| Lakshmi Mittal with son Aditya in New Delhi on Friday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, July 7: The titans of steel were in the capital today: they didn’t clash but turned it into a day for delicious irony.
Steel tycoon L.N. Mittal stunned everyone early in the day with a surprise announcement that he was considering relocating his proposed 12-million-tonne steel plant from Jharkhand to Orissa, frustrated with the tardiness of the Arjun Munda government in granting clearances.
Ratan Tata, who was also in town chairing a meeting of the Investment Commission, offered late in the evening to resolve any problem that Mittal faced with his investment plans in India.
Tata’s offer was remarkable since it was only two days ago that he had announced that he would be raising the promoters’ stake in Tata Steel to ward off a takeover threat that everyone seemed to assume would be mounted by Mittal.
With finance minister P Chidambaram by side after the meeting of the commission, Tata told reporters: “If Mittal does have a problem which he thinks we can help resolve, we will be very happy to resolve it as we have done in case of Posco.”
“Any help is welcome,” Mittal responded later when told about Tata’s statement.
The gracious offer and its acceptance capped a day of high drama that began with Mittal’s meeting this morning in Bhubaneswar with Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik where he said he would sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government shortly for the steel project. If the deal is signed, it will be the second large integrated steel plant to be located in the state after the deal signed just over a year ago with Posco of South Korea.
But later in the evening 'after pow-wow sessions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister P. Chidambaram and a number of other ministers ' Mittal appeared to have changed tack once again.
He told reporters after these meetings that he was keeping his options open on both Orissa and Jharkhand and even raised the prospect of investing in both states if he secured adequate iron ore mining rights.
Mittal said he was ready with a war chest of Rs 40,000 crore for his Indian venture, but could raise the amount depending on the opportunities that came his way.
Mittal said his company would set up a steel manufacturing capacity of 12 million tonnes in two phases of 6 million tonnes each.
Mittal emphasised that Jharkhand had not been ruled out at this stage for the steel project. However, he admitted that plans for the project had not proceeded at the required pace. “We expected more from Jharkhand....mining studies had been carried out and discussions had taken place on the land to be allotted for the project,'' he added.
Mittal said he had held a successful meeting with Patnaik and his company would set up a joint working group with Orissa to draw up a feasibility report for the project.