Steel minister Virbhadra Singh said the government plans to impose an additional tax on steel imports to protect the domestic industry from cheap foreign products. ''The issue has to be addressed immediately,'' Singh told journalists upon taking charge of his ministry on Friday. A 5 per cent duty is currently levied on imports, but the industry is demanding an additional duty of 20-25 per cent.
Listing out his other priorities, Singh said he would ensure expansion of the production capacity of public sector giants like the Steel Authority of India and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam. He also said he is keen on pushing for clearances for pending foreign investment proposals.
"The domestic industry has been complaining against cheap steel from China. There is a need to urgently address this issue... There will also be a thrust on raising both production and consumption of steel in the country. Average steel consumption in India is 46 kg annually against the world average of 150 kg,'' Singh said.
"The demand from consumers is to reduce prices, and the steel plants are seeking special steps against imports. The ministry will soon come out with a comprehensive policy in this regard," Singh said.
A revised national mineral policy to give transparent access to mines and restructuring smaller public sector units to enable mergers in the sector are other thrust areas for Singh. Among other issues, the minister intends to push for infrastructure creation in the steel producing areas of the country.
Singh also said overseas acquisition of coal mines and adding value to ore "instead of exporting it mindlessly'' would get priority, especially since deposits of iron ore were limited in the country. More than half of the ore mined in India is being exported at present.
''The ministry of mines will be requested to undertake consequential amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 to bring the changes to force,'' he said.
Singh said the two major state-owned steel producers, SAIL and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd, will collectively invest over Rs 700 crore in their expansion projects over two years. SAIL plans to raise its annual capacity to 26 million tonnes from 15 million tonnes and Rashtriya Ispat seeks to double its capacity to 6 million tonnes.
"NMDC Ltd is also proposing to set up a green field integrated steel plant to produce 3 million tonnes steel per annum at Chhattisgarh. The completion of this project on time will be another key priority,'' he said.
The government is also planning to speed up investment proposals of Rs11 lakh crore in steel. ''I intend to set up an appropriate mechanism to expedite investment proposals and statutory clearances,'' said Singh. A number of foreign investment proposals are awaiting clearance, the minister said.