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Plan panel stress on manganese ore exploration

Rabindra Nath Sinha

KOLKATA, Sept. 12

RENEWED emphasis on exploration for manganese ore has been suggested by the committee set up by the Planning Commission's Working Group on ferro alloys. With virtually no priority in budgetary allocations, exploration for manganese ore had taken a backseat over the years, the committee has observed in its report in which the possible levels of demand both for manganese ore and alloys during the Tenth Plan period have been indicated.

The committee has proceeded on the premise that the entire demand for manganese ore and alloys will continue to be met from domestic sources. It is also of the view that no revision of the ceiling for manganese ore export is called for as in the prevailing market situation, actual exports are much below the ceiling of 7,00,000 tonnes ceiling.

A major consumer of manganese ore and alloys is the steel industry, but because of significant technological advances, its specific consumption has gone down. In recent years, the downturn experienced by the steel industry also partly explains the weakening demand.

The main reason why the committee has suggested emphasis on exploration is that no new reserves have been discovered in the last 50 years. The only redeeming feature is that the quantum of proved reserves has gone up to 40 million tonnes (mt) from 28 mt.

The recoverable, probable and possible reserves as per the assessment of Indian Bureau of Mines on April 1, 1995 were 167 mt, 49.4 mt and 77.83 mt respectively.

The domestic production of manganese ore was 1.84 mt in 1995-96, 1.87 mt in 1996-97, 1.64 mt in 1997-98, 1.54 mt in 1998-99, 1.59 mt in 1999-2000 and 1.56 mt in each of the following two years, 2000-01 and 2001-02.

According to the committee, the demand for manganese ore is likely to be (model 1) 1.74 mt in 2002-03, 1.78 mt in 2003-04, 1.84 mt in 2004-05, 1.89 mt in 2005-06 and 1.84 mt in 2006-07 when it is related to the projected demand for mild/carbon steel, stainless steel and requirement for manganese alloys.

The demand for mild/carbon steel for the respective years has been projected at 29.94 mt, 31.74 mt, 33.66 mt, 35.69 mt and 37.84 mt. The respective figures for stainless steel demand are 829,000 tonnes, 879,000 tonnes, 932,000 tonnes, 988,000 tonnes and 1.05 mt. The requirement of manganese alloys has been projected thus: ferro manganese - 166,000 tonnes for each of the five years and silico manganese - 198,000 tonnes for each of the five years.

The Tenth Plan year-wise sectoral break-up of manganese ore requirement is: steel - 808,000 tonnes, 857,000 tonnes, 909,000 tonnes, 964,000 tonnes and 908,000 tonnes/manganese alloys: 928,000 tonnes for each of the five years.

There are 35 manganese alloy units with the total installed capacity in the range of 650,000-700,000 tonnes. The capacity utilisation is barely 50-55 per cent. In 1999-2000, the last year for the committee has given figures, their total production (ferro manganese and silico manganese) stood at 369,126 tonnes. In the same year, they exported 63,377 tonnes.

If the production of manganese ore is to be marginally higher on current levels, the proved reserves will suffice for 20 years. Ideally, serious efforts have to be made to bring the possible and probable reserves to the proved reserves category and simultaneously exploration has to be emphasised to discover new reserves.

The States, which have reserves of manganese ore in varying quantities, are Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat. The main producers are Manganese Ore (India) Ltd, Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Ltd, Orissa Minerals Development Company, Orissa Mining Corporation, Tata Steel, Mysore Minerals and Rungta Mines.

The constraints being faced by manganese ore mines are:

  • Pockety deposits prevent high degree of mechanisation.

  • After surface ore is exhausted, opencast mining becomes uneconomical and switch over to underground mining is a costly proposition, as weak ore bodies require closely spaced support underground and mined-out areas have to be back-filled.

  • Substantial portion of existing leaseholds are in forest areas.

  • Use of low-grade ores and fines through beneficiation and agglomeration is a difficult proposition.

    The committee has observed that a policy framework for manganese ore should not only address the constraints but also take into account global reserves, technological changes, environmental concerns, threat of cheap imports and phos levels in ore.

    The ceiling for exports in 2001-02 were: medium grade/blended ore containing 46-49 per cent manganese with not less than 0.24 per cent phos - 25,000 tonnes, medium grade/blended ore containing 38-46 per cent manganese and more than 0.15 per cent phos or the same grade ore but phos content more than 0.10 per cent - 125,000 tonnes, low grade/blended ore containing less than 38 per cent manganese - 400,000 tonnes and fines below 12 mm in size and containing less than 44 per cent manganese - 150,000 tonnes. The grade-wise ceilings added up to 700,000 tonnes.

    Against the ceiling, the estimated despatches of manganese ore for export in 2001-02 were 208,000 tonnes. The figures for the preceding six years were: 1995-96 - 199,000 tonnes, 1996-97 - 249,000 tonnes, 1997-98 - 220,000 tonnes, 1998-99 - 202,000 tonnes, 1999-2000 - 320,000 tonnes and 2000-01 - 207,000 tonnes. It is against this backdrop that the committee does not see the case for revising the ceiling on exports.

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