India set to ink coal exploration pact with Afghanistan

In a bid to further consolidate India's growing economic interests in Afghanistan, coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal is all set to lead a high-level delegation to Kabul over the next fortnight to ink a pact with the Afghan mines ministry. The pact will pave way for Coal India Ltd and Singareni Collieries to explore coal deposits in the country.

Responding to a recent request by Afghan mines minister Wahidullah Shahrani that Indian coal companies need to employ their expertise to help his country develop the untapped coal basins, the coal ministry has sought clearance from the ministry of external affairs for the visit this month. According to highly-placed sources in the coal ministry, the delegation would comprise Coal India Limited chairman S Narsing Rao and his counterpart from Sinagreni Collieries Company Limited Sutirtha Bhattacharya.

During the visit, the delegation will be briefed in detail on the investment opportunities in the country's coal sector. "Following the high-level meetings, both the sides would ink a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at propelling investments in the Afghanistan's mineral sector, especially coal," a senior coal ministry official told The Indian Express.

Seeking to promote Indian investments, the Hamid Karzai government has already signed a strategic agreement to further cooperation in areas of minerals and hydrocarbons. Shahrani's ministry has also inked MoUs with Indian ministries of commerce, mines, petroleum and steel.

"I would like to mention that Afghanistan has rich reserves of coking coal which we would be putting on bid in the near future. Signing of this bilateral cooperation MoU will greatly boost the interest of Indian public and private sector companies to invest in these coal mines in Afghanistan," Shahrani said in his letter to Jaiswal. Reminding that India and Afghanistan have "age-old ties" the Afghan mines minister has asked Jaiswal to help in further strengthening the bilateral ties. The government of India has emerged as the biggest donor for projects aimed at giving Afghanistan a facelift. It has already invested about Rs 10,000 crore in various projects.

A consortium of Indian steel companies led by SAIL has recently been awarded the bid to explore the Hajigak iron ore mines in the country's Bamiyan province. The syndicate has also planned to set up a steel plant and allied infrastructure worth Rs 40,000 crore provided it is extended all necessary assistance to enable the same.

According to Shahrani, Afghanistan has over $2.5 trillion of untapped mineral resources. Coal is primarily located within a Jurassic belt from the northern provinces of Takhar and Badakhshan through the center of the country and towards the west in Herat, according to Afghan mines ministry.

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