Govt aims at new global benchmark through successive interventions to bring about quality upgrade

In harmony with the government’s goal of adherence to a uniform quality regime, the Ministry of Steel (MoS) has been issuing a series of quality control orders (QCOs) since 2012 to drive standardisation in consonance with the ‘One Nation, One Standard’ principle. The objective is to guarantee that the Indian steel industry sticks to quality specifications for all upstream and downstream products.

‘One Nation, One Standard’

Alongside the need to manufacture ‘zero-defect’ steel, it is imperative to bring different technical parameters and specifications under a single standards regime. According to the government, the ‘ISI’ standard mark represents “quality, productivity, affordability and accessibility” for the last-mile consumer.
“India should be a leader in putting up global benchmarks to set standards. Continuous efforts need to be made to integrate and consolidate different standards under one standard,” Union Minister for Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal has been quoted as saying at a recent industry meet.
While ensuring quality conformity, standardisation improves productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of manufacturing. It restricts usage of non-prime and sub-standard quality, thereby helping to promote standardisation of quality.
The standardisation process is enforced in the form of quality control orders (QCOs) requiring a) mandatory Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) licensing for all manufacturers and b) mandatory usage of BIS-certified products for select steel products, in view of ensuring the safety and health of consumers.
The government has been pursuing imposition of the steel quality control order for ensuring availability of quality steel to the industry and end-users. From 2012 till date, the government has notified 145 carbon steel, alloy steel and stainless steel products to make available quality steel for construction, infrastructure, automobile and engineering applications.

Passage of QCOs

The MoS had initially notified two quality control orders, namely the Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Order, 2012 and Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Second Order, 2012. In the first order, seven standards and, in the second one, nine products were notified.
These products now require mandatory certification.
In December, 2015, the MoS notified 15 more products covering the major flat and long products segments to ensure safety and security of infrastructure and engineering products. Further, the government issued the Stainless Steel Products (Quality Control) Order in June, 2016 covering three categories of stainless steel products under three Indian Standards.
In August, 2018, the MoS merged all the previous steel quality control orders and added 15 new standards into a single order, namely the Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Order, 2018, covering 53 steel products. On July 22, 2019, the MoS issued a quality control order adding 13 new standards into a single order covering a total of 66 steel products.
On February 14, 2020, the MoS issued another quality control order adding 25 new standards into a single order covering a total of 91 steel products. In May, 2020 the government added 20 new standards into a single order and in July, 2020, the MoS issued a quality control order adding two new standards covering a total of 113 steel products.
In November, 2020, the MoS issued an order adding 31 new standards into a single Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Order, 2020 covering a total of 144 steel products. Later on, the MoS added one new standard into a single order and notified on December 22, 2020 the Steel and Steel Products (Quality Control) Order, 2020 covering thereby 145 steel products.
Special mention for Tinplate (IS-1993) and Tin-free Steel (IS-12591), with more than 70% of these products used for food and edible products packaging – products directly concerning the safety and health of the last-mile consumer – is still being deliberated upon.
Importers are trying their best to influence the MoS to delay the implementation and, preferably, remove these products from the QCO structure, which could be a serious setback for the standardisation process.
However, it has been found that the large price disparity between prime and non-prime quality adversely affects fair market competition thereby injuring domestic manufacturers.
Tinplate imports, constituting 65-75% of non-prime quality at average prices almost 30-40% lower, have been one of the major causes leading to closure of two major domestic tinplate investments, including one by Steel Authority of India (SAIL).

Ambiguities & Solutions

Language and content of standards are required to be made explicit and devoid of ambiguity. IS-15965 BIS standard for colour-coated steel with Al-Zn (aluminum-zinc) alloy substrate “recommends” minimum coating of AZ-70 or more. However, under the pretext of ambiguous language, BIS has unilaterally approved sub-standard coating of AZ-40 and AZ-50 to certain foreign mills (Hoa Sen, Vietnam) without the knowledge and approval of stakeholders, including the Ministry of Steel. Explanation being given is that “recommend” is subjective”, as has come to the notice of the MoS.
Likewise, it has been pointed out that the cross reference of BIS product standard of all major inputs/upstream products/substrates in the ‘Product Standard’ of final product IS-513, “Product Standard for Cold Rolled Coils and Sheets is absent for cross reference to its upstream Product Standard i.e. HR Coil (IS:11513). IS-4270 (Steel Tubes for Water Wells) is absent for cross reference of input HR Coil Product Standard (IS-10748).”
As many as 11 product standards for ‘cast semi-finished steel products’ –differentiated only by chemical composition – could have been a single product standard. Wire rods (IS-7887 for general engineering purpose), IS-7904 (high-carbon) and IS-2255 (rod for m/c screw) – could have been combined into a single standard.
It goes without saying that the products manufactured ought to comply with established “quality standards” and the consumer receives and consumes the BIS-certified product – “with thrust on ITES (information technology enabled services) and the need to avoid human subjectivity”.
Surveillance agencies for the domestic market could be state industry departments, while the Customs authorities could monitor imports. The government’s framework envisages ITES-enabled basic data assisting in implementing QCOs.