Perched on a Gold Mine Why Should We Go a Begging?
By Thameenah Razeek
A group of academics recently made a startling revelation, claiming that Sri Lanka has one of the best calcite deposits in the world, which although economically vital, was only used for poultry farming.
Over the last few decades, this naturally occurring pure calcite in the Kalthota area in Balangoda has been used for illegal small-scale mining, with the majority of the mining being done carelessly.
Furthermore, no effective mining processes have been utilised to extract the utmost value from these reserves.
Long-term mining has also failed to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the people in the area, neither have appropriate environmental protection procedures been put in place.
Even Minister of Environment, Mahinda Amaraweera, chastised the authorities and their leadership for failing to make use of the country's natural resources, and leaving them vulnerable to robber barons. Despite being perched on a gold mine, he claims that Sri Lanka has devolved into a country that begs.
Prof. G.A. Pitawala, Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Science at the University of Peradeniya, reported this to the Ministry after conducting a number of studies in this regard.
He was bemoaning the sluggishness of the country's authorities, who had been tasked with maximizing the benefits of natural resources.
Where is this deposit?
Among the industrial minerals found in Sri Lanka, minerals and rocks containing calcium and magnesium carbonate play an important role in local industry. The ceramics industry, fertilizer industry, and local lime manufacturing plants all require crystalline Dolomite and Calcite found in metamorphic terrains.
Calcite and Dolomite deposits are abundant in the metamorphic Precambrian basement of Digana, Kekirawa, Polonnaruwa, Balangoda, Baddulla, and Okkampitiya. According to studies conducted in the Balangoda region, Calcite and Dolomite occurrences were discovered in the areas of Illukpellessa, Rajawaka, and Molamure.
Prof. Pitawala began by stating that the island of Sri Lanka contains a variety of mineral reserves that contribute to the country's economy, and that the development of the country's industrial and other mineral deposits is inextricably linked to the development of the country's industrial and other mineral deposits. The calcite deposit in Balangoda, Kalthota area could be composed of several deposits with lower impurities, known as calcite vein deposits.
These calcite mineral fragments are ground into a fine powder and distributed to a number of industries. These contain a variety of contaminants in varying percentages in each ore, lowering the finished product's quality, durability, and strength while also lowering the price, he noted.
What makes Balangoda Calcite Deposit so unique?
Calcite Powder is a naturally occurring form of Calcium Carbonate that is extremely white, pure, and free flowing. White Calcite Powder is commonly used as filler in plastics due to its high dispensability, low oil absorption, high impact resistance, smooth surface finish, ease of processing, compatibility with polymers and other organic additives, and high dimensional stability.
Calcite is used in oil exploration and drilling, plastics, rigid PVC pipes, paints, inks, Powder Coating, Ceramic Welding Rods, Automotive and Furniture Compounds, rubber industries, and the manufacture of leather cloth.
Value added Products
Prof. Pitawala's revelation prompted the Environment Ministry to look into the possibility of producing calcium carbonate as a value-added product from the 2,000 tonnes of waste calcite already discovered at the Balangoda Calcite deposit.
Considering that minor excavations at the Balangoda Calcite Deposit are being carried out informally by various individuals, it was emphasized that in order to properly utilize the calcite deposit, a value-added product of calcium carbonate that can be used in a variety of industrial products should be produced.
A joint venture between the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB), a State-owned Technical Services Company, and the University of Peradeniya was planned, to construct a facility to manufacture calcium carbonate from this calcite resource. As a result, the Minister agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding.
What are we doing now?
Prof. Pitawala said, “The region around Balangoda, Kalthota area is rich in Calcite and Dolomite resources, but no effective mining procedures have been applied to maximize the utilization of the minerals. Furthermore, long-term mining has not improved people's socioeconomic conditions, nor has it implemented effective environmental protection procedures,” while informing officials that the country's failure to maximize the use of the unique natural resource was disappointing.
He claimed that no other country possessed a calcite deposit of comparable quality to our own.
Minister Amaraweera said that the Ministry's goal is to build a manufacturing company as soon as possible using this deposit, which is one of the best calcite deposits in the world, citing that millions of rupees are spent each year on calcite imports.
Calcite is mostly used to make calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is used to make toothpaste, medications, paints, fertilizers, and magnesium fertilizers, among other things. As a result, I see today as an excellent opportunity to enter into an agreement to begin production in order to increase our country's own national income by utilizing this underutilized calcite deposit.
Meanwhile, Prof. Upul Bandara Dissanayake, Vice Chancellor of the University of Peradeniya, said that the main component of calcite is calcium carbonate. He emphasized that the Kalthota calcite deposit is unique in that it contains exceptionally pure calcite, allowing the government to save a significant amount of foreign currency. The University of Peradeniya will support the Ministry of Environment's initiative to maximize national resources wholeheartedly.
What went wrong?
Prof. Pitawala commented on this, saying that while many countries have calcite deposits, none of them have been pure calcite deposits.
When asked why this deposit had been ignored for decades, he said that, unlike other countries, the Sri Lankan government does not wish to study, explore or delve into ideas, furthermore that no intellectual or university student will be involved.
According to him, university students and professors conduct research as part of their education and occupations, but they lack the financial resources to incorporate their findings into products because they must wait for government approval.
“Unsurprisingly, no one has been able to submit the ideal solution thus far. However, the decision of the current Minister of the Environment is critical. This is because this is an opportunity to make better use of our country's natural resources,” he explained.
Prof. Pitawala concluded his presentation with a famous quote from former US President Theodore Roosevelt, who stated that a nation acts well if it views natural resources as assets that must be passed on to the next generation that have increased in value rather than decreased in value.
He claimed that those in charge of State-run offices, not the government, are to blame for incompetence.
In conclusion, Sri Lanka has a large amount of mining-ready calcite and dolomite minerals. Mining has been around for a long time. However, the mining processes in the area are in disrepair. The workers lacked basic drilling and blasting knowledge, as well as safety procedures and the potential environmental consequences of mining. Mining, socioeconomic, and environmental factors were used to evaluate mine owners' positions.
GSMB Chairman Anura Walpola noted that the main reason for not using the deposit is that the calcite that was obtained from the deposit was sold for a relatively low price, such as Rs 2.50. He said that it had been ignored since then, and that after the bureau and the Ministry learned that Prof. Pitawala had undertaken studies in this respect, the Ministry and the bureau decided to reverse the procedure from top to bottom.
As a result, the Ministry and the Bureau plan to produce value-added items such as paints and then sell them on the market, while also exporting the appropriate amount of calcite at a reasonable price.
However, as part of an agreement with the Ministry, Peradeniya University will give technical assistance. It seems obvious that by assigning a monetary value to nature, based on the services it gives to humans, such as clean water or climate regulation, we can urge global and national governments to conserve our natural resources, so improving lives and even combating poverty.
However, under the terms of an agreement reached with the Ministry at Peradeniya University, the latter will give technical help while the bureau would handle the financial assistance.
With the help of the Environment Ministry, the work has already begun.
However, environmental and social win-win situations are not so straightforward. The idea of valuing nature has been criticised for being overly basic and neglecting to consider the complexities of humanenvironment relationships. Although it is widely acknowledged and reflected in many a legislation that conservation and natural resource management projects should not disadvantage people, this does not guarantee that they will.