Coal and Mining Sector

Big Lithium find: Risks and Rewards


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Lithium

Mains level: Geostrategic considerations of the issue


Central idea: The discovery of 5.9 million tonnes of lithium in Jammu & Kashmir is a major boost for India’s electrification plans but mining is a high-risk, high-reward game in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas.

India’s lithium treasure

  • Huge deposits: Authorities have found 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves in Reasi district of Jammu & Kashmir.
  • One of the largest mines: This may be the seventh largest deposit of the rare element, accounting for roughly 5.7% of all the reserves in the world.
  • High grade quality: They are also said to be of a higher grade—550 parts per million (ppm) against the average 220 ppm—making it highly lucrative, given how lithium prices have soared in the last few years.

Game-changing prospects for India

  • White gold: Due to its ability to pack energy, it has utility across a range of sectors and has gained the moniker ‘white gold’.
  • Soaring prices: According to the International Energy Agency, lithium prices went up more than seven-fold between the start of 2021 and May 2022.
  • Battery economy: It is now primarily used to build the batteries that power modern appliances.
  • EV push: They also power electric vehicles, a segment that will corner most of the global lithium production in future.
  • Import cut: Currently, India does not have its own lithium resources and like crude oil, it is dependent on imports. In fiscal 2022, India imported lithium and lithium ion worth almost ₹14,000 crore.

Will batteries be made of lithium from India now?

  • There is still some way to go before miners can extract lithium for industrial use.
  • The discovery is ‘inferred’ or preliminary, the lowest of the three levels of estimations of a mineral deposit and the second of the four stages of exploration, as per the UN Framework Classification of mineral resources.
  • There is much analysis to be done before its true value is confirmed.

Pitfalls of lithium mining

  • Pollution in the valley: Open-pit-mining, refining, and waste disposal from these processes substantially degrades the environment, including depletes and contaminates waterways and groundwater, diminishes biodiversity, and releases considerable air pollution.
  • Water intensity: Extracting lithium from its ore is highly water-intensive, taking about 2.2 million litres of water for one tonne of lithium.
  • Seismicity threats: The Himalayas are a highly fragile and eco-sensitive region and as the recent Joshimath subsidence shows, it is vulnerable to long-term adverse consequences of unplanned development works.
  • Displacement issues: Mining in the region could displace local communities and have significant social impacts. The region is home to a number of indigenous communities who could be negatively impacted by mining in the region.
  • Undue activism over Kashmir: Mining in the region can attract opposition from environmentalists and so-called separatists disguised as national leaders.

Geostrategic considerations

  • Sensitive location: The new lithium discovery in J&K has significant geostrategic implications due to the geopolitical sensitivity of its location.
  • Neighborhood hostility: The Union territory of J&K has a history of cross-border tensions, domestic insurgency, and terrorism.
  • Resentment of local population: Lack of meaningful engagement with the local populace in the Li extraction project could introduce new frontiers of socio-environmental conflict.

China factor

  • China currently dominates the global lithium-ion battery manufacturing industry.
  • Dependence on China for Li and other crucial metals and their derivatives is a source of energy security risks.
  • Major economies such as the E.U., the U.S., Canada, and India are seeking alternative supplies to challenge China’s geopolitical dominance.

Indian initiatives in this regard

  • Undeterred trade with China: India’s security considerations are more immediate due to the growing geopolitical rivalry with China and longstanding territorial disputes.
  • Rare Earths Mission: The Indian government and industry are pushing for a ‘Rare Earths Mission’ to reduce dependence on China and exploit the country’s critical mineral reserves.


  • In effect, the proliferation of EVs could mean India becoming dependent on China, just like it is reliant on the Middle East for crude oil today.
  • J&K’s reserves, however, provide a major opening for India to be self-reliant.


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