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Jagannath and Orissa bait on Mittal lips

July 7: Fresh from his European conquest of Arcelor, Lakshmi Mittal landed in India with Lord Jagannath and thousands of crores on his lips, with an assurance for Ratan Tata thrown in for good measure.

“I hope we would be blessed by Lord Jagannath,” Mittal said in Bhubaneswar, announcing a 12-million-tonne steel plant in Orissa at a cost of around Rs 40,000 crore.

So what happens to his Jharkhand project, which is as large as the surprise Orissa proposal'

“We are not happy with the progress there (in Jharkhand). Though the Jharkhand government is cooperating, we are weighing our options in Orissa. We want to move fast and see if we can take up the Orissa project first,” the smiling 56-year-old takeover tycoon said after a 70-minute meeting with chief minister Naveen Patnaik.

In Delhi, where he met the Prime Minister and the finance minister, Mittal, accompanied by son Aditya, said he was keeping all options open. He could set up a plant in Orissa or in Jharkhand or in both.

After his announcement about Orissa, the Jharkhand government would be worried. Some observers said it was a ploy to play the two states against each other to get the best deal out of them.

In the evening, Mittal was dining with Arjun Munda, the Jharkhand chief minister, with whom at a news conference in October he made an announcement similar to today’s.

The Mittal side is saying it has asked for a letter of comfort from Jharkhand committing iron ore while the state government is arguing that the investor has not applied for even a mining lease.

Mittal was working on the Orissa project away from the public eye. His reconnaissance team has gone as far as to zero in on Keonjhar, Dhamra and Gopalpur as possible locations for the plant that would come up in two phases. Dhamra and Gopalpur are two of the 13 minor ports that would be developed by private players.

Clad in an Armani suit and blue shirt, Mittal and his son made Bhubaneswar their first stop in India.

There was some drama in Delhi, where Mittal and Tata, competitors, were present at the same time. “Why Tisco should be vulnerable... It is news to me,” Mittal said when it was pointed out that Tata decided a couple of days ago to increase his stake in the steel company.

If that was an assurance, Tata returned the compliment. He said he was prepared to help Mittal if there was a problem in Jharkhand.

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