The new steel policy focuses on reducing imports of high quality steel and increasing crude steel capacity to 300 million tonnes by 2030-31, from 134 million tonnes at present. It plans to ramp up per capita consumption of steel from 69 kg per capita at present to around 160 kg by 2030-31. The policy should, however, have taken environmental repercussions into account.

Recent assertions by the Steel Ministry suggest that it has not given serious thought to water conservation, despite steel being a water-intensive industry. A 2011 FICCI study on water requirements for industry points to issues of availability and quality. It says: “While 60 per cent of the respondents agree that availability of water is impacting their business today, the figure rises to 87 per cent after 10 years.” The study adds: “While inadequate availability is the major risk facing the industries (37 per cent), others agree that poor water quality is another major risk in the running of business (14 per cent).” Sustainable development initiatives in steel appear to be limited to RINL running a rainwater harvesting scheme.

Industry as a whole must take the lead in recycling municipal and industrial waste water for use, rather than relying on surface and groundwater sources. Although agriculture accounts for over 80 per cent of water use, poor water management by industry, by impacting quality and availability, affects all categories of water users. It is surprising that the NITI Aayog’s concern over water availability, reflected in its recent dire report on the subject, has not percolated to other arms of the government.

A part of India’s steel demand (about 12 per cent, according to another FICCI study) is driven by the auto sector, which has undeniable negative externalities. This needs to be questioned, in the context of an economic model that relies excessively auto sector growth. A disdain for sustainable development is not a good sign.

Senior Deputy Editor