November 11, 2011 – India’s Planning Commission has proposed setting up a national organisation to act as a nodal agency to globally source strategic metals and rare earths, and to step up exploration activities.
It was proposed that the organisation, along the lines of the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, be set up within the next two years with a corpus of $100-million.
The Commission’s working group on mining has suggested, in a paper laying out policy contours for 2012/17, setting up an interministerial group with industry representation to identify countries for bilateral agreements for supply of strategic minerals.
The Indian government was also considering creating a ‘national stockpile of strategically critical input metals’, including cobalt, lithium, germanium, gallium, indium, niobium, tungsten, bismuth, selenium and beryllium, with an initial investment of around $200-million.
The Nonferrous Materials Technology Development Centre would be the nodal agency for creating and managing this stockpile.
Prompted by China’s complete global domination of the production and marketing of rare earths, the working group has for the first time clubbed strategic minerals and rare earths separately from other minerals and metals in order to evolve special policy thrusts for this segment.
The measures suggested by the group include instruction to the Geological Survey of India to undertake a national geochemical mapping, specifically to locate rare-earth resources within the country and incentivise private sector companies for by-product recoveries, since several strategic metals and rare earths were generated in the process of base metal mining and smelting.
India’s Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE’s) exploration policy would also likely be modified for more efficient exploitation of beach-sand minerals. The DAE has a monopoly over beach-sand exploration because of its thorium content but this resulted in the exclusion of the exploration for potential other rare earths. India controlled 17% of global beach-sand mineral resources but production accounted for a mere 6% of global production.
The Planning Commission has favored setting up joint venture companies with local governments of coastal states like Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala to accelerate production of monazite.
The proposal for a nodal agency for rare earths exploration has been further bolstered by the fifth round of Indo-Japan strategic dialogue concluded last month, where both countries agreed for joint development of rare-earth resources. As a precursor to the cooperation, Japan has removed seven Indian companies from its Foreign End Users’ List which included Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL).
IREL operates four units, including the largest Orissa Sands Complex, in the eastern Indian province of Orissa and produces minerals like ilmenite, rutile, zircon, monazite, sillimanite and garnet. The Indo-Japan agreement would facilitate IREL’s sourcing of higher technology refining processes from Japan, officials said.
The induction of updated Japanese technology would enable IREL to increase production of rare earths with its existing reserves. This in turn would benefit Japan, the world’s largest importer, in increasing sourcing of rare earths from India, after a severe clampdown of rare earths exports by China.
Source: KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) – http://www.miningweekly.com/print-version/india-plans-nodal-agency-for-rare-earths-exploration-and-stockpile-2011-11-11
By: Ajoy K Das
November 11, 2011