Draft National Steel Policy to be ready soon, says Birender Singh

Chaudhary Birender Singh, Union Minister for Steel on Wednesday inaugurated the two-day India Steel-2017 exhibition and conference here. In his inaugural address, he complimented the industry representatives for posting good growth figures in 2016-17. "I want as much growth and one per cent more," he exhorted. Production increased by 9 per cent last year, so it should go up by 10 per cent this year. He expressed confidence although the past three years were challenging for the steel industry, the government had been intervening strategically at important times and thus today India is a net exporter, and among the few countries that have a positive demand for steel.

"The government has provided the steel industry with a level playing field, and the industry has responded by converting challenges to opportunities".

Chaudhary Birender Singh highlighted five focus areas where he felt further effort was needed: (i) production and productivity increase; (ii) R&D; (iii) 'India-made' steel; (iv) demand boost for steel; and (v) excellence in quality and efficiency.

He asserted that demand will increase because India is strategically placed with a demand for infrastructure development in this part of the world. "The next destination for steel consumption will be the African continent," he disclosed. Hence for the next 50 years, lack of consumption will not hamper production. The government will soon be releasing a National Steel Policy draft, which will give concrete shape to its vision and plans for the steel industry.

He declared that he wanted to bring a 100 per cent quality regime into the steel sector. "Quality regime is one of the factors which can increase our exports to great heights." The quality regime will be driven by the availability of raw materials, demand generation and R&D.

He revealed that his ministry was working with other departments to make alternative raw materials available so that the industry need not be unduly dependent on coking coal. He also mentioned that he is considering a proposal to make it mandatory to use India-made steel in key projects.

He also called for increased R&D. "We have been limiting ourselves to incremental improvements," he said calling for work on new technologies to overcome bottlenecks. He expressed disappointment that although India is the third largest producer of steel, we still import value-added and specialised steels that are not made here. He also felt that in this era, R&D should also include marketing. "We have gained speed and momentum on the runway in the last two to three years. Now is the time for take-off and touch commanding heights of success," he concluded.

The minister released a FICCI-KPMG report on the steel industry. Earlier, Dr A Didar Singh, Secretary General, FICCI, welcomed the delegates and CEOs to the inaugural session.

Dr Aruna Sharma, Secretary Ministry of Steel, delivered the keynote address. Praising the industry representatives for their effort, she reminded them that they still had a production target of 300 tonnes. She said that a major challenge is to identify which materials steel can replace, citing drinking water pipes, building material, and structures for wood and timber. Speaking of the advantages of using steel over other materials, she said, "There are reports that highlight the hazards of using alternative materials in the drinking water industry."

The Steel Ministry is trying to work on diminishing the dependence on iron ore and bringing in some stability in input costs, she informed.

Lowering the power tariff is another challenge. "Each one of you has brought down the cost of production. Your efficiency and management bring it down," she said to the industry barons.
Dr Edwin Basson, Director General, World Steel Association, presented a special address. He felt that by 2018, China may go back to 2014 levels of production, and India is poised to become the third largest user and producer of steel. It may even reach the number two spot. "India is the focus for optimism in our global steel industry," he said. He explained that India has a successful economy from the steel perspective, a large, young population, the need for infrastructure, a good labour force and a strong history of production.

Yet, he cautioned, globally there is a decline in the demand for steel. This is partly due to the success of the industry. "We have better and stronger steels; we don't need as much as we did 20 years ago." He foresaw that industry will have to be ready to face a future with slower growth than in the past.
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