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4th March 2024 (14 Topics)

India eye critical minerals mining in Sri Lanka, Australia

Context

The Ministry of Mines hosted two meetings with industry stakeholders in January to discuss opportunities for the mining of critical minerals by Indian companies in Sri Lanka and Australia. These meetings were organised in line with the ministry’s broader push to strengthen India’s critical minerals supply chain through the acquisition of overseas mineral assets.

1: Dimension: Need:

  • India’s international commitments towards reducing carbon emissions, which require the country to urgently relook at its mineral requirements for energy transition and net-zero commitments.
  • Critical Minerals forms part of multiple strategic value chains, including clean technologies initiativessuch as zero-emission vehicles, wind turbines, solar panels; information and communication technologies, including semiconductors; and advanced manufacturing inputs and materials such as defence applications, permanent magnets, and ceramics.

2: Dimension: Major concerns globally and for India:

  • Dependence on China: If India is not able to explore and produce these minerals, it will have to depend on other countries, including China, to power its energy transition plans to electric vehicles.
  • Lack of Expertise: the reason India would not have found a place in the Minerals Security Partnership grouping is because the country does not bring any expertise to the table.
  • Difficult to mine: Although they are more abundant than their name implies, they are difficult and costly to mine and process cleanly.
  • Monopoly of few: Most of the reserves being present in few nations causes problems for most of the world because of the concentration of reserves in the hands of few countries.
  • Supply Chain: Forming forward and backward supply chains will create problems when the reserves are mostly limited to one country.
  • Environmental Impact: The chief concern is that the rare earth elements are bound up in mineral deposits with the low-level radioactive element thorium, exposure to which has been linked to an increased risk of developing lung, pancreatic, and other cancers.
  • Capital-Intensive:The mining and extraction processes are capital-intensive and consumes large amounts of energy.
  • Health hazards: The mining of these minerals releases toxic by-products which are harmful for the environment and human health.

Fact Box

India’s position on Critical minerals:

  • Though India has 6% of the world’s rare earth reserves, it only produces 1% of global output, and meets most of its requirements of such minerals from China.
  • In 2018-19, for instance, 92% of rare earth metal imports by value and 97% by quantity were sourced from China.
  • In India, monazite and thorium is the principal source of rare earths.

Critical Minerals in major economies:

  • The US has declared 50 minerals critical in light of their role in national security or economic development.
  • The UK considers 18 minerals critical, the European Union has declared 34 minerals critical, and Canada and Japan 31 each.
  • Australia has 26 critical minerals.
  • India-Australia Critical Minerals Investment Partnership: India and Australia recently decided to strengthen their partnership in the field of projects and supply chains for critical minerals. Australia will commit 5.8 million dollars to the three-year India-Australia Critical Minerals Investment Partnership.

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