Its Time to Tighten Ties -2 India & Australia

India and Australia – Partnership Potential in Mining

When we look at countries that have a high potential for collaboration with the Indian mining industry, the first one that vies for attention is the stalwart in the south – Australia. Australia is undoubtedly a global leader in the minerals industry. Its abundant mineral reserves, skilled professionals and cutting edge technology have put together a robust mining industry that contributes to more than 8 % of the country’s GDP and 60 % of it’s exports. 

India and Australia share a geological history that goes back to 180 million years when they were both part of the Gondwana land. So like Australia, the Indian subcontinent too, has a rich deposit of minerals but unlike Australia, India has not utilised resources efficiently and sustainably and so the mining sector is still a fledgling contributing barely 2 % of the GDP.  This can change if India and Australia work together to share knowledge, technology and investments. The geographical proximity and the recently revved up trade relationship between the two countries are strong factors that work in favour of a mining partnership.

Let us explore this further by asking and answering questions that serve to uncover the full extent of this promising potential.

Where in the Mining process does India need help?

And the simple answer is ‘everywhere’. India is limping behind other mining countries in all stages of mining – geoscience, exploration, development, production and reclamation.

Geoscience- The lack of high precision equipment and consequent lack of geophysical and geochemical data has been slowing down the generation of baseline data for exploration. While in Australia aeromagnetic surveys have covered 90 % of the total area of the country. India so far has managed to cover only 18% till date.

Exploration – India’s exploration expenditure is so pathetically insignificant ( 2 % of global exploration expenditure)when compared to other resources rich countries like Canada (14 %) and Australia (13 %). Exploration in India is done only to a depth of 50 to 100 m while in Australia it is 300 m.

Development – Nationalisation of the exploration regime in India has made obtaining mining leases and licenses more difficult. The delays in issuing licenses and providing environmental and forest-clearance processes are major setbacks that hamper growth.  In India obtaining permits can mean an incredibly long wait of even 5 years while in Canada or Australia it may mean hardly 2 months

Production – India’s mining sector has both organised and un-organised players.The organised sector that mostly consists of large PSUs use skilled manpower and mechanised techniques but the unorganised sector use outdated manual methods and unskilled labour.  India is yet to catch up on the advanced technology that the rest of the mining countries use for mining, extraction and processing of precious metals

Reclamation – Closure and reclamation of mine is another problem area for India.  The cost of rehabilitating old mines are too high even for mining companies in the developed world and more so for the Indian counterparts. Inadequate monitoring and lenient regulations make it harder still to effect proper closure and reclamation

What are the strengths of the Australian Mining Industry?

How can a tie with Australia help us?

  • Australian mining equipment and technology suppliers can make products and technologies that are uniquely suited to the Indian mining sector across different functions in the mining value chain. Data analysis, Geographical information systems, advanced extraction technologies, advanced processing technology, geological robotics, nanotechnology are some of the areas where the superior knowledge of the Australian players can be utilised.
  • For improving the attractiveness of the Indian mining industry to global investors it is imperative that  GSI completes all the geophysical, geochemical, aero-geophysical and marine surveys and publishes the data in the public domain. Initiatives have already been taken in this area with the GSI partnering with  Geoscience Australia to develop for India something akin to Australia’s  UNCOVER  project that involves characterising India’s geological cover, investigating India’s lithospheric architecture, resolving 4D geodynamic and metallogenic evolution, and detecting and characterising the distal footprints of ore deposits. 
  • Rare earth minerals and other critical minerals used in modern technology like mobile phones, electric cars, computers, flat screen monitors defence and space technology have become critical to modern-day existence. The growing demand for these minerals creates significant economic opportunities for Australia and India to collaborate.
  • Australia has a single window clearance system that reduces the time needed to obtain for approvals. India can develop a similar system to streamline processes in getting environmental and forest clearances. Commendably, the Indian Government has recently taken initiatives like TAMRA (Transparency, Auction Monitoring and Resource Augmentation), the Post Auction Mining and Approvals Facilitator (PAMCAF) and PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub)
  • Another vital area where an Indian – Australian collaboration can make a huge difference is in the area of training and skilling the mining labor force. In this regard, the two countries have already taken a stride ahead with the establishment of the Australia -India mining partnership at the Indian School of Mines. India can certainly benefit from Australia’s world-class technical expertise
  • Fatal accidents during mining operations in India is quite high with 377 workers killed between 2015 and 2017. In contrast, Australia has the lowest mining accident rates in the world. The Queensland and Indian governments recently signed a three-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) for developing mine safety management plans for India .

With the growing demand for metals and minerals in a rapidly urbanising India, the role of ‘Mining’ in boosting the whole economy of the country assumes great importance. A partnership with a mining Giant like Australia where India can learn from Australia’s best practices and attract direct investments is the need of the hour.

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