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Interview

Published on: Feb. 12, 2021, 5:03 p.m.
‘New steel plants in Chhattisgarh will generate employment, attract investment’
  • Baghel: we were amongst the first to bounce back and continue industrial production

By Yeshi Seli. Assistant Editor, Business India

How did the outbreak of Covid-19 impact industrial production in Chhattisgarh?

Well, the pandemic did impact all of us. However, we were amongst the first to bounce back and continue industrial production. During the lockdown, our state produced 2.7 million tonnes of steel – which happens to be the highest amongst all states. We offered industries incentives like extending the deadline of payment of their electricity bills. Around April 2020, our industries had begun to reopen. I would also add that our state has signed 104 MoUs in the past two years, with a proposed investment of Rs42,000 crore.

Talking of steel, there has been talk of opening new steel plants in Bastar. Can you elaborate on that?

Chhattisgarh has 18 per cent of India’s iron ore reserves and, in a bid to boost the steel production of the state, we have approved the setting up of four-five steel plants in Bastar. This would not just generate employment, but also attract investment, which could counter Naxalism. The iron ore reserves in Bastar and Durg districts are estimated to be around 4.06 million tonnes. These reserves are of high grade ore, containing over 65 per cent iron.

There was talk about the state buying the Nagarnar steel plant?

Yes. A unanimous resolution has been passed in the Chhattisgarh legislative assembly that the state government will buy the Nagarnar Steel plant of Bastar, if it is considered for disinvestment. The question is about the identity of Chhattisgarh and the feelings of the tribals of Bastar. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had agreed in November 2016 to sell 51 per cent of the National Minerals Development Corporation (NMDC) Nagarnar Steel plant to a private player. If this was to happen it would become difficult to control Naxalite activities.

About 637 acres of government land and 1,506 acres of private land have been used for this plant. The tribals gave the land on the condition that public enterprises would be set up there. Repeated objections were also lodged by the asset advisor, the legal advisor to the government of India, that the plant should not be sold. Nagarnar Steel Plant is a greenfield project, where a three-million tpa capacity plant is nearing completion. It is 16 km away from Jagdalpur and was made with an estimated outlay of Rs21,500 crore.

Let’s digress a bit from industries to health. It is understood that the state is working hard to eradicate malaria. Can you elaborate?

Malaria is a big health issue in Bastar. We launched a campaign called ‘Malaria mukt Bastar’ and have witnessed a 65 per cent reduction in cases since the beginning of 2020. Work didn’t stop even during the pandemic.

According to statistics, malaria cases in September 2020 were 1,458 compared to 4,230 in the corresponding period of 2019. We are happy with the success of this campaign. Malaria is one of the biggest reasons for the death of children in Chhattisgarh and the state health department is doing all it takes to control it.

What is the Godhan Nyaya Yojana?

Godhan Nyaya Yojana was launched in the beginning of 2020. The scheme aims at uplifting the rural economy, facilitating organic farming, preventing the movement of stray animals and improving waste disposal. In line with the same, we set up a ‘Godhan Emporium’ in Saraguaja district, Ambikapur, in the middle of December. Products made of cow dung, ranging from vermicompost to incense sticks, are being sold there. This is not just environment-friendly, but will also ensure that ‘dry’ cattle are taken care of by their owners, as they will become a source of additional income.

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