New Delhi, Jan 19 (Agencies): Leading private and state-run steel firms including Tatas, Essar and SAIL are among the 14 Indian companies that have evinced interest in developing the Hajigak mines, containing an estimated 1.8 billion tonnes of iron ore, in Afghanistan.

The war-torn country had invited an Expression of Interest (EoI) to develop the mine, which it said is a part of its huge "proven" reserves worth an estimated USD 3 trillion.

"Fourteen Indian companies including Tata Steel, SAIL, Essar, NMDC and RINL have responded to the EoI floated by the Afghan government to develop its Hajigak mines," Mines Secretary S Vijay Kumar said.

These companies may bid for the assets up for offer in consortia, or may go it alone in the upcoming auction. They will take a call in this regard after the Afghan government announces the modalities for the bidding round, he said.

Afghanistan had invited EoIs for multiple exploration concessions falling within the Hajigak mines. The last date for submission of EOIs was January 13. The Afghan government had said the selected bidder will be granted the concessions under Afghan Mineral Law.

Former Mines Minister B K Handique said earlier this month that the ministry will offer all assistance and help to Indian companies, along with the Ministry of External Affairs, to bag concessions under the bid round.

The need to form consortiums was felt in view of the huge investment required to develop the mines and create basic infrastructure there.

Earlier, Afghan Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani had said a number of Indian companies -- including Essar, Indian-origin ArcelorMittal, the Jindals and Tatas – had shown interest in developing the assets. Shahrani had met his Indian counterpart last November.

"We will encourage Indian mining companies to mine the reserves there and set up steel plants. They can mine up to 20 million tonnes per annum and they would be allowed to   export, because we have got huge reserves of 20 billion tonnes of iron ore," Shahrani had said.

The two countries are also working toward a Memorandum of Understanding for collaboration in the mining sector.

Keen to attract investment in the sector, Afghanistan had earlier said it would issue tenders for other mining reserves to propel the economic growth of the developing country.

The country has large deposits of high-grade iron ore, copper and rare earth metals like lithium, gold and coal.