A government crackdown on irregular mining has forced the shutdown of India’s oldest uranium mine in Jharkhand, hitting supplies worth about 700 tonnes a day to nuclear power plants as well as the country’s strategic programme, officials said on Tuesday.
The state-owned Jaduguda mine, operating since 1967, has been the backbone of India’s uranium production, and a source of employment for hundreds of people in a remote region.
“If this situation persists for long, the country’s nuclear programme will certainly suffer and nuclear power production will get a severe jolt,” said Pinaki Roy, adviser to Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), which runs the mine.
A team of senior UCIL officials led by chairman-cum-managing director Dibakar Acharya rushed to New Delhi on Tuesday to meet officials of the Department of Atomic Energy as well as those at the Prime Minister’s office to find a way to resolve the situation.
“It is too early to comment on the impact of the closure on our staff,” said SC Bhowmick, general manager of the mine.
“We have asked our men to enhance production in the remaining six mines and try to make up for the losses incurred due to the closure of the Jaduguda mine.”
Following a May 15 Supreme Court order, the Centre had asked states to clamp down on mines operating without proper licences. Last week, 12 iron-ore mines in West Singhbhum district were shut, including mines of Tata Steel, Steel Authority of India Ltd and Orissa Mines and Minerals Company.
“The Jaduguda mine has the reputation of best recovery of 35%-40% among other uranium mines in the area,” said Roy, adding that UCIL got a mining lease for 20 years in 1967. The lease was later renewed for another 20 years.
In 2007, UCIL had applied for renewal of the lease. Under present laws, a lapsed mining lease is deemed as extended if the government does not respond to a renewal request within a stipulated time.
In May, the Supreme Court rendered all mining leases that expired in 2007 but still operating under the “deemed extended” status as illegal.
“After a recent ruling of the Supreme Court, the Centre through the state served us notice asking us to stop mining, which does not augur well for the nation,” Roy said.
Labour unions active in the region have decided to meet chief minister Hemant Soren and request him to withdraw the closure notice.