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NMDC set to bag Rio mine

RioTinto pulls out of Bunder diamond mining project in Madhya Pradesh

By Reuters in New Delhi
  • Published 13.01.20, 3:27 AM
  • Updated 13.01.20, 3:27 AM
  • a min read
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Madhya Pradesh has asked NMDC to explore the Bunder deposits, which could contain millions of carats of diamonds, Neeraj Mandloi, principal secretary at the state’s mineral resource department, said. (Pic: NMDC Limited)

State-owned miner NMDC is poised to win a multibillion-dollar contract to explore and mine diamonds at a large project abandoned by global miner Rio Tinto, a leading local government official told Reuters.

Madhya Pradesh has asked NMDC to explore the Bunder deposits, which could contain millions of carats of diamonds, Neeraj Mandloi, principal secretary at the state’s mineral resource department, said.

The state government last month awarded a smaller portion of the deposit to Essel Mining & Industries, part of the Aditya Birla group, Mandloi said. That area was valued at about $9 billion, according to estimates by Rio Tinto and the state government.

“Our geological survey has shown that the entire area, which has largely remained unexplored, is rich in diamonds,” Mandloi said of the Bunder deposit about 500 km (300 miles) southeast of New Delhi, adding that its output could be in the billions of dollars.

“We have requested NMDC to do a composite role of exploring and mining and the company has shown a preliminary interest,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh, the only diamond mining region in Asia, could be among the world’s top ten diamond producers, studies have shown.

Rio Tinto spent about $90 million over 14 years on the Bunder project, located in a forested area that is home to tigers and other wildlife.

The company had plans to invest up to $500 million but pulled out of the project after legal battles with green activists and delays in obtaining environmental permits.

NMDC already mines in the neighbouring Majhgawan mine at Panna, Madhya Pradesh, where the company has extracted about 1 million carats of diamonds, according to the company’s website.

The state has also asked NMDC to explore and mine diamonds in several other blocks, Mandloi said.

“NMDC is looking forward to taking on another mine in Madhya Pradesh,” a company spokesperson said.

Rio Tinto’s decision to withdraw from the project was a blow to the efforts by Narendra Modi’s government to enlist the likes of Rio Tinto and Anglo American to help India to become a major minerals and precious metals producer.