ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Dithering in Aluminium

 THERE are disquieting rumours that Bharat Aluminium Company, the public sector undertaking, may be reconsidering the location and time-schedule of its Koyna/Ratnagiri project. This project is of key importance in Indian plans to maintain self-sufficiency in aluminium at least into the late 70's and any prevarication at this stage would be little short of a disaster. The company had very slow schedules to start with; the Tariff Commission, for example, could find hardly anything new happening in this company between its two studies in 1968 and 1971. The Koyna project is for manufacturing 50,000 tonnes metal, of which half would be of EC grade. It was decided that the smelter at Rat- nagiri would-be commissioned earlier so as to treat surplus alumina from Korha. while the alumina plant which would utilise ores from Dhangarwadi and Ud- gir would be commissioned shortly thereafter. This is a sound fcheme provided it is implemented in time. However, the hesitation, the pessimism and the warnings in advance that the project might be uneconomic are most disquieting. The public sector has learnt to adopt this last tactic for projects which are yet to be commissioned. Bo- karo and the proposed new steel plants at Visakhapatnam and Vijayanagar, as also several other projects, are announcing in advance that they will be uneconomic unless prices are raised substantially. Coal is another case in point where price increases denied to private producers as such are given to them through the intervention of the public sector. What is interesting is that the doubts are not expressed before a project is sanctioned and top staff appointed! PRIVATE SECTOR BENEFITS The Tariff Commission's report of September 1971 on the aluminium industry has had a similar effect. The Commission boldly, and correctly, announced that the Indian aluminium industry had come of age and that it did not need protection any longer. How- ever, because Bharat Aluminium as a new producer would suffer if protection was removed, the Commission recommended its continuation for three years. The Government of India (through the Ministry of Foreign Trade, strangely enough) Went one step further and extended protection for five years, ie, upto 1976. Private aluminium compa nies will benefit greatly out of this, while it is doubtful if BALCO will derive any benefit at all by 1976. By humming and hawing over plant sites at this stage, and after several crores of rupees have been spent on project reports, camp sites, changes of consultants/ collaborators and their terms of reference and trips abroad, mainly to Eastern Europe, this is hardly the time for the government to change its mind. The Koyna plant is perfectly viable. It can be run at a profit

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