RAIPUR: Country’s largest steel maker Sail has asked the Indian Railways to include upto Rs 400 crore towards the security of proposed rail line between Rowghat and Jagdalpur in the project cost. Sail is in the process of developing a mine in naxal-hit area of Rowghat, Chhattisgarh, which will produce iron ore of about 7 million tonne in the next two years.
The cost of the rail line security should be included in the overall project cost by the Railways, which will be about Rs 250-400 crore, Sail informed ministry of steel recently. Subsequently, the ministry asked the rail ministry to look into the demands of Sail for an expeditious decision, according to a senior government official.
The project cost is about Rs 3,500 crore. The company is also in the process of appointing a mine developer and operator (MDO) for Rowghat. It has over 500 million tonnes of iron ore reserves, CS Verma, chairman and managing director, Sail, had said last month. Verma is also the chairman and managing director of NMDC.
A memorandum of understanding was signed by Sail, NMDC, the ministry of railways and the Chhattisgarh government in 2007 to build the 235 km new broad gauge railway line from DalliRajhara to Jagdalpur via Rowghat in Chhattisgarh, according to a government statement.
The rail line was to be constructed in two phases. Sail was expected to bear the entire cost for the first phase, 95 km from DalliRajhara to Rowghat, while second phase, 140 km from Rowghat to Jagdalpur, would be shared by Indian Railways, Sail, Chhattisgarh government and NMDC. The project cost was estimated to be around Rs 1,000 crore according to calculations done in 2004-05, according to the statement issued that time.
Sail has already got home ministry’s approval to deploy five battalions of paramilitary forces for Rowghat for five years and is currently building barracks for them. The entire security cost will be borne by the company.
The company had received environment and forest clearances in 2009 for developing the mines but no forward movement was done because of naxalite activities in the area.
The Rowghat mines are crucial for iron ore needs for its largest steel plant at Bhilai. Currently, Bhilai’s sources iron ore from Dalli-Rajhara mines, but it is fast depleting. Sail is raising its production capacity at Bhilai s a part of its Rs 72,000 crore capacity expansion plan.The steel plant had planned to increase production capacity to 7 million tonnes per annum by March 2013 from 5 million tonnes per year in 2012.
The area surrounding the mines has been impacted by naxalite activities. About 2,000 hectares of area in Kanker and Narayanpur districts, strongholds of naxalites, have got necessary clearances but because of security concerns, the work could not be started.
Mining the new reserves is crucial as the existing iron ore reserves at Dalli Rajhara area, which keep the steel plant running now, will be exhausted by 2015. The new mining project involves deforestation in an area of over 2,030 hectares in Kanker and Narayanpur districts, both Naxal hotbeds. Further, the proposed 235-km railway line will run through Abujmad, also a red zone.Rowghat is estimated to have 510 million tonnes of iron ore reserves, sufficient to keep the plant running for decades.
The Chhattisgarh government has said it has no security force to spare for the project. At Monday’s meeting, it was decided that an exclusive force will be created drawing personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF) and the Chhattisgarh Armed Police for the purpose.
Till then, two battalions from the CRPF and the BSF will guard the mining area and the railway line, for which all necessary forest and environmental clearances have been given.
At present, only four CRPF and BSF companies are posted in the area and, hence, are in no position to provide foolproof security to workers engaged in the deforestation of the mine area. The Home Ministry wants the state police to provide a matching force but the Chhattisgarh Police are non-committal.
The Bhilai Steel Plant is India’s first and primary producer of steel rails and the sole supplier of the country’s longest rail tracks, which measure 260 metres. It is a flagship unit of the Steel Authority of India and its largest and most profitable facility.
To keep the plant running, the Steel Ministry identified Rowghat for fresh iron ore mining. For the purpose, no village will be displaced. Only the area will be deforested and a new railway line constructed.
But Naxals are objecting to the plan to mine the area as well as the new railway line, which will pass through Maoist zones such as Balod, Kanker, Narayanpur, Kondangaon and Jagdalpur districts. The home secretary, in Monday’s meeting, asked the Chhattisgarh government and the steel ministry to make the tribal people aware of the benefits of the project.
The Chhattisgarh Police are of the view that as the mine area and the railway line are close to Abujmad, it will invite violent reaction from the Maoists as well as local tribals. Sources said the project was destined to run into rough weather as no amount of security can protect every inch of the proposed railway line, which is going to be the lifeline of the steel plant – the plant literally drives the economy of the region. The home ministry has suggested that both the projects – deforestation and the railway line – should be taken up simultaneously.