To counter India’s reliance on China for imports of critical rare earth minerals, industry has urged the government to encourage private sector mining in the sector and diversify sources of supply for these strategic raw materials.
“Set up an ‘India Rare Earths Mission’, manned by professionals, like the India Semiconductor Mission and make their exploration a critical component of the Deep Ocean Mission plan of the government,” the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has submitted, suggesting steps to encourage private players to mine such minerals.
Though India has 6% of the world’s rare earth reserves, it only produces 1% of global output, and meets most of its requirements of such minerals from China, the industry grouping pointed out in a memorandum of suggestions for the Union Budget recently submitted to the Finance Ministry.
In 2018-19, for instance, 92% of rare earth metal imports by value and 97% by quantity were sourced from China. “Clearly there is a need to build domestic capability and broad-base supply sources for such an important and strategic raw material,” the CII said, making a pitch for harnessing the potential of the country’s own rare earth reserves.
Suggesting that such minerals should not be held captive to India’s civil nuclear programme, the industry body has recommended that the public sector firm Indian Rare Earths Limited (IREL), administered by the Department of Atomic Energy, should be split into two entities. While IREL primarily focuses on Thorium mining, CII has suggested that the second entity could pursue other minerals.
The industry group has also mooted making rare earth minerals a part of the ‘Make In India’ campaign, citing China’s ‘Made in China 2025’ initiative that focuses on new materials, including permanent magnets that are made using rare earth minerals.
China offers state support for the industry.