Mine in India to Make in India

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Mine in India to Make in India

The Government should consider giving a fillip to the heavy minerals industry, which has huge potential both in terms of revenue and providing employment

This is one pot of potential that the Government of India may need to look at closely — the Heavy Mineral Mining (HMM) industry. We owe this to one German chemist CW Schomberg,   who in 1909, discovered heavy mineral deposits of Manavalakuruchi in the State of Travancore (now Tamil Nadu). The reserve he found was richer and economical, compared to rest of the world. While Schomberg explored a world of opportunity, after World War I, Britishers seized the German company, landed in India and put him in a jail in Madras. About 100 years since then, some argue, the growth of this high-potential industry remains arrested! A complex interplay of factors, including lack of appreciation of the critical role of this industry, its high potential in terms of revenue, as well as lack of enabling policy framework, are often cited as some of the key reasons that has stunted the growth of heavy minerals industry.

What’s heavy minerals? India is home to an impressive 6,000 km of coastline and parts of its beachs, deposits and dunes contain heavy minerals like ilmenite, rutile, garnet, monazite, zircon and sillimanite. These minerals are used in diverse industries — electronics, ceramics, aerospace, paint, pharmaceutical, defence, fertilisers and paper — as critical raw materials and, therefore, are vital for the economy.

The HMM industry has an enormous potential which can yield nearly Rs 30,000 crore in annual turnover to the exchequer. Despite being home to large reserves, we produce a tiny five per cent of the world’s heavy minerals. India’s Gross Domestic Product has grown steadily since Independence because it is backed by robust growth in the production of minerals, such as iron ore, coal, copper, zinc, aluminum, magnesium and limestone. We all know, mining is like an oxygen for the manufacturing industry and the same is true for heavy minerals mining as well.

In today’s context, it is also pivotal to the idea of Make in India. We are equipped with raw materials to support the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Make in India’ with the motto of ‘Zero Effect’ on the environment and society, along with ‘Zero Defect’ manufacturing sector. Industry experts say, the heavy minerals industry story has to be critical to the Indian saga — much like we did in Information Technology, we can become a global hub for heavy minerals deposits and supply to all countries across the world.

And why not, given that we have one of the largest deposits of heavy minerals (about 28 per cent). But our exploitation is dismally low at just about six per cent. The US, Australia and South Africa have about 11 per cent  of heavy mineral reserves but they exploit heavily. As against a world average Production to Reserve Ratio of 0.01per cent, India’s figure was less than 0.001 per cent  for long and improved marginally to 0.0018 per cent  recently. If we can further improve it, identified deposits can last for 100 years. Using the Make in India push, the country can meet a substantial quantum of TiO2, zirconium chemicals and also the rare earth elements required globally, and become a strategic player in these fields. A policy push in this direction can additionally produce around 250 tonnes of uranium and around 6,000 tonnes of thorium oxalate per annum which shall be available for the present and future nuclear fuel requirements of the country.

However, challenges are abound. HMM comes under management of both Central and State Governments for grant of lease and involves a maze of clearances required for mining of coal and iron ore, including those from the Coastal Regulatory Zone Authority, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change among others. What’s worse, the entire process of getting various clearances up to the stage of mining lease is a long drawn battle, sometimes taking as much as 10 years or more. The huge paper work and number of stages involved in obtaining clearances and permissions does not change the ground situation, except keeping the local poor people, mostly fishermen community, without jobs for too long a time and prevent development in the area.

For a Government which has taken up reforms, including repealing old and archaic laws, there may be merit in considering revamping of the procedures. One of the private sector players has been trying to tide over the maze of rules to get lease of a salt land on a beach which has been lying idle and unutilised for many years and extract minerals from the same which would earn revenues and provide employment. However, the rules are so complicated that this has not been possible and their only hope is intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office. The industry feels, ahead of the Mines Ministers’ meet in Goa later this month, a personal look into the challenges of the industry by the Prime Minister will do a world of good.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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