Will Lithium Lionize Us?

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By: Abid Hussain Rather

Jammu and Kashmir has been continuously in headlines for either good or bad reasons for the past many years now. Whether it is erratic weather or political instability, we have some breaking news from this region of the world. It won’t be wrong to say that it has turned out to be a hot spot for journalists and media platforms. Despite being conferred with the titles like ‘Paradise on Earth’, ‘Switzerland of Asia’ or ‘Crown of India’ due to its unparalleled scenic natural beauty, lush green forests and valleys, lofty and majestic mountain ranges, glistening lakes, pristine rivers and streams and verdant meadows, Jammu and Kashmir has remained economically underdeveloped as compared to other parts of the country due to its political instability and volatility as it has not been paid necessitous attention from the concerned authorities which it demands.

It is very unfortunate on the part of Kashmiris that they have been suffering from many mental traumas and tensions due to the political tension prevailing here. But fortunately, two weeks ago we got a good news from this region when on 10th February the Union Ministry of Mines announced that lithium reserves have been found in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Geological Survey of India established 5.9 million tonnes of inferred lithium resources in the Salal-Haimana area of Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir. With this discovery, it is believed that the manufacturing of rechargeable lithium based batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones, solar equipment’s and laptops will get a boost and cut India’s dependence on lithium imports as the discovery could boost the manufacturing of rechargeable batteries for electric cars, smartphones, and laptops and cut India’s dependence on lithium imports which are currently imported from China and other countries.

Lithium- a white and silvery soft metal is also called as ‘white gold’ due to its high demand for rechargeable batteries. Besides, it is also used in thermonuclear reactions and making alloys with aluminium and magnesium which in turn are used in armour plating, aircrafts, bicycle frames, high speed trains etc. When we look at the world scenario, we find that the world is facing an acute shortage of lithium due to rising demand for rechargeable batteries, which is estimated to reach two billion by 2050.

It is important to mention here that lithium reserves are very rare. There are only 98 million tonnes of lithium globally out of which India has only 5.5% of these resources while as 54% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile and collectively these three countries are known as lithium triangle of the world. India’s recent find of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium could catapult it into the top three countries in the world with the highest lithium reserves.

Further, discovery of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir region can help address global shortage of lithium and give a boost to Indian economy by exporting lithium and its products to world market. Besides exporting, India itself heavily depends on lithium products as Central Electricity Authority of India has estimated that the country will need massive amounts of lithium for the 27GW grid-scale battery energy storage systems required by 2030.

Further, it has been estimated that India has imported 165 crore lithium batteries between the financial year 2017 and the financial year 2020 which has costed over $ 3.30 billions. In 2020-21, India imported Rs.173 crore worth of lithium. With every passing year, the demand for lithium is soaring significantly as in the present technological world, the use of electronic gadgets is increasing fast and the battery technology is on rise with the emergence of EVs (electric vehicles).

As India is aspiring to control the carbon emission and increase in the production of electric vehicles by 30% in the coming seven years, so it is apt to say that the discovery of lithium reserves will definitely be helpful in this dimension and will strengthen, revolutionize and boost our economic and IT sectors.

It is pertinent to mention here that these reserves have been yet referred as ‘inferred resources’ which means that tonnage, grade and mineral content has been estimated with a low level of confidence. So there are further stages of assessment before proven reserves of lithium can be identified in the Salal-Haimana deposit.

Now from the local perspective, many questions arise on the discovery of these reserves. Will the discovery of these lithium deposits pave a way for the development of Jammu and Kashmir region and will it become a fountain of welfare for the common masses by providing employment opportunities to local people?

Further, can it be expected that a genuine part of revenue collected from these reserves will be used to strengthen essential sectors of the region like education, health, road and building infrastructure etc? Will it be a turning point for the overall development of the concerned region? Only future times will answer these queries but we should keep positive hopes from the discovery of these deposits. Besides, we should not forget that mining of lithium has many negative impacts on local ecology and environment and it may result in many environmental hazards.

This process is water extensive and it is estimated that extraction of one ton of lithium approximately requires 2.2 million litres of water. It also results in air, water and soil pollutions. Reasi being a hilly district has a fragile ecology and hence it is highly vulnerable to catastrophes. Any change in climate due to mining may reduce access to drinking water, affect the health of the poor, and will also pose a serious threat to food security in this region which may ultimately result in human displacement.

We have already example of one of the Himalayan states viz. Uttarakhand before us which has been reeling from the effects of unchecked economic activities that have devastated the environment in the state and caused many fatalities. The subsidence of Joshimath and 2021 Chamoli disaster in Uttarakhand state are the results of fiddling with the natural environment.

So, before extraction of lithium deposits from this region, the concerned authorities must take a balanced assessment and analysis of the high eco- sensitivity of Jammu and Kashmir region as this region lies in high tectonic and disaster-prone zone and they must pay their attention towards maintaining the ecological stability and balance of the region as these reserves lie around Chenab River amid tall trees and lofty mountains.

The concerned authorities must make sure that if the mining of lithium deposits is done in the Reasi district in the near future it must be done in sustainable manner and due consideration should be given to environmental aspects.

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