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India’s blue economy and its prospects for the country

Today, India is self-reliant or as we say, Atmanirbhar in a lot of sectors. One of them is achieving self reliance in many essential mineral commodities like Copper, zinc, lead, limestone, mica. India also imports minerals of other varieties from outside the country to meet the requirements of many industries. Most of these minerals are obtained from oceans, and this reminds us, Happy World ocean day. It is celebrated on the 8th of June every year.

The United Nations passed the resolution on 5 December 2020 for this day to be celebrated. The resolution is ‘Love the ocean, he will not betray you’. On June 8, the whole world comes together for the largest water body surrounding us, the ocean. It is important that we talk about these days and acknowledge their importance for our lives and economy.

Minerals constitute the blue economy in India and fostering them will help India achieve greater heights of self reliance. But which authority would ensure responsible extraction and fostering of minerals? The Geological Survey of India (GSI) is the national agency in India engaged in the exploration and extraction of minerals in India, including the minerals available in the Ocean. It was initiated in 1851 and has covered 3.2 million sq. km area of Indian landmass. Because of its efficient working, today India is self-reliant in many essential mineral commodities like Copper, lead, zinc, limestone, mica, coal etc.

GSI plays a major role in providing minerals to agricultural and industrial sector as raw material. Also, because of the fast paced depletion of land based natural resources, GSI emphasises on offshore survey and exploration by systematic geological mapping of 2.159 square kilometre of Indian Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ), including 0.158 sq. km of  Territorial Waters of India, since 1985.

The survey has been very successful in identification of mineral potential areas within the Indian EEZ, a lot of which can be converted into potential offshore resource. Potential heavy mineral zones have already been separated from Territorial waters off Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra for future thrust areas in the field of exploration.  

The strategies for exploration of vanadium, thorium and rare earth elements by systematic exploration has also been made. Offshore resource of high grade lime mud of more than 100 million tonnes within the territory of EEZ off Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh has been entrenched for future exploration.

The territorial waters off Kerala, Tamil Nadu coasts and Andaman sea have reported with abundance of high quality construction sand, rare sulphide, poly-metallic crust and sediments of phosphate. Though India is currently Atmanirbhar in limestone resources, which is used in production of cement, the future requirement of high grade limestone may be met through offshore lime mud resources, which seems like a real possibility right now with increasing demand. GSI has also started extraction of construction sand in the TW of Kerala in order to address the issue of scarcity of construction sand there.

We obtain Ferromanganese crust and nodules from the ocean shore which are very popular for their rich metal content of cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, gold and silver. A lot of countries, including India, are exploring the ocean surface in order to obtain metalliferous deposits, for claiming the mining rights from International Seabed authority. So, the blue economy of the country contributes to our economy in more ways than we give it credit for, no?

It is reported that mining of these minerals after detailed exploration and studying economic feasibility would contribute to the much awaited big leap towards achievement of greater heights of Atmanirbharta in the country. His means that the country’s vision of achieving self reliance passes directly through our ability to undertake complete utilisation of our blue economy. It is because it would provide self reliance in raw materials for electronics, ceramic, glass rubber, refractories and chemical industries.

Fertiliser minerals like rock phosphate and potash also play a major role in the economic development of the agro-based economy, especially for a country like India. The Indian fertilizer industry currently relies on import of these minerals to bridge the demand-supply gap.

However, GSI has recently reported occurrence of phosphate bearing minerals from the continental shelf and seamounts off Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and potash rich glauconitic sand from the TW of Tamil Nadu. Further explorations are also taking place to understand the economic potential and to know if they are feasible to mine or not. If credibility turns out in the research and exploration process, India would get one step closer to the achievement of self reliance in one if its most prominent industries, namely the Indian fertiliser industry.

Further, GSI has been planning to carry out survey in the coming years for further systematic high resolution base line data generation within the EEZ and beyond that. It will be followed by further exploration, either by outsourcing or in-house capability. The acquisition of research vessels with high-end equipment to replace the old vessels which have been used for more than three and a half decades is required to meet the in-house capacity. GSI also plans to extend ventures in the deep ocean, in the International waters towards systematic baseline data generation and searching of critical minerals by its own expertise, experience and in-house capabilities. GSI also plans to extend its contribution towards the issues of society and geosciences.

We have discussed a lot about the minerals and the current performance of GSI. But another significant contribution by oceans in Blue economy of the country is strengthening resilience to economic and environmental hindrance. The investment in shipping decarbonisation, sustainable seafood production and generation of renewable ocean-based energy contributes to the better health, more jobs, and better biodiversity and therefore leads to development of Indian economy.

With the blue economy being at its peak and with further likely improvement in the sector, the future of blue economy of India seems safe and is likely to help India attain higher level of self-reliance in minerals. Not only that, India is said to join hands with Norway in an attempt to proceed towards sustainable growth, with the blue economy being its key element. So, while the pandemic wreaked havoc on lives and livelihoods, looks like the recovery would go through the route of oceans and we’re all in for it.

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Simerleen Kaur

Talk to me about economics, trade, and all things India.

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