In a major policy shift, the Mines Ministry will directly sanction exploration projects to notified private exploration agencies (NPEAs) for critical and deep-seated minerals.

The new approach, aimed at giving an impetus to exploration of critical and deep-seated minerals, is expected to streamline the process, ensure faster sanction of projects, and quicker release of funds to these agencies.

“The decision to allow NPEAs to directly submit projects will cut delays in sanction of projects, as well as help in faster execution of projects,” a Ministry official said.

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According to the official, besides stepping up the “pace of exploration” of critical minerals, the new approach could also help bring in international firms and new tech

Auction for Mineral Blocks Explored

“Further, these agencies will be allowed to bid in the auction of mineral blocks explored by them, which was not allowed earlier,” the official explained.

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The proposed policy changes are expected to encourage junior mining companies from around the world to take up exploration projects with NMET funding in India.

The new scheme is expected to draw many players to the exploration arena, including international ones, besides inducting new technologies in the field of exploration.

Amendments Made

Incidentally, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, MMDR Act, was amended through the MMDR Amendment Act, 2021, w.e.f. 28/3/2021 which, inter alia, empowers the Central Government to notify entities, including private entities, that may undertake prospecting operations.

The interested private exploration agencies are required to obtain accreditation in accordance with the existing rules of the Mines Ministry, and then apply for their notification.

Beginning March 2022, the Ministry has notified 16 private exploration agencies to take up projects through State Governments funded by the National Mineral Exploration Trust (NMET).

So far, only 17 projects worth Rs 15.88 crore have been sanctioned to five NPEAs from NMET funds. Of the 17 projects sanctioned, 11 are of critical minerals.

A further amendment of the MMDR Act in August saw 24 minerals, including, graphite, nickel, PGE (platinum group of elements), REE (rare earth elements), and potash, among others, notified as Critical and Strategic minerals.

Post the amendment, the Centre can grant mineral concessions and prioritise auction.

“Authorising the Central Government to auction concession for these critical minerals would increase the pace of auction and early production of the minerals,” the Mines Ministry said in a statement.