The north India’s only natural rock salt mine at Mandi in Himachal Pradesh (HP) would soon start operations and production from April, 2017, six-year after they were closed for lack of environmental clearance and non-payment of dues.

Replying to a query in Vidhan Sabha, Industries minister Mukesh Agnihotri said that the Hindustan Salt Ltd would soon start operations for natural rock salt mining at Maigal in Mandi district, around 170 kms from here.

“The government had received a proposal from Hindustan Salt Ltd last year for setting up Salt and Solution Mining project and the company had proposed to start operations from April 2017,” he said.

He further said that the state government had already granted permission for the project in Mandi district in March 2016.

While the Union ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in February 2016 had granted approval for setting up a plant for the extraction of rock salt at a cost of Rs 300 Crore. The proposed plant would provide employment around 2,000 people.

The natural salt mines of Gumma and Drang areas of Mandi were shut down in January 2011 due to certain lapses by the Hindustan Salts Limited (HSL) a Central government enterprise.

The HSL had failed to obtain forest clearances and has not paid Himachal’s royalty of Rs 30 lakh that was claimed by the state government since 2003.

The other reason for stopping the extraction work at the mines located at Gumma and Darang area was lack of environmental clearance from the Environment and Forest ministry.

Total resources of rock salt as on April 1, 2010, were estimated at 16.03 million (mn) tonnes in Mandi. Out of the total resources, about 10.04 mn tonnes are proved reserves and 5.99 mn tonnes are probable reserves. Of the total reserve, only a tiny amount of rock salt, around 14,488 tonnes had been extracted so far.

The salt is traditionally used by cattle and sheep rearers across the state and the animals are also used for medicinal purposes.

Besides being the only rock salt mines in northern India, these mines are also a tourist attraction. The royal family of Mandi owned these mines once. But they were taken over by the Centre after independence.