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India gets exclusive rights to explore Polymetallic Nodules
Aug 23, 2017

[GS Paper I: (Distribution of key natural resources across the world (including South Asia and the Indian subcontinent)]

India’s exclusive rights to explore polymetallic nodules from seabed in Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) have recently been extended by five years. These rights are over 75000 sq. km of area in international waters allocated by International Seabed Authority (ISA).

  • This extension was approved unanimously in the 23rd session of ISA which concluded on August 18, 2017 at Kingston, Jamaica. 
  • India is the first country to have received the status of a pioneer investor in 1987 and was allocated an exclusive area in Central Indian Ocean Basin by United Nations (UN) for exploration and utilization of polymetallic nodules.
  • India is one among the top 8-countries/ contractors and has been implementing a long-term programme on exploration and utilization of Polymetallic Nodules through Ministry of Earth Sciences. 
  • National Centre for Antarctic & Ocean Research and National Institute of Oceanography (both located at Goa) are the participating institutions.

Polymetallic Nodules

  • Polymetallic nodules contain multiple metals like copper, nickel, cobalt, manganese, iron, lead, zinc, aluminium, silver, gold and platinum etc. in variable constitutions and are precipitate of hot fluids from upwelling hot magma from the deep interior of the oceanic crust.
  • Of these, cobalt, copper and nickel are of much importance and in great demand in India as cobalt is used extensively in medical treatment and nickel in batteries. India is also entirely dependent on imports to meet its requirements of cobalt.
  • Mining for Polymetallic nodules is of strategic importance for India as there are no terrestrial sources of these metals in India.

Economic Value

  • Polymetallic nodules in the ocean ridges have attracted worldwide attention for their long-term commercial and strategic values. 
  • Initial estimated resource of polymetallic nodules on the site retained by India on the central Indian Ocean basin is 380 million tonnes with 0.55 million tonnes of cobalt, 4.7 million tonnes of nickel, 4.29 million tonnes of copper and 92.59 million tonnes of manganese.
  • The interest in mining nodules has also led to increased concern and scrutiny regarding possible environmental impacts.

International Seabed Authority (ISA)

International Seabed Authority (ISA) is a UN body set up under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The ISA is headquartered in ‎Kingston, Jamaica.

  • The ISA regulates the exploration and exploitation of marine non-living resources of oceans in international waters. 
  • In 2016, India was re-elected as a member of Council of ISA. 

PT Facts

  • Territorial sea - According to the UNCLOS, the sovereignty of a coastal state extends beyond its land territory and internal waters to an adjacent belt of sea. Every state has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles.
  • Contiguous zone - This is a zone contiguous to a coastal state's territorial sea, over which it may exercise the control necessary to: prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration, or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea; punish infringement of the above laws and regulations committed within its territory or territorial sea. The contiguous zone may not extend beyond 24 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.
  • Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) - The EEZ is a zone beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea in which a coastal state has: sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, the protection and preservation of the marine environment etc. The outer limit of the exclusive economic zone shall not exceed 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. 
  • A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a land measured mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 land miles or 1.85 km). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating. A knot is one nautical mile per hour (1 knot = 1.85 km per hour). 


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