Edited Excerpts from an interview •
On what plans is the Steel Ministry currently working on?
Steel consumption has increased over the past three to four years in our country. In view of this, we came up with National Steel Policy in 2017 and under this policy we have fixed the target of achieving 300 million ton of steel production. We have prepared a roadmap to achieve this target and through this roadmap the steel producing units, whether Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) or private entrepreneurs, augment their existing production capacity, install new plants and during the ensuing period of 10/12 years, there is likelihood of spending 10 lakh crore on this project. Second important thing is that in view of the consumption pattern of past four years, the consumption of iron in our country has increased by 5%. That is why our goal of creating a capacity of 300 million tons of steel production will not only benefit our own country but also enable us to make available iron to our neighbouring countries as well. We will also be able to earn foreign exchange. Currently, the government is working on several projects which will also transform the steel sector as well. The government is trying to spur the people connected with steel sector to produce good quality steel.
What new transformation has occurred in this government and in the ministry when compared to the previous regime?
For the last four and a half years, the NDA government has been in power wherein the thinking of Hon’ble Prime Minister is different from previous governments and one of the greatest benefits accruing to us from this thinking is not merely growth or development. Undoubtedly all the governments’ attempt to attain development; nonetheless, the country remains backward. Mere development is not the only goal of our government, because if the pace of development is not fast then we can say that we have not achieved development. Almost all governments claim that they have achieved development; nevertheless, Narendra Bhai Modi has defined development with a new discernment and that is change with development with transformational form. Growth with change broadly means that change can only happen if we develop at a faster pace. You have seen that previously Five-Year-Plan mechanism was in place, which could continue to go on and finally it was cancelled because the population explosion was so high that the plan could not cope with rising demands. My own belief is that if this country is to become a big economic power, then we need ‘speedy development’ and transformation can come through ‘speedy development. ‘Many new schemes are included in the priority list of our government to facilitate this transformation and the Steel Ministry is also moving ahead with those new plans.
A report from the First Construction Council appeared in the media in recent days, which reveals about failure of samples of iron-rods of all 16 companies out a total of 28 companies. Who authorised the First Construction Council to prepare this report and when. Is this in your notice and what have you to say about it?
See, there is a big inflow of such reports. This is our notice and we will investigate its authenticity. We will try to ascertain the qualifications of the people who published this report and also examine as to on what parameters they have prepared this report. The investigation report will come out next week, then only we will be in a position to say something about it appropriately. As far as standard of screening of steel quality of this Ministry is concerned, there is 86 percent material in the steel is BIS-licensed in India, one of which is TMT bar. BIS is an institution that certifies millions of products being bought by the consumer within India. The BIS is doing its job well and consumers can buy iron-rods without any doubt because it is licensed by the BIS. Such reports come in a lot and some of them have good analytics too, and some of these reports even warn us that in which specific areas we are not able to have the analysis. By the way, authorized reports are more meaningful and we also take cognizance of unauthorised reports so as to ascertain as to what kind of these reports are and what kind of results they offer.
This report describes about failed samples SAIL Tata and Jindal. On the other hand, the share of the small and medium entrepreneurs is increasing in the monopoly-holding of the big industrial houses. Is it part of a larger conspiracy?
It is part of the report and whosoever reads the report will develop the similar viewpoint; nevertheless, the government and the Ministry will not allow small and medium entrepreneurs to be affected by such private reports. This can be your viewpoint that secondary steel could be affected by such reports, However, I understand that the modus operandi of Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which is under implementation for the past one-and-half year, has brought 86 percent steel products, either from the large integrated steel plants or from secondary steel industry, under the BIS. The secondary steel never got an opportunity to place its product in competition with Integrated Steel Plants because their participation in the big tenders was not possible. Therefore, to bring the quality of secondary steel up to accepted level, we had to import BIS standard and the resultant impact was start of pouring in of good results. I feel that big or small in steel industry will get a fair chance at one level.
It has been an endeavour on the part of the Prime Minister that small industries should be promoted, but this report is rejecting it altogether even the very existence of these industries?
Now I will not be able to comment on what does this report mean. Such issues have come to my notice. Before taking up this issue to the Cabinet I was under the impression that there were some enterprises that were creating trouble for the secondary steel producers and the Sulphur was one such among others. In order to enable small steel entrepreneurs to improve their steel quality, we contemplated of bringing their steel quality on a level at which the standard steel is made; in other words, in accordance with the BIS Standards. We established SRTM under this mechanism and under the SRTM we have accomplished some work, including innovations. We have come across certain things with the help of which we have discovered some deficiencies in Sulphur or its contents which can be removed or have been removed. That is why BIS Standard is being used so that no company or individual remains dependent on someone else to sell his product. BIS means that Tata Steel has also BIS and a small entrepreneur also possesses a BIS and both have equal opportunity. No one can claim that his product is of superior quality or inferior quality. Undoubtedly, the BIS is not under this Ministry; nevertheless, since we created this policy hence, we have seen to it that no effort is left out in its sincere implementation. The reason is that we have a capacity of producing 134 million tons whereas we are currently producing 102 million tons; therefore, a watchful eye has to be kept so that no violation of the BIS Standard takes place. I even feel that any violation of BIS standard is not in any body’s interest. If a small entrepreneur thinks that has nothing to do with the BIS, it is this mindset we are trying to change gradually. Change of this mindset will bring the product of small entrepreneur to the level of quality on par with the quality of large steel plant. Undoubtedly, we have nothing to do with who prepares the report and how; nonetheless, we have instructed our Ministry since the publication of this report to discuss about this report and to find out how it came about. It has also to be found out whether this report has or does not have any authority; what kind of analysis was there and what things have they tested to declare them failure according to what BIS Standards?
