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Interview with Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh

Posted by Admin on November 15, 2009

The Tata Steel managing director claimed after the takeover of Corus that his company made the cheapest steel in India. Do you agree with this, especially when the manpower expense is the lowest in the world and the average royalty paid to states is Rs 17 per tonne, when the international price is $230 (Rs 10,695)? Is it not the same as saying that states are virtually being robbed?
I agree states should get a fair deal. The issue of royalty should be addressed seriously. The royalty must be adequate and revised regularly.

Don’t you think that this approach to mining has led to alienation of the people, who get nothing while steel companies prosper?
I believe that farmers who are displaced must get adequate compensation as and when their land is taken over and they are uprooted. One must remember that most farmers are uneducated and don’t know how to invest. We should ensure that they have avenues to invest and that there is one job per displaced family.

Is that an alternative rehabilitation policy?
I feel we must evolve a pragmatic policy that redefines compensation. It should ensure that some money from the company’s profits goes to the displaced. It should also ensure annuity to farmers. And, when the mines are exhausted, the land should be given back to the original owners.

Have you suggested this to the prime minister?
It is just an idea. But I am telling the government through you that with such a policy in place, those who own the land will not feel alienated. They will not feel that their land has been taken away from them and they have been left with nothing. They will remain owners, while the miners will be temporary tenants.

Isn’t it true that it has become next to impossible to get land for mining and all big projects of companies like Posco, Essar and Tata Steel are stuck?
Yes, there are delays in greenfield projects where land has to be acquired, but there is no delay in brownfield projects. In Orissa and Chhattisgarh, things have started moving.

Is the ongoing action against Naxalites, including Operation Greenhunt, meant to facilitate acquisition of land in these states?
The word Greenhunt is a media coinage. Where has the government said that any action will be named so? It is not like a tiger hunt or something. The word is wrong.

But isn’t it true that it is confined to places where land acquisition plans of top companies, like Essar and Tata in Dantewada and Jindal in Lalgarh, are stuck? There is no action in other Naxal-affected areas.
This is not so. The action is against all Naxalites. Let me tell you that when Naxalism started, it may have had an ideology, but not any more. It is nothing more than an exercise for making quick money. Even government servants are paying protection money. It is a money-making racket. They buy weapons with this. And what is their objective? They want to overthrow democratically-elected state governments. They are fighting the state. Let them fight elections.

When the Rourkela steel plant was set up in 1957, about 80,000 people were displaced. The plant still faces protests throughout the year from people who were displaced and not compensated. Civil society groups there are saying that youths there are moving towards Naxalism.
How is this possible after so many years? I will go to Rourkela soon and meet everyone concerned.

The Mandira dam constructed for the plant has been submerging several acres of farm land annually as the plant authorities do not desilt it. Is this corporate social responsibility?
If grievances are genuine, I will go out of my way and see that these are addressed. But I cannot imagine that people were not compensated after so many years.

Posco claimed before the Orissa chief minister that it would provide 25,000 jobs from its 12-million-tonne plant. But it has provided only 3,700 jobs from a similar capacity plant in South Korea. Why are Orissa and the Centre silent?
I don’t know what Posco said. But I will safeguard the interests of the state and the people. And I will see to it that those who lose land are compensated.

You have not encouraged mining in your own state.
We have big deposits of lime and if I wanted we could have had a huge industry based on that. But we allowed only a few factories away from populated areas.

But the Renuka dam, which will provide water to Delhi, may hurt water resources in your state.
No, it will give us power and our agreement says that if the river is diverted, 15 per cent should remain in the stream. Violators will be penalised.

What is the secret of the fine development indicators in your state?
Education. Poverty alleviation schemes are being implemented.

But the female foeticide rate is high there.
That is in just a few places bordering Punjab.

But it is spreading. Do you have daughters? Will they join politics?
I have two of them and a son. My son may join politics.

Will he contest the next elections?
No, he is a student in the University of Delhi. Maybe later.

In spite of the dynasty ban in Congress?
Let us see.

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