The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A goldmine up for grabs

Chiria (Jharkhand), Feb. 8: The red slushy mud here in the silent jungles of Singbhum, sticks to everything in sight ' jeep tyres, shoes, even tree trunks.

Little do the few tribals who live on the outskirts of the jungle or the Maoist groups who collect 'taxes' in the forests, know that the value of this mud and the rocks below it, in the global market, today stands at $250 billion.

That is enough to fund India's budget for three whole years. It's enough to attract some of the biggest names from the corporate world to send exploration teams into this Naxalite-infested territory.

The mining lease for this huge jungle was taken seven decades ago by Sir R.N. Mukherjee's steel mill ' Martin & Burn Ltd ' and today stands in the name of its successor company Indian Iron and Steel Company Ltd, a subsidiary of state-run steel giant SAIL.

Just two days before elections were declared in Jharkhand, the BJP-led Arjun Munda government suddenly and without warning scrapped the mining lease for two of Chiria's four blocks and another in the nearby jungles of Gua, which was also leased out to IISCO.

Soon afterwards search teams from a number of Indian steel majors and global mining groups swooped down on the sleepy town of Manoharpur which serves as the gateway to the jungle tract.

Munda's main rival ' Shibu Soren of the JMM ' had issued a statement in Delhi in which he denounced the state government's decision to cancel the lease held by the state-owned company. Luckily for Munda, Soren hasn't turned it into an election issue as yet.

'They (search team executives) say they will set up a steel mill here if we co-operate. How does it matter' Whoever comes will pay good money to the babus and netas in Ranchi and bring in more dikus (outsiders) ... we don't know whether that is good or bad,' says Bikas Munda, 38, a tribal from Manoharpur who worked with an exploration team.

They don't know that Chiria, or the place for birds, sits atop Asia's largest and richest iron ore deposits ' nearly 2 billion tonnes of it ' and are justly proud of it. ('Our iron ore is the best; everybody who comes here says so,' says Munda).

With steel prices skyrocketing in the global marketplace, the high grade iron ore which Chiria boasts of is certain to be treated with hushed silence in trading sessions at the London Metal Exchange. For very few areas in the world can boast of ore with an iron content as high as 68 per cent.

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