Assam's mineral story: Official discusses new leases, diversification, and exploration growth

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: The mineral sector of Assam is witnessing new opportunities like renewed mining leases, new allocation orders, and plans to increase the performance fourfold. Business North East spoke to N Anand, managing director of Assam Mineral Development Corporation Limited about these new initiatives and the state's forthcoming plans in the mineral sector. Below are the excerpts:

Business North East: What was the performance of Assam Mineral Development Corporation Limited in fiscal 2023-2024?

N Anand: Performance was better in 2022-2023, but we still made a profit. In fiscal 2023-2024, the Assam Mineral Development Corporation faced renewal of the mining leases and we have taken two more leases: one at Garampani in Dima Hasao and another at Koylajan in Karbi Anglong. We got government approvals and are in the process of getting an allocation order and giving it to the Pollution Control Board for getting environment clearance (EC). Once the EC is done, we will apply for mine opening permission, which I am expecting within this financial year. Once the Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao mines open, we will be in a position to expand, to increase the profit by four folds. 

AMDC is also venturing into quartz. We have taken up the Timungong quartz site block. We are selling quartzite blocks. We have taken up limestone as well. Although many players came here, nobody could start a cement factory. We are in the process of giving our limestone for cement making. Some prospective players have also come to Assam hoping to set up cement factories here. If they set up a cement factory, we will be able to see more metric tonnes of limestone which will also add to the profits of the state government.

BNE: Tell us more about mineral investigations. What kind of investigations are happening?

Anand: All the mineral investigations are taking place under the Directorate of Geology and Mining. We have taken the initiative into coal exploration and identified places in the Tinisukia district such as Paharkut, Sabuttarang, Lalterang; in Karbi Anglong, we explored the Nepali Basti. There is an institute called CMPDI (Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited) in Ranchi which is helping with the exploration. through central government funds. Once the exploration is done, the CMPDI will find out what the volume estimation of the coal is. Thereafter, we will be in a position to assess the coal volume. Then we will auction identified and explored blocks. The government of India is also in the process of promoting more auctioning of coal blocs. We are also using drones for surveys.

BNE: What kind of mining leases are happening?

Anand: Coal Mining leases and petroleum mining leases are being given. We have taken two coal mining leases from the ministry of coal. That is, Garampani mining lease and Karbi Anglong’s Koilajaan. Two coal mine leases are in process. We are also giving tender of the quartzite blocs. We have given tender of three blocs. We are also going to give limestone leases. After the competitive auction, the successful bidders will be given the mining leases.

BNE: We have learned about Pradhan Mantri Khanij Kshetra Yojana. What is its current status?

Anand: The DMFT fund of the district looks after the concerned district. There is a committee in the district that looks after what things have to be done for the mining-affected people. Also, there is a list of 8 priorities like sanitation, water quality, etc. Funds are utilized accordingly. If districts have sandstones, coal, or limestone, all those things are put under DMFT. That fund is under the chairmanship of the collector. They do the priority allocation for mining-affected people in general. AMDC is also in the process of giving water testing kits. We have a professional from IIT who is supplying water filter cells in Meghalaya.  We are also taking his help in our CSR activities in Dima Hasao. I am giving more priority to people living near coal mines or limestone mine extraction areas. Under our CSR we have given school buses, ambulances, water tankers, etc. Now we are in the process of giving a water filter. 

BNE: Which public sector and private sector organisations got licenses from your organisation?

Anand: PML holders of Oil India Limited, ONGC, and private sector companies like Oil Max, HOEC, etc. Dalmia has got limestone mining lease. A quartzite mining lease has been given to Lohia Corporation.

BNE: Let us know about the surveys done by your directorate recently.

Anand: We're looking into finding titanium and coal deposits in our area. Coal is crucial for our local factories. There's a process where Coal India sells coal through online auctions, but they're not favoring our local industries. Our Chief Minister even raised this concern in a meeting. The problem is, after the auction, the coal often goes to other states where people pay much higher prices, sometimes double what locals would pay. Now, there's international coal available at cheaper rates, so we need to be competitive. Instead of sending coal elsewhere, we should use it in our industries. We've done surveys with CMPDI, a government agency, to find out how much coal we have. We've also allowed private companies to explore coal through auctions. We have given exploration also on auction through the website: assamtenderonline.  Those who have private exploration agency licenses from the government of India can participate.

BNE: Recently, Assam emerged as a strong player in coal mine auctions. What is your department doing to improve it even further?

Anand: Recently, I went to Delhi where I learned that 86 coal blocs have been auctioned. Three coal blocs are with Assam Mineral Development Corporation. One is Garampani of Dima Hasao, Koilajan coal mine of Karbi Anglong, and Binja coal bloc in Jharkhand. Binja coal bloc has a 145 million tonnes reserve. The reserve in Koilajan is 3 million tonnes. Garamapani has a small reserve of 0.5 million tonnes. We are getting all three into exploration. We have to do the drilling in the Binja bloc which is only partially explored. However, the two others have been accepted by the Ministry of Coal; we are in the process of getting the allocation and the mining lease.

BNE: What steps are being taken to assuage environmental concerns about limestone mining in Karbi Anglong, especially after complaints from Meghalaya?

Anand: This is a false allegation. We have gone for a physical verification because we have met the preliminary surveys. Some people have some vested interest and have gone ahead with such motivated complaints.  Nobody expected that that much response would be there for our mineral license auction. Nobody thought that top players would come to Assam. Because of our CM’s initiative and the successful running of the government, all top cement factories like Ultra Tech, and Ambuja-Adani, came here. They said that normalcy has returned and believe Assam is a better place for investments now. The instigation has come from the Meghalaya side. The complainants motivated some higher officers of Meghalaya. We have taken the matter seriously and will prepare a report after a detailed survey.

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Priyanka Chakrabarty