Tamil Nadu

Lacunae in policy blamed for rampant mining of rare minerals

There were plans to reintroduce the Monazite Test Certificate and install radiation detection equipment at ports.  

Private beach sand mineral (BSM) operators indulged in rampant illegal mining and export of minerals since 1998 by taking advantage of the gaps in monitoring mechanism due to lacunae in various policies and overlapping/dual control system by the Union Ministry of Mines and the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD), the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has told the Madras High Court.

In a counter affidavit filed before Justices M. Sathyanarayanan and N. Seshasayee, who were seized of a batch of cases related to the issue, the DGFT said BSM comprised a suite of seven minerals — limonite, rutile, leucoxene (titanium being mineral), zircon (zirconium being mineral), garnet, sillimanite and monazite (a proscribed substance under the Atomic Energy Act of 1962 since it covers uranium and thorium).

The suite of BSM were also called atomic minerals. Except garnet and sillimanite, others were prescribed substances under the Atomic Energy Act. However, considering large reserves of titanium bearing minerals available in the country and limited exploitation of the same, a policy on exploitation of BSM was issued by the Department of Atomic Energy in 1998 allowing participation of private entrepreneurs.

To smoothen issues

In order to smoothen the issues further, ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene and zircon were removed from the list of proscribed substances since January 18, 2006. Subsequently, issuance of Monazite Test Certificate (MTC), a prerequisite for permitting export of BSM from Indian ports, was discontinued. Since powers under the Atomic Energy Act could not be extended to BSM, the practice of submitting returns to AMD was also dispensed with. All these resulted in illegal mining and export of minerals. But now with a view to conserve the atomic mineral wealth in the country, the government notified the Atomic Minerals Conservation Rules of 2016 and the AMD was empowered to enter and inspect.

Further, many other policy decisions were in the pipeline with the government considering a monazite policy for acquisition of monazite rich tailings generated by private BSM operators.

There were also plans to reintroduce MTC and install radiation detection equipment at seaports and airports. On June 14, 2018, the Centre decided that henceforth exports of beach sand minerals should be channelled only through Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), a public sector undertaking, the DGFT said.

Allegations against IREL

However, some private BSM operators accused IREL of framing regulations that suited it to the disadvantage of private competitors. Denying the allegations, IREL counsel Krishna Srinivasan told the court that the standard operating procedure on the export of BSM was devised by the DGFT and not by the IREL. Therefore, all allegations levelled by private operators attributing motives against the IREL were false, he said.

After hearing him and other counsel, the judges adjourned further hearing on the case to September 11.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 7:06:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/lacunae-in-policy-blamed-for-rampant-mining-of-rare-minerals/article29237589.ece

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