Official says reckless mining has led to this predicament

Large-scale illegal mining of iron ore in Karnataka has resulted in iron ore deposits being on the verge of depletion in the State, warned a senior economist of the Union Steel Ministry on Wednesday. Addressing a conference on the mining and steel industry in Karnataka, Susmita Dasgupta, Joint Chief Economist, Joint Plant Committee, Ministry of Steel, said the “hurried, irresponsible and reckless” manner in which the mining was done, till it was exposed by the Lokayukta in its report on illegal mining, “indicated that ore exploitation was nearing the bottom of the available reserves”.

Describing the Lokayukta report as a “Mahabharatha” in terms of its attention to detail, Ms. Dasgupta said it exposed the “huge network” that was behind the operation “that would have put even the al-Qaeda to shame”.

Observing that most of the State’s ore was of 56 to 58 per cent ferric content, she said: “Any metallurgist would tell you that such ore would be no good for steel making.” Asked if this meant the end of the road for the steel industry in the State, which accounts for about one-fourth of Indian steel manufacturing capacity, she said: “Neither Japan, nor Europe has much ore, but they have a vibrant steel industry. We should focus on value addition in steel making, which can be done without ore.” Ms. Dasgupta disputed the claim made by some steel makers that pelletisation of fine ores (inferior type of ore that is predominantly available in Karnataka) would be a viable option. “But this requires good quality ore, which is not available here,” Ms. Dasgupta said. “I am sceptical and deeply concerned about how the iron and steel industry is organised,” she remarked. “The steel industry is the most polluting of all industries in India,” she commented.

On contract labour

Ms. Dasgupta also criticised the Indian steel industry for resorting to the widespread use of contract labour, while at the same time complaining of lack of skills in its workforce. “The labour force in the European steel industry, unlike here, enjoys a degree of occupational stability, which ensures the nurturing of skills,” she observed.

Maheshwar Rao, Commissioner of Industries and Commerce, said a large number of projects for which proposals were made at the two Global Investors Meets would be located at the Vijayanagar Area Development Authority (VADA) in Bellary district. “The availability of land is not a problem in this area,” he said.

President of Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry K. Shiva Shanmugam said the demand for ore for pelletisation is likely to double within the next three years.

The conference, which is organised by Ore Team, concludes on Thursday.

Advice to open mines

H.R. Srinivasa, Director, Department of Mines, said his office had, on Tuesday, recommended to the Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court that eight mines, with a combined capacity to produce 5.5 million tonnes per annum, be opened. Sesa Goa, RBSSN, PKB, Vesco, Nadeem, MEL, MML and Zeenath operate the mines, he said. The mines could start operations in three months, he added.

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