Saturday, March 25th, 2023 03:08:54

Will India be prepared for mining Lithium?

By Sandeep Singh
Updated: February 28, 2023 9:59 am

On February 9/10th of February 2023, Indian media was full of the news that, the Geological Survey of India has discovered 5.9 million tonnes of inferred resources (G3) of lithium, which is used for making electric vehicle (EV) batteries, for the first time in the country at Salal-Haimana in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K)’s Reasi district. It was also reported that with this discovery, India now has the seventh largest resource of lithium globally, though it will take time to convert this into reserves.

Before getting into Lithium, let us understand what minerals can do to a nation.

The Mineral Revolution is a term used by historians to refer to the rapid industrialisation and economic changes which occurred in South Africa from the 1860s onwards. The Mineral Revolution was largely driven by the need to create a permanent workforce to work in the mining industry, and saw South Africa transformed from a patchwork of agrarian states to a unified, industrial nation. In political terms, the Mineral Revolution had a significant impact on diplomacy and military affairs. Finally, the policies and events of the Mineral Revolution had an increasingly negative impact on race relations in South Africa, and formed the basis of the apartheid system, which dominated South African society for a century. The Mineral Revolution was caused by the discovery of diamonds in Kimberly in 1867 and also by the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand in 1886. The mineral mining revolution laid the foundations of racial segregation and the control of white South Africans over black South Africans. The Mineral Revolution changed South Africa from being an agricultural society to becoming the largest gold producing country in the world. (Wikipedia)

Minerals have not been a good experience for South Africa. Let us look at Lithium mines around the world.

International Institute for Sustainable Development in their 2018 report, ‘Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy’ talk about ‘The Lithium Triangle’.

The border region between Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, an area known as the Lithium Triangle, was home to 46 per cent of global lithium production in 2017 and 59 per cent of known world reserves. Chile is currently responsible for a large proportion of the region’s production, though Argentina is looking to increase its share by improving its investment attractiveness through reduced export taxes and currency controls. Bolivia, meanwhile, has more identified lithium resources than any other country in the world.

South American lithium is mined primarily through the extraction of lithium from brines, an extremely water intensive and polluting process. As a result, conflicts related to lithium mining in all three countries mainly pertain to water access and control, as well as alleged encroachments by mining companies onto Indigenous or protected lands.

Chile’s largest salt flat, Salar de Atacama, is a fragile ecosystem with great cultural importance to the local Indigenous communities. Lithium mining in the area and the associated diversion of water for mine operations has been cause for public demonstrations in the region by communities who reject extensions of the existing mining operations. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia and the Province of Jujuy in Argentina have also witnessed conflicts and demonstrations for reasons similar to those in Salar de Atacama.

Zimbabwe is believed to hold among the world’s largest deposits of lithium, hosting an estimated 23,000 metric tonnes in reserves. Let us look how Lithium has impacted Zimbabwe. The report,  ‘Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy’ says:

Ensuring that the benefits of lithium mining support Zimbabwe’s population and their development will depend on how the new government tackles reforming the sector and strengthening its governance. Traditionally, management of the sector has been defined by corruption and a lack of transparency. Zimbabwe ranked near the bottom of the 2017 Resource Governance Index; categorized as having “failing” governance, this means the country has almost no framework in place to ensure resource extraction benefits society, while it is highly likely that the benefits of mining flow only to a select group of companies and elites. Similarly, Zimbabwe ranks very low on rankings of corruption perceptions (157 of 180 countries) and of state fragility (10 of 178 countries).

Mining has, in the past, contributed to Zimbabwe’s culture of political repression and instability. The country’s military and security forces have been among the principal beneficiaries of Zimbabwe’s diamond revenues, and, beyond personal enrichment, they have been accused of using revenues from the sector to wage campaigns aimed at discrediting opposition parties and intimidating their leaders. Shareholding within the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company remains opaque; calls for transparency and reform in the sector and in the management of its revenues have been largely unanswered. The decision, in 2011, to allow the export of diamonds from Zimbabwe under the Kimberley Process was widely condemned by many of the certification process’ member states and civil society due to the presence of armed forces in the country’s diamond fields and the human rights abuses they carried out against miners, including killings, beatings and forced labour.

Lithium mines does not paint a rosy picture for the nations which have them. But Lithium is an important material. International Institute for Sustainable Development describes uses of Lithium as follows:

Lithium is a crucial component of EVs and green energy storage technologies. Nearly half of all mined lithium (46 per cent) goes into batteries; the rest is used for a variety of products, including ceramics, glass, lubricating greases and polymers. Lithium-ion batteries dominate the EV market, due to their high energy-density-to-weight ratio. They are also used to power mobile phones, electric tools and electricity grids when connected to wind turbines and photovoltaic cells. As the market for EVs continues to grow, so too will demand for lithium. This demand increased by 13 per cent to 43,000 tonnes in 2017; it is expected to more than double by 2024 due to the expansion in the production of EVs. Much of this demand comes from China, where the vast majority of the world’s lithium batteries are made.

