Johannesburg – De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond miner, would spend $5 million (R33.3 million) – 5 percent of its global exploration budget – prospecting for diamonds in India this year, the company’s group exploration director, Bill McKechnie, said yesterday.

Speaking at an India-South Africa investment conference, McKechnie said that since 1994 De Beers had invested $14.3 million in India and employed 63 people in its two offices in Bangalore and New Delhi.

It has a 50-50 joint venture with the Indian government, the Hindustan Diamond Company. De Beers’ subsidiary, the Diamond Trading Company, supplies 60 percent of the rough gems imported for polishing.

De Beers Exploration employs more than 1 100 people working on five continents in 12 countries.

The group is involved in over 25 joint venture exploration and evaluation projects. Exploration activities are managed from the group’s corporate headquarters in Johannesburg.

Although India is the centre of the world diamond cutting industry and was, until the 18th century, the world’s main supplier of the gemstones, it does not mine many rough diamonds.

McKechnie said India imported $6.1 billion in rough diamonds a year, exported $7.1 billion worth of polished stones and was responsible for 11 out of every 12 polished diamonds sold worldwide.

Estimates are that 800 000 people are employed in the sector, which means that about 5 million people are dependent on the industry for their livelihoods.

McKechnie said India’s geological prospectivity was highly rated and the country was “largely unexplored using modern exploration techniques”.

He added that while no significant diamond deposits had yet been found, he believed “the results confirm that India is a highly prospective country”.

India had also opened up to foreign investment and consequently had a “rapidly improving investment climate” with a stable political system and an “entrenched democratic tradition”.

Fiscal policies were sound and regulatory barriers to investment were low.

Until the late 1980s, India shunned foreign investment, but liberalisation started in earnest in the early 1990s, meaning that it was now one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

Growth in India was projected to average 8 percent a year for the next two decades.

It has the world’s largest middle class and is one of the top five diamond markets.

At the conference, the Indian high commissioner to South Africa, Shiv Mukherjee, said India offered “huge opportunities” and there would be scope for massive new investments.