Oct. 26, 2016
Aiming to reduce India’s dependence on potash imports, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is working on a strategy to harness the domestic potash reserves. The country is completely dependent on imports to meet its potash needs, one of the main crop nutrients used in India. The move comes at a time when the government has trained its focus on the rural economy and is taking various measures to ensure regular supply of fertilisers to farmers to maximise farm output.
To achieve this goal, the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers has formed a joint working group with officials from the ministry of mines, the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and the Geological Survey of India (GSI). The group is headed by Vijay Shankar Pandey, secretary, department of fertilizers.
“We are highly dependent on imports of either finished products (fertilisers) or raw materials. In case of potash, we have reserves in our country, which needs to be extracted. Also, potash is available in feldspar, which is easily available. If these steps are taken, the country’s import bill can come down a bit,” said a senior fertiliser ministry official requesting anonymity.
Feldspar is a rock-forming element containing aluminium silicates along with potassium, sodium, calcium or barium. About 60% of the earth’s outer crust is made of feldspar and hence, is found almost everywhere.
Efforts were also made in the past to utilise potash resources, but exploration did not happen as it was not considered economically viable, the official added. According to information available on the website of the fertilizer department, India imports 25% of its urea requirements, 90% of phosphates and 100% of potash. This comes in the backdrop of the NDA government trying to promote balanced use of fertilisers beyond urea, the most commonly used soil nutrient in India which is sold at a subsided price of Rs.5,360 per tonne. The government has also reduced the prices of di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MoP) by Rs.2,500 per tonne and Rs.5,000 per tonne, respectively, in July to encourage their usage.
Domestic production of potash will help the government which has made a provision of Rs.70,000 crore on account of fertiliser subsidies in the Union budget of 2016-17. Nearly 73% of this amount was allocated to urea, accounting for the second-largest subsidy after food.
Another official, who is aware of the development but who also did not want to be named, said the working group will delve into various issues related to expediting exploratory works for potash blocks and finding out the right technology to harness reserves. “We also have to look into issues related to economic and technical viability,” the official added.
Potash reserves in India are restricted to the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, according to mines ministry data. An estimated 21,816 MT of potash reserves along with other minerals required for fertiliser production, including gypsum, rock phosphate, pyrite and sulphur, are also available in India.
Experts believe that the move is in the right direction. “We have potash available in feldspar and with the help of the right technology, it can be extracted in a big way. The search for potash has not been done earlier and if GSI can take up the task on a priority basis, it will definitely help cut dependency on imports,” said Naresh Chandra Pant, professor at department of geology, University of Delhi.
India imported around 3 million tonne (MT) of potash during the last financial year. State-run Indian Potash Ltd has inked a long-term agreement with Belarusian Potash Co. JSC for three years. The prominent potash exporting companies to India include Russia’s Uralkali, Potash Corp. of Canada, Arab Potash Co. and Israel Chemicals Ltd.