Iisco gets back its shine

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Published: April 8, 2015 12:04:26 AM

India’s oldest steel plant will soon commission its most modern unit

The modernised and expanded Iisco Steel Plant (ISP) of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (Sail) is now waiting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s date for final commissioning. What used to be India’s oldest steel plant with a primitive technology is now India’s latest steel plant with the most modern technology. The area on which the R18,000-crore investment has taken place is a transformed place with the buzz of economic activities getting louder by the day. Burnpur, in Asansol, till recently lived in its past glory.

Burnpur in Asansol, till recently lived in its past glory. It was home to Asia’s premier iron and steel making facilities. It goes back to the days of James Erskine when he pioneered the production of iron using coal instead of charcoal. He founded the Bengal Iron Works in 1870 at Kulti, very close to Burnpur. Later Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee and Sir Acquin Martin, who together founded Martin & Co, bought over the plant.

They were also responsible for opening the first iron ore mine at Pansiraburu in Singhbhum, which was then in Bengal but now in Jharkhand.

The Steel Corporation of Bengal had set up the steel plant at Burnpur, adjacent to the iron making facilities of Kulti in 1939. The two were merged and operated under the managing agency of Martin Burn in the early 50s. In the early 60s, it became a one-million-tonne plant and its shares were quoted on the London Stock Exchange. Gradually all its glamour and glory faded and Burnpur started living on its history with nothing to look forward.

But the modernisation has changed the scenario, with signs of prosperity dotted all around. There are glitzy malls and overflowing markets.

There are at least two townships that have come up over the last six years with three multinational food chains. Land prices have shot up ten-fold after the expansion work took off. “This has been the biggest investment in the eastern region, which will also help in boosting West Bengal’s economy”, Sail chairman CS Verma said.

ISP is now ready for full scale operation with all the seven major packages commissioned. The raw material handling system, the coke oven complex, the sinter plant, the rolling mills and the major common facilities comprising the oxygen plant, the power & blowing station and rain receiving have become operational. The blast furnace, which will commercially produce 8,000 tonne hot metal a day and the steel making units are also in place.

But before everything was in place there was a mishap in the plant. The new coke oven battery was on fire and it injured 21 people. This delayed the completion of modernisation, but on December 1, 2014 the country’s largest blast furnace was lit in the 75-year-old plant.

ISP has now become the country’s first plant capable of making green steel using Electro Static Percipitation facility. It is now a 2.5-million-tonne steel plant waiting for the Prime Minister, who, sources say, could come to Burnpur in May.

However, even without the blast furnace and the steel making units, ISP has been producing steel from its rolling mills with hot metal from its twin hearth furnace, among the most primitive technologies. The hot metal was carried 2.5 km to put into the continuous casting plant (CCP), where billets are made for the rolling mills. The billets are used to produce wire rods and TMT bars. Billets are also being supplied from the Durgapur Steel Plant to enable the rolling mills run to full capacity.

“We took the trouble and risk of carrying the hot metal to a distance of 2.5 km, since we were required to keep our CCP and other facilities running. If such facilities were not kept operational by the time the blast furnace and the steel making units were ready, the CCP and other units would have required complete checking. This will be time consuming”, an official said.

Project implementation has run much behind the schedule and the cost of modernisation has nearly doubled to R18,000 crore from the original R9,600 crore. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the project’s foundation stone in December 2006 when Iisco; India’s second integrated steel plant (Tisco—now Tata Steel—in Jamshedpur being the first), was merged with Sail. This was an initiative for resurrecting one of Asia’s finest steel plants, which has become India’s most modern plant with efficiency to produce steel at the lowest cost. Iron ore would be sourced from its captive mines at Gua, Chiria and Monoharpur and coking coal from its captive collieries at Chasnala and Ramnagar.

The delay occurred mainly because there were adverse soil conditions, wherein slag and steel boulders were found at the work site. This delayed the project by over two years. There was also dispute over a small plot within the 900-acre project area, over the relocation of a village deity.

Sail chairman CS Verma, who had a big hand in expediting implementation, identified all critical jobs and broke them into small activities. He formed teams so that each team could timely complete its targeted work. ISP, he said, would be important in realising Sail’s 2020 vision with a capacity to produce 2.7 million tonne of hot metal from a man power of just 8,000.

ISP is the only steel plant in India which, though in small quantity, had produced Z bars and piling used in bridges and tunnels. The modern plant would produce such import-substitute steel on a larger scale, an official said.

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