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A Directorate of Geology

Even though the Periodic Table has been rationed out in the rationalisation  of syllabus for school students, the significance of the critical elements represented on this table came to the fore in the new mineral policy announced recently by the Government of India. The fact is that, even with all the knowledge of IT, and advances in AI, the manufacturing industry of which automobiles and robotics are in the pole position, the critical dependence on minerals cannot be overlooked. Just as the mercantile expansion took place in the quest for gold, and the Americans insisted on the control of the Middle East (for them) and West Asia (for us) for access to oil, the hegemons of this century led by China are marking their global footprints by controlling the critical minerals.

Critical minerals – ranging from lithium and cobalt and nickel to chromium and silicon – are seen as essential for the  economic development and security of a sovereign nation. This is where countries like China, Russia, Canada and US have an edge over India. In fact, China has a major advantage over us as it not only has enough to meet its domestic needs, it is also a net exporter of lithium, cobalt, nickel, germanium, beryllium, strontium, (natural) graphite, manganese and silicon. On the other hand, India is critically dependent on imports of many of these commodities.

Well, all news is not in the negative. The silver lining is that India has realized that this is a critical missing link in our efforts at becoming Atmanirbhar, and the Geological Survey of India has been tasked with stepping up its exploration efforts across the country, especially in the Himalayan region. There have been encouraging reports from the Salal Haimna area of Reasi district in Jammu & Kashmir. Another positive outcome has been the establishment of a joint venture company called Khanji Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL) to identify and acquire overseas mineral assets of critical and strategic nature for an assurance on the supply side, and it has entered into agreements with countries in geographies ranging from Australia to Argentina. Most importantly, India has recently been inducted into a Mineral Security partnership (MSP) a US led collaboration of fourteen countries that aims to catalyze public and private investments in critical supply chains of the minerals which are crucial for the manufacturing of Electric vehicles.

It is time that Uttarakhand also stepped up its geological explorations. Not much is happening on this front as geology is still a subset of the Mining Department, which is overburdened with the task of regulating the mining activity in the state. The focus must shift from the immediate to the long term vision. Perhaps, a way out is an independent Directorate of Geology which should launch the exploration of minerals in the Himalayan tracts in a mission mode.