Thirty months after its closure due to environmental clearance issues, State public sector company Tamilnadu Magnesite Limited (TANMAG), Salem, is all set to resume operations, following the approval of its application for environmental clearance.
The resumption will benefit hundreds of workers who remained idle and the State Government will start getting mining royalties and revenue through profits from the resumption of TANMAG’s production operations.
A prominent player
Rich magnesite deposit site is located in Chalk hills of Salem (South of Sheveroyan hills) over an area of 17 sq. km and estimated to be 44 million tonnes. Magnesite of Salem Region is relatively low in calcium oxide and high in silica content. Salem’s magnesite reserves are famous worldwide for their cryptocrystalline structure, which is best suited for manufacturing refractory bricks.
Realising the necessity for preservation and exploitation of such a rare mineral, the Government of Tamil Nadu formed the Tamilnadu Magnesite Limited, popularly known as TANMAG, in 1979. TANMAG’s crude magnesite production capacity is in the range of 75,000 to 1,00,000 tonnes (Source: Tamilnadu Department of Mines and Geology website). The above-mined magnesite ore is used for captive consumption in manufacture of Dead Burnt Magnesite (DBM) and Lightly Calcinated Magnesite (LCM) and other products in the company’s production divisions.
Closure of mines in Tamil Nadu began in 2016, when the Ministry of Environment and Forests amended its 2006 Environment Impact Assessment Notification, making ECs mandatory for all sizes of mines involving major or minor minerals.
The varied industrial applications of LCM are oxy-chloride flooring, sorel cement for binding abrasives (grinding wheel industry), abrasive bricks for grinding and polishing industry. DBM is used in boiler lagging, magnesium chemicals, fertilizers, animal feeds, etc, refractory industry for the manufacture of basic refractory bricks, manufacture of ramming mass composition, fettling material and magnesite mortar. Dunite, the parent rock of magnesite, is also mined by TANMAG whose applications are as varied as magnesite. ANMAG’s mineral reserves are estimated to be available for about the next 75 years, according to the company’s website.
Closure of mines in Tamil Nadu began in 2016, when the Ministry of Environment and Forests amended its 2006 Environment Impact Assessment Notification, making ECs mandatory for all sizes of mines involving major or minor minerals. This order was subsequently upheld by the NGT in February 2016. The Supreme Court, on August 2, 2017, directed all States to halt all mining activities and to allow the resumption of operations only after fresh environmental clearances had been obtained.
TANMAG closed down operations in April 2018 following the Supreme Court’s order.
The company applied for fresh environmental clearance on April 13, 2018, from the Ministry of Environment, which granted the Terms of Reference (TOR). Based on the terms of reference, a public hearing was held by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board on January 29, 2020, in the villages surrounding the company’s mines. Following this, the company submitted the Environment Impact Assessment and Environment Management Plan to SEIAA on March 10, 2020.
This set the stage for the appraisals by the State Expert Assessment Committee (SEAC).
SEAC conducted due inspections and finally SEIAA granted environmental clearance (LT.No.SEIAA-TN /F.No.6671/ALR/1 EC – 4398 12019)on October 14, 2020.
As per TANMAG’s project proposal the company will mine 6,00,590 tonnes of magnesite, 5,67,077 tonnes of dunite in five years over an area of 96.34 ha. The company was asked to deposit Rs.178 lakh towards ecological remediation and community and natural resource augmentation, which are to be carried out within a year. Consent to Operate (CTO) needs to be obtained from the TNPCB before starting operations.
Senior TANMAG officials said on condition of anonymity that the process of obtaining CTO was on. They also confirmed the news about the resumption of operations shortly. “While the date is not fixed the opening will be anytime,” they said.
M. P Sadhasivam, general secretary, Pattali Labour Union, said that the union had played a constructive role in expediting the environmental clearance. DMK president M.K Stalin, PMK’s Rajya Sabha MP Anbumani Ramdoss, former Salem MP K. V. Thangabalu, leaders of Left parties and present Salem MP S. R. Parthiban had taken up the matter at several levels. Mr. Sadhasivam further said that he met the Minister for Mines, C. V. Shanmugam, in January and appraised him about the environmental clearance issue and how resumption of mining activities would benefit workers who had lost their livelihood because of the closure. About 300 contractual and 200 permanent workers are working in the production side, besides administrative staff in TANMAG.
The Minister had fast-tracked the field verification process. The expert committee’s several meetings during the lockdown period were arranged online. For field verification, officials from nearby districts were deputed, said Mr. Sadhasivam. He said that other companies like SAIL Refractory, which remains closed due to environmental clearance issue, should step up efforts for getting EC, following TANMAG.
Closure of large and small scale mining units due to environmental issues has seriously impacted Salem’s economy. The lockdown intensified the misery of hundreds of workers. It is hoped that the opening of TANMAG would spark the revival of other companies.