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Explainer: What is the actual estimate of ‘Gold’ in UP’s Sonbhadra?


After all the media outlets reported the exaggerated claim of 3350 tonnes of Gold in Sonbhadra district of UP, the GSI clarified saying this number is false. But what is the actual estimate of gold reserves in this district as per official documents available in the public domain? Here is a detailed explainer.

The Uttar Pradesh Mining department officials allegedly told the media that they have found 3350-tonne gold reserves in the Sonbhadra district. Almost every media house wrote about it and went onto say that India would now have the world’s 2nd largest gold reserves. Even Union Ministers tweeted these stories and shared the excitement.

Some on social media even went to the extent of linking it with the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and that its Lord Shri Ram’s divine act.

However, this excitement was short-lived as the Geological Survey of India (GSI) distanced itself from these claims and issued a clarification saying that the probable conservative figure of gold which can be unearthed in Sonapahari is estimated to be around 160 kgs and not 3350 tonnes as mentioned in media reports.

But what is the actual estimate of gold in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra district? What does available data from various official documents in the public domain tell us? Here is a detailed explainer.

Where does it all begin?

The Geological Survey of India (GSI), an organization under the Ministry of Mines is tasked with mineral resource assessment in the country. GSI carries out field explorations and then a report is handed over to the relevant state government, both for information and any further action if necessary.

The Government of India follows the exploration norms as set forth by the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC).

The exploration for any mineral deposit involves four stages namely, Reconnaissance Survey (G4), Preliminary Exploration (G3), General Exploration (G2) and Detailed Exploration (G1). These stages of exploration lead to four resource categories namely Reconnaissance Mineral Resource, Inferred Mineral Resource, Indicated Mineral Resource and Measured Mineral Resource respectively reflecting the degree of geological assurance.

Different exploration norms are defined for different types of minerals. The norms for Gold are given below. Further details on each of these stages and what these mean are available on the website of the Indian Bureau of Mines.

Gold in UP’s Sonbhadra_Stages

What are the quality norms of Gold ore reserve?

The quality of any gold ore reserve is defined as per the norms set by the ‘World Gold Council’. As per these norms, a high-quality underground mine is one having a density between 8 and 10 g/t, (grams per tonne of milled ore) while a low-quality underground mine has a gold ore density of 1 to 4 g/t. Most of the gold ore reserves found in UP were the low-quality ones whose density is less than 4 g/t.

What about exploration in UP’s Sonbhadra district?

As mentioned by the GSI in their clarification, the field exploration in Sonbhadra district (Sonapahari & other areas) was initially carried out between 1998-2000. A Lok Sabha answer from the year 2001 mentions the probable gold reserve in Gurharpahar block of UP.

Gold in UP’s Sonbhadra_Gold exploration in UP’s Sonbhadra

Further, new Gold deposit areas were identified in the Sonapahari area during exploration activities undertaken in 2008-09. In addition to this, multiple other investigations were also carried out by the GSI in both Sonbhadra & Jhansi districts between 2002-03 and 2009-10. Such investigations continued even after 2010.

There are multiple other responses the government provided in the Lok Sabha which talk about exploration activities being undertaken in a few other places of the Sonbhadra district like Parsoi and Hardi.

While investigations continue, the GSI as it clarified in the tweet, did not carry on with further activities in some areas of Sonbhadra district as it was not economically feasible.

What is the total estimate in the Sonbhadra district?

The GSI publishes a briefing book for every region that shows detailed estimates of various minerals.

As per the latest briefing book (as of June 2018) of the ‘Northern Region’, the total estimate in Sonapahari is 0.053 million tonnes of grade 3.03 g/t and is at the G3 stage of exploration as per the UNFC standards. In other words,  the total gold estimate here would be around 160 kgs (0.053*1000000*3.03/1000).

Gold in UP’s Sonbhadra_Sonbhadra district estimate

In Gurharpahar of the same district, the total gold estimate would be around 7500 kgs (7.29*1000000*1.03/1000). Even in Hardi & Parsoi, the estimates are very low and the gold ore reserve found are of low-quality.

These estimates are not accounted for in the National Mineral Inventory

The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) under the Ministry of Mines publishes the National Mineral Inventory (NMI). The NMI is a comprehensive document covering various aspects of mineral deposits. The data is collected from agencies engaged in the exploration, development and exploitation activities. The reserves and resources in the NMI are further categorised into eight standard terminologies with ten codes, based on the quantum of exploration, feasibility assessment and economic viability. All of these are based on UNFC standards.

The latest NMI was released for the year 2015 which has mineral-wise and state-wise details of reserves. The gold ore reserves identified in Sonbhadra district find a mention neither in the Gold related chapter of the NMI nor in the UP specific chapter. This could be because of the low-quality grade found in this district leading to lack of economic viability and that these explorations are at UNFC-G3 stage.

Media falls for sensational numbers without basic fact-checking

Basic research of the official documents ( all of them available in the public domain) indicates that the numbers quoted by the UP officials were exaggerated. The media reporting gave rise to all kinds of misinformation around this issue. Though the clarification from GSI was also carried by all the media outlets, it was a little too late in the day.

Featured Image: Gold in UP’s Sonbhadra


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