THORIUM UPA’s NEW COALGATE?

Posted: October 3, 2012 in Education, Geopolitics, Politics, Youths and Nation

 

 

Even as the country is debating the magnitude of scams involving Colagate scandal, a silent and lethal swindling of precious Indian natural resources is happening in the country. A cartel, headed by a Tirunelveli-based businessman, is depriving India of its precious mineral wealth.

This smuggling relates to mineral reserves which are worth billions of rupees, and compromises India’s energy security and strategic position as a superpower.

The sea beach along Manavalakurichi in Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu is unique in many ways. It has the world’s largest deposit of monazite, ilmenite, garnet, zircon and rutile, all strategically and economically important

minerals and metals. The monazite from Manavalakurichi contains 12 per cent thorium. Prof V Rajamanickam, India’s leading marine mineral explorer and a geochemist of repute, says that Manavalakurichi is home to world’s 30 per cent thorium deposits.

According to World Nuclear Association (WNA), the global body of nuclear industry, India is home to 3,00,000 tonnes of thorium deposit.

What is not known to the outside world is that a Tirunelveli businessman literally controls the mining industry in southern Tamil Nadu. He owns 96 out of the 111 garnet mining licences issued by the Indian Bureau of Mines. The Union Government has issued 44 licences for mining ilmenite and he owns all the licences.

The value of 30 per cent thorium reserves of the world at Manavalakurichi is 720 times more than the 2G spectrum scam, according to leading geologists.

The company which has monopolised sand mining along the seashore on the basis of its ability to bend and break laws of the land is exporting the thorium-rich sand to other countries. Containers filled with sand from Manavalakurichi are exported through Tuticorin Port. Instances of boats ferrying sand laden bags to ships anchored off the Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari coasts are regular sights, said Prof Rajamanickam.

The mining baron has made it rich by exporting ilmenite, rutile, garnet and zircon. Though the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) controls the sand along  the coastline because of the presence of elements like zircon, thorium and ilmenite, officials look the other way when sand rich in thorium  is exported from the region.

The sad part is that officials of the Department of Atomic Energy have ignored the wanton looting taking place right in front of their eyes. Two middle level executives of Indian Rare Earths Ltd at Aluva in Kerala told The Pioneer that they were incapable of preventing such thievery. “The licence to mine the sand was issued by our bosses in the Atomic Energy Commission. Indian Rare Earths Ltd does no more mining. The licence has been issued on the condition that the thorium mined by them would be returned to the DAE,” they said.

But the mining baron has not returned a single grain of sand back to the DAE. There are allegations that the engineers in IRE and DAE are helping him export monazite to other countries.

Dr CSP Iyer, former director, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), narrates an interesting incident when the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) wanted to find out the impact of mining along the south Indian coastline and asked him to  prepare a status report. “As part of this project titled Capacity Building for Coastal Placer Mining, I visited the entire coast of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But I was not allowed any where near areas mined by these private companies. They have something to hide,” he said.

Immediately after the signing of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in 2007, Government of India amended the Mines and Minerals Act by a Government order, probably under pressure  from a foreign country, to facilitate the export of the mineral-rich sand. Till then private companies were not allowed mining of monazite because of the presence of thorium. But there is no system in place to prevent the export of the thorium-rich sand. The Tirunelveli baron has a global network to export the thorium-rich monazite.

The illegal export of thorium was first noted by scientists of the DAE. Since their hands were tied because of procedural propriety, they alerted some concerned citizens in Chennai like former secretary to Tamil Nadu Government V Sundaram and S Kalyanaraman, former Asian Development Bank executive.

Sundaram, an IAS officer belonging to the old school had been Tirunelveli District Collector and  knew the district like the back of his hand. “What I found was flabbergasting. I hope Chief Minister Jayalalithaa would bring the culprits to book and save the south Indian coastline from further looting,” he said.

According to Dr Kalyanaraman, who retired from the Indian Railway Account Service, thorium reserves of India are worth Rs 1,340 billion. “It is only a conservative estimate. If you take into account the strategic importance, the price would go up manifold.  You just find out from international community of nations whether anyone with thorium deposits would sell it,” he asked.

 

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