Ballari: While politicians are squabbling over the state government's land deal with JSW Steel in Ballari, locals point out that the company has invested Rs 62,025 crore in its steel plant and provides employment to 25,000 people, besides direct/indirect employment to two lakh others.
"Making an issue of this land deal will not benefit any political party. Instead it is likely to lead to unrest in this backward region where people largely depend on JSW for their livelihood," warned a chartered accountant in Ballari.
It was in the early 1970s that the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi sanctioned three steel plants under the public sector : the Vijayanagar steel plant in Torangallu, Sandur taluk, Ballari district, the Vishakhapatnam steel plant in Andhra Pradesh and the Salem steel plant in Tamil Nadu.
Despite many odds, the Salem and Vishakhapatnam started operations, but the Vijayanagar steel plant in Toranagallu failed to take off. Left with no choice, the state government decided to permit private companies to set up the steel plant in Torangallu and decided to give it 10,000 acres and water from the Tungabhadra reservoir.
The Sajjan Jindal- led JSW group came forward to set it up and started its production in 1997-98. Now producing 12 million tonnes of steel, it hopes to produce 20 million tonnes eventually and become the biggest steel production company in Asia.
Two decades after its successful stint in the steel manufacturing sector, JSW Steel has now been caught in the political crossfire between the Janata Dal (S)-Congress led government and the BJP in Karnataka.
The row is over the state Cabinet's decision of May 27 to sell 3667 acres to the company, which occupies a sprawling 7,000 odd acre campus in Ballari, with the BJP contending the government is giving the land away for a throwaway price and even senior Congress leader, HK Patil objecting to it on other grounds .
"These are all political statements. In reality, no political party can afford to see JSW shelve its expansion plans in Karnataka considering its investment, contribution to the exchequer and employment generation. It would be best if politicians stopped making an issue out of a non- issue," said an economics professor here.
Also reacting to Mr Yeddyurappa's protest against the land deal, a senior Congress leader remarked, "I wonder what moral authority Yeddyurappa has to protest against this land deal ? He should remember that he went behind bars for allegedly taking donations for his family owned Prerana Trust from the JSW company when he was Chief Minister."
"Nearly 10,000 acres acquired for proposed steel plants in 2010 are still lying idle. We will be gateful to Yeddyurappa if he launches an agitation to evict non-performing steel- makers and help re-allot the land to new investors," added a sponge iron manufacturer.
H K Patil explains stand to his party leaders
Senior Congress leader and former minister H. K. Patil reportedly dug his heels in on the issue of allotment of land to JSW Ltd and vowed not to allow JSW to go scot free without paying for the 2000 acres.
During a meeting with KPCC president Dinesh Gundu Rao and industries minister K J George, he sought to up-to-date the duo with facts and figures and why they should not cede land to JSW.
"It was a closed door meeting between three leaders. It appeared that Mr Patil stood his ground firmly that JSW steel should not be let off the hook," an inside source said. Immediately after the meeting, Mr Patil attempted to downplay his pwn comments by stating that he would meet Chief Minister, H. D. Kumarswamy along with Mr George to put forth his views on why he was fighting the steel baron. "He said he would not be back down on the issue."
Mr Patil, who presented documents related to the land deal and a letter requesting Mr. George not to execute the lease-cum-sale agreement on 3,666 acres with JSW Steel for setting up Vijayanagar Steel Plant at Toranagallu village in Ballari district, said the company has not paid more than Rs 2,000 crore to the state government and Mysore Minerals Ltd.
He said the state government must recover the arrears first and then take a decision on the sale of land to the steel company....