Science & Technology

Budget 2023-24: Deep Ocean Mission gets Rs 600 crore; funds to be spent on research vessel, identifying minerals

Experts raised concerns over the impacts of mining on deep-ocean biodiversity

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 02 February 2023
Ocean floor contains critical minerals needed to build batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy capacity, smartphones and laptops. Photo:

The Centre’s Deep Ocean Mission, which aims to explore marine biodiversity for the sustainable use of resources, has been allocated Rs 600 crore in the Union Budget 2023-2024.

The government has doubled the allocation from last year’s revised fund of Rs 300 crore.

In 2021, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a budget outlay of more than Rs 4,000 crore over five years for the mission, which will cover the exploration and conservation of the deep ocean.

Oceans are storehouses of food, energy, minerals and medicines, according to the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), which oversees the mission. It also modulates weather and climate.

Read more: Budget 2023-24: Agriculture ignored, schemes for ensuring MSP-based procurement nearly ‘closed down’

The ministry aims to allot money to a myriad of activities such as a manned submersible, ship-building, exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity and identification of mineral deposits in the deep ocean, M Ravichandran, Secretary, MoES, told Down To Earth.

“We have made a tender to build a research vessel for oceanographic studies, exploration and technology demonstration purposes,” he added.

A manned submersible will be developed to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean, according to the MoES. The goal is to facilitate mineral exploration in the central Indian ocean. 

Deep-sea mining involves extracting ores rich in cobalt, manganese, zinc and other rare metals from the sea floor. They contain critical minerals needed to build batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy capacity, smartphones and laptops, according to experts.

In 2016, India was awarded a 15-year contract to explore an area of 75,000 square kilometres for mining polymetallic nodules from the Central Indian Ocean Basin at depths of 5,000-6,000 metres.

Read more: Science and technology to get over Rs 16,000 crore in Budget 2023-24, experts say not enough

The exploration studies of minerals will pave the way for commercial exploitation in the future, according to the MoES.

Under the deep ocean mission, Indian researchers are developing a technology for mining operations. It is 95 per cent ready, Ravichandran had told DTE. “We are focusing on making it a commercially viable solution rather than just technology demonstration,” he said.

Experts, however, have raised concerns over the impacts on deep-ocean biodiversity if mining is allowed.

“There is not enough rigorous scientific information available concerning the biology, ecology and connectivity of deep-sea species and ecosystems, or all the ecosystem services they provide,” Jessica Battle, an expert on global ocean governance and policy at The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had told DTE.

Without this information, she added, one could not understand the potential risks of the mining activity for deep-ocean biodiversity, ecosystems and human well-being.

The other components of the mission include developing ocean climate change advisory services and designing offshore Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) powered desalination plants. 

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