War Profiteer of the Month: Tata Group


Tata Group is one of India's oldest and largest conglomerates in India. The group is spread over seven business sectors. It comprises 96 companies, operates on six continents and employs 350,000 people. Revenues in 2007-08 are estimated at $62.5 billion (around Rs. 2,51,543 crore), of which 61 percent is from business outside India.


The beginnings of the Tata Group can be traced back to 1868, when Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata established a trading company dealing in Opium in Bombay. This was followed by the installation of Empress Mills in Nagpur in 1877. Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay was opened for business in 1903. Sir Dorab Tata, the eldest son of Jamsetji became the chairman of the group after his fathers death in 1904. Under him, the group ventured into steel production (1905) and hydroelectric power generation(1910). After the death of Dorab Tata in 1934, Nowroji Saklatwala headed the group till 1938. He was succeeded by JRD Tata. The group expanded significantly under him with the establishment of Tata Chemicals (1939), Tata Motors and Tata Industries (both 1945), Voltas (1954), Tata Tea (1962), Tata Consultancy Services (1968) and Titan Industries (1984). Ratan Tata, the incumbent chairman of the group succeeded JRD Tata in 1991.

Corporate responsibilities

Tata and its group of companies have been named for violating human and labour rights and environmental standards, as well as for involvement in financial scams. Both historically and today, Tata companies have struck business deals with repressive governments. In its early days, Tata benefited from business deals arising out of the British empire's colonial conquests. More recently, it has drawn criticism for opportunism including open support for repressive administrations such as the Hindu fundamentalist right in Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, has documented the Tata Group's crimes against the environment and human rights, noting the company's links with Myanmar's military junta.

Tata's flagship company, Tata Steel has been involved in several conflicts with indigenous people over mineral resources. In the Sukinda district of Orissa, Tata operates one of the world's largest chromite mines. Sukinda has been listed as one of the 10 most polluted sites in the world. On January 2, 2006, State Police shot dead 12 indigenous people who were part of a large protest against Tata Steel's takeover of their land. [Source: Battle over steel mills. BBC News. 26 February, 2006.]

From the times of its war profiteering during the campaign of the British imperial forces in Northern Africa, to opium trade during the opium wars with China, Tata has seized opportunities thrown up by situations of conflict and aggression. It has not hesitated to build up ties with even globally tainted and oppressive regimes, such as the military junta in Burma, or the Hindu fundamentalist Narendra Modi Government in Gujarat.

In December 2006, Gen. Thura Shwe Mann, "Myanmar’s chief of general staff and possibly the second-most important leader of the military junta after Senior Gen. Than Shwe" visited the Tata Motors plant in Pune. The Pune plant reportedly manufactures vehicles for the Indian military. [Source: "Myanmar Ties." December 8, 2006. The Telegraph, Calcutta, India]

Political influence

Tatas are among the largest contributors to the two key and rival political parties in the Indian national scene. The Indian National Congress Party received the largest share of Tata's financial largesse between 2003 and 2007, netting $860,000 (Rupees 43 million). The BJP too, tainted as it was with allegations of perpetrating the Gujarat riots targeting Muslims in 2002, received $540,000 from the Tatas during 2003-2007. ["BJP, Congress hog big biz funds." DNA. 05 March, 2009]

In December 2004, immediately after the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance formed the Government at the Centre, Ratan Tata was appointed chair of the Investment Commission that was to develop a roadmap for the Government in attracting Foreign Direct Investment to India. ["Ratan Tata to head Investment Commission." Times of India. New Delhi. 6 December, 2004.]
In March, 2009, Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata was taken to court by Ms. Shruti Singh, an advocate of the Patna High Court, for launching the Nano car ahead of the elections. This, she alleged was done to "help" Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who provided land to the Tatas after their car project was kicked out of Singur, West Bengal by farmers and farm labourers whose lands and livelihoods were to be sacrificed to accommodate the project.

Military industry

Tata Advanced Systems has been set up as a joint venture (JV) with an investment of $150 million and 76% holdings by the mammoth Tata Industries and $50 million by Israel’s IAI to manufacture Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), electronic warfare systems, missiles, radar systems and security systems. Tatas have also tied up with US aviation company Sikorsky for helicopter sub-assemblies.

Aerospace Division of TAML (Tata Advanced Materials Limited) which is part of the Tata conglomerate is engaged in Design, Manufacture and Supply of composite components, parts, sub-assemblies for applications in Aircraft, Space & Helicopter.

TAML also designs and manufactures light weight composites based bullet resistant jackets in a Technical Collaboration with SNPE of France (a French Government owned Defense Company).

Over the years TAML also worked developing special composite containers for transporting various sensitive products used by the Indian defence forces. The company also worked in developing other special applications used in operations and products by the Indian armed forces.

According to TML words “Mobility today is key to the success of the security forces who have to go in hot pursuit of the enemy and often they would need to seek and destroy by attacking the enemy in their own territory in the urban areas [...]Security personnel, VIP’s are often under a threat and need protection as they travel against assassination attempts and other attacks using mines. The men of the armed forces are always in the forefront of danger and as they move in hostile territory, these brave men need to be protected. We at TAML can provide solutions to armour the vehicles which are used by VIP’s, Soldiers and other Security personnel [...]A common enough solution is to provide an all steel armour and thus cover the vehicle from all directions. This results in a substantial increase in weight and reduces vehicle performance and efficiency”.

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