Lakshmi Mittal is close to pulling out of a $20bn plan to build two large steel plants in India.

Delays in persuading farmers and others to sell the land he needs for the developments in the states of Jharkand and Orissa are ‘unacceptable’, the chairman and main owner of ArcelorMittal said.

Although Mr Mittal said he was still committed to building at least one steel plant in India, abandoning his plan to have two sites producing between them about 24Mt/y by around 2015 would be a big blow.

It would delay by several years his plans to have a sizeable presence in India. In an interview with the UK’s Financial Times newspaper, Mr Mittal, whose company has very little presence in India, said people there had to be ‘educated’ into supporting gradual industrialisation, including the need to build new steel plants on agricultural land.

India is already the world’s fifth biggest country in terms of steel output. Mr Mittal, whose company has been working on its planned Indian plants for more than two years, thinks that by 2020 India will be making four times as much steel as it does now.