The mining industry’s focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors has driven sustainable practices and improved environmental stewardship. A report reveals significant progress while acknowledging the need for innovative, responsible mining.

Over the past forty years, the mining industry has increasingly focused on climate preservation and sustainable practices, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors have been crucial in driving this shift.

A WTW Mining report underscores the significant impact of mining on ecosystems, affecting climate, water quality, and biodiversity while offering social benefits to local communities. Miners can reduce their environmental footprint and enhance social contributions by identifying risks through the ESG framework and implementing a concrete plan.

Despite attention to various ESG elements like climate change and water management, tailings management was overlooked until the Córrego do Feijão mining site disaster in Brumadinho, Brazil, which claimed over 270 lives.

The index of Indian mineral production for March 2024 showcases a steady upward trajectory, marking a 1.2 percent increase compared to the same period in 2023. Moreover, the fiscal year 2023-24 witnessed a robust surge of 7.5 percent in the index, a testament to the industry’s sustained momentum. Noteworthy is the performance of non-fuel minerals, with stalwarts like Copper Concentrate, Gold, and Manganese Ore leading the charge, echoing the nation’s diverse mineral wealth.

Iron ore and Limestone, cornerstones of India’s mineral reserves, have spearheaded this growth narrative. Together, they command an imposing 80 percent share of the total mineral production value under the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules (MCDR). In FY 2023-24, iron ore production reached an unprecedented 277 million metric tons (MMT), eclipsing the previous record and surging ahead with a 7.4 percent growth rate. Similarly, limestone production surged by 10.7 percent, reaching a staggering 450 MMT, a testament to India’s prowess as a leading producer.

The production milestones achieved in the non-ferrous metal sector further underscore India’s ascent on the global stage. Primary Aluminium production, a key barometer of industrial activity, witnessed a notable uptick, reaching 41.59 lakh tonnes in FY 2023-24, fortifying India’s position as the second-largest producer globally. This upward trajectory is emblematic of the robust demand dynamics pervading industries such as steel, cement, energy, infrastructure, construction, automotive, and machinery, driving economic vitality across sectors.

India’s mineral output surged by 8 percent in February 2024 compared to the previous year, a harbinger of sustained growth momentum. The cumulative growth of 8.2 percent for the April-February period of 2023-24 underscores the industry’s resilience amidst evolving market dynamics. Positive growth across diverse minerals, including gold, copper concentrate, bauxite, and phosphorite, underscores the industry’s adaptability and resourcefulness in meeting demand surges.

Even so, within the backdrop of economic optimism, there is a critical discourse on sustainability, mirroring the industry’s obligation to balance expansion with environmental responsibility. The mining industry has complex ecological concerns ranging from habitat disturbance to resource depletion, casting doubt on its future development. As India strives for sustainable growth, the mining industry finds itself at a crossroads, forced to strike a delicate balance between commercial imperatives and environmental integrity.

Addressing environmental concerns

Recognising the urgent need to mitigate environmental impact, mining industry players increasingly embrace sustainability as a core value. Companies are investing in innovative technologies and practices to reduce ecological footprint and promote responsible resource management. For instance, HD Hyundai Construction Equipment has incorporated advanced safety technologies into its excavators, featuring reinforced cabins and boom holding systems to ensure operator safety and minimise environmental hazards. Similarly, MMD Heavy Machinery India Pvt Ltd offers tailorable, fully mobile Sizer stations with minimal ecological impact, facilitating efficient mineral processing in remote locations.

Meanwhile, Runaya, a key player in the metals industry, has launched its Calcium Aluminate Plant as a testament to its commitment to pioneering environmentally friendly green aluminium recovery solutions. Annanya Agarwal, CEO & Co-founder of Runaya, emphasises the plant’s significance in advancing green aluminium recovery initiatives and fostering a sustainable future.

Embracing sustainability

Technological innovations and a collective commitment to greener practices propel the mining sector’s journey towards sustainability. EY and CII’s recent report, ‘Utkrisht Bharat in Mining,’ underscores the importance of adopting advanced methods such as in-pit crushing, conveyorisation, automation, and digitalisation to enhance operational efficiency and reduce environmental footprint.

Subhajit Chaudhuri, Director of MMD Heavy Machinery India Pvt Ltd, emphasises the role of technological interventions in transforming the growth of the Indian mining sector, highlighting the promise of in-pit crushing and conveyorisation in enhancing operational efficiency.

Electrification and sustainability initiatives are reshaping mining operations, focusing on reducing diesel consumption and incorporating renewable energy sources. Automation and digitalisation ensure real-time data analysis and system reliability, enhancing operational efficiency and environmental sustainability.

Financial impact and collaboration

In addition to environmental benefits, embracing sustainability in mining operations yields significant financial advantages. Efficient resource utilisation and streamlined processes can lead to a substantial reduction in operational expenses. The ‘Utkrisht Bharat in Mining’ report suggests that adopting advanced technologies could result in a remarkable 20-30 percent decrease in operational costs, enhancing profitability and financial attractiveness.

Mukul Dixit, Director of Sales and Marketing for Global Construction and Infrastructure (GCI) at Caterpillar India, highlights the financial impact of sustainability initiatives, emphasising the role of Aftermarket Performance Customer Value Agreements (CVAs) and Cat Financial services in driving efficiency and reducing expenses for mining operators.

Effective collaboration among stakeholders is essential to fully leverage the benefits of technological advancements and drive sustainable growth in the mining sector. Surat Mehta, Head of SDLG, underscores the importance of partnerships with suppliers committed to environmental stewardship, emphasising the role of collaboration in promoting sustainability across the industry.

Action agenda for sustainable mining

As the mining industry embarks on its journey towards sustainability, the ‘Utkrisht Bharat in Mining’ report presents a twelve-point action agenda, serving as a roadmap for stakeholders to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead. This comprehensive agenda outlines critical strategies for embracing advanced technologies, enhancing operational efficiency, and promoting environmental stewardship.

The action agenda emphasises the importance of adopting in-pit crushing, conveyorisation, automation, and digitalisation to transform mining operations. It also underscores the significance of electrification, sustainability initiatives, and financial planning to drive efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

The mining industry can pave the way for a more sustainable future through technological innovations, collaborative partnerships, and a shared commitment to greener practices. By embracing advanced methods and adopting environmentally friendly solutions, mining operators can mitigate environmental impact, enhance operational efficiency, and contribute to India’s journey towards a greener, more prosperous tomorrow.

As the mining sector continues to evolve, all stakeholders must work together towards a common goal of sustainable development. By leveraging the power of innovation and collaboration, India’s mining industry can unlock its full potential while safeguarding the planet for future generations.

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