'Africa is of immense importance to us'

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 04, 2014 10:10 hrs

New Delhi, Feb 4 (IANS) Africa's importance for Indian infrastructure conglomerate Jindal Steel and Power (JSPL) stems from the strengths in the two sectors creating strong synergy with the continent.

The nature of the relationship with Africa, where JSPL has invested upwards of $1 million over a five-year period, was elaborated by the New Delhi-based multinational's chief executive, Ravi Uppal. "Africa is of immense importance to us, because the way the continent is growing means there is a big gap in infrastructure. Since our core strength is steel, power and mining, we feel there is a strong synergy between Jindal and the African continent," Uppal explained to IANS in an interview.

"That's why the group strategy is to focus more on Africa and participate in the development process," he added.

The company's Africa operations - Jindal Steel and Power Africa - are headquartered in South Africa, in a large establishment in Johannesburg. Uppal said Jindal Africa is working to pass on knowledge and experience to the continent and enrich lives, create job opportunities and add value.

"We work with the people and governments, and we now understand the certain needs of the continent," the Jindal chief executive said.

JSPL now has projects in nine nations on the 54-nation continent, the latest being the West African countries of Senegal and Cameroon.

"We are in the process of signing a PPA (power purchase agreement) with the government of Senegal for setting up a power plant with two units of 175 MW each. Likewise, we are exploring neighbouring countries Sierra Leone and Liberia," Uppal said.

He explained that while JSPL forays into western Africa were for mining iron ore, its operations in the continent's east are aimed at coal resources.

"On the eastern side, that is South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana, our mining work is for coal," Uppal said.

In the former French colony of Cameroon, JSPL has recently got a licence for mine exploration, which is the first step towards a licence to mine resources.

"A company called Legend sold us this mine about 90 km from the Cameroon coast. It has iron ore and magnetite reserves," said Uppal.

He said Jindal Africa's major achievement in the quarter ended December 31, 2013, was the construction of a railway track to transport coal from its Mozambican mines to the Indian Ocean port of Bera.

Last year, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza formally inaugurated JSPL's mining activities in Chirodzi in the Changara district of Tete Province. The mine has estimated reserves of 1.2 billion tonnes of coal, while the company hopes to employ more than 2,000 people to produce over 10 million tonnes of high grade coal per annum.

Uppal said the Mozambican government was happy with the development of the "huge" mine project, in which the company has invested $250 million.

"We have worked fast to develop this huge mine and the government is happy with the progress. We are also setting up a captive power plant at breakneck speed," he said.

In Tanzania, where the company recently received a licence for mining copper in a 300-hectare site in Kilimanjaro, it has built medical and education facilities in the villages, improved road infrastructure and planted more than 60,000 trees.

Jindal Africa has acquired Canada-listed CIC Energy Corp to gain access to the company's Greater Mmamabula coalfield in Botswana, estimated to contain 2.4 billion tonnes.

As the chief executive of a multinational, Uppal put a perspective on Africa in his company's scheme of things.

"We are a business organization," said Uppal, adding: "And we like to distribute risks in terms of the market. If we spread out in more than one country, be it in Africa or in Oman, Indonesia or Australia, it leads to steady business."

(Biswajit Choudhury can be reached at biswajit.c@ians.in)

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