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Jindal seal on steel project

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By Staff Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 22.12.06

Calcutta, Dec. 22: If the agitation around Singur has left a bad taste in the investor’s mouth, two events should wash away the foulness.

Today, Sajjan Jindal-owned JSW Steel firmed up its decision to set up a Rs 10,000-crore plant in Bengal. On Sunday, the Prime Minister will flag off another nearly Rs 10,000-crore modernisation of Indian Iron and Steel Company, the country’s first integrated steel plant, at Burnpur.

Jindal, who met the chief minister, will sign an agreement with the government on January 11, paving the way for the steel mill.

After the meeting with government officials, Jindal said he was keen on starting work before the monsoon. It will take about three years to complete the plant with a 3-million-tonne initial capacity and a captive power station of 600 megawatts. The plan is to take the capacity up to 10,000 million tonnes.

This will be the largest single investment in Bengal ever.

The plant will come up on a 5,000-acre plot at Salboni in West Midnapore. Reminded of the Singur controversy, Jindal said he did not foresee any problem in acquiring land, but noted that the responsibility lay with the government.

“We are here at the invitation of the state government,” he said.

West Midnapore district magistrate B.P. Barat said around 95 per cent of the land for the Jindal project is fallow, barring a few acres in two mouzas, inhabited by tribals. A small portion of the 5,000 acres is vested in the government.

Sasadhar Mahato, a member of the CPI(Maoist), is known to be active in the area, but no incident of violence has been reported from there.

Jindal promised to unveil a comprehensive rehabilitation package over and above what the government would give.

The project, expected to create work for 10,000 people, was junked about a year ago after Jharkhand denied iron ore to Bengal. So, what has changed?

Sources said relatively easy availability of such a large tract of land and a crucial process-change in technology have made a steel mill in Bengal possible.

Fines (or dust), the name given to the waste generated at the time of mining iron ore, are formed into pellets, high in ferrous content, and used in the blast furnace to make steel.

Earlier, fines were simply discarded because steel-makers preferred iron ore lumps. With the steel industry on an upturn and getting a captive mine becoming difficult, it makes sense to use the abundant supply of fines. India exports close to 90 million tonnes of fines a year.

JSW Steel had dropped Bengal because it could not get a captive mine in neighbouring Orissa and Jharkhand, despite the chief minister taking up the issue in Delhi.

This time, Jindal is ready to buy iron ore fines from the market while the state will assure coal.

“Few in India use this process, even though it is popular elsewhere, especially in China. But it is fast catching up. This is a crucial step for new steel projects like the one in Bengal,” said Biswadip Gupta, the vice-chairman of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce & Industry who has played a key role in bringing Jindal to Bengal.