Govt to open up min­eral ex­plo­ration to pri­vate sec­tor, for­eign com­pa­nies

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In an ef­fort to pro­vide a push to min­eral ex­plo­ration and en­sure ad­di­tional re­sources for the user in­dus­tries, the min­istry of mines is plan­ning to open up the ex­plo­ration seg­ment to both In­dian pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies and for­eign ma­jors. The min­istry is in the process of in­tro­duc­ing a new min­eral ex­plo­ration pol­icy, which will be an­nounced very soon, a top min­istry of­fi­cial said.

“We are fi­nal­is­ing the new min­eral ex­plo­ration pol­icy and will an­nounce it within the next two months. We have re­ceived rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the min­ing in­dus­try about al­low­ing the pri­vate sec­tor in new ex­plo­ration of min­ing as­sets. The pol­icy will ad­dress their con­cerns,” Balvin­der Ku­mar, sec­re­tary, min­istry of mines, said on the side­lines of an in­ter­na­tional min­ing con­fer­ence in Ben­galuru.

He said the min­istry is ac­tively think­ing of al­low­ing In­dian pri­vate sec­tor min­ing com­pa­nies and over­seas ex­plo­ration firms to carry out new ex­plo­ration in the coun­try.

Ad­mit­ting that the ex­plo­ration of min­er­als re­quires huge amounts of money and that pub­lic sec­tor com­pa­nies lack both tech­nol­ogy and fi­nan­cial re­sources, Ku­mar said the gov­ern­ment in­tends to at­tract the pri­vate sec­tor in ex­plo­ration. Go­ing for­ward, the min­istry plans to spend at least R500 crore an­nu­ally in ex­plo­ration.

“The ex­plo­ration spend in In­dia is abysmally low. De­spite hav­ing very good ge­o­log­i­cal re­serves and possessing vi­tally con­cerned min­er­als such as gold, cop­per, nickel, plat­inum group of min­er­als, among oth­ers, we are still de­pen­dent on their im­port, lead­ing to sub­stan­tial drain on for­eign ex­change,” said H Noor Ahmed, pres­i­dent, Fed­er­a­tion of In­dian Min­eral In­dus­tries (FIMI).

In 2014, of $10.74 bil­lion spent by about 3,300 pri­vate ex­plo­ration com­pa­nies glob­ally, about 14% was spent in Canada, 12% in Aus­tralia and 6% in China. How­ever, In­dia finds no place in the ex­plo­ration map de­spite hav­ing very good ge­o­log­i­cal re­serves, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to FIMI, air­borne sur­vey alone will cost an es­ti­mated R4,000 crore, much be­yond the ca­pac­ity of the Na­tional Min­eral Ex­plo­ration Trust (NMET), which was set up by the min­istry re­cently fol­low­ing an amend­ment to MMDR Amend­ment Act, 2015.

Given the high odds and risk in ex­plo­ration, the coun­try needs an at­trac­tive ex­plo­ration pol­icy which will en­cour­age pri­vate in­vest­ment and ex­per­tise into the sec­tor, Ahmed said.

“The early stage ex­plo­ration ac­tiv­ity is usu­ally funded by the pri­vate min­ing com­pa­nies in many de­vel­oped coun­tries. Abil­ity to fund the ex­plo­ration and lat­est tech­nol­ogy is avail­able with the pri­vate min­ers. We have al­ready made a rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the min­istry to ease reg­u­la­tory con­trols and al­low the pri­vate sec­tor in ex­plo­ration,” said R K Sharma, sec­re­tary-gen­eral, FIMI.

H. NOOR AHMED, FIMI

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