Tribal tilt in steel ministry design

New Delhi, Oct 1 : The steel ministry will lobby for a more generous land acquisition policy and ensure higher spending by state-run steel and mining firms in tribal areas.
“We support a more generous deal for land losers. We need to go beyond what we have given so far. The package should ideally offer monetary compensation, jobs and skills training so that tribals can actually access the jobs on offer in mines and industries set up on their land,” steel minister Virbhadra Singh told The Telegraph.
The government has been working on a land acquisition bill that was earlier blocked by Trinamul Congress leader and railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who wanted a more generous deal for land losers and strict adherence to the definition of public purpose in takeover of land by entities, including the public sector.
The government is also struggling to frame guidelines for the private sector to buy land from tribals in the mineral-rich yet Maoist-dominated areas of central and eastern India.
“In some sense my thinking is similar to Mamata’s. In fact, I will be taking up the issue with steel firms such as Posco and Arcelor Mittal who want land for steel mills and mines,” said Singh.
“It is important that industry spends on training and educating tribals and provide them basic amenities such as roads, medical facilities and schools even before they set up their factories. The time gap between acquisition and actual commissioning of a plant or a mine should be spent on training tribal land losers for the jobs that will be on offer,” Singh said.
He said the Nehruvian model of building steel mills as “temples of modern India” followed an extremely humane policy towards tribals, which is why PSUs still have a lot of goodwill in districts where they operate.
The minister also saw little merit in SAIL and Tata Steel’s attempts for exemption from a proposed rule that calls upon miners to share 26 per cent of profits with tribal land losers.
“I am for it (giving 26 per cent of mining profits to land losers). It needs a group of ministers’ approval as well as cabinet approval. I will support whatever final shape this bill (mining bill) takes.”
Steel ministry officials said firms would be advised to split their mining and steelmaking operations so that tribals were actually offered 26 per cent of mining profits.
Singh, however, said the new mining bill being considered by the government would “have to take into account the historical role played by state-run steel firms such as SAIL, KIOCL and RINL in the development of the steel sector and should have a different yardstick for allotting them mines”.
The bill tries to bring about a level playing field between state-run and private sector firms and asks all of them to bid for mining leases, something which the PSUs feel is unfair, given the amount of money they have historically pumped into social welfare and infrastructure projects in tribal areas.
“Half the roads in iron ore rich districts of Jharkhand and Orissa were built by SAIL,” steel ministry officials said.
Singh said he had already given instructions to PSUs under him to step up development and social welfare activities in tribal areas.
SAIL has established 61 primary health centres, eight reproductive and child health centres, 18 hospitals and six super-specialty hospitals for 26.7 million people, steel ministry officials said.