Shifty On Sapphire

The Jammu and Kashmir government has failed to exploit the state’s deposits of sapphire because of lack of strategic mining and inability to attract private partners for investment in the extraction process.  In the absence of modern drilling technology and facilities, the Jammu and Kashmir Minerals Limited (JKML) continues to operate the mine on a small scale, and extracts the precious stone on a hit-and-trial basis, a process progressively restricted with each passing year.

Over the past three years, the JKML has shown a steep decline in annual sapphire extraction, leading to low revenue generation at open auctions in international markets. According to the state’s Economic Survey Report (2013-14) the JKML recovered 8820 grams of sapphire in 2011 which was reduced to 4520 grams in 2012 and 2212 grams in 2013, while the corporation collected Rs 82.29 lakh by auctioning 5799 grams of sapphire in 2011 and Rs 43.28 lakh in 2012 by auctioning 4281 grams of extracted sapphire. In 2013, the JKML undertook no such auctions.

According to the report, in its first auction in 2008, the JKML had collected Rs 1.32 crore against the auctioning of 11.5 kg of corundum (sapphire in raw form).  However, with the JKML running in losses for the past several years, it is hard for the department to create resources for extraction on scientific lines.

According to official figures, the corporation has recorded a loss of Rs 77. 42 crore; in 2011-12 the losses went up to Rs 84.78 crore; and in 2012-13 the loss was recorded at Rs 85.57 crore. The JKML has been paying a huge sum on the preservation and security of the gems for the past six years, and officials fear that the costs incurred on security and maintenance have exceeded the actual value of the gems.

Mining experts criticize the JKML’s mode of operations. The process has to be completed between July1 to September 10. The department undertakes mining but defers collection of the precious stones for unknown reasons – it exposes the gems and leaves. The precious stone is later collected by smugglers who dare inclement weather and difficult terrain. This indicates something fishy in the whole process. Are officials in league with smugglers? This has to be looked into, and the sooner this is done the better.