The mines ministry plans to set up an online registry at the end of this year to detail land classification and distribution for mineral exploration in the country. It also wants to set up coordination committees between the states and the Centre to reduce delays in mining clearances.
The measures are being taken to lessen the time lag and improve transparency in a sector that needs significant investments to meet international standards as well as demand. The registry will list the status of India’s mining land blocks, which will be called a “tenement registry”.
Many mining investments have stalled amid confusion over multiple rights to and leases on mines.
According to a government official, the value of the Indian mineral industry is about Rs18,000 crore, but its potential is estimated at more than thrice that size, along with immeasurable amounts in employment and infrastructure development. “The mineral sector has the potential to grow up to Rs 58,000 crore,” said the official in the ministry who did not wish to be quoted.
Thus far, only about 70,000 sq. km of the country has been prospected, but geological potential lies across 5.7 lakh sq. km.
Licence approval in India can take anywhere between five and 10 years due to multiple sanctions needed from both state and central authorities. For example, a mining company seeking reconnaissance and airborne survey permits has to get permission from the aviation and defence ministries, which is often a time-consuming effort.
To make the licensing process clear, all details about land leases, as well as contours of land able to be mined, will be made available online.
Information for the online registry will be collected jointly by the state authorities and the Indian Bureau of Mines, an agency responsible for the promotion and conservation of minerals. “This new move will help greatly as there is no remedy available to a company at present,” said Rahul Baldota, executive director of MSPL Ltd, an iron-ore mining company based in Hospet, Karnataka.
To cut through the red tape, the “empowered” committees will be represented by different ministries that will periodically look into the applications from miners and collectively take action, according to the mining ministry official.
“This will keep in check where the clearances are getting delayed,” said the official.
A mining administrative and appellate tribunal, which would look into the status of pending or multiple applications on mines, is also being proposed to resolve disputes. The tribunal would help a prospective miner determine where and why its project is getting delayed. The government has extended 478 licences for mining of iron ore. But only about 261 are operating as most miners have either failed to get forest or environment clearances, or have not been cleared for other reasons.
Iron ore is the most hotly debated mineral at present, dividing the mining and steel sector over allocation of mines. The debate has played out as the government considers adopting a new National Mining Policy to boost investment in the sector. Steel producers have been fighting to gain access to captive mines so they are assured iron ore, a commodity key to steel production. During its presentation to the group of ministers on the National Mineral Policy this week, the mining ministry stated that “captive mining is not a prerequisite for efficient production”, and that “the steel industry does not need to rely on captive mining”.