Cabinet approves National Mineral Exploration Policy

The union cabinet on Thursday approved the National Mineral Exploration Policy (NMEP), which primarily aims at accelerating exploration activity in the country through enhanced participation of the private sector.

A press note released after the cabinet met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed to the need for comprehensive mineral exploration of the country to uncover its full mineral potential so as to put the nation's mineral resources (non-fuel and non-coal) to best use and thereby maximise sectoral contribution to the Indian economy.

The policy emphasises making available authentic baseline geoscientific data in the public domain, undertake quality research in a public-private partnership, foster initiatives for search of deep-seated and concealed deposits, carry out quick aerogeophysical surveys of the country, and create a dedicated geoscience database etc.

In order to facilitate exploration in the country, the NMEP proposes that the ministry of mines carry out auctioning of identified exploration blocks for exploration by private sector on revenue sharing basis in case their exploration leads to auctionable resources. The revenue will be raised from the successful bidder of those auctionable blocks.

If the explorer agencies do not discover any auctionable resources, their exploration expenditure will be reimbursed on normative cost basis.

The mines ministry will create baseline geoscientific data as a public good for open dissemination free of charge.

Government will carry out a national aerogeophysical programme for acquiring state-of-the-art baseline data for targeting concealed mineral deposits.

A National Geoscientific Data Repository is proposed to be set up to collate all baseline and mineral exploration information generated by various central and state government agencies and also mineral concession holders and to maintain these on geospatial database.

Government proposes to establish a not-for-profit autonomous institution that will be known as the National Centre for Mineral Targeting (NCMT) in collaboration with scientific and research bodies, universities and industry for scientific and technological research to address the mineral exploration challenges in the country.

Provisions for inviting private investment in exploration through attractive revenue sharing models.

On the lines of UNCOVER project of Australia, the government intends to launch a special initiative to probe deep-seated/ concealed minerals deposits in the country in collaboration with National Geophysical Research Institute and the proposed NCMT and Geoscience Australia.

In order to implement the recommendations of the NMEP, an initial amount of about Rs2,116 crore would have to be spent over a 5-year period over and above the annual plan budget of the Geological Survey of India. The NMEP will benefit the entire mineral sector across the country.

Highlights of NMEP are:

  • Baseline geoscientific data will be created as a public good and will be fully available for open dissemination free of charge, which will benefit public and private exploration agencies;
  • The government will collaborate with scientific and research bodies, universities and industry for the scientific and technological development necessary for exploration in public-private partnership;
  • The government will launch a special initiative to probe deep-seated/concealed mineral deposits in the country and characterise India's geological cover, investigate lithospheric architecture, resolve 4D geodynamic and metallogenic evolution, detect and characterise the distal footprints of ore deposits;
  • A National Aerogeophysical Mapping programme will be launched to map the entire country with low altitude and close space flight to delineate the deep-seated and concealed mineral deposits;
  • The government will engage private agencies for carrying out exploration in identified blocks / areas with the right to certain share in the revenue accruing to the state government through auction; and
  • Public expenditure on regional and detailed exploration will be prioritised and subjected to periodical review based on assessment of criticality and strategic interests.

The ministry of mines has, in the recent past, taken a series of measures for the growth of the mineral sector, including allowing 100 per cent FDI. However, these initiatives have fetched only limited success. Further, over the years, the dynamics of the mineral sector have undergone a sea change thereby creating new demands and imperatives.

The most important feature of the amended mining laws is that mining leases and prospecting licence-cum-mining lease (PL-cum-ML) will be granted only through an auction process.

This is expected to bring in transparency, expeditiousness and simplification in procedures in grant of mineral concessions. The NMEP has been framed so as to provide a new set of objectives, sense of purpose and direction to exploration within the amended legal framework.