Draft paper on blue economy asks Centre to explore undersea options for rare metals

V. Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on March 03, 2021

The Economic Advisory Council has also proposed a roadmap for evolving a Blue Economy Policy

A draft policy framework on India's Blue Economy has recommended that the country should take the lead in the exploration of the cobalt-rich Sea Mount Ferromanganese Crust in the Indian Ocean.

This suggestion comes on the heels of these rare metals gaining importance in the global metals market with many countries going in for zero carbon emissions and opting for electric vehicles (EVs). Metals such as cobalt and lithium, which are used for batteries in EVs, mobile phones and electronic gadgets, have increased sharply since the beginning of this year with both metals gaining over 50 per cent.

The draft report suggested evolving suitable policies for prospecting and mining along with environment impact audit, besides proposing a framework for coastal and deep-sea mining, new and renewable energy and R&D.

It said that the oceans hold tremendous potential to provide renewable energy hydrocarbons, precious minerals and metals. Several contracts have been awarded for the exploration of hydrocarbons in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).

Prepared by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, the draft policy framework also envisages the launch of a “National Placer Mission” to explore workable deposits and evolve a roadmap for its extraction.

A placer deposit or placer is an accumulation of valuable minerals formed by gravity separation from a specific source rock during sedimentary processes. India is rich in coastal and offshore placer minerals including strategic ones such as nickel, uranium, copper, thorium, titanium, poly metallic sulphides, poly metallic manganese nodules, coastal ilmenite, garnet and zircon among others.

India is committed to exploring the EEZ by 2023 and towards this, the launch of manned sustainable vehicles that go to the deepest levels in the ocean has been proposed in collaboration with partners. The Coastal Zone Regulation Act does not permit mining of placers, except atomic minerals, and this policy should be reviewed, the report said.

India's pool of technical and scientific personnel would be further strengthened with curriculum focus on the Blue Economy and Blue Research in higher technical education. The report also recommended that the country continue to carry exploration activities in international waters in the areas allotted for minerals.

The Economic Advisory Council has also proposed a roadmap for evolving a Blue Economy Policy which would be a crucial step towards unlocking the potential economic growth and welfare. The draft policy aims to significantly enhance the contribution of Blue Economy to the country's GDP in the next five years, improve lives of coastal communities, preserve marine biodiversity and maintain the security of the marine areas and resources.

The size of the Blue Economy in India has conservatively been estimated to be about 4 per cent of the GDP and is likely to be even higher if the methodology is improved. The country's 7,517 km coastline is home to nine coastal states and 1,382 islands. The coastal economy also sustains over four million fishermen.

In the post-Covid-19 global scenario, the report noted that India is likely to witness significant growth in the marine sector by efficient and sustainable utilisation of ocean resources.

To increase the sustainability of marine fishing, a working group has recommended the development of a new national policy for the marine capture fishery sector, putting in place legal and institutional frameworks for exploration and management of marine fisheries.

For capital infusion, the group felt that the regulations to enhance the Ease of Doing Business and the flow of private investment, while applying time-tested paradigms of public-private partnerships, should be geared up to Blue Economy investment

Published on March 03, 2021

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