India, a rich repository, saw imports of minerals, ores going up in FY17

Mineral import rose sharply in 2016-17, with inward shipment of ores and minerals (Rs8.1 trillion) accounting for 31.4 per cent of the country’s total merchandise import.

A particular rise was seen in import of alumina (45.7 per cent), precious metal ores & concentrates (42.2 per cent), manganese ore (38 per cent) and bauxite (30.1 per cent). Even copper, where India is home to a third of the world’s estimated deposits, saw import at Rs183 billion in 2016-17.

Stakeholders point to the tepid scale of prospecting operations and exploration in the country. “To realise the vision of ‘Make in India’, we have to ‘Mine in India’. But, this is beset with challenges. Only a tiny percentage of proven geological reserves have been converted into mineable assets,” said an industry source.

The country boasts of 35 per cent of the world's beach sand minerals. In terms of rare earth minerals like ilmenite and rutile (both rich sources of titanium), the country's 85 million tonnes of deposit ranks only next to Australia and China. Actual production of beach minerals, however, is 2.1 per cent of global output.

According to data from the Union mines ministry, the country has a geological potential area spanning 0.57 million sq km. Only 10 per cent of this area is explored and mining has been taken up on 1.5-2 per cent of it. Prospecting work is also marred by a new provision mandating payment of net present value (NPV) for the entire prospecting lease area. This deposit is both non-refundable and non-adjustable. The onus is on the agency doing the prospecting to engage the Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education for commissioning a study on the impact of operations.

“Payment of NPV needs to be exempted for mineral prospecting operations. Since there is no tree felling, the activity does not cause land degradation or change in land use pattern,” the source said.

India ranks third globally in coal production, fifth in bauxite output and seventh in manganese ore. The industry contends that every single percentage growth in mining expands the country’s gross domestic product by 0.3 per cent and enhances the rate of industrial production by 
1.2-1.4 per cent.

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