India’s newlyfound lithium reserves carry an environmental cost

The discovery of vast deposits of lithiumThe positions in the Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir, hailed as a victory for the country’s clean energy transition, come at a price for communities in the Himalayan region, villagers and environmental scientists say.

Often referred to as “white gold”, the metal is a key component of lithium-ion storage batteries, which are crucial for electric vehicles because they are far more efficient in terms of weight for weight than lead-acid or nickel-hydride batteries. commonly used metal. .

THE announcement in February, lithium deposits in the Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir, estimated at 5.9 million tonnes, were welcome in a country engaged in the transition from fossil fuels. India previously had to rely on lithium imports from countries like Australia and Argentina.

However, it comes amid a reported subsidence of the Himalayan landscape triggered by heavy machinery used to build dams and highways, raising concerns about other environmental Shame.

“The use of heavy machinery for drilling and earthmoving in the sensitive Himalayan region has been largely responsible for the subsidence of the city of Joshimath,” says SP Sati, who teaches environmental science at Ranichauri College of Forestry in the adjacent Himalayan state of Uttarakhand where subsidence has been devastating in recent months.

Residents of Reasi recognize the economic opportunities that lithium reserves can bring, but also the risks, as sinking homes force many people to evacuate their homes to safer areas.

“When we first learned of the discovery of huge lithium reserves right next to our village, we were happy that it brought us prosperity. prove to be dangerous for us and our water and the earth,” says Balbir Singh from the village of Salal which sits on the lithium deposits.

“Even though we get compensation for the dislocation of our village, the thought of leaving the homes we have lived in for generations makes us very sad,” Singh says.

Mohinder Singh Sarpanch, village chief of Salal, says the village should be compensated for the impacts of mining in his community. “Until now, we have not been officially asked to leave our village. If residents of the entire area are forced to vacate, more than 500 families will be affected,” Sarpanch said.

“It’s not just about dislocation; There will be pollution that we will have to bear if we are relocated to a nearby area. If we are asked to make these sacrifices for the country, the government must think of us,” adds Sarpanch.

It is unclear when the Indian government plans to start lithium mining, but experts say it could be years before commercial mining operations begin.

“So far, only the calculation of primary resources has been carried out. There are still two steps before we are sure of the exploitable resources and whether we will go to mining or not… it will take several years for the resources to be exploited,” says Pankaj Srivastavaprofessor specializing in mineral exploration in the department of geology, University of Jammu.

India would need to acquire technologies for lithium mining and refining, he added.

According Siddharth Goela senior policy advise the International Institute for Sustainable Development with experience in the fields of the environment, energy and sustainable transportation, development of a lithium mine can take 10 years or more. “However, India may speed up approvals and permits to reduce the time needed, given the critical importance of lithium in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries,” he says.

S.S. Vermaprofessor in the physics department of Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technologyin Longowal, Punjab state, says India has a long history of working mines and lithium mining is not difficult, “but refining is (obviously) difficult”.

Independent environmental impact assessments should be carried out before mining begins, given the sensitive ecology of the Himalayas, says Goel.

“Ensuring an environmentally friendly mining process is also key to attracting investment from large international companies given the growing global scrutiny of the environmental footprint of the battery value chain,” he adds.

Shakil Romshoolecturer in Kashmir Universityof the Department of Earth Sciences, said, “The discovery of lithium in the country is a great development as India actively pursues clean energy production. But given the significant environmental impacts of lithium mining, environmentally friendly exploration technology will be required whenever this resource is mined.

Lithium mining has sparked protests around the world in recent years. According to a study published in February in Nature, ecosystems near lithium deposits are “extremely fragile and linked in a food chain in which ecosystem services are crucial for livestock and rural populations”.

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