The government notification that any beach sand mining lease containing more than 0.75% monazite in the total heavy minerals (THM) would only be allocated to public sector firms has put private miners in a fix. Of the 81 extant beach sand mineral (BSM) leases, 72 are with the private sector.
“We believe that there is no scientific basis for arriving at such a threshold limit value (TLV) as most of these minerals occur together as placer deposits, their individual contents varying from deposit to deposit,” Beach Mineral Producers Association (BMPA) has said in a recent letter addressed to mines minister Piyush Goyal.
BSM comprises ilmenite, rutile, zircon, garnet, sillimanite, leucoxene and monazite. Monazite is found in all BSM deposits but with varying quantity in different places. Monazite contains 0.3% uranium and 8-10% thorium, which are atomic elements. The remaining are rare earth elements which are non-atomic. BSM has various uses, including engineering applications and in the aerospace industry.
The Atomic Minerals Concession Rules (AMCR), 2016, notified in July, stipulated that if monazite content is more than 0.75% in the THM, the lease should go only to the government sector firms. Even, in the existing leases, where the threshold limit value (TLV) is above 0.75%, the lease holder has to get the government’s approval to continue operations.
The BMPA felt that the TLV fixed at 0.75% in the AMCR defies logic as Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) had earlier indicated that in most of the BSM deposits so far identified, monazite content is closer to 0.75% and above.
“We want a level-playing field to work hand-in-hand with the public sector for maximum utilisation of the BSM resources in the country and producing all the downstream value added products. This will elevate India to the status of a global producer of beach sand minerals,” VV Minerals director V Subramanian said. V V Minerals is the largest firm among the private sector.
Despite India having 35% of BSM reserves of the world, its production to reserve ratio was less than 0.001% with only public sector companies working on this sector till 1998, as compared to foreign countries.
Opening up of this sector in 1998 for private participation has helped production and exports of heavy minerals manifold from a meagre R35 crore in 1998 to R4,500 crore in 2015. There were only 10 mining leases in 1998.