New Delhi: To give impetus to the exploration of critical minerals, the Ministry of Mines has launched a new scheme under which it is directly sanctioning exploration projects to Notified Private Exploration Agencies (NPEAs) for undertaking exploration of critical and deep-seated minerals. “Since March 2022, the Ministry of Mines has notified 16 Private Exploration Agencies to take up exploration projects through state governments, funded by NMET. Since then, only 17 projects to five NPEAs for Rs 15.88 crore have been sanctioned from NMET funds. Out of 17 projects sanctioned so far, 11 are of critical minerals,” said the Ministry of Mines in a statement on Friday.
The Ministry has also allowed these NPEAs to bid for auction for mineral blocks explored by them which was not allowed earlier. “In tune with the amendments of 2023 and to increase the pace of exploration in the country for these minerals, Ministry of Mines has notified a transformative scheme wherein NPEAs will be directly sanctioning exploration projects for minerals mentioned in Part D of First Schedule and in Seventh Schedule of MMDR Act, 1957 from NMET. Further, these agencies will be allowed to bid in auction of mineral blocks explored by them, which was not allowed earlier,” said the ministry.
The decision to allow NPEAs to directly submit projects in the Ministry of Mines will help in cutting out delays in sanction of projects as well as help in faster execution of projects, said the Ministry of Mines. “Further, the provision to allow these exploration agencies in bid to auction the explored mineral blocks by them will attract bigger companies in mining in the exploration arena. This provision is also expected to encourage junior mining companies from around the world to come to India and take up exploration projects with NMET funding. Overall, this new scheme is expected to bring many players in exploration arena including international ones and help in bringing new technologies in the field of exploration,” said the ministry.
The interested private exploration agencies are required to obtain accreditation in accordance with the scheme of Ministry of Mines and thereafter apply to the Ministry for their notification under the second proviso to sub-section (1) of section 4 of the Act.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, MMDR Act was amended through the MMDR Amendment Act, 2021, wef March 28, 2021 which, inter alia, empowers the Central Government to notify entities, including private entities, that may undertake prospecting operations.
Recently, through an amendment in the MMDR Act on August 17, 2023, 24 minerals such as Graphite, Nickel, PGE, REE, Potash etc. were notified as Critical and Strategic minerals by Ministry of Mines. The amendment confers the power to grant mineral concession of these minerals to Central Government so that the Government can prioritise auction of these minerals looking at the requirements of the country. As these critical minerals are indispensable for the growth of our economy, authorising the Central Government to auction concession for these critical minerals would increase the pace of auction and early production of the minerals.