Opening mining of atomic minerals to private parties detrimental to national interest
Shri Rajiv Gauba
Union Cabinet Secretary
Dear Shri Gauba,
Please refer to my letter dated 7-10-2022 on the far reaching implications of allowing private companies to mine atomic minerals and the need for revoking recent amendments to the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA) in furtherance of the national interest. I am not sure whether you have placed my concerns before the Union Cabinet to enable them to take a considered view. In view of the urgency of the matter, I have enclosed a letter here addressed to the Prime Minister (PM) for his consideration and appropriate action.
May I request you to place this before the PM for his perusal?
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India
Letter dated 15-12-2022 addressed to the Prime Minister
Subject: Revoke amendments to mineral development & regulation Act so as to exclude private parties from mining atomic minerals
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Government of India
Shri Narendra D Modi
Dear Shri Modi,
I wish to express my serious concern at the amendments introduced by your government to the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA) & Rules, with specific reference to reopening mining of atomic minerals to the private sector. In that connection, I had earlier written to the Union Cabinet Secretary, indicating the implications of this, from the national interest point of view. I hope that the contents of that letter were brought to your attention.
A copy of my letter may be accessed at https://countercurrents.org/2022/10/revoke-amendments-permitting-private-companies-to-undertake-beach-sand-mining/?swcfpc=1
At the cost of repetition, I have extracted below portions of my letter for your ready reference.
“The beach sands along the coasts of Odisha, AP, T. Nadu and Kerala are rich in atomic minerals, especially Monazite, the raw material for the extraction of Thorium, which constitutes the primary fuel for India’s third stage nuclear development programme. The Indian beaches have a significantly large proportion of the Monazite resources in the world.
The British had exploited this at the cost of India prior to Independence, though in a limited manner. However, on the advice of Dr Homi J Bhabha, the architect of the country’s nuclear development strategy, the then Prime Minister, Nehru had decided to ban private mining of the beach sands immediately after India became independent.
Despite pressure from many foreign agencies to get access to these precious minerals through some domestic private companies, the successive governments resisted opening up these minerals for private mining, till the previous UPA government opened the floodgates to it during its tenure. It is important to note that, no matter which atomic mineral is extracted, it invariably contains Monazite as an impurity. Though the Ministry of Mines and the DAE had imposed a low upper threshold for the presence of Monazite in the atomic minerals extracted, over the time, the UPA government relaxed the need for “Monazite Certification” at the exporting ports, creating an enormous scope for Monazite being smuggled out on a large scale. The Madras High Court took note of this suo moto and ordered a thorough investigation. I had also filed a Writ Petition in the Supreme Court on a similar matter concerning AP. In the matter under adjudication before the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Mines had filed a statement in 2019 to the effect that private mining of the beach sand minerals would not be permitted. This was a welcome step taken by the government.
Since then, as expected, there appears to have been intense pressure from many private companies, indirectly supported by foreign agencies, to relax the rules once again to allow private mining of the beach sand minerals, apparently for getting access to valuable atomic minerals, especially Monazite. It appears that the present government has unwittingly or otherwise fallen prey to this, as evident from the changes proposed now in Para 6 of the latest Public Notice (issued by Mines Ministry vide communication No. M.VI-1/3/2022 Mines VI dated 25-5-2022). These changes effectively bring back private miners into beach sand mining, a sure way to open the floodgates to the export of Monazite, to the detriment of the national interest. In my view, this should not be permitted under any circumstances”
“The Centre does not seem to have heeded to my cautionary advice, as it seems to be rushing headlong into permitting private companies to mine beach sands, insensitive to its adverse implications for the national interest”.
“To my distress, I have just come across a news report (https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/government-reconsiders-ban-adani-forays-beach-sand-mining-168631) that indicates that the Adani Group has since formed two subsidiaries with the following objective:
“To carry on in India or elsewhere in the world, all or any industry, trade, importing & exporting of all type of goods, infrastructure developments including the business to develop and operate the coal & other minerals mines and blocks including development, processing of minerals, TiO2 Slag manufacturing, Pigment manufacturing, titanium sponge & metal manufacturing, monazite processing, selling heavy minerals including, but not limited to Ilmenite leucoxene, rutile, zircon, garnet, sillimanite, rare earth minerals processing, manufacturing and production of rare earth Chlorides, oxalates/carbonates, oxides, metals, manufacturing and production of sintered and bonded permanent magnet and sales thereof and operation of coal & other minerals blocks as contractor or subcontractor or in any other form and to prospect for, explore, mine, quarry, beneficiate, develop, derive, discover, excavate, dredge for, open, work on mine, win, purchase, crush, polish, smelt, manufacture, process, generate etc.”
Apart from beach sand minerals, many riverine estuaries contain atomic minerals, the mining of which needs to be restricted exclusively to public sector undertakings.
Apparently, the Ministry of Mines has since gone ahead and amended MMDRA to reopen mining of atomic minerals, as evident from the somewhat unexpected foray made by the Adani Group into this sector, as if it had known all along that the Centre would take such action!
I earnestly believe that the Ministry of Mines making such a sharp, surprising U-turn so soon, on private companies mining atomic minerals, ignoring its own averment made before the apex court in a matter in which I am the petitioner, is fraught with serious long-term adverse implications from the point of view of the national interest and national security. I appeal to the government to reconsider the amendment and revoke it forthwith.
In my view, this is a matter that should be discussed widely both in the Parliament and outside, as the State can at best be deemed to be a trustee on behalf of the people in the matter of using scarce, valuable mineral resources, which belong to the nation. Such a discussion is yet to take place.
May I once again appeal to you and the Union Cabinet to reconsider this matter, and prepare a White Paper for a meaningful discussion in the Parliament. Instead of allowing private companies, driven by the profit motive, to exploit the atomic minerals, the Centre should consider strengthening the CPSEs such as the Indian Rare Earths Ltd. (IREL) to be entrusted with mining and use of atomic minerals.
I sincerely hope that you will accord the highest priority to the national interest in this matter and ensure that atomic minerals are conserved for their long-term optimal use.
E A S Sarma