as a municipal corporation to supervise local governance.

“The current proposal aims to claim only specific postal regions in Jamshedpur, excluding the greater Jamshedpur area, for Tatas," said Jamshedpur resident Jawaharlal Sharma, who had filed the PIL in the apex court. “The potential repercussions of this proposal include uneven access to areas that are not governed by Tata Steel."

He added that the municipal body, crucial for local governance, remains beyond electoral reach due to alleged control by the Tatas.

Email queries sent to Tata Steel and the Jharkhand government remained unanswered till press time.

At the crux of the dispute is whether the Tata group can function as a provider of civic amenities akin to that of a municipality.

Under the Indian Constitution, every town/city and village ought to have a local government in the form of municipal corporations or panchayat. However, there is also a specifical provision in the Constitution that gives powers for a government to notify a city/town as an industrial township.

Under these provisions, the industrial establishment (company) can be put in charge by the government to act as a municipality.

The Jharkhand government has been wary of notifying this special status to Jamshedpur so far, said the second person cited above.

The key concern for the state government has been that the creation of such a township would have an adverse impact on central funds received by the region for development.

“Currently, Jamshedpur is not a notified or census municipality. It is entitled to special government grants for rural areas. Once it is notified as an industrial township, the city may not be able to get the same funding, which made the local government sceptical of the move," said the second person cited above.

“But now, an agreement has been reached between both the parties. The local body will consist of an elected panel of around 20-25 people out of which 10-12 would be representatives of Tata Steel while the rest would comprise government nominees and local residents," he added.

Currently, Tata Steel offers civic amenities to Jamshedpur, especially in areas that have colonies for its employees, including retired ones, through a subsidiary named Tata Steel Utilities and Infrastructure Services Ltd. Tata Steel Utilities also manages infrastructure in other townships like the Tata Steel plant in Odisha’s Kalinganagar.

Once the approval comes from the state and central governments, Tata Steel Utilities will take over management of the entire city of Jamshedpur.

Meanwhile, Sharma is unmoved by the developments. “In the face of an upcoming decision in January, we continue to persist in our fight for fundamental rights and will be prepared to file another petition if necessary," he said.

Founded by Jamshedji Tata, Jamshedpur or Tatanagar is one of the largest cities in the state of Jharkhand.

The city, which has been voted as one of the cleanest cities in the country, was named after its founder Jamshedji by Lord Clemsford in 1919.

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