Private parties can no longer explore atomic minerals in India.
The exploration and mining of atomic minerals by private parties in 62 off-shore blocks have been in litigation after a contentious order was issued in April 2011, granting exploration licences.
The government wants to put an end to all litigations over the issue, keeping national interests in mind, as the legal battle has reached the apex court.
A major step in this direction was taken on July 27 when a Gazette Notification by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was issued imposing a blanket ban on granting operating rights to private firms with respect to atomic minerals in any off-shore area.
The DAE comes directly under the Prime Minister.
“…it has also been declared that any action taken by the Centre on this behalf under Offshore Areas Minerals Development and Regulation (OAMDR) Act 2002, prior to the date of notification July 27, 2019, stands rescinded,” said an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court by the Secretary, DAE, and Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission.
Informed sources say that giving licence for exploration of atomic minerals to private parties posed high-level national security threat.
Earlier this year, the Delhi High Court ordered commissioning of two deeds for exploration licences to private companies and stayed the preliminary enquiry by the CBI against a senior government official who allegedly facilitated the licences.
The Centre moved the top court challenging this decision.
The CBI has found gross irregularities in the ownership pattern, financial capability and technical know-how of these companies.
“The affidavit has been cleared from the Prime Minister’s Office. Revealing the information on the coordinates pinning the location of these atomic blocks which contain weapon-grade minerals in the deep sea around the country is a grave threat to national security,” said a high-level source familiar with the developments.
The affidavit claims there is an immediate and pressing need to take a policy decision regarding banning of off-shore exploration and mining of atomic minerals by private parties.
The DAE affidavit cited issues on beach sand mining (BSM) carried out by private entities in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
“The competent authority in DAE was apprised that it was felt by the DAE that along with permitted substances, even atomic minerals could have possibly been sent out of the country,” said the affidavit, indicating at attempted smuggling of atomic minerals.
This was revealed by the investigations carried out by the Gagandeep Singh Bedi Committee and the Satyabrata Sahoo Committee constituted by the Tamil Nadu High Court.
The DAE affidavit said only the government or government companies shall carry out exploration and mining of beach sand minerals (off-shore or on-shore), where atomic minerals are intrinsic parts.
In February, the DAE revised the threshold value of BSM from 0.75 per cent to zero per cent Monazite content in Total Heavy Minerals in BSM.
The affidavit said that the existing beach sand minerals policy had “failed in its entirety and instead of imparting any value addition, it has resulted in depleting the precious natural resources causing loss to the exchequer and national wealth as well”.
As a consequence, the government was forced to bring out the Gazette Notification.
According to this notification, only government agencies can carry out exploration and mining activities in the 62 blocks notified on June 7, 2010.