Lithium discovery: India hits jackpot, must guard the precious resource - The Tribune India

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Lithium discovery

India hits jackpot, must guard the precious resource

Lithium discovery

Residents of Salal village pose for photos showing lithium stones, in Reasi district, on Saturday, February 11, 2023. PTI

THE discovery of nearly 6 million tonnes of lithium deposits for the first time in the country — in Reasi district of J&K — spells a jackpot as this mineral is in huge demand for a world running out of time to shift to eco-friendly ways of life. Called ‘white gold’, the precious metal is crucial to modern-age projects requiring both chargeable and non-chargeable batteries in fields such as clean energy, transport and medical devices like pacemakers. While the lithium-ion battery — whose developers won the Nobel Prize — has already transformed electronic communications, the targets for making electric vehicles and moving away from carbon-emitting fuels are also dependent on lithium.

However, even as credit goes to geologists and other scientists exploring various sectors for years in search of lithium, the Reasi find is still in the initial exploration stage and it will be a while before India could mine and refine it to make it consumption-ready. Among the challenges towards this end is ensuring environment-friendly excavation in the ecologically fragile Himalayan surroundings of Reasi. Till then, India will have to keep importing lithium as deadlines for its various projects aimed at zero-carbon emissions draw near.

At the same time, India would do well to orient its policies around the valuable lithium to its best possible advantage, both economically and ecologically. Given the surging demand for the mineral globally and its limited reserves, it needs to learn from the experience of the lithium-rich triangle comprising Bolivia, Argentina and Chile that has now become alert to the exploitative tendencies of rich as well as powerful countries and corporations. They are posturing hard bargains as outsiders clamour for the sought-after mineral. For the first time, Bolivia has allowed foreign investment in the sector on the condition that it has stakes in both mining and manufacturing as production paves the way for industrialisation and development of a poor but raw material-rich country. In Chile, newly elected President Gabriel Boric Font has vowed to ensure state control of its vast lithium reserves and democratise mineral wealth among his country’s citizens, with companies as minor partners. In rejecting the proposed $2.5 billion iron-ore project, he has prioritised environmental conservation.

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