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This is why the discovery of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir is a game changer

India has been importing the mineral from Australia and Argentina

PTI02_11_2023_000057A Residents of Salal village pose for photos showing lithium stones in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir. The government announced the discovery of lithium in the region | PTI

Two days ago, India celebrated a piece of information that brought cheer to the whole country. Substantial lithium reserves have been discovered in Jammu and Kashmir, a game-changer for the region. 

According to the government, the reserve in the Reasi district is of high quality, but the extraction of the metal will take time. "We had G3 level study and it will now be followed by G2 and G1 study before the final extraction of the metal," J-K Mining Amit Secretary Sharma told PTI.  

Nevertheless, the discovery means a lot to India as the mineral, crucial for the manufacturing of electric vehicles, cell phone batteries and solar panels, has never before been available in India. "Lithium falls in the critical resource category which was not earlier available in India and we were dependent on its 100 per cent import. The G3 (advanced) study of the GSI shows the presence of best quality lithium in abundant quantity in the foothills of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine at Salal village (Reasi)," J-K Mining Amit secretary Sharma told PTI.

Though smaller lithium deposits were found in Karnataka in 2021, India met its needs mostly through imports from Australia and Argentina. India imported Rs 173 crore worth of lithium and Rs 8,811 crore worth of lithium ions during 2020-21.

Now, reserves in the country mean this could come as a shot in the arm for India's bid to increase the number of private electric cars, thereby cutting down on emissions. Besides avoiding imports, the reserves could also make the country a major player in the global market for lithium. 

The 5.9-million ton reserve of lithium available at Salal village is of high quality of 500 ppm-plus grading against the normal grade of 220 parts per million (PPM). With a stockpile of 5.9 million tons, India will surpass China in its availability. "India joined a select group of countries at the global level after this finding and it will fulfil the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India)," he said.

China is estimated to have 60 per cent of the world's capacity for processing and refining lithium, despite it holding only 7.9 per cent of the world's lithium reserves, much below Chile and Australia. With the discovery, India will be one of the top three countries with abundant lithium reserves.

That said, extracting Lithium is a taxing and expensive process and has to be carried out sustainably since it is not a nature-friendly process. The process also requires a lot of water and releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

So challenging is it that entrepreneur Elon Musk mentioned how it "requires a massive amount of machinery and it's a hard thing to scale" during last year's Tesla earnings call.

For the same reason, the economic benefits of the same cannot be pegged at this point.

Jobs for youth

The discovery has been welcomed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, as they expect a surge in employment opportunities.

According to Sharma, local youths are given preference in any project as per the government's industrial policy. "The local youth, whether skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled, will be part of this project. People who will be affected by this project will be adequately compensated and rehabilitated under the rules," he said.

Locals share their joy too. "It is a very happy moment for all of us and we are feeling proud. After the railway projects and Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, which are major sources of employment for the locals, this project is going to be a game-changer for us," Salal Deputy Sarpanch Rajinder Singh said.

Jaspal Singh, another villager who claimed to have worked as a labourer with the GSI survey team, said they surveyed the hills for the last two years and returned about three months.

"We are feeling lucky to be part of this project which will generate ample employment opportunities for the locals. We salute the hard work of the survey team especially given the challenging situation during the outbreak of Corona pandemic," he said, adding "one of the team members died during the survey".

(With inputs from PTI)

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