PSM — a dumping ground

The saga around Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) continues to take twists and turns. In the latest development, the government is facing resistance in getting 157 acres of “core land” of the industrial unit on a 30-year lease. The centre intends to use the area as a dumping yard for coal to be transported and used in Punjab to fire up power plants in the province. But its plans have hit a roadblock as the area, marked as core land, can only be used for the industrial unit’s operations. Stakeholders are reportedly playing it ‘safe’ and resisting the federal government’s move.

This development conveys several aspects of how PSM’s affairs are treated by not just the government, but the unit’s management as well. For 14 months, the PSM’s operations were brought to a screeching halt over non-payment of gas bills. Former Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah termed it a “conspiracy against PSM” back then. What he did not mention was whether the management was willing to pay the PSM’s bills. Meanwhile, workers continue to sit idle, not knowing when and if the next bailout package would be approved by the Economic Coordination Committee. The industrial unit was set up with the help of the Russians and would have enormously helped Pakistan’s GDP if corruption and inefficient management had not taken front seat. The current government may have the unit on its active privatisation list, but the row with Sindh over the sale continues. Meanwhile, the centre’s hopes of using its core land as a dumping yard shows how serious it is when it comes to inviting interest from investors. Its attitude reflects the government’s attitude towards sick units — breathe just enough life into them so they stay alive, but not enough for them to stand on their feet. The steel mill has massive land area under its possession and needs money to revive itself. A resolution to its woes is needed soon so that taxpayers’ money is not continuously wasted on bailouts.

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