After having made its mark in space, India is now planning to explore the depths of the oceans. The country's first manned submersible mission, which will put India in the niche circle of US, Japan, China and Russia, has got a new thrust under the Modi government.
Why are we going to the bottom of the ocean?
India has done extensive surveys of the sea bed and the idea now is to physically go there. The project seeks to boost our understanding of marine biology and ocean flows. Importantly, it will help India probe the mineral-, oil- and gas-rich ocean bed. The submersible will look for polymetallic nodules, found at depths of 3,500-6,000 meters, considered to be a treasure trove of metals such as iron, nickel, copper, cobalt, lead, molybdenum, cadmium, vanadium, titanium, etc. India has identified sites in the central Indian Ocean rich in nodule deposits. India already has permission from the International Seabed Authority to monitor a 1,50,000-sqkm area in the Central Indian Ocean Basin.
"India has taken a notable stride in space technology. Going to the depth of oceans was thus a natural step," said a senior official in the union ministry of earth sciences (MoES) on condition of anonymity. "We have been conducting exploration work in oceans for scientific research and mineral resources for decades. This project will also make us among the few in to have the ability to go to depths of 6,000 metres."
What are the details on paper?
While the idea for a manned submersible first took hold four years ago, the project has only been finalised in the last few months. It is estimated to cost Rs 300 crore, and likely to be completed in 3-5 years. Experts at Tamil Nadu's National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), which comes under the ministry of earth sciences, will be in charge of the project.
What's the ground reality?
"We are currently working on design-related issues, and also debating if the submersible should cover the to 6,000 metres depth in one attempt, or in multiple phases," said the ministry official. Talks are on with Japan to acquire the "shell" for the submersible; India doesn't yet have the technology required for the submersible besides building one here would be a time-consuming affair and delay the mission. "We will, however, design all the other programmes, communication devices, etc, ourselves," added the official. The hunt for the crew of the proposed manned submersible will start once the project's initial design is finalised.