“Minerals” form the backbone of the industries and consequently provide necessary synergy by their application in various manufacturing sectors. Therefore, there is an ever lasting symbiotic relationship between the minerals and their industrial products. The GDP of a country is measured in terms of its industrial output. Therefore, optimal usage of the mineral resources is one of the key factors among others in determining the GDP of any country. This is true not only of “developing countries” like India but equally applicable to the industrially developed countries such as USA, Germany, France, England, China, etc , etc . If India is to progress and march ahead to catch up with other developed countries we should endeavour to focus on harnessing its mineral resources into industrial purposes. By planned utilisation of the available mineral resources, the locally available resources can not only be put into various industrial uses but the surplus mineral resources can be exported as well thereby earning valuable foreign exchange to the country. The fact that mining activity provides gainful employment to several lakhs of remote rural people where mineral occurrences are located can not be lost sight of.
Nature has endowed our country with abundant mineral resources like Iron ore, coal , lignite , lime stone , magnesite, Berytes, base metals , Gypsum, Quartz, Feldspar, Plastic clay, placer or beach minerals sands , etc ,etc .
Depending on the utilitarian value , the minerals are used in various industries like Iron ore in Iron and steel Industry, automobile and other allied industries. Coal in thermal power generation, Lime stone in cement manufacturing industries, Gypsum in pharmaceutical industries , Quartz , Feldspar and plastic clay in Ceramic industries, Garnet in abrasive industries, Ilmenite in paint industries, etc, etc to a name few. Again depending on the characteristics and other mineralogical features, minerals are classified as “ metallic and non metallic minerals, noble metal , Industrial minerals , beach sand or placer minerals , atomic minerals , fossil/fuel minerals , etc , etc.
Further more, depending on the origin and other controlling geomorphological characteristics the minerals are again broadly divided into “renewable and non renewable”.
All other minerals except placer or beach sand minerals belong to the non renewable category since the beach sand / placer minerals are replinishable in nature.
Considering the non renewable identity of all other minerals referred to above , they are aptly called “depleting resources” or “wasting assets” by which terminology it effectively means that once these minerals are exploited they stand exhausted for ever. Therefore, it has been mentioned supra that planned exploitation of these non renewable mineral resources is utmost essential keeping the requirement of these minerals for the posterity also. However, the renewable mineral resources like beach sand minerals / placer minerals, on the other hand, present themselves tremendous scope for maximum utilisation perpetually .
The Geological , Geomorphological, petrological and structural features are , by and large, the controlling factors in the formation of “mineralisation zone” in the mother earth. Taking into reckoning, the nature of “mineralisation” , the occurrences of these minerals are found surfacially, sub-surfacially ranging from shallow to deep seated , in fault planes and also in cavities.
The hidden nature’s treasure of mineral wealth can not be won by wielding a magic wand . It requires systematic and planned and scientific methods to bring the minerals to the surface. Therefore, one has to compromise on the ground reality that there can not be any gain “without pain”. Therefore , there is always a destruction caused to the mother earth in the process of mineral excavation.
Therefore, depending on the disposition of the mineral deposits, the method of mining is designed and adopted.
Different types of mining techniques on scientific basis as well as in workman like manner are adopted in this respect. Large scale totally open cast mining if the mineral disposition is of homogenous in nature such as Iron ore, coal seam and lignite bed , gypsum, clay, etc , selective open cast method of mining if the mineral occurrence is associated with country rock on a large scale namely lime stone, magnesite ,etc., under ground mining with construction of tunnels, driving of shafts , winzes , etc . Example : base metal deposits like copper, led, zinc and noble metal like Gold, etc , driving drill holes to extract fossil minerals like petroleum and natural gas and liquification and gasification technique to pump out minerals in slurry form, etc, etc.
But Beach Mineral placer deposits are different from other minerals.
Placer , beach minerals sands in the coastal areas , unlike the aforesaid techniques adopted in respect of mineral deposits mentioned above the occurrence of beach mineral sands / placer minerals in the coastal area is unique in nature with its occurrence getting confined to a very shallow depth ranging from the surface 2 to 3 meters depth only. This is the only known replenishable natural resource in the whole of the minerals scenario. The mining technique in winning these placer minerals is very simple using shovel, spade , etc . No blasting is required unlike the other open cast or other under ground mining. The mining technique adopted is almost analogous to sand mining from the river bed. This is in complete contrast to the highly skilful and scientific method of mining adopted in open cast as well as under ground mining. In these categories of mining blasting of varying intensity has to be adopted .
Realising the availability of plentiful resources of these minerals in the coastal area and the demand for these minerals both in India as well as in the foreign countries, the Govt. of India announced its policy on exploitation of beach sand minerals by way of its notification, Department of Atomic Energy published in the Gazette of India, extraordinary number 8/1(1)/97-PSU part 1 section 1 dated 6-10-1998 . In the words of the said Gazette Notification, India has large reserves of beach sand minerals in the coastal stretches around the country. Ilmenite is the largest constituent of the Indian deposit others being Rutile, Leucoxene, Zircon , Sillimainite, Garnet and monazite . Under the Industrial Policy statement of 1991 the mining and production of classified minerals such as Ilmenite, Rutile, Zircon , leucoxene, etc had been reserved for the Public Sector as a result of which the private players were prohibited from mining and production of these minerals. Considering the fact that the production of Heavy minerals is highly capital intensive and it may not be possible for the private sectors unit alone (both Central and State owned) operating in this field to set up the new plants on their own, it was therefore considered necessary to allow the private sector to set up such plants within the frame work of some broad guidelines formulated by Govt. of India. While taking such as progressive and pragmatic decision the Govt. of India took into consideration the growing demand for these minerals and their value added products in the domestic as well as international market and the vast potential of these minerals available in the country. The Govt. of India have consequently allowed the private parties to exploit these mineral deposits in fresh locations. This policy announcement of Govt. of India came as a shot in the arm of private parties who have already been in the business of mining of Garnet alone to expand their mining and production of all other classified minerals also since 1998. In ultimate analysis this has effectively resulted in manifold increase in the mining, production and export of value added beach mineral products.
