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Choice for Mittal, but not Chiria

Ranchi, Nov. 26: Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda today said his government was ready to offer an “alternative” iron ore mine to Mittal Steel for its greenfield project, but the company was welcome to explore options outside if it stuck to its demand on Chiria.

Koda’s statement comes days after Sanak Mishra, the chief executive officer of Mittal Steel India, was quoted as saying that there was no question of setting up the plant in Jharkhand if the company did not get access to the rich Chiria reserves.

Addressing a news conference here, Koda said the state could do little on Chiria, over whose control the government is locked in a court battle with Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL).

“Mittal Steel cannot be assured of mining lease at Chiria as a case is pending in Jharkhand High Court. If they want mining lease at Ankua, we can do the needful,” the chief minister said.

Ankua is located near Chiria in West Singhbhum district.

Government officials said Koda’s offer to Mittal Steel to opt for lease in Ankua indicates that the UPA regime was ready to sacrifice the project as the company has already turned down the proposal.

Mittal Steel, informed a source in the chief minister’s office, had told the government earlier that Ankua was too small a place for the company to start mechanised mining. The area was not enough for big machines and equipment for mining of about 1 million tonnes of iron ore everyday.

“It clearly shows that the powers-that-be are losing interest in the Mittals,” said a mines department official.

A senior Mittal Steel India official, who did not wish to be named, said the company wanted Chiria and was not interested in Ankua.

“We are ready to wait for the court’s verdict. But unless the company gets a firm commitment, how can we go ahead with the project'” he argued.

Mittal Steel had signed an MoU with the Jharkhand government in October last year on setting up the 12-million-tonne plant with a total investment of around Rs 40,000 crore.

The plant requires around 600 million tonnes of iron ore over a 30-year period. Estimates indicate that the Chiria belt has in excess of 2 billion tonnes of iron ore of the finest quality.

A few months later, Mittal Steel boss L.N. Mittal announced a similar project in neighbouring Orissa. Many perceived that the announcement was part of a strategy to mount pressure on the Jharkhand government to expedite the lease impasse over Chiria.

Asked whether the government would offer Chiria if the court verdict went in its favour, Koda later told The Telegraph today that it was early to talk of “what-ifs”. “But if the Mittals want to go to Orissa, I can’t stop them,” he said.

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