Environment ministry stops clearance to mining of beach sand minerals

Move comes after request from mines ministry

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Monday 15 April 2019
Photo: Getty Images

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) agreed on April 11, 2019 to a request by the Ministry of Mines (MoM), seeking that clearances to private companies for mining beach sand minerals be stopped.

There is a market for heavy minerals such as ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene, garnet, monazite, zircon and sillimanite, found in beach sand. They are processed to derive rare earth elements and titanium used in a variety of industries, including paints and cosmetics.

Monazite is the primary ore for thorium, a nuclear fuel. Its presence brings beach sand mining under the Atomic Minerals Concession Rules.

“Ministry of Mines in consultation with stakeholder Departments and State Governments has exercised the powers conferred under Section 4A(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act in the interest of regulation of mines and minerals development and conservation of mineral resources to prematurely terminate all the existing mineral concessions of Beach Sand Minerals held by private person / company in the country… MoEF&CC is requested not to grant any clearance of any type for mineral concessions of Beach Sand Minerals held by private person/company,” read an office memorandum dated March 29.

A state government can permit private companies to mine only if atomic mineral in an ore is below a certain threshold, according to Atomic Minerals Concession Rules, 2016.

The MoM, through a notification dated February 20, prohibited private companies from mining beach sand minerals by changing the threshold limit for monazite from 0.75 per cent to zero.

“All cases of Beach Sand Minerals and other placer deposits in association with monazite are notified as above threshold (ie the threshold is 0.00 per cent monazite in Total Heavy Minerals), irrespective of monazite grade,” the notification read.

As monazite is found in various concentrations in all the beaches, this amendment essentially meant a ban on mining by private companies. The MoM’s notification followed an August 2018 ban on export of sand minerals.

At 13 per cent of the world reserves, India has the third-largest stash of beach sand minerals and meets 6-7 per cent of global demand.

According to the Working Group of Planning Commission for the 12th Plan, mining of beach sand minerals in India was expected to reach about 0.18 million tonnes per year by 2017, accounting for a tenth of global production.

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