India to invest in exploration to double mining output

August 29, 2016

India will make a $15 billion push to double mining output and cut mineral exports by investing in exploration.

Bloomberg reported that India’s government will look to speed up exploration by providing upfront payments for discovered deposits when the mines are auctioned, Mines Minister Piyush Goyal said in an interview. The administration will also invite foreign companies to participate while acknowledging challenges such as land acquisition and environmental hurdles.

“We’re working to change the rules of the game from doing small amounts of exploration in an incremental fashion to doing it on a fast-track, one-shot, big-picture way,” Goyal said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set an objective of faster development through more manufacturing. However, red tape and difficulties in acquiring land have been challenging. Rio Tinto Group and steelmaker Posco are among foreign companies that have put Indian plans on hold in recent months.

India in 2015 embraced competitive auctions as the best long-term approach to resource allocation after bruising corruption scandals over discretionary or free allotments. The nation auctions exploration and mining rights.

Officials earlier had worked out a policy of paying explorers a royalty over the life of a mine, rather than upfront, after critics said there wasn’t enough incentive for companies to scour for minerals.

Goyal, who is energy minister and added mining to his portfolio when Modi reshuffled his Cabinet in July, said mineral exploration in India is “nascent.” He recommended that overseas explorers and miners consider ventures with local partners -- and install largely Indian management -- to increase their chances of success in the $2 trillion economy.

The minister said he’s assessing the minerals being imported by India to focus the country’s exploration efforts.

Imports of iron ore, for instance, may amount to about 10 million tons in 2016, according to the CRU Group, a commodities researcher.

Environmentalists have resisted an effort by Vedanta Ltd. to mine the mineral at Niyamgiri in the eastern state of Odisha.

Goyal led a boom in India’s coal production, reversing years of shortages and curbing imports of the fuel. He set state-run Coal India Ltd. a target to more than double its annual output to 1 Gt (1.1 billion st) by 2020, triggering an unprecedented increase in production at the Kolkata-based monopoly.

India’s coal purchases from overseas declined 8 percent in the year ended March 31 to 199.9 Mt, according to the coal ministry, amid record domestic production. Coal imports are expected to decline to 160.16 Mt this financial year, Goyal told lawmakers on July 18.

Only about 13 percent of 575,000 km2 with geological potential in India has been explored in detail so far, with minimal private-sector involvement, according to the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries.

“It doesn’t make sense to import what we already have in our country,” said Seshagiri Rao, joint managing director at Mumbai-based JSW Steel Ltd. “Raising domestic output will put pressure on prices of the commodity and make it more affordable for users.”

One of India’s priorities is to attract the top technology used by overseas companies, Goyal said. The administration will respect the environment, he said.

“The wealth is below the ground,” Goyal said. “That is true wealth.”


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