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Cutting edge in diamond recce

Jamshedpur, Feb. 27: Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL) last week bagged a reconnaissance permit to carry out an aerial survey of 3,009 square kilometres for diamond and other precious minerals in the state.

JSPL is required to pay Rs 11 crore to carry out the survey over the next three years. The survey would include topographical study, land pattern, water bodies etc.

While the Jindals are known for their passion for steel and some experts feel they are fast emerging as one of the most important producers, a licence to carry out surveys for diamond has come as a surprise.

No such licence has been granted so far to De Beers, the well-known South African company, which has the experience and the expertise for diamond prospecting. The company, in fact, has been engaged in carrying out surveys in both Orissa and Chhattisgarh besides several other states.

With Jindals not known for their interest in diamonds, De Beers spokesmen smell a rat, though they refuse to make any allegation. The state government's official explanation is that the applications of both Jindals and De Beers were forwarded to the union government and it was eventually New Delhi which cleared the application. Both the applications were submitted in 2004.

Sources in the South African company, however, alleged that according to their information, the state government had made no effort to get their proposal cleared by Delhi but bent over backwards to get the go-ahead for the Jindals.

Company officials appeared peeved and indicated that they were keen to start the survey in Jharkhand. 'But till we receive the permit, we have no option but to concentrate on Orissa, where we have already been issued the licence,' confided a De Beers official.

Mines and geology secretary A.K. Singh, however, said the application of De Beers was also under active consideration and the state government would issue a permit to the company as soon as the proposal is cleared by the Centre. Jindals, claimed departmental sources, were just more keen than the South African company.

De Beers India Prospecting Private Limited, the Indian arm of the South African major, had applied for two reconnaissance (survey of a region) permits of carrying out surveys in Gumla and Lohardaga. The surveys have been earmarked in two areas measuring 2061 sq km and 2010 sq km respectively.

The company had planned to spend Rs 100 crore on air-borne geo-physical surveys, said company officials. It claims to have invested Rs 100 million so far in conducting surveys in other states.

Strangely, sources in the government claimed that the permit had got delayed because of the South African company's reluctance to commit that it would also undertake cutting and polishing of diamonds. De Beers is a supplier of diamonds but gets them cut and polished by 'sightholders'.

Officials said the government would like to follow a uniform policy of issuing permits for mineral exploration. Unless companies are willing to add value to the minerals, they cannot be allowed to take away the minerals.

In the beginning of 2003, De Beers had conducted preliminary surveys to identify fields in Gumla, Lohardaga and the banks of the Sankh river where there could be a possibility of diamonds. After identifying the prospective areas, the company submitted a detailed proposal to the government which was forwarded to the Centre for clearance.

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