Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2011: Mineral Policy

Mineral Policy

The mining working group for the Twelfth Plan (2012 − 17) has for the first time suggested setting up a national body in two years time with a corpus of Rs. 500 crore to source strategic minerals, metals and rare earths, possibly on the lines of the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation. It also calls for an inter-ministerial group along with industry stakeholders to identify countries with which bilateral agreements can be signed urgently to for securing the supply of strategic minerals.

For what is clearly the first Indian attempt at spelling out a strategy for this sector, several measures have been suggested:

  • To build a national stockpile for strategically critical input metals tin, cobalt, lithium, germanium, gallium, indium, niobium, beryllium, tantalum, tungsten, bismuth, selenium and rare earth metals at an estimated cost of Rs. 1, 000 crore. The Non-Ferrous Materials Technology Development Centre, Hyderabad, has been identified as the nodal coordinating agency for this.

  • Focus and invest on research and development by adopting a technology mission approach specific to strategic minerals. For this purpose, the document calls for reorienting the focus of mineral research and development centres besides coordinating pre-competitive research on energy critical and rare earth metals with CSIR, DRDO and institutions under the mines ministry.

  • Encourage domestic producers by incentivising by-product recovery. This is important because most of these metals are byproducts of base metal mining. Cobalt, for instance, is a by-product of copper and nickel mining used in the defence industry. Gallium is a by-product of the alumina making process while germanium, which is used for making solar cells and is major input metal to the defence industry, is a by-product of the sphalerite, zinc and copper smelting process.

  • Establishment of an Indian competence network for strategic minerals and metals with all stakeholders, after a proper study in the first two years of India s market potential, exploration levels and other factors.

  • The department of atomic energy is to take substantive steps to refashion its exploration strategy, using the latest technology, to maximise the potential of beach sand mineral reserves. This is important because monazite, a beach sand mineral resource, is an abundantly available source for rare earths, but is under DAE control for its thorium content.

  • Simplify land acquisition and grant concessions to exploit beach-sand minerals. State governments need to prioritise mining of these minerals in their land-use policy so that these metals are not lost to another activity.

  • The Geological Survey of India should carry out a detailed study of all available data from the national geochemical mapping exercise for the specific purpose of locating possible sources for rare earth minerals and metals.

  • This is clearly not an ambitious plan, but surely the first definitive steps towards a foundation.

Courtesy: The Hindu and Times of India