The growth of the steel industry in India

Early beginnings

Steel manufacturing in India dates back to ancient times. Recent excavations in the Middle Ganges Valley reveal that iron making may have begun as early as 1800 BCE. However, it was the period of the Maurya Empire, between 322-185 BCE, that witnessed major advancements in the technology of metallurgy, with high quality steel being manufactured by mixing high-purity wrought iron, charcoal and glass in a crucible and heating till the iron melted and absorbed the carbon.

Modern times

While the production of steel using modern technology started in a small way at Kulti, in West Bengal in 1870, it was the setting up of The Tata Iron & Steel Company (TISCO) in 1907 at Jamshedpur, that catapulted India on to a high growth trajectory. By 1939, TISCO operated the largest steel plant in the British Empire.

In the early decades after Independence, the growth in steel manufacturing was largely owing to public sector steel plants set up in Bhilai, Rourkela, Durgapur and Bokaro. The steel industry was predominated by PSU steel plants and Tata Steel. Around late 70s and early 80s the Government realised there was a need to allow small EAF/mini BF units (<= 0.5MT) to come up in various parts of the country to cater to small private demands

However, the scenario changed dramatically from 1991 onwards, when the Government of India liberalised the sector by removing iron and steel industries from the reserve list, thus helping private players to enter the sector. As a result of the liberalisation, most of the production growth in steel shifted to the private sector. While in 1991, the share of the public sector and private sector in the production of iron and steel was 46% and 54% respectively, during 2001-02 it was 32% and 68% respectively.

By 2005, India had become one of the top 10 steel producers in the world; and in 2018, with a production of 82.68 million tons of total finished steel and 9.7 million tons of raw iron, the country grew to be the second largest manufacturer of crude steel, second only to China.

Future outlook

In 2017, the Government of India introduced the National Steel Policy to guide the growth of the sector till 2030-31. The Policy envisages an additional investment of Rs. 10 lakh crores in the sector, which will result in the country’s steel-making capacity growing to 300 million tonnes per annum, with a crude steel production of 255 tonnes at 85% capacity utilisation. Further, by 2030-31, net exports are expected to grow to 24 million tonnes and domestic consumption is expected to reach 206 million tonnes – which translates to more than doubling of the per capita steel consumption, to 160 kg from 70.9 kg in 2018.

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