n an interview with Orissa POST, Chhavi Nath Singh, CEO of Vedanta Ltd., Jharsuguda spoke about Odisha’s mining potentials and Vedanta’s role and vision for the state in 2020. Prior to his joining at the Jharsuguda operations in 2016, Singh was at the helm of affairs at Talwandi Sabo Power Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vedanta Limited, as Chief Operating Officer. He has a rich experience of nearly four decades in the Indian power industry, with a rich experience of 26 years at NTPC. He also has pioneered leadership roles at some of India’s leading corporates, holding key responsibilities in the domestic power sector – from concept to commissioning. Excerpts:
Vedanta Limited has become the largest aluminium producer in India in FY19, with aluminium production of 1.96 million tonnes. What is your outlook for the Jharsuguda operations in 2020?
Vedanta Ltd., Jharsuguda is the largest aluminium producer in the country. Out of Vedanta’s aluminium business output of 1.96MT, the Jharsuguda operations closed FY19 with production clocking 1.39 million tonnes, highest ever metal production from any single-location Indian smelter till date. Today, Jharsuguda is also a proud exporter of more than 1 million tonnes of primary aluminium from our smelters to all over the world, annually. Aligned to the Vedanta Group’s vision for the Aluminium Business, our short-term plans are to operationalise the entire installed capacity and then ramp up to 2 MTPA production at the Jharsuguda smelters. As an important pillar of the ‘Make in Odisha’ and ‘Make in India’ movements, we are passionately working to make the country more self-reliant.
As CEO of India’s largest aluminium & power operations at Jharsuguda, how do you evaluate the domestic industry in the backdrop of the current economic scenario?
Economies and businesses undergo the natural cycle of ebb and flow; the underlying principle of sustainability is to ride through this with resilience. As a growing economy, we must strive for self-reliance in sectors where we have natural advantages. In the case of aluminium, it is the abundance of high-quality raw materials like bauxite and coal in Odisha. In a scenario where such potential is not translated into opportunities, we will continue to remain a deficit economy instead of generating a surplus. What is important to note here is that the domestic aluminium industry has witnessed doubling of imports in FY19. In other words, if the capacities are fully utilised, Odisha which houses India’s major primary aluminium producers, can easily cater to more than the current 40% of the national demand on its own.
In your opinion, what are Odisha’s potentials and prospects for attracting large scale investments?
Odisha is a land of immense potential and prospects, blessed with natural richness. Besides resources, Odisha’s greatest USPs have been the stability of governance and civic life, strong academia contributing to a deep talent pool, long coastline providing access to international trade, and so on. The people, the cultural heritage and rich tradition of the state makes everyone feel welcome, which is why today we can see Odisha’s major cities emerging as cultural melting pots. Personally, my association with Odisha, its people, and culture have been a long and significant one, and I have cherished this camaraderie.
Odisha is rich in natural resources and the biggest names in the Indian manufacturing sector have been lured to the state. What should be done, in your opinion to boost the state’s GDP, which is ironically low despite the natural richness and industrial ecology?
Odisha does have a lion’ share of the country’s mineral and natural wealth, which supports myriad small, medium and large-scale industries. The state government and bodies like IDCO have done a commendable job in luring lucrative investments with initiatives like ‘Make in Odisha’ and ‘Invest in Odisha’ stand testimony to such endeavours. However, I feel there are two things that, if addressed, can help realise the true potential of the state. First, sustainable mining of the natural resources that are abundantly available in the state. If Odisha’s mining ecosystem is supported by the right policies, required infrastructure, faster clearances, and good transport connectivity among others, it can not only benefit the state immensely, but can also bring about a positive socio-economic transformation in the lives of the communities whose livelihoods are intricately woven in and around mining. Secondly, Odisha based industries which are hubs to commercial activities in the state should be given priority allocation over the state’s resources. This arises from the simple logic that if these companies have invested, both financially and otherwise, in Odisha to develop large economic areas and contribute to the state GDP. Vedanta has been championing the state’s causes for a vibrant industrial economy, as it can set off a chain reaction of positive multiplier effect that puts Odisha among the top contributors to national GDP.
The state-based industries have been grappling with the coal crisis for some time now. How will this impact the industries and how do you see things panning out in future?
In power intensive industry sectors like ours, where power cost is nearly 40% of the production cost, availability of coal locally is the most critical factor for ensuring business viability. Captive Power Plants (CPPs) in Odisha have struggled so far to secure adequate coal locally due to various reasons, despite coal adequacy. This has impacted the business and industrial performance of the state-based industries. The 40+ Odisha-based CPPs that support the core manufacturing ecosystem in the state, get less than 30% of their requirement from domestic coal sources against their total installed capacity of 8,919 MW.
How does aluminium, especially your products, contribute to the national needs?
Aluminium is an extremely versatile and endlessly recyclable metal. Our products are carefully developed through focused R&D to meet the needs of the nation and market movements. Our wire rods are used in transmission lines for electrification. Our billets are extruded into raw materials for building & construction. Our Primary Foundry Alloys, used in automobiles, can make vehicles lighter, faster and more fuel-efficient. The aviation industry is a huge customer of aluminium producers, owing to the natural superlative abilities of the metal.
CSR has been an effective tool in developing the socio-economic status of communities based around industries. Take us through the CSR programmes Vedanta is running in Jharsuguda.
At Vedanta Ltd., Jharsuguda, we believe in pursuing a ‘Triple Bottom Line’ of People, Planet & Prosperity. Our CSR efforts are structured along dimensions like sustainable livelihood & women empowerment, health & sanitation, quality education, and community infrastructure & bio-investment. Today, we reach out to 72 nearby villages, covering more than 76,000 people annually. Our flagship project in sustainable livelihood – the all-women Subhalaxmi Cooperative -empowers more than 3,800 women from the rural margins of western Odisha. Our Mobile Health Unit provides doorstep healthcare services to about 30,000 people annually. More than 5000 students have benefitted from Vedanta Vidyarthi Vikas Yojana, one of our key education projects, which has also helped increase matriculation pass per cent of students in the periphery.
Jharsuguda is a major contributor to Odisha’s industrial ecosystem. How do you see the district coming up in the years to come?
Jharsuguda has always had the pre-requisites for sustaining a thriving industrial ecosystem. Its’ post-millennium development got a boost with the state government’s construction of a four-lane road from Sambalpur to Rourkela which enabled faster movement of people, raw materials and finished goods in the western belt of Odisha. The Veer Surendra Sai Airport will be the harbinger of Jharsuguda’s second wave of development by opening up the skies for faster global connectivity.