India is a democracy and the issues faced by Zimbabwe may not trouble India. But the issues of environment will be surely blown out of proportion. Especially with China’s interest being in Lithium. One must remember that the Copper is as important as Lithium in modern economics and Electric Vehicles (EV). Sterlite plant in Tuticorin which was meeting the need of India was closed on the issues of environment. Do remember that not a single person died due to pollution of Sterlite plant in Tuticorin (author could not find any record of such death on internet). The plant was closed when 13 people were killed in firing by police on the protestors demanding the closer of plant. Not to forget The Hindu, the mainline newspaper published from Chennai has been carrying pro-China advertisement and articles. India became a net importer of Copper from exporter. The biggest gainer in the whole process was China.

For Lithium reserves similar agenda has already started. The Hindu in its article ‘Why India’s lithium discovery is fraught with social and environmental risks’ on 14 February 2023 by Prakash Kashwan and Dhanasree Jayaram says: The applications of Li (Lithium) in renewable energy infrastructure often obscures its significant environmental consequences, which vary according to the source. Extracting Li from hard rock mines, similar to what has already been proposed in J&K, entails open-pit-mining followed by roasting the ore using fossil fuels. Industry estimates suggest that this process consumes 170 cubic metres of water and releases 15 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of Li extracted. 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.

Another left leaning publication Scroll on 18 April 2023 in its article ‘Lithium reserves were first mapped in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. So why is everyone excited now?’ by Manish Kumar reported: According to the seismic zonation map of India, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, which lies close to the Himalayas, comes under Zone IV and is also ecologically sensitive. Several international reports in countries where lithium mining takes place have talked about the impact of environmental degradation in such areas.

International organisations have also jumped in the fray. The article ‘India’s lithium discovery could boost green energy but creates problems in the region’ by Cullen S. Hendrix  on 6 February 2023 in the portal of The Peterson Institute for International Economics says:

Developing these lithium resources will require the Indian government to lure investment and industrial development into a politically volatile region in which government authority is contested. The identified lithium reserves sit roughly 30 miles from the Line of Control that separates India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan-controlled Azad (Free) Kashmir. Kashmir is  predominantly Muslim, but the lithium deposits are located in the southern Jammu region, a territory of mountains flanking a river valley that is half Muslim and half Hindu. The Hindus accuse the Muslims of driving them out of the area and waging terrorist attacks, with the covert and sometimes overt support of Pakistan. Modi’s government has been accused of waging an anti-Muslim campaign of violence, extrajudicial killings, imprisonments, and other activities condemned by various human rights organizations.

Jammu and Kashmir accounted for just 1 percent of India’s population in 2019 but 57 percent of all deaths due to armed conflict in the country between 2019 and 2021, with local violence rising since Prime Minister Modi was elected in 2014. One armed group, the People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), has already warned that it will not allow the Indian government to develop the resources. Though the PAFF itself is a minor player, India’s Home Ministry considers it a local proxy for Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group that reportedly has been responsible for many deadly attacks in the region over the past two decades…..

But the downside risks are real. The environmental costs of lithium mining are both high and highly localized, with particular concerns related to groundwater contamination. And large infrastructure projects are often catalysts for conflict in areas where ethnic or religious minorities seek autonomy or self-determination. Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to marginalize and punish Muslims have drawn widespread criticism, and the government’s 2019 decision to revoke Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomous status was seen as an effort to integrate the region into Hindu-majority India. Under these conditions, resource discoveries can intensify existing conflicts or spark new ones. Modi will need to tread carefully to turn the new lithium resources into a blessing, rather than a curse.

This article has gone beyond environment and had tried to make the issue communal, in a way giving the Islamic Terrorist and Pakistan a signal to start meddling in the whole issue. It has also maligned the image of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the hope that the opposition party will also oppose the Lithium mining the way they oppose and abuse Adani and Ambani.

The drift of all the above-mentioned articles is clear that it will not be easy for India to mine Lithium. International and forces within India will obstruct the mining of Lithium. There are four stages of mining. As far as Lithium mining is concerned India is at the second stage and it has taken two decades to travel from first to second stage. It must cross two more stages before production starts. The four stages are the G4 (reconnaissance) stage, where the mapping of resources takes place, the G3 (prospecting) stage, where quantities are inferred, based on interpretation of geological, geophysical and geochemical results and a deposit is identified which will be the target for further exploration. In the second stage i.e., G2 (general exploration), more studies are done to estimate the minerals’ shape, size and grade. And finally, the G1 stage (detailed exploration) is where characteristics of the deposit are established with a high degree of accuracy. (‘Lithium reserves were first mapped in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999. So why is everyone excited now?)

India has a long way to go in extraction of Lithium. But the cabal has started playing its games to stop India from extracting the Lithium. It will help them in making government of India fail in their ambitious target of net-zero carbon emission by 2070. Lithium will help India save lot of forexes. India spent $1,791.35 million to import 5,486.18 lakh units of lithium-ion batteries during April-November 2022. Looking at the importance of Lithium, all out efforts will be made to stop India from mining it. International forces attack on Adani, support to farmers protesting against the Farmers bill etc. has made the cabal come out in open with their opposition to India’s growth. Hopefully Indian government will be better prepared when it come to Lithium mining.


By Sandeep Singh

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