By: Anishi Patel
India’s government revealed the discovery of 5.9 million tons of unexplored lithium reserves in the Jammu and Kashmir region on February 9. India’s supply now accounts for 6% of the world’s lithium reserves (comparable to the U.S., Australia and China, who each hold 6-12% of the global reserves).
This discovery has huge implications for India’s economy and international ties, especially now during a global “lithium gold rush.” Lithium is primarily used in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and most importantly, electric vehicles. The discovery therefore has the potential to create many jobs for the country.
However, the Jammu and Kashmir region, where this lithium is located, is the world’s most militarized region and the site of one of India’s largest political disputes. According to Nitish Pahwa at Slate, “India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has consolidated electoral control, displaced business owners from the region, ravaged the territory’s economy, detained independent journalists from the area, and imposed record numbers of internet shutdowns.” This presents a difficult backdrop for introducing any kind of activity into the Jammu and Kashmir region, especially an operation like large-scale lithium mining.
Lithium mining can also be a really invasive process and has potential environmental consequences for the nearby glacier-packed Himalayan mountain ranges, soil, water supplies, air quality, and hydroelectricity plants. Lithium exploration has a history of being exploitative (see The Atacama in northern Chile and the Thacker Pass proposed U.S. mine), and this discovery has the potential to raise issues concerning not just the environment, but labor standards and property rights too.