The inward-looking economic policy contributed significantly to nurture complacency in the existing methods and processes and innovation was not a popular concept.
The concept of quality is relatively new in our country. We have been enjoying our golden past in the supreme belief that our traditional modes of life were quite up to our accepted standards. The climates all over the country with their seasonality and fluctuating trends of the monsoon were tolerable and even the heavy costs of lives, health hazards, safety violations were taken for granted. The primary attitude towards life based on serenity, simplicity and pristine purity were adopted as the standard mode at all walks of life. The inward looking economic policy contributed significantly to nurture complacency in the existing methods and processes and innovation was not a popular concept. The opening up of the economy, rapid industrialisation and the prescription of competitiveness generated heated debates on impact of new technology and innovations on employment, job requirements, skilling and income generation. The word, business, considered for long a secondary occupation was always associated with profit motive, exploitation of the poor and was subservient to the whims of policy planners and executive agencies.
All these have changed now for an entirely different method of looking at the success of business which is considered a successful venture on the basis of commercial viability, producer of quality goods in accordance with the set standards of BIS. In the initial years 2012-13, the SMEs were given time to match the specifications for semi finished steel and long products, the predominant areas of operation by them. A few numbers of standards (for instance, TMT < 12mm in coils, pencil ingots etc) were introduced for non-critical applications. A few other specifications, which were broad in nature and not able to address the specific concerns of the selected segments, were modified. A major improvement in the Quality Control Order was the list of relevant ITC (HS) codes of tariff classification of iron and steel (I&S) products which need to be conformed for the standard mentioned. This implies that the order is not only applicable for the domestic producers; it is simultaneously relevant for all the imported products. As a mark of compliance, the producer has to become a license holder of BIS.
More than 2,100 numbers of steel producers of various I&S and related raw materials like sponge iron, EAF, IF, HR, CR, coated products, tin plates, etc, are expected to follow BIS standards relevant for their product categories. Unfortunately, there remain a large number of units which are not yet registered with BIS for carrying out the production and marketing operations. The non-availability of product testing facilities in all the clusters of I&S product is an issue for not complying with the quality order. The pace of setting up testing facilities in the clusters like Raipur, Ahmedabad, Ghaziabad, Mandi, Ludhiana, Coimbatore, Durgapur, Vizag, Bhavnagar, Chennai and others needs to be speeded up to enable the entire SME sector to come under the purview of quality prescriptions.
It is equally important that the quality order is implemented with little compromise like it is being done in other countries. It is gratifying that specific clauses including penal provisions have been added in the order for its rigid compliance by all and sundry. It is a matter of concern that despite these orders, significant volumes are still being imported in categories like CRC, coated products, tin plates, pipes and in some alloy grades. Utmost care and adequate knowledge in respect of equivalent international standards are needed by the Customs authorities at each entry point at the ports. Time has come when India can request for mandatory declaration of equivalent Indian standards conforming to the product contained in the Bill of lading at the port of origin. This exercise is possible as the order currently specifies the standards in ITC (HS) Code of 8-digit classification to describe the product characteristics with sufficient clarity.
In case, an advance mechanism is installed like in USA and other countries to declare the impending import arrivals in advance, sufficient time would be available to carry on the mapping of the relevant international standards with Indian standards before these are allowed to enter Indian shores. It may be mentioned here that till this day, a good volume of seconds and defective steel ( total seconds and defectives of 4,32,000 mt in FY18 and 89,000 mt during April-May’18) are entering India and when most of these are marketed as prime varieties leading to windfall profits by the unscrupulous agents in the domestic market, it violates the safety and health norms prescribed by the Government and the unsuspecting consumers and other users fall prey to inferior grades products that destroy the quality standards of the end products made out of them, besides causing injury to the overall welfare of the consumers. It is, therefore, imperative that buyers are made aware of the harmful impact of the use of non-standard and inferior grades of steel products.
The awareness campaign for drawing attention of the buyers of household goods, the prospective house owners and other similar groups on use of BIS certified steel products is to be conducted on a much wider scale than what is happening now. In the rural and semi-urban areas, the sheer non-availability of BIS-certified reinforcement bars, structural steel and coated sheets sometimes prompt the user groups to opt for other non-standard grades. The masons and small contractors, the major influencers of use of steel products in construction, are to be trained for choice of BIS-certified materials and also follow good construction practices.
(Views expressed are personal)