The news of a possible discovery of lithium reserves in Jammu & Kashmir has come at a time when the cost of import of lithium-based products and raw materials are seeing a sharp and steady increase. India spent $1,791.35 million to import 5,486.18 lakh units of lithium-ion batteries during April-November 2022 period as against import of 6,167.68 lakh units of lithium-ion batteries for $1,832.44 million in 2021-22.

The cost of importing primary lithium batteries has also risen as India saw 665.4 lakh units worth $20.64 million getting imported in the first 8 months of 2022-23 as against 849.96 lakh units worth $22.16 million for the whole of 2021-22.

The cost of lithium oxide and hydroxide went up through the roof during the period as India paid $42.69 million for import of 716 tonnes of these key commodities for April-November 2022 period as against $28.99 million for 2,097.5 tonnes during 2021-22. Lithium oxide is used in the production a wide range of products including glass and ceramics while lithium hydroxide has applications in spacecraft and submarine operations. Similarly, lithium carbonate, a key ingredient in the manufacture of life saving medicine used to treat bipolar disorder saw import prices going up several folds this year.  India imported 679.6 tonnes of lithium carbonate for $12.1 million during April-November 2022 against 1,242 tonnes for $8.7 million in 2021-22.

While the price increase and the increasing demand for lithium batteries explain the euphoria that surrounded the announcement of lithium reserve discovery by Vivek Bharadwaj, secretary, Ministry of Mines at the Central Geological Programming Board meeting in New Delhi last week, it is too early to assure domestic extraction of lithium anytime soon. Even what Bharadwaj announced was only the possibility of the presence of 5.9 million tonnes as exploration is at a very preliminary stage with several years of further exploratory phases to go.

In fact, on February 8, 2023, Prahlad Joshi, Minister of Mines, Coal and Parliamentary Affairs informed Lok Sabha that in the last five years, Geological Survey of India (GSI) has carried out 20 projects on lithium and associated elements in Jammu & Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya and Rajasthan. “However, resource of lithium has not yet been augmented by GSI. Mineral Exploration & Consultancy Limited, a CPSE under Ministry of Mines has undertaken an exploration project for Lithium in Ladakh. Further, Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, a constituent unit of Department of Atomic Energy is carrying out exploration for lithium in parts of Mandya and Yadgir districts, Karnataka”, the minister informed.

Meanwhile, Khanij Bidesh India Ltd. (KABIL), a Joint Venture of three CPSEs under Ministry of Mines, is exploring opportunities for investment in lithium mines in Argentina and Australia.

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