A well-oiled network of smugglers has been shipping beryl from mines in Rajasthan to China, one of three countries in the world that extracts the rare material beryllium from the mineral ore for use in nuclear plants, weapons, space technology and X-ray equipment.
The Rajasthan anti-terrorism squad (ATS) discovered the racket after the Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research sounded the alarm last December.
Unfortunately, a 20-tonne consignment of the mineral was already smuggled out from Kandla Port in Gujarat to a Hong Kong-based company in October.
Investigators subsequently arrested five people and confiscated 32 tonne of beryl — found in small quantities in 1,200 mines spread across Ajmer, Tonk, Rajsamand and Bhilwara districts.
Private mining and storage of beryl, without permission from the department of atomic energy, are prohibited.
“Beryl is not in much use in India because the majority of our nuclear power plants use heavy water as moderator,” said CP Jhamb, former director of the atomic power station at Rawatbhata in the state.
Still, it is a precious mineral and important for future endeavours. ATS chief and additional director general of police Alok Tripathi said as much. “A team of atomic experts assisted us in identifying the mineral which is vital for India’s nuclear ventures.” The suspects told investigators that 41-year-old Shaodong Zhuang was their point man in Hong Kong. The Chinese man visited Rajasthan in May 2014 to install some machinery at Jaipur Sliver Jewels Pvt Ltd, where he came in contact with Delhi resident Manish Gupta, who acted as an interpreter, and Salim Ishaq, a worker at the firm.
Salim told the ATS that Zhuang wanted to know about beryl, which is the ore for precious stones such as emerald and aquamarine. He liked the samples showed to him and asked for more.
In September, Zhuang visited Kishangarh in Ajmer and met Jumman Ali, a middleman who collected beryl from mines. Ali used to identify mines and bring the mineral to Kishangarh.
Ali bought beryl from miners for Rs 10-Rs12 a kg and sold it to Salim in Jaipur for Rs 35-Rs 40 a kg.
Salim is accused of smuggling the mineral through a Jaipur-based export firm, Atia Gems, to Hong Kong.
They booked beryl as rough stone in the customs papers and earned Rs 1 lakh a tonne from the Hong Kong-based company, an investigator said.
Ali surrendered after the ATS arrested Gupta, Salim and Murtza Muttalib of Jaipur on December 31 and a factory owner on January 6. “We will seek information on the Chinese national from the embassy,” ATS chief Tripathi said.
The counsel for all five accused said his clients were victims of ignorance as they did not know beryl export was prohibited.
Rajasthan accounts for more than 9% of the country’s beryl output from around 33,000 operational mines that employ an estimated two million people. But the state mines department has no record of miners extracting beryl.
“We have formed teams to find where beryl is found and who stores it,” additional director general (headquarter) mines SS Jamrani said.
The latest haul and arrests could be just the tip of the iceberg because officials said the atomic energy office has not procured beryl from Rajasthan for the past three years.