Exploration firms can help assess India’s mineral wealth: FIMI

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Exploration firms can help assess India's mineral wealth: FIMINew Delhi, July 28 (IANS) Producing 95 major and minor minerals, including four fuel and three atomic minerals, the mining sector is an important segment of India’s economy but needs more government focus to increase its contribution to the GDP, mining industry body FIMI said.

India is yet to assess its true potential of its resources, leading to the country heavily importing major minerals, to the tune of seven times its domestic production, as per the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI).

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“We all know that India is rich in minerals, but have we really assessed by how much? The risk factor in exploration is very high. You don’t find minerals in every effort you make. Normally the success rate of exploration is 1:100. As such, no country spends tax payers money in this risky venture,” said FIMI Secretary General R.K. Sharma.

He said that the international practice by resource-rich countries is to entrust the job to junior exploration companies, formed by a group of geologists with domain expertise in a particular mineral or group of minerals and operating with venture capital or hedge funds.

Once a junior exploration company becomes successful in locating a world-class discovery, it sells this to a major mining company at a price which would recover all the past losses, if any, and may cover possible future losses, Sharma added.

A major mining company can also undertake exploration, he said, citing the case of Rio Tinto which discovered the world-class diamond deposit in Madhya Pradesh’s Bunder.

Sharma termed it unfortunate that India’s mineral resources remain under-explored since “exploration activities are restricted to the government sector and there is virtually no involvement of private sector”.

Many international companies like Rio Tinto, Anglo American, De Beers, BHP (formerly BHP Billiton) among others had shown interest in exploring India’s mineral wealth, but had to call off their ventures and leave due to “complicated licensing and approval processes”, he said.

On the Bunder mines, he said: “When NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation) produces about 45,000 carats of diamonds in a year, Rio Tinto, with its access to most modern global technology and expertise, would have produced about 3 million carats of diamonds in the very first year and this could have gone to 5 million in subsequent 2-3 years.”

Lamenting the squandered opportunity for wealth and job creation, Sharma said: “Policies need to be simpler and conducive and only then mining companies can give you desired results.”

Noting experts believe that India does not have that world-class technology for exploration, he said that this is why it is not able to assess its true mineral wealth potential and FIMI is trying to get the government to change its policies.

“FIMI has approached the government and is advocating to engage with junior exploration companies from across the world who have domain expertise and latest global technologies. These companies would give you clearer picture of mineral wealth in a very short span of time. There would be many takers from within India and across the world who would be then willing to invest in India’s mining sector,” Sharma said.

He also said the identification of potential mining sites would make things easier for the mining companies to produce within India, and the country will be able to reduce its import bill and also create massive employment opportunities.

“India needs to produce that every mineral and metal that the country is importing. Why spend tax-payers money, when the country has the potential resources,” Sharma said.

“As most of the mines are located in rural and tribal areas, rural employment will get a boost besides giving impetus to the local area development,” he added.

FIMI is also advocating allocation of mines on First-come-First serve (FCFS) basis as most of the resource-rich countries have adopted this system, as well as recognition of prospecting and mining as an independent activity with transferability of the concessions.

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