Left-wing extremism in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar and Dantewada districts, which has been on a perceptible decline in recent years, could regain ferocity if the Centre goes ahead with a plan to privatise the under-construction, R15,525-crore steel plant of public-sector NMDC at Nagarnar, the state government has warned.
Sources said Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh has recently written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing reservations about the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs’ (CCEA) November 2016 decision to offload 51% equity in the steel unit in favour of a private company. Singh has also already raised the issue with Union steel minister Birender Singh. The so-called strategic disinvestment of the Nagarnar steel plant could result in an upsurge in Maoist/Naxal activities in the region and spoil the state’s effort to restore peace in the region with prosperity, he warned.
“There is a local feeling against disinvestment. The people want the unit to retain its public sector character and are against giving management control to a private firm. Our chief minister is keenly aware of the local sentiments and so expressed his reservations (about the CCEA decision),” said a source in the state government, on condition of anonymity.
Going by the current pace of construction, the plant could be commissioned by 2017-end.
Though the CCEA, headed by Modi, gave its in-principle approval for strategic disinvestment of the Nagarnar steel plant, there hasn’t been any official communication from the Union government to the state on the issue so far, the source added.
However, in a communique to the stock exchanges on December 2, NMDC made the mandatory disclosure regrading the strategic disinvestment proposal.
A pure-play miner, NMDC had in 2009-10 conceived the 3-million-tonne-per-annum Nagarnar steel plant with the intention of moving up the value chain and diversifying its portfolio. The idea was also to hedge itself against the vagaries of iron ore prices. Questions were raised on the decision in the steel ministry itself as many felt that NMDC would better serve its mandate by harnessing its mining expertise. In 2013, a global tender was also floated by NMDC for roping in a partner with experience and expertise in making steel for the Chhattisgarh steel unit, but that was in vain.
The government has been toying with the idea of disinvestment since then. Representatives from South Korean steel major Posco, which has been struggling to find a solid foothold in India for long, had also visited the plant sometime last year, but have not come out with any proposal so far.
NMDC was also considering offering the maintenance and operational contract for the steel plant to another PSU steel maker Rashtriya Ispat Nigam in lieu of sharing a fixed percentage of annual profit. The steel ministry has already ruled out giving state-run SAIL any equity participation in NMDC’s steel venture as its “plate is already full”.
The local protest against giving majority stake in the steel plant to a private firm is mainly because it would lead to neglect of the promised associated development of the Maoist-infested region. The number of job opportunities might also be less under a private management, it is felt.