InDepth: UP's Gold mine really bigger than Kolar, RBI reserves, Tirupati Balaji and Sree Padmanabhaswamy's reserves?

Source :Sify
Author :Finance Desk
Last Updated: Mon, Feb 24th, 2020, 14:08:08hrs
Gold Bar

The state of Uttar Pradesh and the government driven by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath could soon be thanking their stars if Gold is indeed struck at a 108 hectare wide area at the Naxal affected district of Sonbhadra.

Media, Whatsapp University, and Social Media has already jumped the gun with their jubilation. The number they quote makes UP's latest haul bigger than the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India (618 tonnes as on Aug'19), temples such as Tirupati Balaji (~ 9300 kilos) in Andhra Pradesh and Sree Padmanabhswamy Temple (~900 kilos) in Kerala.  

The number being floated around is 3,000 - 3,500 tonnes of Gold. The news of the latest discovery in Uttar Pradesh has caught fire with Twitter thanking Gods and online news-media using debatable permutations and combinations. Obviously, no one wants to be left out in the Gold-party at India's largest state.  

It all started with Indian geologists claiming on Friday that Gold mines were discovered in Uttar Pradesh. Also reported were mines rich in iron ore, Platinum, Uranium, phosphates and other precious metals. The assessment was conducted jointly by UP's Department of Geology & Mining and the Geographical Survey of India.  

News agency ANI quoted KK Rai, District Mining Officer as identifying the sites as Sonpahadi and Hardi in Uttar Pradesh. "The government is thinking of putting these deposits on lease for mining, for which [a] survey is being done. Gold deposits are found at two places – Sonpahadi and Hardi field. GSI estimated gold deposits of 2700 million tonnes in Sonpahadi while 650 million tonnes in Hardi filed."

On Saturday, another news agency, IANS, confirmed the development in a story. S Rajalingam, Sonbhadra district magistrate confirmed that a survey team found gold in two hills and that another assessment for finding Uranium was underway. "Tonnes of uranium is expected to be found in the Kudri hill region. The GSI team has dug the hill at three locations for uranium samples," an official involved in the survey was quoted as saying.  

Sonpahadi and Hardi are located within Sonbhadra district which has its headquarters at Robertsganj. Besides Sonbhadra, Gold reserves have also been reportedly found in Berwar area of Lalitpur although the exact reserve size is yet to be announced. An HT story reported a team of geologists discovering a diamond reserve in a recent exploration in Banda district of Bundelkhand region. This is closer to Panna and Satna in Madhya Pradesh which has had a history of mining diamonds.  

The total reserves of Gold-ore in the latest discovery were estimated at 3,350 million tonnes, higher than the Kolar Gold reserves in Karnataka which were shut down over environmental concerns in 2001. An unverified estimate pegs production of Gold in Kolar mines between 1880-1980 at approximately 900-1000 tonnes.  

The excitement or Gold-rush certainly is high. So high that a leading business news-website claimed UP's new mine having discovered 3,000 tonnes of Gold reserves worth Rs 12 lakh crores. Unfortunately, neither the Chief Minister nor officials involved in the assessment have done any talking on the Gold grade. For those keen on numbers, the likelihood of 24 Karat Gold discovered at UP would mean - Rs 12,52,200 crores [calculated for 3,000 tonnes at Friday's IBJA market price for 24K Gold, 1 Tonne = 1000 Kilograms].

For reference, the amount above is 2.44 times bigger than UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's latest state budget of Rs 5,12,860.72 crores. The new blessing from the top floor - the gold mine in the remotest probability of housing 24 Karat Gold biscuits would augur good for only two years and a few months and not an entire lifetime as Twitter experts and Whatsapp University believe.

How much Gold can be found?

So far, neither the GSI nor the state geology department has confirmed how much Gold could be mined from the ore even as over-enthusiastic media reports imply that 100% Gold is recoverable from the mine. Grade quality of an ore suggests how much Gold could be mined. This is usually denoted in grams per ton (g/t).  

An undated document of an assessment conducted at Gulaldih (currently in Jharkhand) in 1996-200 by the GSI estimates Gold yield at 3.87 g/t. Gulaldih is a nearly 12 hour drive from Robertsganj.

The amount of Gold that could be mined from the latest discovery of reserves depends upon several factors - complex mining operations and technical processes. A higher gold-grade in ore results into better yield. For instance, the Fire Creek mine in Nevada, United States, has a grade of 44.1 g/t. At one time, India's Kolar Gold mines boasted of such higher grades.

According to this research report, KGM (Kolar Gold Mines) initially yielded 47 grams from each ton of ore processed between 1881-1890 but by 1990s the yield deteriorated to just 3 grams per ton due to depletion of grade reserves. The report estimates total production at KGM at 800 tonnes of Gold from a total of 51 million tonnes of rock (ore).  

Computing how much of Gold can be mined from the recent discovery in Uttar Pradesh is an intricate and complex procedure left best to the analysis of expert geologists and mining companies.  

Gold Mine found: Good or Bad?

Discovering a gold mine in itself is an arduous process. Mining it, however, comes with its own set of pros and cons. On one hand, there is plenty of Gold, a precious metal India outrageously loves. India is the world's second largest buyer of Gold after China and latest data says that we imported nearly 800 tonnes of the Yellow Metal between 2018-19. A gold mine also results in potential jobs and economic advantage to locals. UP is home to 20 crore people of whom at least 9.95 percent are unemployed.  

On the other hand, the immediate concern is Sonbhadra losing its status - 'Switzerland of India', given the rampant pollution and environmental degradation associated with a mining project.  

India's first Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru struck by the scenic beauty of Sonbhadra called it as the 'Switzerland of India'. The district is also referred as the Energy Capital of India thanks to availability of several power plants such as the NTPC's Singrauli Super Thermal Power Station (Singrauli is also a district). Sonbhadra is also a naxal affected region and was ranked 250th most backward district in a 2006 government report.  

Also, several cases in recent times have explained the perils of a gold-mine. In 2012, villagers in a Romanian town called Rosia Montana made of 16 villages protested over a Canadian Gold miner's plans of a large open gold mine on a scenic setting of centuries old Churches, cemeteries, and nature. The impact of closure of South Africa's mine called Durban Deep, also nicknamed as the 'Grand Old Lady' has been well documented in this Washington Post story. Back in India, the closure of Kolar Mines, was accompanied by cases of environmental degradation. Complainants pointed out to hills of cyanide, chemicals and residue. They also complained of an entire city reeking of a foul chemical stench.  

Also Read: A Protest in Tuticorin that lead to 12 deaths and a billionaire CEO taking a step back

Meanwhile the Uttar Pradesh Directorate of Geology and mining says that a 7 member team for "auctioning" the new blocks has been constituted and a report will be out soon.  

Here are some tweets:  

Disclaimer: Image is only for representational purposes.

Update: The Georgaphical Survey of India announced a press release claiming that the news of Gold mine may have been fabricated and twisted out of proportion. GSI explained on Saturday that the estimated reserve was only 160 kilos and not 3,000 or 3350 or 3500 tonnes. Here's a story on how the information may have spread.