The Indian mining sector is plagued by many issues including dismal investments in exploration. Exploration work has been done so far in just 10% of the 8 lakh sq km of potentially resource-bearing area. Mines secretary Balvinder Kumar talks with FE’s Surya Sarathi Ray about the government’s plan to create conditions conducive for new investments in mining and exploration:
India is lagging on the exploration front. What are the government’s plans for ramping up the sector?
We have already finalised the draft National Mineral Exploration Policy. We are sending this draft for inter-ministerial consultation. Hopefully, in one-two months’ time, we will notify the policy.
Under the plans, we will identify a large number of blocks where, according to the GSI’s preliminary survey, there are signs of resources. We will put these blocks on auction among various explorers in the private sector, both foreign and domestic. After they give us auctionable blocks, we will put them up for auctions to potential end-users. We intend to give a certain percentage of royalty to the explorer for the entire lease period of 50 years. This will be decided on the basis of e-auction, in which the bidder who will quote the lowest percentage of royalty that they will take will get the mines for exploration.
What are the reasons for the poor state of exploration in the country?
There was no clear cut policy earlier. Miners say it takes a lot of time to get approvals from the defence department to carry out aero-geophysical surveys, which is essential for assessing resources. Getting clearances from the ministry of environment and forest also used to take a lot of time (MoEF). We are talking to the defence ministry. The MoEF has also made things simpler. Now, we are asking the ministry to further simplify the entire process.
There were plans for conducting aero-geophysical survey involving an investment of R1,500 crore. How do you plan to get the fund?
The money will come from the National Mineral Exploration Trust (which will be funded by the miners at the rate 2% of the royalty). The second source is the budgetary allotment to GSI (Geological Survey of India). If there is a shortfall, we will request the finance ministry for additional fund.
Are all the stakeholders on board? And who will pay the explorers their dues?
We have already met with the explorers, industry and states, and I have again written to the chief secretaries of the states to get their views. We hope it will be a win-win situation because states won’t have to pay to either the explorer or the Centre. Basically, explorers’ money will come from the prospective bidders.