Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Iron Ore Reserves To Last For Only 20 Years?

I still remember a few shots of the famous film 'MacKenna's Gold' which had Gregory Peck's refrain "There is no gold around there. The only dust I found there was prairie dust!". Does such a spectre haunt the Indian steel industry for its depleting iron ore reserves? May not be for now but after 20 years or so according to some sceptics.
The National Steel Policy aims at raising the steel production capacity to 110 million tonnes by the year 2019-20. For every tonne of steel making, 1.6 tonnes of an earthy thing - iron ore or hematite is required. India has got a deposit of 13 billion tonnes of iron ore and three states - Orissa, Jharkhand and Chattishgarh are blessed with the bulk of the deposits. So it is no wonder that investments from far and wide are converging on them. A total of 116 Memorandum of
Understandings (MOU) for installation of 146 million tonnes capacity and investment of Rs3.5 lakh crores ($70 billion) are being flaunted as a sign of appetite for steel industry in India. It includes giants like Posco of South Korea for a 12 million tonne project in Orissa and
Mittal-Arcelor for a similar capacity in either or both the states of Jharkhand and Orissa.
Alarmed at this 'Iron-Rush' which will predictably exhaust the known deposits in just 20 years or so, three apex Chambers of Commerce - Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Assocham and FICCI together with the public sector and private sector majors like RINL, Tata Steel, Essar Steel and others have sought for a review of the Hoda panel's recommendations by the interministerial panel set up for the very purpose.The Hoda panel's recommendations have unnerved the existing steel manufacturers for its startling conclusion that iron ore scarcity is a
myth and there need not be any quantitive restriction either on export of iron ore. India's iron ore exports have been rising spectacularly from 32 million tonnes in the year 2000 to 92 million tonnes in 2005. The steel manufacturing companies, on the other hand, want the exports
to be cut down 15% every year for total phasing out by the year 2013.So the tug of war goes on between those who believe India's iron ore reserves are adequate and those who are concerned at rising exports as well as new capacities gobbling up reserves.Before it is too late, a realistic estimate of iron ore reserves and its optimum utilisation should be undertaken on a war footing. The reserves should be earmarked for the existing plants and the new projects and lastly exports if any surplus remains.
Otherwise, it would be putting the cart before the horse!

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