Mines ministry's ultimatum to states: Explore lapsing blocks by December

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The Union mines ministry has told all states to ensure exploration is complete by this December of mineral leases expiring by March 31, 2020. It has also reminded them, yet again, to initiate the process of title re-auction of these blocks by July 2019, to ensure no shortfall in raw material and a seamless transition in their ownership.

The ministry’s data shows 288 leases for iron ore, chromite, limestone, manganese, bauxite, graphite, limestone, garnet and kyanite are due to lapse by end-March 2020. Goa has the highest number, 120; then come Karnataka and Odisha with 45 and 31 mining leases, respectively. Of the 288 mines, 59 are in a working state and the balance are non-working leases.

Mineral-bearing states have been getting repeated reminders from the Union ministry to prepare the schedule for a transition in title. The urgency to prepare the blocks for auction stems from the recent notification of the Draft Mineral Concession and Development (Amendment) Rules by the Centre. 

It is proposed to be amended for drawing an exploration schedule, so that the blocks could be auctioned before their validity ends. This is to ensure that production of key minerals like iron ore, manganese and chromite is not hit by expiry of lease.

The operative mines due to lapse by March 2020 are mostly of iron ore. Together, these non-captive iron ore mines have an approved annual capacity totalling 85 million tonnes (mt) a year, of which Odisha accounts for 66 mt. 

In all, this state has 31 mines heading for expiry, 24 being operative ones. Of the latter 24, exploration activity has been completed for six and 15 others have sent revised plans to the Indian Bureau of Mines.

“As per the state government's assessment, G2-level exploration will be completed for all working mines by December 2018 (G2 refers to general exploration, as opposed to a preliminary one). In respect of the non-working mines, we will seek approval for conducting auctions under Section 18A of the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act,” said a government official.

Karnataka, another key iron ore producer, has seen the completion of exploration for eight of its 33 mines lapsing by March 2020. Jharkhand has five expiring by that date and given consent to start their exploration. Andhra Pradesh is prepared to auction its six lapsing mines by September next year. The Gujarat government has apprised the Union ministry that of its 11 mine leases expiring by 2020, seven are eligible for auction. The government there has identified an agency to complete exploration by this December.

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