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Rajasthan sits on 20,000 MT of potash reserve but exploration caught in red tape: Study

India imports potash worth $1,400 million every year even though deposits in Rajasthan are three times the world reserve, according to a study by the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), Roorkee.

jaipur Updated: Sep 11, 2018 01:03 IST
Aparnesh Goswami
Aparnesh Goswami
Hindustan Times, Bikaner
Rajasthan,potash,red tape
The Geological Survey of India reported a 350-km-long and 200-km-wide potash-bearing deposit, considered the southeastern extension of the salt range of Pakistan.(Reuters/Picture for representation)

Despite having the world’s biggest reserves of potash in Rajasthan, India has failed to explore the huge deposit even 45 years after its discovery, costing US$1,400 million every year to import the mineral, according to the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), Roorkee.

Rajasthan sits over nearly 20,397 million tonnes (MT) of probable potash deposits, mostly concentrated in Nagaur-Ganganagar basin of the north-west Rajasthan, almost three times the world reserve, according to Indian Minerals Year Book-2016.

According to a research paper published by CIMFR, potash exploration was carried out by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) from 1974 to 1991 in Nagaur, Churu, Bikaner, Hanumangarh and Ganganagar districts. GSI reported a 350-km-long and 200-km-wide potash-bearing deposit. This basin has been considered the southeastern extension of the salt range of Pakistan.

Based on this exploration, GSI identified deep-seated (about 600 to 740 metres from the surface) occurrences of potash mineralisation in Nagaur-Ganganagar basin, sufficient for next 4,000 years with the current annual requirement of 4.6 MT.

Experts believe that the available grades of potash deposits are based on the core recovery. GSI asdditional director general Brij Kumar said the policy for exploration is yet to be finalised. “GSI has just completed the drilling and the amount of deposits is also not calculated. The numbers available are from tentative calculation.” He refused to share further details, saying “we are working on it.”

Sources said the Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited (MECL), an autonomous public sector company under the union ministry of mines, is working on identifying blocks at a few sites.

Union and state government officials, sources said, hold meetings with the mining department, experts from the Bureau of Mines and agencies interested in exploration, and submit their recommendations but nothing tangible in terms of prospecting has happened.

Even Niti Aayog held a discussion, titled ‘Prospecting of potash deposits in India -- MMDR Act-2015 provisions’, on May 9 last year with officials of Rajasthan, ministry of mines, representatives from the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) and scientists from CIMFR, and expressed concern over the delay in intensive exploration.

According to the minutes of the meeting – HT has access to this – held under the chairmanship of Dr VK Saraswat, Niti Aayog member, he said casual approach is being adopted by the ministry of mines and department of mining and geology, Rajasthan, in the grant of prospecting licences.

“Failure and abnormal delay in bringing up the deposit for commercial exploration has resulted in importing the mineral costing Rs 10,000 crore per year,” Saraswat said.

Sources said potash has not been covered under the schedules of the MMDR amendment act, 2015 which makes the case complicated as to who will grant the prospecting licence – the Centre or the state government.

Additional director, state department of mines and geology, RK Nalwaya informed the Niti Aayog and experts that without clear-cut instructions, the matter cannot be processed. “Due to lack of mineral contents for auctions of prospecting licence, it is mandated to establish at least a G2 level of exploration to indicate the mineral resources; Rajasthan government is not in position to undertake auction,” Nalwaya said.

Rajasthan has, however, decided to mine potash in 878 hectares area in Hanumangarh district through a joint venture involving 51% stake of the State Mines and Minerals Limited, according to a notice inviting expression of interest (EoI).

For selecting a partner for the remaining 49% stake, presentations were made by the Steel Authority of India, Rio Tinto, Zuari Industries Ltd, Raj Mineral Ltd, and Kaushalaya Infrastructure Development Corp but no significant progress has been made.

Dr JK Mahnot, chief scientist with CIMFR, said the state government has not risen above mining building materials. “Mining policies made by every government dominates the mining auction politics. Thus valuable research outputs continue to lie in cold storage.”

Aparna Arora, state principal secretary of the mines and petroleum department, asked for questions on email but refused to respond to the queries.

First Published: Sep 11, 2018 01:03 IST