Rebuffing steel producers’ demand for a ban on iron ore exports, Mines Minister B. K. Handique today warned that such a move will render thousands jobless and lead to air pollution in and around the mining areas.

“If we ban exports, thousands of people will lose jobs,” Mr. Handique told PTI.

He said in the absence of technology to use the fines (iron ore dust) in the country, steel-makers would be able commercially exploit only the lumps. This would mean heaps of iron ore dust creating a health hazard for people in the mining areas.

“What we will do of the fines? You know it would be almost on the surface. If we don’t export, there will be a lot of pollution,” he said.

Mr. Handique asked the steel-makers, who are lobbying for an outright ban or further increase in duties on ore exports: “Find a technology for it first. Then you talk about it.”

The government has levied 15 per cent export duty on iron ore lumps and 5 per cent on fines.

The demand for restricting ore exports has also come from Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh, who wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in this regard.

The Steel Minister is pushing for restrictions with the contention that the country should preserve the ore reserves for domestic industry.

India produces over 200 million tonnes of iron ore per annum. The 72-million-tonne capacity domestic steel industry mainly consumes lumps, as it lacks the expensive finex technology required to refine the fines on the lines of China.

China, a major steel producer, consumes a large quantity of Indian fines.

About 50 per cent of the iron ore produced in the country is exported and fines constitute 85 per cent of exports.

Exports have nearly tripled over the last decade from about 38 million tonnes in 2000-01 to about 106 million tonnes in 2008-09.

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