Zinc is the fourth most widely used metal globally after steel, aluminum and copper and the third most-used non-ferrous metal. Zinc consumption in India is 0.5 kg/capita as compared to China’s consumption of around 5.0 kg/capita and the average global consumption of 1.9 kg/capita. The zinc industry is poised to perform well in line with the stable demand outlook for the Indian steel industry. New government initiatives in different sectors, including Railways, offer a favorable pitch for the growth of this industry in India in coming years, says International Zinc Association (IZA) India Director Rahul Sharma, in a free-wheeling tete-a-tete with Senior Correspondent Sanjeev Jasrotia.
How long have you been associated with the industry and what is the current status of this industry.
I am associated with Zinc industry for the last 9 years and International Zinc Association, IZA is propagating the message of sustainable development. Apart from the sustainable development, we are taking care of Health and Nutrition which is a problematic area especially for Indian population.
You must have heard that some bridges have collapsed in the country, particularly in monsoon season. It’s unfortunate that we are not paying heed to the real problem. The real problem is corrosion. As per the government data, India is losing 4 to 5 percent of GDP on account of Corrosion losses alone. This is huge amount and it could have been utilized for creating new infrastructure like schools, hospitals.
Officials do not go for long term planning while taking up any project. A bridge is constructed using steel and that lasts for over three decades and needs regular maintenance costing roughly around 50 percent of cost of the newly constructed bridge. There is a simple solution for this, if we could have used galvanized steel in the construction of those bridges and we could have save that money. If you see the world around, the big mega infrastructure project like Sydney opera House, Australian and New Zealand’s Parliament in fact used galvanized steel bar and there are numerous example, where the galvanized steel has been used in construction worldwide.
Is this a new concept for India or there is lack of awareness in using galvanized steel in construction work
Yes, I will say that India is not using galvanized steel in routine construction, like bridges, metros, and road and for that matter building construction where as in the advance economy it’s very common. Even the America’s longest highway has been constructed by using galvanized steel bar. So, why not in India? It is not because the government officials are unaware of the benefits of galvanized steel bar. The officials have careless attitude, they don’t worry about future of the structure. They don’t want to do experiment because it’s a new concept in India. And in such situations, we are just convincing, educating the decision and policy makers; but again the road is not very smooth, and it’s like chicken and egg story. The government officials are waiting who will start experimenting with this new concept.
Do you think, it is a challenge for the industry in convincing people about the new concept?
Yes, in that sense not only the zinc Industry but for every new material which is good, there are challenges. So I think the government should come out with a policy of the life cycle, like how much of money you are investing in constructing a building and what shall be the service life of this building. This concept is missing on part of the executing agencies.The government should come out with specific policy on the issue.
How do you see the growth of the industry particularly at a time when the economy is sluggish?
We are bullish in that sense that the government is pumping lots of money in infrastructure projects. Historically, if you look at the growth of Zinc, the steel and Zinc both grew parallel. It means that if there is growth in the steel industry, zinc industry also followed that trends.But there are several applications which have been introduced in India recently like the galvanization of the rails because the Indian railways have the typical problem like the life of the rails is calculated on the bases of Gross Metric Ton GMT. But because of this corrosion problem ideal rail would have last only 3 to 4 years instead of 10 to 12 years and that compel the government to replace it, which would a great loss to the government exchequer.
So the IZA has done experiment with IIT Mumbai and come out with a noble solution. Melted zinc is sprayed now on the rails to make them corrosion resistant. Now such zinc treated rails can last for at least 12 years against the conventional 3 years life span of ordinary steel rails.
In view of this the Railway Board has issued first order of 2,000 tons of galvanized rails to the Steel Authority of Indian who is the sole producer of the rails in India apart from JSPL. So this kind of development is happening in India now and we are actively participating in this process.
What are some major areas you are working on?
Zinc is playing a major role in fertilizer sector. Unfortunately 50 percent of the Indian soil is Zinc deficient and Zinc being a vital Micro nutrient; it is required by every living organism. So for human being it is very important because we eat zinc and excreta out zinc on daily basis, but till the time the zinc remain inside our body, it increases immunity.
And because of zinc deficiency in soil we are not getting zinc through vegetable, fruits, or through natural food cycle in our body and due to that India have got maximum diarrheal deaths in the world and for diarrhea zinc is the only remedy worldwide., That is the reason, India launched zinc based ORS sachets free of cost in all the dispensaries and Primary health centers.
Recently we have signed an agreement with the World Bank for crop trials of zinc fertilizer in Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. The Rajasthan government has given 500 hectares of land where we used zinc fertilizers and crops result are very impressive and farmers have got 40 percent more crop yield as compared to the last year. So if the Prime Minister is looking for doubling the farmer’s income by 2022, Zinc based fertilizer will play a major role in achieving the target.
What is the role of Zinc Industry in Auto industry?
We are working very closely with the steal mills and automobile companies and you will be very surprised to the fact that the cars which are priced below 10 Lakh rupees, expect Volkswagen Polo, all the car which are plying on the roads are not galvanized.
The most surprising factor is that a high selling Wagon car exported to European nations is galvanized one while for Indian consumer it’s non- galvanized.
Indian consumers are not conscious of their rights as consumers. They do not demand galvanized car; but in European countries its mandatory to extend at-least 6 year anti-perforation warranty on every car because that has been mandated. So under statutory compulsions Indian car makers are exporting galvanised car. Those types of mandates have not been made by the government here in India and that’s why people are suffering. We have spoken to steal mills and automobile companies in this regard. They have gradually started using the galvanized steel /sheet but that’s only 10 to 12 percent and limited to some most critical components.
How to see you the industry in next 10 years
We will be a developed nation in 10 years .Hopefully we will be surpassing 5 trillion dollar economy in next 5 years. So India will be a very important country. People will be more educated and more aware of things and as the awareness increases we are sure that the consumption of Zinc will increase manifold.
On Policy front, what are your demands
Modi Government is working on the highways projects and they have increased the speed of the construction of road about 30 kms per day. So if you are increasing the pace of the construction of Highways, the government should also think about use of durable materials. As far as auto industry, the government should ask the automobile companies to start using galvanized sheets in the manufacturing of car so that Indian consumer gets the benefit. On the agriculture front the government is very serious but the problem is that government is extending the subsidy only on urea and not on the zinc or Boron based fertilizers; because these are the micro nutrients.
Government is now transferring the subsidy of fertilizer directly to the farmer’s account and based on soil health card report the farmers now know how much quantity of fertilizers is required for a particular crop. They also know how much micro nutrient is required for the crop and they are using those accordingly. So we are looking forward to government initiatives in extending the subsidy on the micro nutrients to help farmers use them to improve yield enriched with zinc content for healthy consumption by the masses.
Comprehensive coverage on Zinc Industry in India in next issue of Smart Governance magazine