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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: Former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau had once very seriously said 'The essential ingredient of politics is timing.'

Quirky it may sound but the germane Canadian strategy was today apparently seen getting germinated in the political soils of Odisha when BJD biggies during the celebration of Biju Jayanti showcased, in a big way, the signing of MoU by Arcelor Mittal to set up a steel plant in Kendrapara only the day before (March 4, 2021).

However, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik didn't mention a single word over the freshly signed MoU in his nearly 20 minutes address to the BJD leaders and cadres on the occasion of 105th birth anniversary of his late father and legendary leader Biju Patnaik.

Rather, CM Patnaik's talisman for the frenzied BJD cadres today has been SHE - means not only the women voters but also the Swabhiman (Odia), House (with concrete roof, tap water and electricity) and Education (especially technical edu- medical/engg).

"The BJD has the blessings of families who saw their kutcha houses re-constructed to pucca ones with piped water supply and electricity. Odisha's future looks bright when women in panchayats are now leading the village development plans, and school pass outs in the State are very elated over the prospects of coming up of more medical/engineering institution in the State," said CM Patnaik and added, "We still have a long way to go, so keep working for the development of State energetically."

However, political observers feel that while CM Patnaik mentioned the government's plan of setting up new higher edu institutes like medical and engineering colleges, he didn't tom-tom the freshly signed MoU with Arcelor Mittal, unlike other senior leaders of the party.

WHY NAVEEN SKIRTS ANY REFERENCE TO MITTAL?

A FLASHBACK: Global steel baron Mittals had signed an MoU with the Odisha government in 2006  to set up a 12 MT steel plant in 4-phases at Keonjhar. The MoU then lapsed in 2011 and in the year 2013, the steel giant announced its withdrawal from the State.

FUTURE SPOTLIGHT: On March 4, 2021, the steel czar inked an agreement with the Odisha government to set up a 12 million tonne (MT) integrated steel plant in Kendrapada with an investment of Rs 50,000 crore. As per sources, the Mittals have revived their aborted plan and has shifted the base to Kendrapara from Keonjhar earlier.

WHY MITTALS PULLED OUT THEN?

As per senior steel department officials, Arcelor Mittal pulled out from Odisha due to a slowdown in the steel sector in 2012-13.

"When the company signed an MoU, the industry prospects were then buoyant. Since steel is a cyclic industry, due to slowdown in the steel prices and the then prediction of crash in prices till the year 2016, the company had decided to put a hold on its new greenfield projects, a senior officer explained claiming that the top steel producer had bagged an iron ore mine in Odisha recently.

THE FORECAST - A STEELY FUTURE?

As claimed by the high-ranking State government official, the outlook of the steel sector was dim in the year 2013, when the Mittals decided to pull out form Odisha. (see the image below)

 

In the above context, the big fact to the fore is while the prices of steel (hot rolled coils and rebars (steel rods for construction) are predicted to remain buoyant in the year 2021, the blipping forecast is prices are set to see a downturn in 2022 and is predicted to touch a trough (very low) in 2023. (see the image below)

Sample the veteran BJD leader's reaction to Mittal MoU.

The BJD Vice President and senior leader Debi Mishra said, "The Arcelor Mittal Group has revisited its plan to set up a steel plant in Odisha."

But when queried over whether 2013 redux will not happen, he replied,

"The company has signed an MoU. Since production-business plans entail the economic theory of returns on investments, the company will definitely calculate costs and returns. But we expect the plant to come up in the State."

The senior BJD leader's reply looks very non-committal, feel observers.

THE BOTTOMLINE: Observers, therefore, think due to the high order of uncertainty, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has not only skirted the Mittal MoU in his address today but also didn't announce the development on his official Twitter handle too.

Political observers feel the MoU signing was done at perfect timing so that the Party could link its efforts to the legendary leader Biju Patnaik's vision to make Odisha a steel manufacturing hub when the Naveen-led BJD was jolted by pull-outs by POSCO and Mittals since 2013.

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