With no clearances, ore search halted in Ballari

With no clearances, ore search halted in Ballari

The state Cabinet, in August 2017, gave approval for carrying out oreexploration in three districts - Ballari, Chitradurga and Tumakuru. DH FILE PHOTO

The state government has, for the first time, taken up exploration of iron ore and manganese deposits in 10 virgin areas in Sandur taluk, Ballari district. Exploration is being carried out in an expanse of 1,415.15 hectares of forest land.

The government, however, has made little headway, despite the union ministry of mines directing all states to complete exploration activities by the end of the year. The exploration exercise has been taken up in the backdrop of the expiry of hundreds of mining leases across the state by March 31, 2020.

The ministry wants the states to prepare fresh blocks for auction by July next year, so that there is no shortage of mineral resources.

As many as 46 iron ore mining leases in Karnataka are expiring by March 31, 2020. Though the department of mines and geology has initiated the first stage of exploration (G4), it hasn’t been able to move to the second stage (G3).

Work has come to a standstill due to non-availability of forest clearance. While the first stage, reconnaissance survey, involves identification of enhanced mineral potential, the second stage, prospecting exploration, involves systematic searching of mineral deposits through trenching, drilling and sampling.The third and fourth stages - G2 and G1 - involve digging of trenches, boreholes, shafts and tunnels.

According to officials, the department has been unable to get clearance from both the state Forest department and the union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for next level of exploration as it involves tree-cutting and damages to forest wealth.

Exploration areas

As mineral exploration can be carried out only in the non-Western Ghats areas, the state Cabinet, in August 2017, gave the approval for carrying out exploration in three districts - Ballari, Chitradurga and Tumakuru.

Following this, the department entrusted the exploration of iron ore availability to two Central government agencies - Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited (MECL). The estimated exploration cost is around Rs 68 crore.

GSI has completed G4 level of exploration in two ranges - Kumaraswamy range (145.45 ha); and four blocks in Ramanadurga range (131.71 ha, 116.55 ha, 117.30 ha, 64.76 ha).

MECL, on the other hand, is carrying out G4 level exploration in five ranges - Kumaraswamy range (142.15 ha); Donimalai (75.22 ha); and NEB range (331.44 ha); Ettinahalli range (160 ha); Dharmapura village (130.45 ha).

Iron/manganese leases

There are a total of 179 iron ore and manganese leases in the state. Of these, 123 are iron ore leases and 56 are manganese leases.Officials said only 35 of the 123 iron ore leases are operational presently. As many as 31 of these leases are in Ballari alone, while four are in Chitradurga.

With the Supreme Court increasing the cap on production of iron ore from 30 million metric tonnes (MMT) per annum to 35 MMT for ‘A’ and ‘B’ category mines in Karnataka, the Mines department has a huge target to meet - especially with a large number of leases expiring.

The expiry of leases will directly hit the production of key minerals like iron ore and manganese. Officials said revenues would be affected if the exploration activities don’t pick pace.

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