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India will allow private sector to mine lithium, five other critical minerals

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India has amended laws to allow private companies to prospect for six rare and critical minerals, including lithium, which were off limits until now, multiple news outlets reported, quoting unidentified sources.

The Cabinet is reported to have cleared changes to the country's Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, at a meeting on Wednesday. The proposal will remove six minerals — lithium, titanium, beryllium, zirconium, niobium and tantalum — from the country's 'Atomic Minerals' list and empower the Center to auction their reserves for mining by private players.

The decision could support India's ambitions to become a global battery hub and transition to clean energy. Business executives including Vikramadithya Gaurineni, Executive Director of Amara Raja Batteries, which is setting up a gigafactory in Telangana, have spoken of the need to ensure supply of raw materials.

India currently depends on imports to meet its requirement of critical battery minerals like lithium, cobalt and nickel. The country is in talks with Latin American countries including Argentina and Chile to acquire lithium projects.

Matters might have changed after the Geological Survey of India discovered 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves in Kashmir earlier this year. Union mines secretary Vivek Bharadwaj has said the country could auction those reserves by December.

Lithium, one of the lightest and softest metals in the world, is a critical component for making batteries for electric vehicles and other rechargeable batteries for consumer electronic products including laptops and cell phones.

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The other minerals opened for mining have application in the space sector, as well as electronics and communications domain. 

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