December 2, 2012
Bhilai Steel Plant building barracks in Maoist belt
Housing for paramilitary forces meant to provide security, to cost Bhilai Steel Plant upwards of Rs. 250 crore
The public sector Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) is going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that its Rs. 5,000-crore plan to extract quality iron ore from mines located in the Maoist hinterland in the Rowghat hills in south-central Chhattisgarh goes without a hitch.
BSP will spend more than Rs. 250 crore on setting up 22 barracks between Bhanupratappur and Rowghat. The cost could go up as the project moves forward.
Top sources in Steel Authority of India Limited said BSP is funding the construction of 22 barracks for five or more paramilitary battalions along a 95-km stretch between Dalli and Rajhara and Rowghat. Six of these will be placed around Block F, allotted to BSP. “One paramilitary battalion has started constructing barracks between Rajhara and Raoghat,” said an officer of SAIL.
Without referring directly to the issue of funding the housing facilities, BSP Chief Executive Officer S. Chandrasekaran said a planned rail line would also benefit local residents, and BSP was supporting its completion.
The steps are aimed at improving the quality of life of the people of the region and not at fuelling conflict, the CEO added. “We’re creating a win-win situation, winning the hearts of the people.”
Senior officers of the Border Security Force said its 24 battalion had been moved to Korar in Kanker district to facilitate ore extraction at Rowghat. “The strength of a few companies will be enhanced, and they will be placed at Rowghat, besides 24 battalion,” one officer said. Six BSF battalions have already been deployed in Kanker, where Raoghat is situated.
Sources in the Central Reserve Police Force told The Hindu a few weeks ago that they were also gearing for operations at Rowghat.
Seemingly choosing not to discuss the issue of barrack-funding, Mr. Chandrasekaran said: “The top priority will be development of the Dalli-Rajhara-Rowghat rail link. It will not only ease the civil transportation in the region but will also be used to transport ore from Rowghat to Rajhara.” The BSP was allotted Block F spread over 500 hectares about two decades ago.
Rowghat has two hills. One has Block F, and the other, northwest of it, has five blocks — A, B, C, D, and E. Block F, sub-divided into seven more blocks, and with total deposits of 511 million tonnes of good quality ore, is getting ready for phase-wise extraction.
The modernisation will lead to the doubling of capacity for hot metal, the purer form, and crude iron. By current rates, Block F’s raw ore can fetch nearly Rs. 30,000 crore in the global market.
But there are apprehensions among both workers and the management about the future of the BSP itself. They worry whether it would remain in the public sector or get disinvested, once public money is spent to set up infrastructure for extraction in Rowghat.
The Chhattisgarh government website claims that while Block F has been allotted to SAIL, for blocks A to E “numbers of prospecting licence and mining lease applications are there.”