How Victoria is helping improve mining conditions in India
“I was born in their part of the world. But Australia is in my heart too, because this is my adopted country. So, I have the language and a very strong connection with India.”
Australia is a world-leader when it comes to safer and more sustainable mining processes. For this reason, Professor Firoz Alam at RMIT, originally from Bangladesh, believes we have a lot to offer to India. Home to the world’s second-largest population after China, it’s a huge potential market for Australia, and he believes strengthening that tie will not only benefit us economically, but also improve mining standards in India.
“It will create awareness of Australia’s experience in environment-friendly mining, resources extraction and impact-management to effectively mitigate environmental, social and safety concerns,” he says.
Securing an Australia-India Council grant in July 2019, he set about forging alliances. They included fellow RMIT Professor Reza Jazar, the CSIRO, the Indian School of Mines (ISM), and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). The project built towards two extremely well-attended symposiums in Kolkata and Dhanbad in January 2020.
Drawing together public and private sector mining and resources companies, government regulators, safety authorities, academics and researchers, the uptake surprised even Firoz. “It was beyond our expectation; even including the CEO of Coal India Limited and the Australian Consul-General in Kolkata, Mr Andrew Ford, and his deputy. Andrew asked me personally, ‘How did you get all these people?’ In the last year and a half, I had tried to meet with many of them and had not been able to.”
Location was a big part of their success. “Kolkata is the largest and the most important city in the eastern part of India, so most of India’s mining and resources companies’ headquarters are located there, so we thought if we organised the symposium there, we can get the people. Some are in Dhanbad, which is the coal capital of India, so we had the second symposium there so we could cover everyone.”
The project had two primary objectives: to develop Australia’s knowledge partnership with Indian counterparts, and to build the research and education relationship between both countries. “We have developed a network and relationships that are ongoing and strengthening,” Firoz says.
The personal touch is key when working with colleagues in India, Firoz suggests. "I found that when we have that interaction, people-to-people, that helps us achieve a lot more, and quicker.”
It’s in Firoz’ nature to connect. “One important aspect is that I was born in their part of the world. But Australia is in my heart too, because this is my adopted country. So, I have the language and I have a very strong connection with India,” he says. “That all helped me. I found that many people were very open to me and to new ideas. And many of them still keep in touch.”
With a draft proposal on mining safety enhancement in India already underway, there's plenty of potential to strengthen the bond with Australia. Firoz recommends anyone following in their footsteps focus on building trust. “Australia is in a unique position to be an important development partner of India.”
The diaspora will be vitally important, he says. "Most of the Indian subcontinent diaspora have high-level contacts in government organisations, private companies, education institutions and research organisations.”
In the face of geopolitical turmoil, it makes sense to put hard work into the relationship, rather than rely on trade with China. "We don’t know what will be in the future. That’s why I say you cannot put all eggs in one basket. You need to diversify, to provide our services and investment into wider education. Then our net will be expanded, and this way both countries will benefit.”
Learn more about the economic potential of the Australia-India partnership in “An India Economic Strategy to 2035 – Navigating from potential to delivery”.
- Read more dynamic stories that form an integral part of the Australia-India relationship
- Apply for the Australia-India Council Grants Program. Applications close 18 January 2021