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Against all odds

At 22, Sminu Jindal, managing director of Jindal SAW Ltd took Swastik Foil, a sick unit of the multi million-dollar Jindal group, and turned it into a success story, reports Mini Pant Zachariah.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2008 23:13 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

Her name means one who smiles a lot and Sminu Jindal, managing director of Jindal SAW Ltd, lives up to it. She has a lot to smile about. At 22, she took Swastik Foil, a sick unit of the multi million-dollar Jindal group, and turned it into a success story.

Jindal reworked the marketing and put good systems in place surprising her father P R Jindal who did not think his daughter could revamp an ailing unit.

Jindal was one of the first women to break the glass ceiling in the steel, oil and gas sector in India. And as the managing director of Jindal SAW Ltd, a part of the fourth largest industrial house in India - the Jindal Group, she brings professionalism to every level of operation.

Being the Jindal offspring, one assumes it would have been easy for her to walk into the job. But she had to fight her battles too. “One had to fight mindsets from the family members and from outsiders. People assume that when a woman works she is just biding her time before she gets married and has children.”

She did both. Married and had two children — Anav (6) and Arjan (2) Before long she was back on the plant floor.

“I’m a hands-on person. I need to at least make one trip a day to the plant. I love to be surrounded by the machinery,” Jindal laughs her tinkling laugh. Nothing seems to deter her. Nothing ever did. Not even a car accident at the tender age of 11 that made her wheelchair-bound for life.

Jindal turned that adversity into an opportunity. From her wheelchair, she realised that the facilities for the disabled in India were woefully inadequate.

“There was very little information available for people with disabilities. There were individual organisations talking about what they were doing but there was no one place where one could source information,” she says.

So, Jindal founded Svayam, a one-stop information portal for people with disabilities. It works towards making public infrastructure accessible to all including people with reduced mobility. In the first month of its launch, Svayam received one lakh hits.

“Once you get people access to public transport and places you increase their opportunity to livelihood and their self esteem. Infrastructure should empower all including the disabled,” Jindal believes.

Svayam also offers consultancy in access auditing, appraisal and implementing of access strategies, focused training to equip organisations integrate the disabled into the mainstream, and workshops on communicating with the disabled.

Jindal’s efforts paid off. Within six months of its operation, project Svayam undertook the responsibility to make the heritage site of Qutub Minar disable friendly. “This winter, I am going with my boys for a picnic to the Qutub Minar,” says a Jindal, with her trademark laugh.

Apart from being on the advisory board of India Tourism Corporation to make its properties friendly for people with reduced mobility, Svayam works closely with the Delhi Transport Corporation and has already made 240 DTC bus shelters disabled friendly. It has also joined hands with Reliance and BPCL to make the petrol stations reachable by all.

“Policy makers think that infrastructure for the disabled is a pipe dream when people do not have food to eat. I argue that it does not cost very much and it makes a person a productive individual,” she says.

And if Svayam’s initiatives pay off, as they have at the Qutub Minar, India will be accessible to all for the Commonwealth Games in 2010. But Jindal’s sight reaches beyond. “Making Mumbai accessible to all will be challenging. Svayam will be happy to partner with genuine parties in this,” she says.