From Dependency to Self-Sufficiency: India’s move towards Sustainable Mining

    • By,
      Rohit Singh Gautam – Student, Kautilya

The Russian-Ukraine war had jolted how relying on critical minerals can disrupt global supply chains, leading to vulnerable economic shocks and adding to surging costs, prolonged deliveries, and other challenges for companies trying to move goods around the world. India recently introduced the Mines and Mineral Development bill (MMDR) in 2023 to reform the registration procedures, acquire exploration license, and facilitate private sector participation in mining sector. India heavily depends on nickel, cobalt, lithium, and copper minerals, with 93% of copper sourced externally. In order to ensure that it has adequate supply and reduce the over-reliance on imports, the government intends to increase the exploration and production of important minerals locally.

Importance of mining in India

The mining industry is the backbone of the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. According to Ministry of Mines data for 2021 -2022, the mineral production value in India is Rs 2,11,857 crore. India ranks 4th globally in terms of iron ore, and demand for minerals will increase by 3% due to electrification and rising economic growth in India. India has a long geological history of minerals since Gondwana times, and it can utilize the minerals for its domestic use, which it has yet to explore.

Challenges and Exploration Deficits of Minerals

India is heavily dependent on imports of crucial minerals for various high-tech industries, renewable energy, and defense sectors, unlike countries such as China, the US, and Australia.The country also imports large quantities of lithium from Chile, Japan and China. Governments are using mineral diplomacy to become the hegemon of critical minerals. For example, China has a majority ownership in cobalt mines, of which 70% are mined in Congo, and many countries are dependent on the Chinese supply of minerals, creating a monopoly in the market. India joined as a member of the Minerals Security Partnership to counter China’s hegemony in the mining and to process vital minerals like copper, lithium, and cobalt. India’s vision of becoming a mineral self-sufficiency state is stated in a study entitled “Critical Non-Fuel Mineral Resources for India’s Manufacturing Sector: A Vision for 2030” by The Council for Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW). It emphasized that “Any form of strategic planning for resource security requires a thorough grasp of India’s mineral resource base at the national level” by boosting India’s manufacturing economy through mineral industry. For many years, India has kept out greenfield exploration of minerals to private people in the name of national good. As a result, now, less than 10% of India’s whole landmass has undergone a geoscientific survey to determine the underlying mineral riches. In contrast, over 90% of Australian mines have been explored; because of this, mining only makes up 2.5% of India’s GDP, while it accounts for 14.3% of Australia’s GDP. Exploration techniques requiring aerial surveys, geological mapping, and monetary risks involved in mining are making it difficult to invest by organizations. For example, Important mineral reserves, notably bauxite, can be found in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri area but there were obstacles like local agitation, environmental concerns, challenging terrain, etc for the private firms like Vedanta group for exploration.

Sustainable Solutions and Global Mandates

Minning is suitable for the country’s development, but it harms the environment. To ensure sustainable mining we can follow some suggestions. Since mining causes displacement in the area, the government must properly rehabilitate the communities living there. For example, the Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) in Odisha led to the displacement of local communities. However, the project didn’t ensure proper rehabilitation and resettlement programs for the affected people. Additionally, they can provide education to unskilled labour for the displaced people with compensation like the Tata Steel’s CSR arm in Jharkhand has implemented various education, skill development, and livelihood training programs for local communities affected by mining operations in Jharkhand. Another is low-impact mining methods; traditional mining activities with open pit and underground mining have always caused environmental problems. With new technologies like in situ leaching( ISL) can reduce environmental impact; like those in Kazakhstan, Australia, and the United States, have successfully utilized ISL techniques. These operations showcase the environmental benefits of ISL by minimizing the ecological impact typically associated with conventional mining practices. Another is reusing mining waste such as wastewater rocks; for example, in the US, as per the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2020, about 1.46 billion metric tons of crushed stone were produced in the United States. Mining companies must use eco-friendly equipment, such as replacing diesel generators with battery-powered ones, to reduce CO2 emissions. An example is Swedish mining company manufacturer Epiroc converted into 100 percent electric.

In India, the conflicts between crucial resource extraction and environmental sustainability still persist so there is need for sustainable mining is evident when one considers the case where iron ore mines in Goa were banned because of unrestrained practices that led to deforestation. Indeed, the conflicts within India should be solved through strict regulations similar to global mandates such as the 2002 WSSD Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. Aware of the importance posed by mining, it calls upon governments to reduce negative impacts resulting from environmental or economic activities in addition to socio-political consequences and recommends India legislate issues and involve stakeholders throughout processes within extractive operations, realizing environmentally responsible mining as a pillar for development.
The Mines and Mineral Development Bill (MMDR) of 2023 represents India’s move towards crucial mineral self-sufficiency and increased exploration by private sector involvement. But problems like exploration approvals and environmental issues still need to be solved. Sustainability and economic growth must be ensured by taking inspiration from countries like Canada, Australia, and Norway, which have successful models of balancing economic growth with environmental preservation in mining, emphasizing stringent regulations, technology innovation, and community engagement to achieve sustainable resource extraction.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.