Even as the Centre and states battle Covid-19 with lockdowns and other steps to ensure social distancing, the Union steel ministry has urged state governments to issue suitable instructions to allow un-restricted inter-state movement of trucks carrying raw materials and finished steel in order to maintain an efficient supply chain.
On Tuesday, steel secretary Binoy Kumar wrote to state chief secretaries arguing against imposition of any restrictions on the operation of steel plants, entry-exit of workers engaged in these plants, movement of raw materials like iron ore, coal, limestone, dolomite, ferro-alloys, scrap, sponge iron, and intermediate or finished products to and from such plants.
The steel industry is facing difficulties in terms of shortage of labour and raw material supply owing to social distancing norms being enforced in view of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Industry sources said around 20 people are required both for loading and unloading a truck.
Steel plants referred to in the letter include both integrated steel plants as well as induction furnace or electric arc furnace-based steel units. Movement of the raw material and finished products, as requested by the secretary, should be allowed passage both through rail and road as well as through waterways or sea routes.
"This (the letter) is reference to the recent restrictions imposed by several state governments on the operation of non-essential commercial establishments and movement of people, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In this regard, it has come to the notice of this ministry that several steel plants across the country are facing problems with regard to entry of workers, supply of raw material and despatch of finished steel etc. This is likely to adversely affect not only the operations of these steel plants but also has the potential to damage their plant and machinery," he wrote.
The steel secretary has banked on the Section 2(1) (a) (xii) of the Esma, 1981 which lists 'any service in any establishment or undertaking detailing with the production, supply or distribution of coal, power, steel or fertilisers' as an 'essential service'.
"Considering the fact that mining activities are integral to the operation of steel plants, it is also requested that no restrictions should be placed on the operation of mines of iron ore, coking coal, thermal coal, limestone, dolomite, manganese, chromite, etc as well as operation of sponge iron, ferro alloys, iron ore pellet plants etc which will supply raw materials for steel making," the secretary wrote.