It is important to know that all data, be it for the whole economy or for any specific part of it, must be comparable at all levels. Adequate and representative data is the best indicator to evaluate the performance and health of any sector as qualitative judgment without the appropriate data support loses its sheen and can always be challenged.
Data compilation is a challenging task specifically for a country like ours not only because of the sheer size but mostly due to the variations embedded in the source of data. It is an acknowledged fact that for the organised sector reliable data is generally available, but the same cannot be said for the unorganised segments of the economy and industry. An intelligent assessment on its performance based on other available trend and indirect indicators is possible to make and this has been accepted as a standard practice all over the globe.
For iron and steel sector the intelligent assessment to capture the performance of small and medium enterprises is being done by JPC backed up by periodic survey, organising interactive meeting with them and over the years this data is used for taking relevant policy decisions. The complexities of comparison of data for the sector with that of other countries arise due to the non-uniform definition of what categories are grouped under steel.
Till a decade back, iron and steel in the standard categories was almost similar in all countries. The emergence of special steel, value added products and the practice of many large steel producers going in for production of various downstream products requiring further processing of steel enlarged the scope of definition of steel as a product. The inability of many producers to come out the contours of standard basic categories of steel particularly in the developing countries to widen their production range to cover items like sheet piling, forged bar, wires, cold formed sections, etc. resulted in narrow and wider definition of steel.
World Steel Association, the body compiling global steel data on production, consumption and trading, defines steel that include various items which is outside the scope of our definition of steel categories. A decade back, the role of these segments was insignificant not only in India but also in many other countries. It is no longer so. The development and growth of oil and gas sector and urban infrastructure (demand for welded and seamless tubes and pipes), the fast growth in pre-engineered buildings and pre-fabricated structures, the increasing need for cast and forged steel and wires had widened the gap between coverage of steel items by India and other major steel producing countries.
For instance, WSA data on Sheet Piling (HS Code:7301), Seamless Tubes (HS Code: 7304), Welded and Riveted Tubes (HS Code: 7305), Tube Fittings (HS Code: 7307), Wires (HS Code: 7217/ 7223/7229), Steel Castings (HS Code: 732599), Forged Bar/ Spring Steel (HS Code: 721410/ 722230/722840), Cold Formed sections including coated sections (HS Code: 721661/721669/721691) is considered a part of steel categories and their non-inclusion in Indian data on steel industry has led to some amount of non-compatibility of these two series of data.
Apparently there is a possibility of double counting in taking into account the volume of processed steel when its base material has already been considered like in case of welded tubes and tube fittings that are processed out of tubes only. Thus if the process of production is different and can be sourced from material other than the base categories of the same, it justifies inclusion, otherwise not.
It is not known if we can develop an appropriate mechanism to obtain reasonably reliable data on the above categories after the necessary corrections. There also remains an issue of developing the past series with these revisions as a longer data series of minimum 10 years is needed for an econometric analysis on production, consumption and trade.
A beginning, however, is to be made some day, otherwise there is likely to be a shortfall of roughly 2.0-2.5 million tonne in Indian steel production and consumption when compared with WSA data on steel.
The author is DG, Institute of Steel Growth and Development. Views expressed are personal.