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  Forests envelop a steel town

Sreekanth Nemani is a young software engineer in Utah, USA. He grew up in a steel town in Vishakapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. He has spent 17 years there and is nostalgic for the spaces he roamed as a child and a boy. C’mon, longing for an industrial township in India, while in God-blessed America? Okay, his father still works for Vizag Steel, but Nemani yearns in fact for the woods around the steel plant.

Suspend for now, a few entrenched myths about India. Myths like, ‘public sector is driven by unimaginative babus’; ‘steel plants are inevitably grim and grimy’; ‘afforestation programmes are token gestures by the public relations department’.

“I have always liked that place because of all the trees,” he says. “I used to take my bicycle and ride through the woods for adventure as a kid, and have gone for picnics often with my friends. You wont find too many people in those nicely deserted spaces. I think it is a story that needs to be widely known.”

What’s the story? How did that happen? Vishakapatnam Steel Plant or Vizag Steel as it’s popularly known, has an 8 kM long front on the Bay of Bengal. To offset the attack of saline air, a half kilometer deep buffer zone was set aside for afforestation. The management decided to plant a tree for each tonne of steel it produced. But once the programme began in 1986, its success got the better of the managers. As against a target of 100,000 trees per year, almost twice that number has been planted so far. Soon they ran out of space in the buffer area and trees proliferated in the housing zone. Peacocks, other birds and small game arrived. Micro-climate changed. The steel plant lost its primacy to the woods: they began to call it ‘a steel plant in a forest’.

In such a setting it is easy to lose the chimneys for the woods. Nemani says, “Vizag Steel itself is one of the most modern steel plants in the country and a government run unit which has revitalized itself and shown Rs.400 crore profit this year. It is aiming for a Rs.1000 cr. profit in 2004. It is clearing off all its outstanding debts and will be debt free by 2004. The privately owned Tata Steel is the only other indian steel company which is in a similar good shape.”

Could it be that nature takes care of your profits if you take care of it?

Nemani recommends this link if you want to read more about this exciting story.

Sreekanth Nemani