Simplify norms for mining beach sand minerals: MEAI

Simplify norms for mining beach sand minerals: MEAI

Government should ease rules and procedures for giving leases for exploration of beach sand minerals that are found in abundance on the country's large coastline, an engineers' association has said.

Beach sand minerals are primarily of 6 types -- Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon, Garnet, Monazite and Sillimanite. Of these, private sector is not allowed to mine Monazite, which is the primary source of radio-active thorium, a strategic metal and integral part of India's three-stage nuclear power programme.

According to the Mining Engineers' Association of India, which hosted ninth edition of the International Heavy Minerals (IHM) Conference here, Indian resources of Ilmenite constitute 35 per cent and Monazite 71 per cent of world resources.

"It takes about 8-9 years to secure the lease for mining in beach sand deposits and separation of heavy minerals. The industry has to go through maze of regulations, including clearances from Department of Atomic Energy and no objection certificate for mining in the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) from various authorities," MEAI President Arjeth Bagchhi said.

Time bound clearances for mining of the 5 heavy minerals can do wonders for the country as the industry plays a critical role in day-to-day activities, he said.

For example, Ilmenite used in making titanium metal and titanium di-oxide pigments, which is critical raw material source for making things like paints, paper and plastic.

Similarly, Rutile is used in Aerospace and defence sectors, while Garnet is used waterjet cutting and sand blasting. Sillimanite and Zircon are used for refractory and ceramics products. The minerals are found mainly in 5 states --Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra.

"Lessening the tiers and quickening the clearances would help us in increasing production of heavy minerals and thereby bringing valuable foreign exchange to the country," he said, while noting that most of the heavy minerals get exported due to lack of value-addition facilities.

MEAI's former President T V Chowdary said that some misconception has emerged in recent times due to some reports on illegal sand mining, which has clubbed heavy minerals mining with sand mining.

Unlike sands available along the river, beach sands can not be used for construction purposes and mining of heavy minerals is very much environment friendly, he said.

"After separation of the minerals, the free sand, which constitutes more than 80 per cent of the total mined sands, is pumped back (to the mined areas) for back filling. They are then put under a green canopy via scientific social afforestation techniques," he said.

According to official data, India has over 500 million tonne (MT) of Ilmenite reserves and resources, while its production is only about 8 lakh tonne annually. For zircon, annual domestic production is 35,000 tonne, while the resource base is over 32 MT. There are only 6-7 companies in the sector in India, including IREL, a PSU.

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