The present scenario in respect of mining and production of classified beach mineral deposits being what has been illustrated above, the fact remains that the coastal areas do not restrict the scope of development to the exploitation of beach minerals alone. The coastal tract offers many more things for the economic development of our country. The Ministry of Environment and Forests , Govt. of India has notified some regulatory measures to be strictly and scrupulously followed in the coastal tract of the country. The Govt. of India has notified the areas falling within 500 meters on the land ward side along the sea front from the High tide Line as Coastal Regulation Zone. All other activities except beach mineral mining are prohibited within the CRZ area as per the Notification. In respect of non prohibited activities necessary clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests has to be obtained. It is significant to point out that the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India has not included mining of placer minerals in the prohibited list of activities for the simple reason of unique occurrence of the deposits in the coastal tract.
It may not be out of place to mention in this context that if only Govt. of India has a slightest inkling of the coastal configuration getting obliterated or disturbed on account of mining of beach mineral sands they would not have exempted mining of beach minerals from the list of prohibitory activities when all other developmental activities have been prohibited in the CRZ area.
“Placer deposits” or in other words “Beach sand mineral” deposits are the repository for valuable minerals such as Monazite, Zircon, lmenite, Garnet, Rutile, Leucoxene, etc., etc., minerals which are being exploited from the southern coastal regions of Tamil Nadu. Their cost-effective indigenous mining technology, their affordable profit ratio, etc have exponentially increased the importance of these “placer minerals” over the last 15-20 years, as a major source of economic minerals.
The origin of these “placer deposits” belongs to the parent rock types like Khondalities (Garnetiferous – Sillimanite gneiss) charnockites, Ilmeno-Rutile based granites and other types of gneisses, Laterites, sand stones, etc., which are available in abundance on the eastern and western Ghats mountain ranges in Tamil Nadu and its adjoining States.
The heavy minerals from these source rocks are got liberated by the natural process of chemical weathering and disintegration. These disintegrated mineral fragments are denuded, transported downward by running water along the slopes of the mountain ranges and in the plains through rivers, stream courses, etc. and finally get deposited in the ocean since several geological epochs. This is a continuous, recurring and unending natural hydro-geological phenomenon. The tropical climate with seasonal rainfall are also other incremental catalytic factors in the disintegration and redeposition of these mineral fragments in the ocean beds.
The constant and variable wave actions deposit these sands on the beach lines after back wash carries some of the lighter minerals into the sea.
Onshore winds which preferentially blow lighter mineral particles towards inland leaves the higher concentrations of heavy minerals at the front of coastal lines.
On the basis of mode of origin, transportation and deposition the placer deposits can be broadly classified into marine placers, (both on shore and off shore placers) Aeolian Placers, glacial placers of both buried and exposed types.
It is not only an established geological truth but also in terms of ground reality that these placer minerals occurring all along the coastal tracts of Tamil Nadu are available not only as buried deposits over the geological past but also as a replenishable one with the process of accretion of these placer minerals taking place constantly of course with varying intensity. .
Notwithstanding the fact that placer mineral deposits are available in abundance in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu, there is an uncertainty of the extent of their mineral resources due to scanty inventory and statistical data of their resources as compared to the statistics of the resources of these mineral deposits published in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Malaysia, etc., countries.
Considering the important properties and usage of Garnet, Ilmenite, Rutile, etc., minerals, the illustrious leaders like Thiru Late K.T. Kosalram, former Member of Parliament and Thiru Kumari Anandan, former Member of Legislative Assembly, Tamil Nadu highlighted the importance of these placer minerals in various industries and urged the Governments to draw up proper action plan to harness these minerals into purposes for the benefit of the country at large.
Thanks to the initiatives taken by these leaders Government of Tamil Nadu encouraged the enthusiastic private persons by granting mining leases for Garnet sand in 1980s-90s. When the liberalization on the policy of beach mineral deposits was brought about by the Central Government in 1998-99, whereby the private players in the filed of Garnet sand mining grab the opportunity to enlarge their scope of mining by including Ilmenite, Rulite and Zircon minerals also in their ambit of mining due to the buoyancy of the favourable environment created by the Central Government. In the ultimate analysis this resulted in large section of rural folk in Radhapuram Taluk of Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu who were steeped in poverty and backwardness to get gainful employment in the field of mining in the coastal areas of this Taluk. Their standard of living has also increased substantially.
Enthused by the liberal policy of the Central Government as well as all tangible support provided by the State Government in granting mining leases expeditiously, more and more areas in private lands have come within the ambit of mining operations as a result of which the export of Garnet, Ilmenite, Rutile, etc., minerals from India has increased manifold with a result that India has emerged as a potential leader across the world. The emergence of India in this field became an eyesore for those countries which were hitherto holding monopoly all over the world in this trade. In order to hamper and thwart the exponential growth of India in this field, certain anti-social and anti-national elements in Tamil Nadu were identified by the traders of those countries and through them several obstacles and hindrance were created against the legitimate mining leases in Tamil Nadu so as to eliminate them from this field.
Hence to protect Indian Economy and the Beach Mineral Industry which generate valuable foreign Exchange and Create lot of employment, Beach Mineral Producers Association involved and help to the needy persons.