India state calls meet to speed $40 bln steel projects

BHUBANESWAR, India, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Indian authorities have called an urgent meeting this week to discuss ways to speed up $40 billion steel projects delayed by mass farmer protests in an eastern state, officials said on Monday.

Authorities in the mineral-rich state of Orissa have signed contracts with 49 companies for steel plants in the state in the last five years, but protests by farmers and legal hurdles have delayed more than 20 such projects.

Some of the bigger proposals include a $12 billion plant by South Korean steelmaker POSCO 005490.KS, a 6-million tonne steel project by TATA Steel Ltd TISC.BO, and a 12-million-tonne steel project by Arcelor-Mittal ISPA.ASMT.N.

“We will discuss all the pending issues regarding setting up of steel industries in Orissa,” T.K. Mishra, a top government official told Reuters.

Officials said they would discuss how to win over farmers, including alternative sites for some plants and improved compensation.

Indian Steel Secretary P.K. Rastogi told reporters in New Delhi that the focus at the meeting would be on the ArcelorMittal and POSCO plant -- India’s biggest foreign direct investment.

The POSCO project has been delayed by more than two years due to the protests.

The situation in Orissa reflects a larger standoff between industry and farmers unwilling to give up land and water in India, where two-thirds of the population depend on agriculture for a living. (Reporting by Jatindra Dash; Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Ron Popeski)