JK’S SAPPHIRE TREASURE TROVE UNTAPPED
Officials Blame ‘Lack Of Planning,Unfavourable Geographic Conditions’
Srinagar, July 14: In economically fragile Jammu and Kashmir, prized Sapphire treasure in high altitude Padder of Kishtwar district, which could be shaped into a million dollar industry, continues to lie unexploited even more than a century of its discovery.
The J&K Government’s lack of planning coupled with unfavourable geographical conditions is preventing large scale exploitation of the prized mineral.
Situated at an altitude of over 4500 meters above sea level, the Padder mines are estimated to contain Sapphire deposits worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) Hyderabad, which reportedly conducted satellite imagery of the area many years ago, confirmed the Sapphire reserves there.
An official said Kashmir Sapphire is known for its uniqueness world over. Its deep blue color with cornflower tinge is its special color characteristic. The velvety touch called as mercurial color resembles neck of peacock which provides only unique character to the stone. It is reported that a caravan on way to Ladakh from Doda in early 1800 came to know about the sapphire which, by accidental landslides, was scattered on the route. The accidental discovery had followed visits by many prominent geologists like Latauchi, Wright.
After 1948 the mining activity was handed over to the State Mineral Department followed by leasing out of the mines to JK Minerals Ltd (JKML) after 1963. But no major breakthrough has been achieved in extraction of the mineral wealth.
However, JKML authorities are optimistic about future prospects of the sapphire industry.
The Managing Director JKML, VC Sharma said global tenders were floated in 2007 for extraction of Sapphire and three companies were short-listed—Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation, Gem Resources, Mumbai and an offer by an NRI based in Switzerland.
Sharma said the idea was to set up a joint venture company on pattern of JKML for commercial exploitation of the Sapphire.
After scrutinizing the offers the Swiss-based NRI was short-listed but there has been no forward movement. Now, the JKML is awaiting approval from the state government to initiate the process for setting up the Joint Venture Company.
Minister for Industries SS Salathia said they are working on the proposal. “It will be placed before the cabinet for approval prior to set up of the Joint Venture Company,” the minister said.
This is not for the first time that government has initiated process for Sapphire extraction. The tenders were also invited in early 80s but the process landed in Court which ultimately decided the case in favor of JKML later in 90s. But the whole process was shelved.
As the political uncertainty set in J&K in 90s the state’s prized treasure was forgotten. “Since the area became out of bounds, smugglers plundered the natural reserves in whichever way it became possible for them,” said an official. “The mines and gates were damaged to loot the precious stones.” Reportedly the smuggling continues even today.
Sharma said the JKML sends a team annually to Padder for carrying out small scale mining activity. In absence of modern technology and facilities, the team mostly relies on hit-n-trial method for extraction of raw Sapphire known as corundum. The process was started in 1998 after a court verdict.
Officials said the first auction fetched JKML Rs 1.32 crore against 11.5 kgs of corundum in 2008. Last year JKML carried two auctions of corundum earning more than Rs 80 lakh.
The extraction is carried out in the tunnels dug when Kashmir was ruled by Maharajas. During the era the bonded labourers were taken to the high altitude area for extraction.
“Due to difficult geography and high-altitude the mining activity takes place only during two months in a year,” said Sharma.
Lack of resources and modern infrastructure with the JKML has paralyzed it to carry out extraction on scientific lines. “If Sapphire extraction is carried out on scientific lines it can not only be shaped as billion dollar industry but it can take care of major part of the state budget,” said an expert, well versed with the issue.
J&K annual budget has crossed over Rs 25000 crore but in absence of resources it relies heavily on the Government of India to bail out its yearly requirements.
Lastupdate on : Sat, 14 Jul 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 14 Jul 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 15 Jul 2012 00:00:00 IST
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