Sukant Mahanta, an iron ore trader in Barbil, shuddered when he saw news bulletins beaming stories of a very severe cyclone advancing towards Odisha’s coast. Gripped by trepidation, Mahanta wondered how ports were equipped to move iron ore in the face of the imminent colossal tropical storm Fani.
Within an hour, his phone started buzzing frequently. Merchant miners and traders were scrambling for supplies as steel and other end-user industries had decided to build up stocks for around a week. Though there was no dearth in availability of ore, concerns mounted over their supplies as the entire chain of movement was done online in Odisha as per i3MS or the Integrated Mines and Minerals Management System. “Thankfully, Fani had no notable impact in the iron ore-rich Barbil and Joda sectors. Movement of iron ore from our end did not suffer. Unlike coastal pockets, internet and mobile services were not crippled. We managed to keep our supply commitments and ensured seamless movement,” Mahanta said.

Wary of the damage wrought by recurring cyclones in the past, the industry did not keep loose ends in its preparation. Stock piling of ore was the buzzword and common strategy. “We were extra cautious this time, accumulating iron ore stocks for our Kalinganagar plant for 15 days. On hindsight, the strategy paid off as i3MS in Bhubaneswar and most other coastal locations fell apart for a week,” informed an official from Jindal Stainless Ltd.

Ports Impacted
But fears of iron ore suppliers on ore movement via ports were not misplaced. With wind speeds gusting up to 200 km per hour, the major port at Paradip suspended operations for two days. The massive cyclone made a landfall near Puri on May 3 with squally winds engulfing almost the entire coastal strip of Odisha. During May 3 and 4, Paradip Port witnessed no cargo loading or unloading. Bulk cargo like iron ore and coal are the major contributors to the port’s cargo throughput.

A spokesperson said the authorities are still counting losses and assessment of the cyclone damage would be ready by month-end. The other two ports, Adani Group-owned Dhamra Port and Shapoorji Pallonji-controlled Gopalpur Port off the south Odisha coast, suspended operations, paralysing shore movement. “Some of the export orders (in iron ore) had to be deferred but we started operations next day of the cyclone’s landfall. Iron ore supplies were not affected as industries had already piled up stocks,” said a source at Dhamra Port. Gopalpur Port doesn’t handle iron ore cargo in bulk but, in the aftermath of Fani, it received orders for export-bound iron ore pellets.

E-auctions Deferred
Aside from the merchant miners, the state government controlled Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) is also a vital ore supplier to industries. In the wake of the cyclone, OMC had to defer its online auctions of iron ore originally scheduled on May 4 to May 14. With online and mobile services nearly collapsing in Bhubaneswar and its periphery, OMC had no other option. OMC’s counterparts in the hinterland of Joda and Barbil were, however, lucky. “We did not witness disruptions in the i3MS network because of the cyclone. Miners could get e-permits as usual to move their ore,” said an official with a mining company. Joda and Barbil are Odisha’s two most prolific sectors, where 80% of the iron ore mining is done. An Odisha government official said: “The IT backbone which tracks the whole cycle of mining operations had suffered heavy reverses in the coastal districts. It took nearly a week to restore i3MS. But it was gratifying that the iron ore production heartland of Odisha, comprising Keonjhar and Sundargarh, did not suffer,” he said.