We had a conversation with Mr. V. R. Sharma, Managing Director of Jindal Steel and Power Limited. He discussed the various aspects of the pandemic and how his company has made the pandemic an opportunity. In an exclusive interview with Metro Rail News, he discussed various aspects of the business which the Company is planning to do in future. The discussion ranges from pandemic & problems to the future of Indian Economy. Here are some excerpts from the interview hosted by the Managing Editor, Mr. Narendra Shah:-
NS – How do you find the Indian economy amid pandemic? How has it affected the steel and power sector?
Mr. Sharma – The country has passed through a very challenging time especially during the period of April, May and June. During the lockdown when everything including Transport of essential items like fruits and vegetable was stopped then also the power plants were working to provide electricity to the Nation. Despite lockdown, the Indian government allowed the steel industry to function although few segments of the industry were closed for 15 -20 days. This helped us to continue our operations and moving our materials to ports for export to other countries. It helped us a lot. Finally, now, the market is coming up very fast and it will improve in the coming time as I hope.
NS – Is the worst over for the Iron and Steel sector? How do you think about the economic revival of India?
Mr. Sharma – Yes, The worst is over for the steel industry and also for the MSMEs. The only problem we face today is that the trains are not running. We request the Government of India and the Ministry of Railways to start running trains as the people who went to their home states are unable to come to their workplaces. It is the biggest challenge today. The other problem is that a huge part of the nation is experiencing flood-like situations. Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Assam and some parts of Chhattisgarh are worst affected. We are requesting the government to let people return to their workplaces as the floods have hampered their livelihoods and they are not able to do anything in their home states. In such a case, it will be difficult for the government to feed all of them. The government shall take some initiatives specially of running trains to bring such people back to their workplaces. It will not only help the government to bring them to the mainstream society and help these people improve their livelihoods but also help the Indian economy to gain pace.
NS – Recently, the JSPL became the first company to supply Head Hardened Rails to Indian Metros starting from Kolkata Metro? How do you take it?
Mr. Sharma – This is a very pleasant moment for us. We started the head hardened facility in 2014 but it was too early to sell this product to Indian customers especially to Indian Railways and Metros. The metro rails were being imported since its beginning. The Delhi metro was getting it imported from Korea. We thought that if we can produce them in India then why to import them. Finally, our request was heard by the government specially the PMO and Ministry of iron and Steel. The government then issued directives to metro rail services and metro projects to invite local companies and to give them trial orders. In the first such move, we got such offer from Kolkata metro and the second from Pune Metro. Now we are discussing it with 18 metro rail projects which are coming in the country and I am sure that we are going to get orders from them also. Secondly, there is going to be a large replacement market. It has been almost 15 years of phase 1 of Delhi Metro and now onwards they will require replacement of Rails. We will be able to supply it at a pan India level and we are also looking for supplying it to Indian Railways specially for its projects of High-Speed rail networks including that of the bullet trains. For Vande Bharat trains too, the head hardened Rails will be the right solution.
NS – What will be the role of JSPL in the development of Railways and Metros across the nation? Is the Jindal Group going to take part in running private trains in the near future as the Indian Government is opening doors of the railways for private players?
Mr. Sharma – We don’t have core competencies for running a transport business. Our core work is to produce steel as per the requirements of the users. We are not going to run the trains but we will manufacture and supply rails to railways and metros.
NS – What do you think about the privatisation of Railways? How will it help the Railways and private businesses?
Mr. Sharma – The move will help to improve services and the people who are a position to afford private trains will get better services. It will enable them to reach their destinations faster and running private goods trains may be the right mechanism in time to come. As the Indian Railways is one of the largest of its kind in the world and caters to millions of people, it will help to accelerate growth in the sector once the private players come on board.
NS – How is the boycott China movement going to help Indian companies specially who are working for the development of Rail and Metro Projects? Where do you find your firm in this race?