Will the Ministry investigate?
We will get it fully investigated. Thus far, we have gathered some data and will get it investigated next week and only then we will be able to arrive at some conclusion. I would like that this type of investigation is undertaken by an authorized agency then it would be better for the industry. It will also be good for the secondary industry.
As your Ministry has fixed the target of producing 300 million tons took by 2030 for the development of our country’s infrastructure? What do you have to say about this?
There are two things in it: First to create a productioncapacity of 300 million tons. It seems to me that there is no big deal in it and it can be achieved in the next 12 years. This is our roadmap for 12 years. This will require an investment of nearly Rs 10 lakh crore. But in this regard, I believe that the objective should be not only to create capacity for steel production, but also to encourage quality steel production. It is because if we have to compete in the global steel market, then products of our steel industry should be of highest quality like steel for automotive, steel for defence preparedness, surgical instruments and instruments for medical science etc. The steel used for manufacturing launching pads for the satellite has been provided by SAIL and India has not to import from abroad. Essential requirements of steel can only be fulfilled, if we are equipped with appropriate technology. It is also necessary to take into account the technology factor, because when our technology of high quality then only we will be able to produce high quality steel. Our export of quality steel to other countries is contingent upon our ability and capacity to produce high quality steel within the country.
It is also stated in this this that iron-rods made from the sponge iron are of poor quality whereas iron-rods manufactured from blast furnace are of excellent quality; made from blast furnace; what is the take of your Ministry on this?
See, whether the steel is made from sponge iron or from blast furnace, we have nothing to do with it. Irrespective of the way steel is produced, our parameter is one and that is that the steel produced should be according to BIS Standards. No producer does want that his steel should be of poor quality, all producers want to produce quality steel. Even if there a few, they have also got their quality improved. India is the world’s largest producer of sponge iron. Let me tell you that non-coking coal is required to manufacture sponge iron and this variety of coal is available in India in huge quantities. While manufacturing steel from blast furnace, coking coal is required, which has to be imported and it exerts a great pressure on our foreign exchange reserves. When the country’s largest manufacturing companies like Tata and Jindal are making goods from iron sponge, then the question of iron-rods manufactured from sponge iron being of poor quality does not arise. The BIS Standard becomes applicable only when we either beat it or attain it. As I have said, till today 86 percent steel manufactured in the country is according to BIS Standard and our attempt is to see that the remaining 14 percent steel is also brought in accordance with the BIS Standard s soon as possible. The BIS Standard does not mean that it is a matter of competition between Integrated Steel Plant and Small Steel Plant. It is not that even if the steel imported from abroad does not beat our standard, then we will not let it enter our country. It is also possible that prospects of dumping from abroad are increasing. China has amassed production of steel and the US has imposed sanctions on it. Under such a situation, there is only one way to import from outside, especially when the private sector is not producing that good only that good need to be imported and even if we manufacture that then it should be compatible with BIS Standard. We would like that all quality steel is produced within the country.
But according to the reports, some well-known engineers say that the reason for falling of any bridge or house is due to negligence in maintenance in the design? Reports also state that the reason for the collapse of bridges or houses in the country is attributable to the use of poor-quality steel.
Look, if a 70-year old or a 100-year old bridge collapses, there could be a defect in its engineering design or its maintenance could be defective, but it is not proper to attribute its fall or collapse due to steel. However, whenever I speak in Ministry, I always emphasize that we should produce such a steel that in case of breakdown or in the case of a collapse or destruction should comply with world standards and cause no damage from the engineering point of view. There should not be compromise with the quality of steel. A few days ago, we got a survey done on 1,5 00 small and big bridges that are required to be replaced or repaired. Most of them are made of concrete and only a few are of steel and some are to be built afresh. We told them to utilize our steel, because life quality of steel bridges would be more durable as compared to concrete bridges and it would be easier to replace them as well. The life span of a steel bridge is estimated to be about 125 years whereas life-span expectancy of a concrete bridge is generally around 75 years. Construction of steel bridge costs less and consumes lesser time, say one-third comparable to concrete bridge.
I believe that a steel bridge becomes operational at a much fasterpace than the concrete one, and its maintenance costs less. Its best example is a 9-kilometer long bridge built in Assam and a stadium in Manipur where with the exception of 10-15 % essential items, rest of the construction is steel-built. These are new things and its increased use by the people will provide a boost to the steel industry.
As you know, our country is the world’s largest sponge iron producer and the penetration of small entrepreneurs in this area is increasing, while Jindal was still dominating this field. Is it not that the agency that prepared the report was working at the behest of Jindal group? What do you say about this?
Who knows who is doing what? It is not about Jindal, but between Integrated Steel Plant and small Plant and there are different ways to build secondary steel. There are three ways; the first being the sponge iron and the other being a blast furnace. But now that era has gone when secondary steel used to lag behind the blast steel. You must have seen that at one time Mandi Govindgarh was the largest steel market and then it underwent a change, but it has been revived again. Now the entrepreneurs have come to realize that they cannot withstand the market without any compaction. Even sponge iron has Too much innovation has taken place in sponge iron in making steel. It is thing of the past when sponge iron was used to make secondary steel. Now the new technology that has come in, the quality of steel made from the scrap will be better than all the steel. It has become almost redundant to talk about how is it made – either through integrated plant or small plant? What matters is its quality.