Bengal on Sunday got a taste of what the new bonhomie between its government and the Centre could translate to.
The state is set to get the lion’s share of the next phase of expansion by Steel Authority of India (SAIL), owned by the central government. The investment in Durgapur Steel Plant would be Rs 25,000 crore and in the technologically advanced iron nugget plant of another Rs 1,500 crore. And, “IISCO will expand further,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while dedicating the modernised steel plant at Burnpur on Sunday.
The current phase of expansion has increased IISCO’s plant capacity from 0.85 million tonnes to 2.9 mt, at a cost of Rs 16,000 crore. There is a plan to take it to 5.6 mt at an additional cost of Rs 17,000 crore, taking SAIL’s total investment in Bengal to Rs 43,500 crore in the next 10 years.
Prime Minister Modi said eastern India should develop as fast as western India is, and for that, development of Bengal is essential. The investment would be part of SAIL’s 2025 plan to take annual capacity to 50 mt, part of the government’s bigger plan of taking India’s steel making capacity to 300 mt.
Mamata Banerjee’s government here had earlier criticised the devolution of additional revenues as a “big public display” but on Sunday, the chief minister, who shared the dais with the PM, didn’t dispute it. She seemed more inclined to convey that the state was more than willing to work with the Centre. “If we can work together, then we will progress. Unity is out strength. Politics and development have their own place and should not be mixed,” said Banerjee. Banerjee had been accompanying the PM to almost everywhere since Saturday. On Sunday morning, they together visited Belur Math and then came to Burnpur.
Banerjee said in 1998, when her party, the Trinamool Congress, was extending outside support to the then central government, led by Modi’s party, she’d given Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee a wishlist for Bengal. Revival of IISCO was a part.
While Banerjee has been projecting the support to the Centre as a means to further her demands for Bengal, opposition parties claim that it’s more of quid pro quo. The arrangement, they said, was the Centre would pause in the probe of the Saradha financing scam, in lieu of her party’s support for some crucial bills in the Rajya Sabha.
Whatever the reason, Bengal has been a beneficiary of bonhomie with the Centre in the past, too. In 2007, SAIL decided to invest Rs 20,000 crore, roughly two-fifth of its entire investment in its five-year corporate plan. The then ruling Left Front was, at the time, supporting the UPA-I government.