Mr. Sharma – It is the right of each nation to become Atmanirbhar (self-reliant). China was not supplying Railway systems and hence I think that it is not going to impact the Indian Railways for the suppliers of the Indian Railways. China was dominating a major sector of market including household goods and electronic items but with some exceptions, they have not net kind of presence in the Railways sector and it will not affect the iron and steel industry. There is nobody who is fully boycotting China today. The need is to go for true self-reliance as announced by the Honorable Prime Minister.
NS – Jindal Steel has been actively participating in the bid processes of metros? Is the JSPL going to start any new venture in this field? Kindly explain.
Mr. Sharma – When taking Jindal as a group, we produce rails enclosing resistance and Our group company Jindal Stainless provide steel for railways coaches specially for metros. We have a complete solution for everything within the group and we will continue to expand and add more and more products whenever it is required by Indian Railways or Indian Metros.
NS – Despite a persistent recession in the market, the JSPL has been experiencing rise? What are the strategies behind it? How are you thinking about the future business of the company?
Mr. Sharma – We have exported our materials to other countries and we will continue to do so. This is our success mantra which has helped us. We charted out a complete policy which includes our plan for how to sell materials and how much we can and how comfortably we can sell so that our money also comes. With God’s grace, it went very well and I thank our team for doing a great job. I also thank the government of India and the ministry of Railways as they helped us to transport our goods to ports. I also thank the units of shipping and transportation.
NS – According to different news reports, your company made a profit of Rs 226 crores in June. This was the first phase of Unlocking the economy after a long lockdown and most of the companies are still experiencing money crunch. How has JSPL under your leadership managing the things? How do you take these achievements?
Mr. Sharma – We took lockdown in a different way. When the lockdown was there, we were in a position to work from home. We didn’t take any rest and we truly worked from home. It was the reason which helped us to formulate a right strategy to move forward. We utilised our time to give pace to the marketing work along with mobilising our people at workplaces. In Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, pandemic was not there at all as it was very minimal. The local people were healthy as the impacts of pandemic were not there. These are the places where we run our plants and keeping in view the concepts of social distancing and personal hygiene, we worked tirelessly to achieve our targets. We minimised overcrowding by allowing the workers of commercial segment to work from home. These all factors were key to success.
NS – What are the measures being taken by you to ensure health safety at your workplaces? How is the JSPL making a COVID resistant environment at its workshops and factories?
Mr. Sharma – We charted out a plan and approached our neighbourhood. We ensured that if our neighbours are well, our people would not be infected. We had a team of doctors available on 24/7 basis with all necessary equipment, distributed masks and sanitizers among the villagers along with deployment of ambulances for tackling emergencies like situations and they helped us a lot to keep the neighbouring areas COVID free. At the same time, we took proper measures for disinfecting our workplaces and keeping our workers healthy. We made more efforts to provide them nutritional food and multivitamins with helping them to follow the instructions of social distancing. We reduced the 20 persons per thousand square metres to 10 per thousand so that chances of COVID spread may be tackled.
NS – Where do you find your firm at the end of the next decade in terms of developments of Metro Rail projects across the different cities of the nation? In which other segments of the urban transport system, the firm is working to bring changes?
Mr. Sharma – We are very hopeful that we will be in a position to meet out the entire requirements of the country for head hardened rails with a major focus on it. The other areas include expansion of our business in terms of providing the suppliers of metro services and Railways with electrification material and expansion of wheel business. Our sister company is in the coach manufacturing business as I discussed with you and we will be able to supply these all things for Pan Indian requirements. The Jindal Group is effectively working on the various aspects of these all things.
NS – How will the pandemic be affecting the different development works of the metros? Kindly share your opinion.
Mr. Sharma – It was a very good opportunity for the Metros to complete their different maintenance works including that of tracks, AFC gates and platforms. As I know they have not done 100 percent due to lack of manpower but there are still chances of getting these things done before the services resume and they shall do it. They shall run with limited persons per coach to avoid chances of COVID spread.
NS – What message would you like to share with our readers ?
Mr. Sharma -Your magazine is a link in between the metro and vendors & contractors as well as between metro and job seekers. I urge the readers to help the magazine through ads. My best wishes for you.
N.S. – We thank you for giving me your precious time.
# The full video interaction is available on our YouTube channel.