Indian Railways News

Indian Railways News

Indian steel shortfall causes clash over Railways demand for rail imports

India’s steel and rail ministries are at loggerheads over the state-run network’s proposal to buy much-needed rails from overseas, a move that would undermine Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to build key infrastructure in India.

India’s Ministry of Railways, which manages the world’s fourth-largest rail network, has grappled with a spate of accidents. Modi’s government wants to overhaul the country’s ageing tracks, but shortages of steel produced by state-run Steel Authority of IndiaBSE 0.86 % Ltd (SAILBSE 0.86 %) have slowed progress.

The clash highlights the dilemma the government faces as it tries to promote local production through the “Make in India” campaign at the same time it faces resistance from some state buyers who need to procure goods as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Indian Railways issued a tender seeking 717,000 tonnes of steel rails on Oct. 18, which was the first time the state-run railroad operator sought overseas rails. The tender could be worth an estimated 30 billion rupees ($464 million) for global steel majors such as ArcelorMittal and Thyssenkrupp .

That amount will make up SAIL’s shortfall for the next two financial years.

For the financial year for 2017/18, SAIL is expected to supply 920,000 tonnes, only 65 percent of the target, according to a letter sent by Indian Railways to the Steel Ministry dated Oct. 18 and reviewed by Reuters.

Indian Railways maintains that passenger safety justifies an exemption to the “Make in India” policy. The government could allow an exception if there are shortages or specific grades of steel are unavailable.

In a letter to Lohani from Aruna Sharma, the secretary at the Steel Ministry, dated Oct. 23 and reviewed by Reuters, the ministry urged the railways “to follow the procedure” on steel procurement, but said it would examine the need for a waiver.

In September, Modi named a new railways minister to oversee a $130 billion, five-year modernisation programme and to replace some of the 92,000 km of tracks operated by Indian Railways.

The railways are a lifeline for the more than 20 million mostly poorer people who use it every day. In February, the government launched a $15 billion fund dedicated to ending the rising number of train accidents caused by track defects.

India’s state-owned companies such as SAIL maintain large roles in key industries and infrastructure projects, despite struggling with inefficiencies.

Reuters has previously reported that the railways this year considered ending SAIL’s decades-long monopoly supplying steel.

Private firm Jindal Steel and PowerBSE 0.11 %, the only domestic alternative, pitched its services at the Friday meeting, the three people attending said, but railway officials raised concerns that it lacks experience building rails.




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