State-Owned Miner Takes up Gold Mining in India

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Mining for gold is an expertise of which not too many Indian miners can boast. In fact, it makes up a minuscule portion of overall annual mining activities in the country.

With neighboring China on the prowl for gold mining projects internationally, some recent news has brought some cheer to the gold sector in India.

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For the first time, a state-owned miner will take up gold mining in India. Earlier this month, India’s National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) won the rights to it at an e-auction. In the process, it beat several biggies, such as Vedanta and Adani. NMDC will dig up a gold mine located in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

NMDC is not a newcomer to gold mining. It is developing a gold mine in Tanzania, while its Australian subsidiary, Legacy Iron Ore, is currently in the process of testing as many as 17 gold tenements in the Western Australian region.

The Chigargunta-Bisanatham mine will be an underground operation. First-phase production is expected to begin two years after the permitting process.

According to a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), the initial investment is estimated to be about U.S. $4.5 billion. The Indian government stands to earn 38.25% revenue on sale value. It has estimated reserves of 1.83 million tons containing 5.15 grams of gold per ton.

Incidentally, India is on the way to formulating a new gold policy, which will promote domestic gold mining.

Industry experts believe that at least 100 tons of gold can be mined annually in India, from the present level of about 1.5 tons (as compared to China’s 450 tons a year). Geologists believe that India sits on vast deposits of gold, as the terrain from Australia to China is very similar, so they see no reason why India cannot step up its gold mining.

Experts want the Indian government to factor in the complete journey of gold, from mines to market, under the new policy.

Very slowly, after a court-imposed e-auction for mining, gold mining has picked up.

One of the first in this business was Vedanta. In February 2016, Vedanta Resources became the first private company to successfully bid for a gold mine in India, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. The mine has gold reserves of 2.7 tons.

Other Indian private miners, in collaboration with international players, have started to move in. More and more are expected to follow in the footsteps of Vedanta and NMDC.

Gold mining will also save the country foreign exchange, since it imports most of its gold at the moment.

A previous government report identified the unrefined gold resource base in the country at 658 tons of metallic gold. The report also stated that this tonnage is spread over 13 different states.

India needs to get its act together on the gold mining front, especially since China is already well on its way. Since 2013, when gold prices plunged 30% in a year, China has been ramping up overseas gold-mining investments.

There is no doubt that developing gold mines is a long-term, risky process requiring years of planning, research and infrastructure development. Miners also need to conduct analyses on how much gold a ton of ore actually contains.

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But for Indian companies interested in this, several bottlenecks, including environment permissions, remain.

If a miner has to apply for a gold mining license, it has to take over 100 permissions before getting a permit — a process that takes over seven years.

Hopefully, experts say, this will be history once the new policy is adopted.

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