Chromite is the source of chromium used commercially and as an alloying element plays an important role in metallurgy. Balochistan is endowed with huge reserves of chromite. The first discovery was made at Muslim Bagh and Khanozai in district Kila Saifullah in 1901.
Chromite deposits have also been discovered in the Ras Koh Range in western Balochistan and Wad in Khuzdar district. Zhob deposits were first discovered by Vredenburg during the same period in the course of regional reconnaissance mapping of the province.
“Presently, 300 to 500 tons of chromite are being produced at Muslim Bagh and Khanozai daily. It is taken in trucks to Karachi where it is crushed and packed in bags for export to foreign countries. The mineral is being sold between Rs30,000 to Rs45, 000 in the local market. Price depends on chrome content,”,A businessman associated with chromite mining in Khanozai area.
Some nine years back the chromite was being sold between Rs1500-2500 a ton. Its price increased on Chinese demand. Today, China is a big market for the Balochistan chromite. Production activity in the sector directly depends upon the export market.
“The 95 per cent of population in Khanozai is associated with agriculture, particularly fruit farms”,
Chromite mining has not been systematic but random and totally disorganised. It is mined by both open pit and underground methods. In Muslimbagh, Ras Koh Range and Wad areas, chromite is mostly mined by open pit method. However, due to podiform nature of the chromite, underground mining is also done. Use of donkeys for hauling the ore from underground is still in practice. The haulage machinery is also used.
“The local mine owners deem it cost-effective to use donkeys instead of machinery. Use of machinery costs nearly Rs500,000 while donkey is available at Rs10,000 to Rs20,000”,
Many businessmen have lost up to Rs2 million in mining of chromite at Khanozai and Muslimbagh area, while others have earned quick millions by investing few thousands only. The reason behind this huge profit and loss is the accurate identification of potential site in the area, another local businessman said. “Fresh geological studies and surveys need to be undertaken by the experts for identifying the potential mining sites.”
The Provincial Inspectorate of Mines is responsible for regulating the mining operations. Presently, a few local companies are engaged at Muslim Bagh, sources in the department told this scribe. The sources added that during 1970s, Pakistan Chrom Mines (PCM) project was launched in Muslim Bagh area which was closed in 1989 due to financial constraints and lack of locally available technical staff.
The land for mining is allotted under the Mines Act 1923 by the Directorate of Minerals, Balochistan . The provincial government levies 10 per cent sales tax..
Local experts say that the government should take steps for boosting mining operations in an organised way in view of the rising prices of chromite in the world metal market. This would help the province to increase its revenue generation and the country would also earn foreign exchange.
A small quantity of chromite is consumed in producing chromite chemicals but the bulk of production is exported to foreign countries. China and Japan have been the major markets for Pakistan’s chromite.
There is a need to replace primitive mining methods by modern technologies. Experts stress the need for setting up chromite beneficiation plants, which enrich chromium content of ores making it suitable for marketing. Such plants should be set up close to the areas where mining operations are carried out. This will ensure availability of raw material at hand saving transportation costs.
In 2003, SMEDA (Balochistan) had worked on the feasibility of a beneficiation plant, capable of producing 15,000 tones of the concentrates. The process of beneficiation of chrome ore for high grade basic refractory involves the stages of crushing, sizing, conveyers belts, concentrating tables and drying.
Chromite sector has been a victim of official negligence. No serious effort was ever made to tap its potential. Even detailed exploration of the mineral for quantification of its reserves remained pending. Total estimated reserves of chromite in the province are not exactly known and the government should collect its maximum valid resource data by carrying out detailed explorations to quantify its reserves. Funds should also be allocated to categorise its deposits.
Chromite is an export-oriented sector. Since 1903, it is being exported to foreign countries. The export earnings from chromite during the period 1997-98 to 2001-02 have varied between Rs167 million to Rs404 million. Export earnings can be increased manifold by producing high-grade concentrates which are in great demand in the world metal market.
Pakistan still meets her domestic requirements by importing ferroalloys, basic refractory bricks and chromite chemicals. With the exception of producing small quantities of chromite chemicals, the entire requirements are met through imports. The development of value-added projects utilising indigenous ore can meet at least the domestic requirements of chromite.