The proposal is part of the 60-point action plan that the government prepared following Narendra Modi’s meetings with all departments and ministries on September 18.
The Center plans to reverse a series of measures it has taken over the past five years to restrict private participation in mining for beach sand minerals and offshore resources.
The proposal is part of the 60-point action plan that the government prepared following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings with the secretaries of all departments and ministries on September 18.
The government’s action plan states: âTwo sectors are currently restricted: beach sand minerals (only the Department of Atomic Energy can mine) and offshore mining (currently only via PSUs). A high-level committee could be set up to open these two sectors to exploration and production by the private sector.
The proposal to create a panel to reopen the sector to private actors could have strategic implications, given that the heavy minerals present in beach sand are used in various industries. Ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene, garnet, monazite, zircon and sillimanite are processed to obtain rare earth elements as well as titanium. Monazite is the main ore of thorium, a nuclear fuel.
A July 2021 memo released by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) on measures to “curb illegal mining” specifically states that the extraction of minerals from beach sand by private parties has “been completed. As part of efforts to combat illegal mining.
In July 2019, the Modi government issued a notification reserving offshore mineral exploration and exploitation rights under the Offshore Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 2002, exclusively to companies and public entities. The notification specifically cited the need to âsafeguardâ the country’s strategic interests and combat illegal mining of atomic minerals. Restrictions on the private sector have also been extended to mining concessions in offshore areas.
Since monazite is found among other beach sand minerals, companies previously had to obtain a license from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), with license conditions requiring the license holder, after separating the beach sand minerals, gets rid of residues, which contain monazite, in its premises or in landfill. The AERB inspectors then inspected these areas to ensure that the permit conditions were being met.
These rules were gradually strengthened from 2015, until the notification of July 2019, in order to effectively restrict private sector activities in the extraction of these minerals. The AERB has stopped renewing the license to operate mineral separation plants by private parties under the 2004 Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules for radiological safety reasons.