Chrome ore, a mineral found abundantly in Odisha and a major raw material for making stainless steel, is turning out to be a prized commodity with companies such as Jindal Stainless, Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys (IMFA) and Visa Steel vying for a greater share of the mineral from mines owned by Tata Steel.
Tata Steel owns the mining lease to the chromite mines spread over 406 hectares at Sukinda in Odisha. The lease has been categorised as captive, which means that the produce has to be used by Tata Steel only at its plants and can't be sold in the open market.
However, Visa Steel mining director Vishal Agarwal, who is part of the group pushing for merchant status for the mines, told HT that Tata Steel had been selling the chrome ore from the mines in the open market from 1993 to 2013, hence the mines can’t remain in captive category.
The companies are petitioning the state government to convert the category to facilitate smooth sale of mined chrome ore that will feed the ferro-chrome facilities in the state. However, this has been contested by Tata Steel as the mines are captive and under the mining ordinance promulgated recently, the deemed extension of a captive mining lease is for 30 years. In cases where the mineral is not used for captive purposes, the ordinance stipulates an extension up to March 31, 2020.
Chrome ore mining leases in the state are owned by companies including Tata Steel, Misrilal Mines and BC Mohanty. Notably, ferrochrome is seeing increased demand due to the growth in the transport industry.
“Non-availability of chrome ore has led to an acute shortage of over 1.5 million tonnes, which has resulted in unviable prices and financial stress on producers in Odisha,” said Agarwal.
Tata Steel did not reply to queries mailed by HT.
The Odisha government had sought renewal of Tata Steel’s mining lease, which expired in 2013, in December 2014 subject to the execution of the mining lease deed by May 31, 2015. Since the mining lease deed was not executed, the order lapsed.