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Fundamentals Of Knowledge Based Mining

Nandkumar M  Kamat

As the year comes to an end some pertinent issues related to mining in Goa have not been answered by any authority of state and central government. The discourse on illegal mining, environmental impacts of mining, resumption of mining, capping of mining has smartly avoided substantive issues which the politicians are pleased to push below the carpet.

We can take major mining nations- USA, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Spain- all of these have knowledge-based mining with full geochemical information on local mineral resources made available for all stakeholders in public domain. These fundamental issues are focussed in this article. The first fundamental issue is whether this state has a detail geochemical map – an atlas of minerals and metals showing the distribution and geochemical composition of minerals and ores in Goa at 1:2500 scale? Since its’ establishment the state mining and geology department has put a lid over this crucial information so we never know geochemical composition of what is being excavated, where and what is being lost in the name of mining and quarrying. The biggest blunder is treating alluvial river sand as silica- plain building material whereas analysis shows that it has recoverable amount of precious secondary Gold.

The second fundamental issue is not treating Goa’s entire mining belt under the Mesoarchean Western Dharwar Craton as unique geobiochemical heritage because recent research has proven that the Banded Iron Formation (BIF) deposits and the silica associated with it is biogenic-creation of microorganisms. Basically in terms of new knowledge it means- Goa’s Iron ore is “Living Iron ore teeming with bacterial microfossils”  harbouring recoverable biotechnologically precious Iron, Manganese and Sulphur oxidizing bacteria. Such BIF ores need a totally different mining strategy and premium pricing system.

In simple terms what NASA expects to find some day in regolith of Mars is already present in BIF samples of Goa. The mineral wealth of Goa thus automatically becomes an irreplaceable global microbial resource, a Mesoarchean time capsule, which is being blindly excavated and exported without any systematic biogeoeconomic analysis.

The third fundamental issue is how we valuate and deal with non ferrous multielemental content of the excavated ores? Only at mine pit head and the importer’ s location the grade of the ore is checked and no agency of state or central government has cared to know what is being exported under the non ferrous fraction. If the grade of exported Iron ore ranges from 55 to 68 per cent then we need to know what rest 32 to 45 per cent comprises. Available analysis indicates that this non ferrous fraction is exported as bonus to countries like China where non ferrous elements are systematically recovered in an intricate domestic metal commodity recovery chain. To consider the non ferrous fraction as an “impurity” is purely ignorance of chemistry and metallurgy.

So exporters with full backing of Government of India have been providing hidden subsidies to China and Japan in form of recoverable non ferrous metals. The fourth fundamental issue is the failure of beneficiation strategy – which should have ensured that exportable ferrous fraction is ferromagnetically separated from non ferrous fraction and non ferrous fraction is domestically utilized for precious heavy metal recovery. But there is a catch here.

Most probably Chinese importers are likely to reject the beneficiated Iron rich fraction because they are more interested in the spinoffs from heavy metal recovery from the non ferrous fraction. Fifth fundamental issue is the mandatory EULA to be insisted by central government under which importers of Goa’s Iron ore would agree not to use non ferrous fraction without a license. All the Iron ore export agreements in future must be tied exclusively to the Iron component. The onus to prove that the elements in non ferrous fraction are non recoverable should be on the exporters and importers. The naive Indian state has miserably failed to achieve this whereas China has built a massive inventory of heavy and rare earth metals. The sixth fundamental issue is capping of 20 million MT based on notional and unscientific idea of intergenerational equity (IGE). IGE can be studied only from global demand and supply regime and technological metrics and not based on state specific quotas. IGE cannot be selectively applied to Iron ore but to every resource- including land, soil, fisheries commons, forests, wild species, water resources, oil and natural gas extraction. The courts are not knowledgeable about future of steel or technology in general. Steel substitutes would replace Iron in 20 years.

Realistically if Goa fails in geochemically transparent, environmentally sustainable knowledge-based mining in 20 years then all the mines would have value equivalent to building stones or zero value. Any country would reap the dividends when demand is high and prices are buoyant. So the exploitation level need to be tied to international ore prices for deriving maximum benefits. There should not be any cap on Iron ore exports if prices are buoyant. The seventh fundamental issue is of entitlement and equity because mining means alteration of land, soil, air and biotic regime and those who sacrifice and suffer the most need to benefit the most.

But the present business models ignore local stakeholders. In practical terms what it means that local authority, a village panchayat or a municipality should take final call on any approved mining plan on mines falling within their jurisdiction. The eighth fundamental issue is forming state-based minerals and metals trading corporation on the lines of more than 10 successful states in India.

Already Goa state handicrafts corporation is dealing with sale of steel and cement. If government officially requests I can draft and send a model bill- “ Goa State Mineral and Metals Trading Corporation act, 2019” before the forthcoming assembly session. When such an offer was made in 2010 to the ex CM Digambar Kamat who was holding mines portfolio, he said-“ the idea of corporation is good but our MLAs would fight for its chairmanship thus creating more problems for the government”. The ninth fundamental issue is neglect of designing mining pit level interlinked water grid by utilizing millions of cubic meters of potable water stored in abandoned mining pits. All the waterlogged mining pits in north Goa can be connected imaginatively to a water grid to pump water to nearest water treatment plants thus ending water supply crisis in north Goa.

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