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Tribune special
Kashmir’s blue sapphire mines on spy agency’s radar
Sleuths intercept conversations between persons in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and J&K on Padder mines

Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

King of Sapphires

  • Sapphire is a Greek word meaning blue
  • The Kashmir Sapphire is a characteristic deep blue with a cornflower tinge and resembles the feathers on a peacock’s neck
  • Many sapphire pieces have a silky sheen
  • The rare quality gemstone from Padder mines fetches the highest possible price per carat

New Delhi, April 29
An Indian espionage agency keeping tabs on terrorism modules operating from Pakistan is nowadays “eyeing” Kashmir’s world-famous blue sapphires.

Intercepts of snatches of conversation between unknown persons in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir about mining operations at Padder sapphire mines in Doda district have put these on the spy agency’s radar.

Sketchy conversations are related to the volume of the sapphire mining business and details of domestic and foreign players in the race to win the “golden opportunity” to mine the expensive gemstones, sources told The Tribune.

“We are making discreet inquiries about the antecedents of Indian and foreign firms that have expressed an interest in mining through a joint venture with the state-owned Jammu and Kashmir Mining Limited (J&KML),” Intelligence sources said.

Information is being gathered to ascertain whether terror groups are trying to tie-up with someone to take a cut in the mega business by promising not to disturb mining activity.

In the case of a European firm that on the surface seems to be “owned” by a foreigner of Indian origin, a “discrepancy” in its old and fresh documents has attracted the agency’s attention. “The documents carry different addresses and there are doubts about the firm’s mining experience,” sources said.

“We are also keeping an eye on some officials as extraordinary interest taken by this European firm in a senior official’s family function has raised eyebrows,” they added.

The J&KML holds sapphire mine lease over an area of 6.65 sqkm in Padder. The Corporation has suffered losses due to terrorism as it could not exploit the sapphire deposits and also could not fully carry out mining of limestone, gypsum and coal.

At a time when the J&KML is gearing up to earn profit by engaging global mining companies in public-private partnership to revive the sapphire mines, the possibility of “undesirable elements” on both sides of the Line of Control taking interest in it is being described as disturbing.

“It is also possible that terrorist groups do not want the revival of the sapphire mines. Large commercial activity involving heavy security may interfere with their movement in Padder’s highly rugged terrain, deep gorges, water falls and a glacial valley,” sources said.

Due to limited infrastructure and financial constraints, the Corporation has being engaged in manual sapphire mining on a very small scale since 1963. But it completely stopped works in 2005 due to heavy terrorism activities in the area. Since then, two tenders were floated to invite Indian and foreign companies with experience in gemstone mining, but none fructified. The mine has the possibility of open cast working with heavy mechanised machinery.

Mining in Padder, at a height of 4,327 m, poses a big challenge. Mining is possible only two months a year due to extreme climate conditions and inaccessibility.

The sapphire mines remains almost snowbound, with perpetual snow-covered glistering mountains rising as high as 5,500 m. The area remains considerably under the clouds when monsoon hits the plains. Average temperature during the working season of July to September remains around 5°C to 10°C during the day and almost minus 1-2°C during night. In the mines, the temperature is always minus 2-10°C.

The evaluation of the sapphire deposits is not known. With help from the National Remote Sensing Agency at Hyderabad, the state government had got satellite imagery of the Padder mines in 2001. It shows the Chenab river taking its existence from here, piercing through the sapphire mine area.

Accessibility to the mining area is through a fair weather road as well as a bridle path. From Kishtwar, the 60-km distance to Atholi is covered by a fair weather road and from Atholi to Sumcham, a 40-km journey, only a bridle path runs.





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