Millennium Post

Centre asks states to form panel to speed up mining lease disposal

The development follows delays in such disposal of cases where prospecting licences or reconnaissance permits were issued before commencement of Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, which came into force from January 12, 2015.

"A committee should be constituted for each state... to thoroughly scrutinise saved proposals before sending them to the Ministry of Mines... All governments are requested to constitute a committee at the state level," the Ministry of Mines has said in a letter to secretaries in charge of mining and geology.

While the MMDR Act provided that all applications for grant of mineral concessions became "ineligible" on January 12, the day the Act kicked in, it exempted cases where a reconnaissance permit or prospecting licence has been granted for any land for mining.

It provided that the licensee or permit holder will have right for getting a mining lease, as the case may be. A reconnaissance permit allows preliminary prospecting of mineral through regional, aerial, geophysical, geochemical surveys and geological mapping.

"The Ministry of Mines has been emphasising on the need for expeditious processing and disposal of mineral concession proposals sent by state governments for seeking previous approval of the central government under the proviso of amended section 10 A (2) of the MMDR Act," the letter sent to the states said.

The letter added that in a number of pending cases, information or documents submitted along with the proposals were insufficient, which made the task of processing difficult for the ministry. 

Given the circumstances, the ministry felt that seeking necessary clarifications and documents from states and then technical comments from bodies like GSI and IBM will be time- consuming. To avoid delays in disposal of cases, it has been decided that state-level committees will thoroughly vet such cases before forwarding the same to the Centre.

The committees will comprise members from state mining and geology departments, besides the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI). Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra account for 112 such pending cases.

The highest tally of 44 comes from Maharashtra, followed by Rajasthan (38), Madhya Pradesh (22) and Andhra Pradesh (8). Earlier in a meeting, chaired by Mines Secretary Balvinder Kumar, a Rajasthan government official said that out of 38 pending cases, 24 deal in siliceous earth.

Meanwhile, the Mines Ministry will on Monday take up the issue of threshold limit value (TLV) on beach sand minerals or heavy minerals, which the mining industry says can adversely impact the companies if implemented. 

"Mines Ministry will take up the issue of TLV on beach sand minerals (BSM) with the industry over the demand that it has made on the provisions of the draft Atomic Mineral Concession Rules 2016 at the national mines and minerals conclave in Raipur tomorrow," a senior government official said.

The draft rules proposes to reserve all BSM deposits containing more than 0.75 per cent monazite in the THM (Total Heavy Minerals) for government-owned corporations. Even for already operating mines, if it is found that the monazite content is above the fixed TLV, the lease will be terminated.

An official with a private miner said: "This provision will reserve almost more than 75 per cent of the explored reserves to government sector, which will have a huge adverse impact on the BSM industry and the BSM mining situation will go back by twenty years, reverting the production to reserve ratio to 0.001 per cent prevalent in the 1990s." 

The industry is demanding that the TLV may be fixed as 5 per cent in THM or 2 per cent in the deposit and the termination clause be totally removed. If required, suitable safeguards may be implemented by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), like having a conservation policy for monazite.

Beach sand mining generally includes ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, monazite, leucoxene and sillimanite. Most of these minerals occur together but their individual contents varying from deposit to deposit, with the major mineral in most deposits being ilmenite.

The government has earlier said that five states -- Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu -- have heavy minerals worth Rs 65,000 crore which are available on the coastline and can be extracted provided the industry complies with the norms including those relating to the Coastal Regulatory Zones (CRZ).

BSM industry is also demanding a separate policy for monazite production and processing to utilise the rare earths available in monazite, so that India can be a major player in the field of rare earths, the company official said.

Monazite, a mineral of Thorium and Rare Earth Element (REE), is the only commercial source of Rare Earths in the country at present. Private sector is not allowed to mine monazite. Presently, Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMDER), part of the DAE, carries out exploration, establishment and development of atomic minerals in the country, including Monazite.

Indian Rare Earths, a PSU controlled by DAE, processes Monazite at its Rare Earths Division in Kerala. IREL has been processing Monazite to produce Rare Earths compounds, but in 2004 this was stopped due to lack of market, as materials became available at a much lower cost.
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