The mines ministry is not sure yet of the route it may take for the allocation of mines in offshore areas even as it hopes to allocate 50 composite licences (prospecting licence–cum–mining lease) in the next three months to extract minerals from the seabeds.
All minerals in offshore areas, including atomic minerals, but crude oil and other hydrocarbons, are governed by the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002. This Act does not provide for auctioning of the minerals unlike the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act, 2015, which makes auction mandatory for all non-coal minerals in onshore areas.
However, Section 29 of the Offshore Minerals Act empowers the Centre to make any “enactment so extended shall have effect as if the offshore area or the part thereof, as the case maybe, is a part of the territory of India”. The mines ministry is banking on this provision to go ahead with the allocation through the auction route only.
“We have sought suggestions from the law ministry whether we can extend the auctioning provision of the MMDR Act for offshore minerals as well considering the provision of section 29 of the Offshore Minerals Act,” mines secretary Balvinder Kumar told FE.
The Act has to be amended in Parliament if the law ministry suggested otherwise and in that case, the allocation of offshore blocks would be delayed, dashing the hopes of the mines ministry to remain ahead of the curve. Even developed nations have not done much mining, barring hydrocarbons, so far on the seabeds.
Kumar, however, is optimistic and hopes that at least 50 composite licences in offshore areas could be allocated within the next three months. Following positive response from the law department, the mines ministry would upload the proposed rules, it has almost readied, for public comments on its website and finalise the rules within three weeks. “We are moving very fast in regards to the offshore minerals,” Kumar said.
India is bound by the Indian Ocean on the South, the Arabian Sea on the South-West and the Bay of Bengal on the South-East and has more than 7,500 km long coastline and the territorial waters cover more than 0.15 million sq km. Seabed resources of these areas and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covering about 1.87 million sq km have also come to light in recent years. If legal continent shelf is taken into account, total offshore area would become about 3.09 million sq km, mines ministry sources said.
Marine and Coastal Survey Division of GSI and National Institute of Oceanography have embarked on carrying out preliminary offshore exploration for economic minerals in the offshore areas mainly for economic heavy minerals, construction sand, phosphatic nodules, lime mud and polymetallic nodules. India had in 2010 allocated 62 exploration mineral licenses in the offshore area, but none has made any significant headway so far.