In the April month of 2013, J&K Minerals Limited (JKML) invited fresh Expression of Interest (EOI) from parties having sound expertise in exploration, Mine Planning and Mining of Gem Stones for undertaking exploration and exploitation of world famous Sapphire in Paddar through Joint Venture. The EOI was floated on 4th of April by JKML and a Delhi Based Company, Mineworks Private Limited was incorporated on 10th of April 2013 that is within 5 days of issuance of the fresh EOI. On 13th of March 2018 Shailender Kumar (Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce) said that the board in its meeting had resolved for referring of the matter to state Cabinet for consideration/approval to the selection of the company Mineworks Pvt. Limited. On 16th of October 2018, a Government order was issued by Commissioner/Secretary to the Govt of Jammu & Kashmir, through which a sanction was accorded to the constitution of a Group of Officers comprising Administrative Secretaries of Home, Planning, Finance, Development of Monitoring, Industries and Commerce and Law Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to examine the process followed since inception for the selection of the company for exploration and exploitation of Sapphire Mines in Joint Venture with JKML. Everything was on the table and suddenly on 21st of November 2018, Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved by the Governor thereby keeping all the plans in abeyance. Now before one tries to understand the measures that are needed to take, it becomes important here that we understand its history first.
History of Paddar Sapphire Mines:
Sapphire of Paddar is considered as the finest Sapphire in the world. Its Peacock blue hue (which made the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Sh. Ranbir Singh its ardent fan in the past), continues to whet the appetite of businessmen across the world. There are many stories which revolve around the discovery of these classified sapphire mines. One version tells that the steps towards the detection of these mines were initiated in 1881-82 after some pieces of blue stone were purchased by some Laholi traders (who later on sold these in Shimla) from the local hunter of Sumcham village. Hordes of people came in Paddar thereafter in search of these mines once its value was recognized. Initially they confused Paddar to Padam (an area in Ladakh) but managed to find the place later. They took a large quantity of Sapphire to Lahul where they sold these precious stones at absurdly low prices. When this news hit the ears of the then Maharaja of J&K (under whose jurisdiction this area lied) he immediately stationed his troops near the mines. By leaps and bounds work at Sapphire Mines started in 1882. It is said that 72,207 tolas of Sapphire of worth 4 lakh rupees were yielded during 1882-83. Those were the days of Glory for Maharaja and place Paddar. Stones as big as 6’’ to 3” were discovered during this time which earned name and fame for Paddar. By the end of the decade in 1887 revenues from the mines started waning. Taking serious note of this Maharaja Ranjit Singh sought help from the then Indian Government. To his aid British Government sent an expert geologist Mr Tom D. LaTouche to J&K. His survey revealed that the mines had run out of its resources and that only floor mining could yield more if done. At that time there was a feeling of mistrust among the British Government officials for the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir due to his chumminess with the Russians. Taking this into consideration they exercised direct control over J&K during this period because of which work at the Sapphire Mines halted between 1989 and 1905. These mines were leased out to the Kashmir Mineral Co. and CMP Wright between 1906 and 1908. The areas where the Wright dug finally came to be known as “The New Mine”. In 1909 a department of mining was established which was named later on as J&K Minerals Limited. In between 1909 and 1932 many other people from Jammu and Kashmir visited these mines. The mining work stopped for two decades thereafter.
Smuggling of Sapphire Mines in Paddar:
Smuggling of Sapphire mines was rampant in the past. Many people have made their fortune on the back of these sapphires. Once Discovery Channel in their popular series “Game of Stones” aired an episode titled “Himalayan Motherlode” on the Paddar Sapphires. This program showed how the team met the smugglers and verified the gems. In the end they even showed the deal ( of 4.22 ct) they made with one of the smuggler for 1.23 crores. On May 19, 2004 the piece of Sapphire which was sold for whopping 1.50$ million at Geneva was smuggled out of J&K via Jaipur-Mumbai-Bangkok-London and finally at Geneva. Nowadays police is protecting these invaluable mines which are about 45 kms far from Gulabgarh. Situated at an altitude of 4750 meters above sea level these mines are still open to poachers. One can’t deny this fact. But before these mines fall victim to the high-tech smugglers it becomes imperative that Govt. takes stringent measures to fish out all the relevant blue stones.
Difficulty in extracting Sapphires
Due to lack of advanced facilities and reluctant attitude of successive governments, extraction of Sapphire could not take place at the pace it should have had happened. Year after year JKML floated global tenders only to our dismay at the end. Many people and industrial bodies of Kashmir wanted it to bring in some local private firm instead of globally advanced company to indulge in the extraction and exploitation of Sapphire so that State would reap maximum profits from the deal. Owing to this influence JKML kept shuttling between its poor technological infrastructure and local enterprises and hence exploitation kept on delaying year after year. Apart from this, geographical position of mines also hindered the process. Construction of Machail road though is taking place but these mines are still a far reach for companies interested there as it is impossible to station advanced machinery to these mines without an aid of any helicopter service. According to some experts a capital of about 5 crores is needed to exploit these priceless mines in a scientific manner.
After a dramatic turn of events like the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories, fate of these mines have directly fallen into the hands of Central Government. Now if these mines which contain 700 crores worth of Sapphires according to The Nation Remote Sensing Agency (NASA), Hyderabad, which conducted a satellite imagery a few years ago, were exploited in a proper manner, they can definitely play a crucial role in fulfilling the mission of Modi Govt. 2.0 of taking a giant economic leap from the present figures to the 5$ trillion by 2024. It is high time that this national wealth be explored judiciously. It is prospected that the incumbent Govt. which is grappling with many economic issues presently would take essential steps in this direction to give boost to the economy and to the hopes of many people who have waited for years on end.