The Mines Ministry has short-listed 10-odd offshore mineral blocks for possible auction and has begun inter-ministerial consultations seeking necessary clearances.

The auctions are likely to take place by June-July 2024, Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi told businessline.

“The blocks are located on both the east coast and west coast of India and are not attached with any particular State,” the Minister said, adding that the typical minerals would include construction sand and lime mud, among others.

The Mines Ministry has so far identified 35-odd off-shore mineral blocks and if the auctions fructify, this would be the first time that such mining activities take place in the country.

Exclusive zone

The Ministry has identified some blocks in exclusive economic zone of India, i.e., beyond territorial water (12 nautical miles), for the minerals lime-mud & poly metallic nodules. In this regard, it has also sought comments and inputs from concerned Ministries/Department for availability of the offshore blocks for grant of operating rights to avoid any overlapping with the projects.

“Inter-ministerial consultations have begun. We are talking to Ministries like Defence and others to get the necessary NOCs. But June–July you should see some of the auctions take place,” Joshi said.

Some years back, the GSI had referred to findings of lime mud deposits in the Arabian Sea. The mineral, primarily imported, finds usage as a raw material in steel, paint, pharma and glass industries.

On the other hand, marine sand deposits (used in construction industry) were reported off the coast of Kerala.

Rules, which are under discussion state, in case of auction of construction grade silica sand and lime mud or calcareous mud, the auction for production in-lease can be made at G3 level of exploration as well.

What is offshore mining

There are four stages of exploration for any mineral deposit: reconnaissance (G4), preliminary exploration (G3), general exploration (G2), and detailed exploration (G1).

Typically, offshore mining or deep-sea mining refers to the process of retrieving mineral deposits from the ocean below 200 metres —the deep seabed.

Submersible crafts equipped with giant suction pipes creep across the seabed in rows, stirring up metallic objects . The poly-metallic nodules are sorted, with unwanted sediment flushed back into the sea. Demand for these metals, to produce technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and smartphones, is set to soar to meet the growing demand for clean-energy technologies.

The Centre is also in the process of developing standard operating procedures to be followed if a private sector bidder wins the block for exploration

Earlier in December, the Ministry had released draft of the new set of rules for the auction of offshore mineral blocks. The draft proposed that composite licences and production leases shall be granted through “an ascending forward online electronic auction”. The draft also proposes at least G2 level of exploration (General Exploration) for considering a block for auction or for granting production lease. For grant of composite licence, the block should be explored up to G4 level of exploration or mineral potentiality of the mineral block should be identified.