India Leverages US Partnership for Secure Critical Mineral Supply Chains

By siliconindia   |   Saturday, 17 February 2024, 17:56 IST
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India Leverages US Partnership for Secure Critical Mineral Supply Chains

The Union Mines Ministry recommends disseminating the US-led Minerals Security Partnership's critical mineral block proposals to central PSUs for overseas asset acquisition.

The Union Mines Ministry has proposed disseminating critical mineral block proposals from partner countries within the US-led Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) to central public sector undertakings (PSUs). This initiative aims to facilitate PSUs' acquisition of critical mineral assets abroad.

In a meeting, the ministry recommended that PSUs empower relevant subsidiaries with a clear financial mandate to streamline the acquisition process. Notable PSUs such as Coal India Limited, NLC India Ltd, and NTPC Ltd, represented in the meeting, have expressed keen interest in procuring overseas lithium, cobalt, and graphite assets.

During the session, VL Kantha Rao, Secretary of the Ministry of Mines, pledged comprehensive assistance to PSUs to acquire critical mineral assets abroad. The assurance encompasses disseminating details about select block proposals received through the MSP. These insights were gleaned from the meeting minutes obtained by The Indian Express through the Right to Information (RTI) Act—India's accession to the MSP during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US.

The MSP represents a collaborative initiative spearheaded by the United States, encompassing thirteen participating nations, including the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, and the European Union. Its primary objective is to stimulate public and private investments across critical mineral supply chains globally. Presently, the consortium is actively cultivating a platform for cooperative endeavors focused on essential minerals and metals, fostering knowledge exchange, establishing a resilient battery materials supply network, and jointly pursuing the establishment of a minerals processing facility in South America.

Kantha Rao further advocated bolstering pertinent subsidiaries' financial capabilities to streamline the execution process upon the receipt of feasible proposals. He cited ONGC Videsh Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary and international arm of the prominent upstream petroleum corporation Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), entrusted with exploring and developing oil and gas reserves abroad, as an illustrative example. Additionally, he referred to NTPC Mining Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NTPC, currently entrusted with overseeing the coal mining operations of the thermal power utility within India.

During the meeting, M. Nagaraju, Additional Secretary at the Ministry of Coal, responsible for overseeing Coal India Limited (CIL) and NLC India, communicated the interest of these two Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) in acquiring essential mineral blocks overseas. Nagaraju sought assistance from the ministry and KABIL (a central public sector enterprise under the Mines Ministry). Notably, KABIL recently entered into an agreement on January 15 with a state-owned entity in Argentina to explore and develop five lithium blocks in the South American nation.

Asheesh Kumar, the General Manager at CIL, further articulated the PSU's interest in procuring lithium and cobalt blocks in Australia. Notably, a report on the Mines Ministry's website indicates that in March 2023, KABIL's two lithium and three cobalt blocks were earmarked for investment following discussions between the Union Minister of Coal and Mines and the Australian Minister for Resources. Despite attempts to seek clarification on the nature of engagement between CIL and KABIL in exploring critical mineral projects in Australia, neither entity has responded to queries.

In a statement, Kumar emphasized Coal India Limited's (CIL) strategic focus on securing critical mineral assets, highlighting Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina as target regions.

NTPC, through its subsidiary NTPC Mining Limited, is actively pursuing the acquisition of lithium, cobalt, graphite, and high-purity limestone assets abroad. Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) representatives expressed similar interest in acquiring coal, limestone, and iron ore assets overseas for captive use. Despite these minerals not being among the thirty critical minerals identified by the mines ministry, Kantha Rao, during the meeting, they have advised SAIL to explore investments in critical minerals abroad within the Steel Ministry, which oversees the PSU. Responses from NTPC and SAIL regarding their essential plans for minerals were not available at the time of inquiry.

CIL unveiled its plans to venture into critical mineral mining in India, starting with exploring a lithium block expected from the central government. This move aligns with CIL's amended Memorandum of Association (MoA) in 2023, which now includes non-ferrous and critical minerals, reflecting the PSU's heightened commitment to this sector. Earlier, NLC India had also expressed interest in auctioning twenty essential blocks of minerals initiated by the mines ministry in November 2023.

During the meeting, Kantha Rao recommended ministries and PSUs interested in critical mineral assets overseas engage international consultants to conduct comprehensive studies, compile detailed reports, and oversee due diligence procedures for prospective projects. Additionally, he stressed the importance of maintaining communication channels with Indian missions abroad, citing the embassies' role in facilitating the smooth acquisition of overseas projects.