The risk of running out of rare earth metals that are essential to modern technology has led to a surge in interest in mining the deep seas. The IOR has great potential for India to exploit

Sources confirmed to Financial Express Online that “All Indian missions are scouting for raw materials and components in an effort to work towards `Atmanirbhar’ industry

There is a huge presence of Chinese ships and submarines in the IOR and the Indian Navy has been picking up their signals in the waters.

The recent stand-off with China has impacted the critical Indian industrial supplies which were dependent on that country for raw material and components. “Best possible alternative would have been to rapidly boost domestic mineral exploration and mining. While the explorers wait for relevant reforms to the mining policy, the second-best option for the industry is to secure these raw material supplies from countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR),” opines a geologist.

Sources confirmed to Financial Express Online that “All Indian missions are scouting for raw materials and components in an effort to work towards `Atmanirbhar’ industry. India urgently needs Cobalt, Tungsten, Nickle, Copper, Gold and many other metals/minerals on an urgent basis.”

IOR is a prolific mineral-rich region where most governments have mining and exploration of friendly policies and welcome investment through friendly policy levers. “India enjoys considerable goodwill and strategic dominant position over China in this region and supply lines would be away from direct Chinese influence,” according to Dr Amit Tripathi, a geologist.

Chinese Presence In IOR

There is a huge presence of Chinese ships and submarines in the IOR and the Indian Navy has been picking up their signals in the waters. As was earlier reported by the Financial Express Online, the Chinese have also deployed Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) in the IOR since last December.

In an earlier interaction, one of India’s top C4I expert Milind Kulshreshtha had explained, “The UUVs measurement is mainly to profile the IOR by the Chinese side and this knowledge of underwater sea profile is a major factor which is used in the calculation of acoustic signals by sonars.”

“That country also has an advance Space Programme and a network of satellites in space which are capable of scanning complete IOR with digital technology. This has considerably reduced Indian Navy’s stealth during combat operations,” the C4I expert had observed.

In a signal to China, the Indian Navy has been conducting exercises with the US, French and Japanese navies in the IOR. And, with an aim to keep strategically key sea lanes of communication safe and free from any influence has also been expanding cooperation with like-minded navies in the region.

Experts’ Views on Rare Earth Minerals from IOR

Former spokesperson of the Indian Navy, Ministry of Defence, Capt (retd) DK Sharma while sharing his views with Financial Express Online says, “It is a known fact that Rare Earth minerals are being extracted from high seas and the challenge is to ensure that the sea lanes of communications are kept open 24X7 for these minerals to reach the destination countries.”

“These are being extracted from the high seas – Global commons – and no country can object on this.”

“Now comes the question of any country coming to IOR on this premise and starts doing something else. (Anti Piracy patrols of PLA Navy are an apt example of gaining a foothold in IOR). This would become a huge challenge for our Navy as we would be required to dedicate assets to monitor the activities of these exploration fleet vessels,” Capt Sharma opines.

Dr Amit Tripathi, Director, MPXG Exploration Pvt Ltd, says “Most of the countries in the IOR particularly East Africa, Madagascar, and South East Asia have a sizeable population having historical family and business ties with India. No other country enjoys such a unique strategic network anywhere in the world. This is a unique strength that can be leveraged to meet the critical metal requirements of the country.”

“The Indian Diaspora in the IOR is prominent businesses and have an excellent network in the host countries’ government, administration, businesses and often control a large part of domestic inland supply chains,” Dr Tripathi observes.

As a geologist, he says, “Traditionally these expat networks have been wary of dealing with the government, however, over last two decades, with sustained networking support, Indian missions have built significant goodwill within these expat networks. These networks, if consolidated and developed through sustained policy tools can help Indian businesses meet their raw material requirements. Having worked overseas for very long time, it can be said from personal experience that if a business requirement is provided, these networks immediately get activated to fulfil the requirement very rapidly."

“Formalizing these existing networks is extremely more efficient and cost-effective than large government to government delegations. The need of the hour is to formalize and expand these networks using Indian missions, meet longstanding demands of these expat Indian and Indian origin groups and build goodwill. Ease of travel, visa on arrival for Indian travellers (not just the white or red passport), direct flight connectivity to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, a dedicated commercial section on every Indian mission website to support networking and business transactions etc would go a long way in rapidly up-scaling and activating these networks. Ministry of Mines and Industry needs to work together with the Ministry of External Affairs. The Indian government should not be shy of asking help when needed; expats would definitely rise to the occasion,” Dr Tripathi suggests.