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Coal fillip for Bengal steel units

Calcutta, Sept. 5: The Bengal government plans to develop the abandoned mines of Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) and those outside the purview of Coal India Limited to facilitate coal supply to the mid-sized iron and steel industries that are coming up in the state.

“We are talking to the ECL authorities so that these mines can be developed by West Bengal Mines and Minerals Development Corporation. We will invite a strategic partner who will develop the mines to produce coal for the iron and steel industry,” state chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb told the members of the Bharat Chamber of Commerce.

The Bengal government wants to join hands with four to five iron-ore rich states, including Orissa and Jharkhand, for a steady supply of the raw material for the iron and steel industry.

“This proposal was mooted at the August 21 meeting of the secretaries of industries and mines of these states,” Deb added.

The issue of iron ore has gained prominence following Jindal Steel’s proposal to set up a 5-million-tonne greenfield steel project in the state. Bengal is currently negotiating with Jharkhand so that the Jindals can procure iron ore from the neighbouring state. The matter is now in the office of the Prime Minister.

Deb also outlined the areas where the state is lagging. Citing a World Bank report, he said the government is not responsive to small and medium industries. “This attitude needs to be changed immediately,” he said.

“This is creating a negative impact,” he said. The government is taking steps to handle the situation, he added.

The other three areas of concern are lack of proper infrastructure, trade union activities and weak financial health of the state.

“We are drawing up a plan with the ministry of surface transport to develop the national highways of the state,” the chief secretary said.

He accepted that even today there remains a negative perception about trade unionism in the state. “That is not the truth. We have recently made a path-breaking wage agreement with the tea industry by linking incentive with productivity. If needed, we will do the same for other industries as well,” he added.

Deb emphasised the need to increase state revenue through aggressive collection of the sales tax. “We are far behind other states. If the sales tax is collected rigorously, we will be able to bridge the fiscal deficit gap,” he said.

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