Sponge iron industries are killing fields
Since 2002, India has been the largest producer of sponge iron, also called direct reduced iron (dri), in the world. Today about 20 per cent of the sponge iron produced worldwide is made in India.
The growth of this industry is touted as one of the major success stories of the Indian industrial sector, after liberalisation. This industry has grown spectacularly in the last five years. There were 23 plants in 2000-2001, with a production capacity of 6.97 million tonnes (mt), today there are 206 sponge iron plants in the country with a capacity of a staggering 19 mt. And the portents are even more ominous.
According to the Joint Plant Committee constituted in 2005 by the Centre to survey the sponge iron industry, as many as 225 coal-based sponge iron plants are at various stages of commissioning and construction in the country as of today.In addition, of the existing 206 plants, 77 are in the process of expanding their production capacity. The committee says that in the very near future the country will have 431 sponge iron plants with a production capacity of 44 mt. This is a very serious number from the environment and health perspective. More so because most of these plants are located (and the future ones are being constructed) in areas characterised by virgin forest, tribals and poor environmental governance.
The major problem with the Indian sponge iron industry lies in the way they produce this product. The industry has grown with coal-based sponge iron manufacturing (see box: Iron-age method). While globally, dri is being manufactured using gas