In a strategic move, India is pushing for its key Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs), under pivotal ministries like Mines, Steel, Petroleum, and Coal, to spear-head acquisition of critical mineral reserves abroad, with focus on coveted resources like lithium.

The idea is to expand industries such as electric vehicles and renewables, where China commands a lead.

Apart from Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL), under the Mines Ministry, the other CPSEs include Coal India Ltd (under Ministry of Coal), NMDC (under Ministry of Steel) and ONGC Videsh Ltd (under Petroleum Ministry) that are “either in active talks” or “have expressed interest”.

For instance, KABIL – a JV of three PSUs, namely Hindustan Copper, MECL and NALCO – made the first overseas acquisition, in Argentina, for five lithium brine blocks, namely Cortadera-I, Cortadera-VII, Cortadera-VIII, Cateo-2022-01810132 and Cortadera-VI. It is also in advanced talks for acquisition of lithium assets in Australia, most likely “within this fiscal”.

Meanwhile, NMDC is likely to start pre-PFS (pre feasibility studies) for lithium in Australia, where it already has operational gold mines.

In Chile, where a delegation of government officials and industry captains visited some months back, Coal India Ltd has expressed interest to explore lithium assets. Copper assets acquisition in the Lat-Am nation are also under-consideration by KABI.

And ONGC Videsh has also expressed interest to explore critical mineral assets overseas. “They will start scouting overseas soon,”a government official in the know said.

“A group of secretaries across a few key ministries are looking at how to get more CPSEs to acquire critical mineral assets abroad, So, if there is a company, which has an overseas subsidiary and has operations abroad, then it makes more sense for that CPSE to make in acquisition or take up exploration activities for a critical mineral in that geography only,” VL Kantha Rao, Secretary, Ministry of Mines, told businessline, on the side lines of a Workshop on Offshore Mining.

Rao said, the Ministry will help facilitate overseas acquisitions at a G2G level, and this will include circulating details of some block proposals received.

African nations that include Congo and Zambia, are also being explored for lithium, copper and cobalt assets.

India will additionally take a delegation to Zambia in June, with executives from the Tata Group and Vedanta, being a part of it. The two governments will discuss the joint exploration of critical minerals such as lithium, he added.

A separate delegation will head for Congo.

Mineral Security Partnership

India’s Mines Ministry had previously proposed to circulate critical mineral block proposals received by partner countries in the US-led Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) with central public sector undertakings or PSUs to allow them to acquire critical mineral assets abroad.

As of September 2023 the MSP included Australia, Canada, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.