Steel minister okay with divestment, has identified units


New Delhi: Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh Wednesday pushed for divestment of stake in companies under his ministry and said he would take up the issue of adequate supplies of feedstock for steel units with the states concerned.

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“If the policy of disinvestment is approved, we have some companies on our mind,” Singh told reporters while presenting his ministry’s agenda for the next 100 days.

The minister also hinted at an early solution to the dispute over ownership of the Chiria mines between the lessor, the Jharkhand government, and the lessee, Steel Authority of India (SAIL).

“We propose to set up empowered committees at the state level and the central level for deciding on mining issues,” he said.

Regarding Chiria, Singh made his preference clear: “Chiria mines should go to SAIL.”

SAIL wants control of the mines, which have estimated reserves of over two billion tonnes of high-grade iron ore. This is capable of feeding SAIL’s requirement after its capacity expansion to 26.3 million tonnes, scheduled to go on stream in 2011-12.

Singh said his ministry would strive to ensure that iron ore is fully utilised within the country. The steel industry has traditionally opposed export of high-grade iron ore, an important raw material for steel plants.

On the subject of coal, the minister said both public and private sector steel companies have complained about the fuel’s shortage and poor transport facilities.

“We are looking into the problems,” Singh said.

Regarding steel prices, the minister said “the situation is not alarming”, but cautioned steel companies against implementing a hike. “The government will take a stringent view of any steel price hike as it would not be justified,” he said.

He, however, evaded queries concerning safeguard duties on steel and dumping of steel products by China.