Keeping in view the strategic interests of the country, the Narendra Modi government has blocked mining of atomic minerals by private mining companies. The right to mine atomic minerals like thorium, zirconium and monazite will be granted to only government entities. The government issued a gazette notification on Saturday, 27th July, 2019.
The gazette notification said, “In offshore areas and their strategic importance, it is imperative that the mineral concessions in offshore areas be brought at par with the onshore areas in their treatment and therefore, in order to safeguard the strategic interest of the nation, it is expedient in larger national interest to prohibit the grant of operating rights in terms of any reconnaissance permit, exploration license or production lease of atomic minerals” in any offshore areas to anyone, except a government owned or controlled company, it stated.
“The central government hereby prohibits grant of operating rights in respect of atomic minerals in any offshore areas in the country…to any person, except the government or a government company or a corporation owned or controlled by the government, under the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002,” it said.
Atomic and other rare minerals are found mostly along the sea shore and fetch a high premium abroad. Priviate mining companies used to mine such minerals and export it out of the country, mostly to unknown destinations. Scientists and security experts has repeatedly warned that such rare earth minerals were being mined and exported to unknown destinations, thereby putting the strategic interests of the country in jeopardy.
UPA facilitated illegal mining of rare minerals?
Though such illegal mining was going for nearly 2 decades, the UPA regime did little to stop this. Further, though complaints were raised regarding the issue, neither the governments at the state or the centre (UPA) or its authorities did anything to stop it. The Sunday Guardian had reported that in 2006 the Manmohan Singh government had removed many rare earth minerals such as rutile, zircon, garnet from the Atomic minerals list. This move have given a free hand to the mining companies and sand mafias to mine them at will. It was also alleged that this was done at the behest of the PMO which compromised on the interests of the country.
Last month, the CBI had investigated into the nexus of senior government officials and private companies the auction of mining blocks that contained rare earth minerals. Consequently, the CBI had petitioned the Supreme Court saying that the government is clear on its stand that the mining of atomic minerals cannot be done by private parties.
The NDA under Atal Behari Vajpayee had enacted the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development & Regulation) Act in 2003 regulate mineral resources available in the beaches and maritime zones of the country. Later the CBI was investigating cases related to complaints of violation of the act by several companies and Preliminary Enquiries were done. However, the CBI investigation into all such cases was stopped in 2013 while the UPA 2 was in power. The investigations began again after Modi came to power and based on the investigation the government has taken the call to ban all private entities from mining Atomic minerals.