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Gorumahisani, India’s first iron ore mine township is a picture of neglect despite 100 years of mining

Labourers collect iron ore inside the Gorumahisani mines in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha.

Labourers collect iron ore inside the Gorumahisani mines in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

 Droupadi Murmu’s nomination as Presidential candidate may have propelled the little known Rairangpur in Odisha’s Mayubhanj district to claim a spot in country’s map now, but the region was not a ‘dull or ordinary’ place in the past. More than a century ago, the tribal heartland of Odisha had played a key role in laying the foundation for an incredible industrial journey.

About 20 km from Rairangpur lies Gorumahisani, India’s first iron ore mine, and widely dubbed as ‘mother mine’ for empire of Tata Steel that has grown to a global steel behemoth having crude steel capacity of 34 million tonnes per annum.

India’s legendary geologist P. N. Bose had written a letter to J.N. Tata (founder of Tata Steel) about the discovery of Gorumahisani Iron Ore Mine on February 24, 1904, which led to the establishment of Tata Iron and Steel Company at Sakchi (now in Jharkhand) on August 26, 1907. Bose was then State Geologist of Mayurbhanj princely state after his stint at the Geological Society of India.

The first iron ore rock, which was tested in London to ascertain the iron content in the first decade of 1900s, is still preserved in the mining area. The memorial is known as P. N. Bose Memorial.

Subsequently, then King of Mayurbhanj Sriram Chandra Bhanjdeo, who was considered to be ahead of his times, entered into an agreement with the Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited (TISCO Limited), (now Tata Steel) and granted lease of Gorumahisani iron ore mine.

“TISCO Limited was given prospecting licence for five years between 1905 and 1910 before being granted lease. The first 30 years of lease of Gorumahisani was granted to TISCO for a period of 30 years from July 1, 1910 to 30 June 1940. The lease was further extended by 30 years till 1969.  This was perhaps the first mining lease formally executed in India,” said Rabindra Nath Patnaik, Rairangpur-based senior journalist

The TISCO surrendered the lease pre-maturely in 1969 before the expiry of the lease period, ostensibly due to some labour problem and high cost of production. Subsequently, the lease area over 1435.30 hectares was granted to Ghanshyam Misra on January 7, 1970 for 30 years.

Passenger train service in 1911

Despite 100 years of mining in Gorumahisani Hills, the area remained in a state of neglect. The place which witnessed water supply system, lighting of township and passenger train services way back in 1911 has remained a gram panchayat. The administrative unit — Kuleisila Gram Panchayat — has even not developed into a Notified Area Council.

Three generations of Asha Mahakud, 90, who have worked as labourers in the Gorumahisani mines run by TISCO and present lessee Ghanshyam Misra, epitomise the progress made in the region. “My grandmother Asha Mahakud had worked under TISCO and was manually sizing iron ore chips. My father, Budhu Mahakud, was too a worker in the mine. Subsequently, I found engagement in the Gorumahisani mine. After automatic machineries were introduced in the mines, I was left jobless,” said Sukra Mahakud, 40.

The Mahakud family still struggles to lead a quality life while Ms. Asha Mahakud, who used to earn ₹1 to ₹2 per day in 1940-1950, has been out of medical care.

Iron College

The railway line, ropeway and gravity incline, rusted water tanks left behind by TISCO bear the testimony of the 100-year-old mining town. Gorumahisani’s first college has been named as Iron College. The government school was also christened P. N. Bose School.

Rudra Narayan Mohanty was working as labour supplier and mining contractor in Gorumahisani mine. “More than 5,000 people were working in Gorumahisani Mines. Workers used to be supplied ration, including rice, wheat, coal, firewood and water. They were leading a comfortable life then,” said Mr. Mohanty.

According to old-timers, very few places in Odisha or for that matter in India had seen passenger trains at that time. The passenger train service commenced from Gorumahisani in 2011. However, there has been hardly any visible addition to railway service during past one century. Even TISCO used to light up mining as well as civil township area using petromax lights — something very rare in that era.

In 2007, Ms. Murmu, who was then MLA of Rairangpur, had requested the Tata Group to run a heritage train to the region and preserve its history.  B. B. Mandal, secretary of Gorumahisani Iron College, demanded that Tata Group contribute development of the place as it owed its rise to pinnacle to Gorumahisani. Badampahar, which is close to Pahadpur, Ms. Murmu’s in-laws’ village, is also a decades-old iron ore mine. Locals alleged that the century-old iron ore mining has hardly helped in bettering the life here.

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Printable version | Jul 19, 2022 11:07:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/gorumahisani-indias-first-iron-ore-mine-township-is-a-picture-of-neglect-despite-100-years-of-mining/article65656906.ece