Our Bureau

Chennai, Nov. 13

INDIA can produce steel far more competitively than China can, according to Mr B. Muthuraman, Managing Director, Tata Steel. "China has no business making steel. We can beat the hell out of the Chinese," he said, in his speech at the silver jubilee celebrations of the Madras Metallurgical Society.

India can make steel and supply to China, he said.

Mr Muthuraman said this in the context of spelling out what needs to be done to develop the steel sector the comparison with China was to illustrate India's strengths that need to be capitalised on.

Today, India produces 36 million tonnes of steel compared with China's 300 million tonnes. However, India's per capita consumption of steel is just 30 kg, against 220 kg of China. Consumption (and therefore production) in India would only increase, when steel would get more into areas like building construction, he said.

Mr Muthuraman said India's production of steel could reach 300 million tonnes a year, if only certain enabling measures were taken.

First, he said, infrastructure had to be improved. He illustrated this saying that it was cheaper to transport steel from Jamshedpur to Chicago than to Mumbai. He said that a production capacity of, say, 300 million tonnes meant some 20-30 large integrated steel plants on perhaps 5,000 acres of land each, with a lot of attendant facilities such as roads, power plants and water sources. He said he did not see all these happening with the present infrastructure.

Second, Mr Muthuraman said India would need a large fleet of engineers who could design steel plants. Again comparing with China, he said the country had about 20,000 metallurgists in metallurgy design institutes, while India had perhaps about a hundred. Every time an Indian company needed to put up a steel plant, it would have to go to a foreign company for design of blast furnace. "You can't depend upon external agencies to help you out in every bit of technology," he said.

Third, he said that India needed vast human resources in the field of metals. Because of the "need to attract young minds", Tata Steel commissioned and brought out a story that would appeal to young minds, which had iron and steel as its subtle theme. The company has also started a one-year programme in IIT-Kharagpur on iron and steel.

There have been other measures too: In Jameshedpur, every week a bus load of children are taken around the steel plant.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 14, 2005)
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