Mittal’s successful takeover of Arcelor last year made him the world’s biggest steelmaker, with 10% of the global market, while Tata’s victory in the battle for Anglo-Dutch Corus Group earlier this year put his family at the head of the world’s fifth-largest steel company. Now Mittal is returning to his roots for the next phase in the battle, but he will be fighting on Tata’s home turf.
The jungles of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are the source of the iron that will build a new India. These states are now exploiting their mineral potential, tying up multi-billion pound mining and production deals they hope will lift them out of poverty and build crucial infrastructure. It is this growth story that is drawing Tata and Mittal into the fight.
For Mittal, the Orissa investment alone will top £4 billion over eight years, and produce 12m tonnes of steel, but it is now merely a memorandum of understanding rather than a signed, sealed and delivered deal.
Tata has signed memorandums for a 6m tonne steel plant in Orissa, and a 12m tonne plant in Jharkhand, but it is playing hardball with both state governments to land iron-ore mining rights before it proceeds.
“Both Tata’s and Arcelor Mittal’s hopes for mega steel plants in India hinge round long-term assurance of sufficient long-term iron-ore access, otherwise they would be left to buy at market rates over a very long period.
The three states account for 70% of India’s iron-ore reserves. It is high-grade ore, which makes it an even greater prize.
The steel companies must follow a process of stating their capacity needs to the state governments, which then recommend iron-ore concessions to the central government, which makes the allocation. It’s a political process that has sparked a major lobbying war.
According to government, Mittal is lagging far behind in this battle. While he may have benefited from influential friends in the British government, he has only two in the Indian cabinet – Sharad Pawar, the agriculture minister, and Murli Deora, the oil minister. He has, however, already made enemies over his failure to deliver on a deal to win big oil concessions for the Indian state oil company ONGC.
Tata, on the other hand, is an all-Indian hero. It is known as the “company which built India”, and Ratan is regarded as the visionary who took the empire global while strengthening its Indian roots. His latest vision, a £1,000 car, is expected to hit the showrooms next year.