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The story of the Buxwaha forest

History of Diamond mining in Buxwaha

Buxwaha is a forest in the Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh, the greenest state of India. It has a population of roughly 10,000 people, most of whom are tribals who rely on the forest for their livelihood, according to the 2011 census. In January 2004, Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto discovered an underground diamond reserve in this forest and named it Bunder (monkey) after the many monkeys of the area. In October 2010, Rio Tinto signed an agreement with the State government of Madhya Pradesh, fixing a 10% royalty to the state. According to projections, 27.5 million carats of diamonds will be discovered, resulting in a 90 percent profit share for Rio Tinto. If this is proven to be correct, Buxwaha will become India's largest diamond reserve. With such a skewed arrangement, it is evident that India will get the short end of the stick. Rio Tinto would receive nearly all of the advantages, while the lungs of the state would be destroyed. The foreign company was given clearance to 954 hectares of land of the total 971 hectares. Approximately 5,00,000 trees would need to be cut, and all the effluent garbage would be dumped into the Ken River. This river is the lifeline of the Panna Tiger Reserve and is the home of endangered species such as the Indian Gharial. 


The save by Shehla Masood

Shehla Masood, an environment activist, wrote a letter against the proposal to the home minister in 2011 when the Congress government was at the Centre. She also filed a written complaint with the Select Committee of the Parliament. The Madhya Pradesh High Court demanded an explanation from the state government about the gross violation of rules and regulations in signing the contract. On 16th October 2016, when Shehla Masood was on her way to collect a response to her RTI, she was shot dead in broad daylight. Rio Tinto, the diamond mafia, and several local BJP workers were allegedly involved in her assassination. Though Home Minister Uma Shankar Gupta refuted the allegations, Rio Tinto also issued an official statement denying any involvement in the case. Later the case was assigned to the CBI, and they concluded that the perpetrator was Zahida Parvez to eliminate Shehla from a love triangle. Protests continued after this, with conservationists like Valmiki Thapar and NGO Pahal taking it forward. In 2016, Forest Advisory Committee declared that this area falls in the inviolate category as it is a rich forest area. Another reason was that this forest served as a corridor between Panna Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary. The National Tiger Conservation authority too published a similar report. So, by the end of 2016, the state government led by BJP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan shelved its permission to Rio Tinto. The corporation makes another last effort by submitting a request for only 76 hectares of land, but this, too, is rejected since it is a critical forest region. In 2017 after having spent USD 90 million in the span of 14 years, Rio Tinto quit. The immovable infrastructure built by the company was handed over to the state government. 

The adversity resurfaces

The story might have ended here, but Congress came back to power in Madhya Pradesh in 2018, headed by Kamal Nath. He worked on the revival of this project and conducted an auction for its tender. The bid was secured by Aditya Birla Group's Essel Mining and industries limited in December 2019. With this, the Essel Group would have access to 364 hectares of forest land for the next 50 years. The profit division is fixed at 42% for the state and 58% for the company. No provisions were made for the rehabilitation of tribals and workers of that area. The small and cottage businesses of products like Mahua, Tendu leaves, chironji, Amla would be destroyed. But the assessment report submitted by Chhatarpur Chief Forest Conservator sings a different tune. According to this report, the area's tribals were "not dependent on the proposed forest" as of January 2021, and "no tribal right has been recognized in the area." With an expenditure of over 2500 crores, EMIL proposes to build a fully mechanized opencast mine and state-of-the-art processing plant for diamond recovery. The firm claims that once operational, the project has the potential to become one of Asia's largest diamond mines.

Protests and the promise of compensatory afforestation 

Environmental groups have opposed the project because of its ecological impact. Neha Singh launched a public interest lawsuit in the Supreme Court, and Dr. PG Nagpande filed a complaint with the National Green Tribunal. On World Environment Day, a symbolic "Chipko movement" was held. However, the authorities ignored these concerns by noting the mining industry's ability to provide jobs. Critics also say that the concept of compensatory afforestation is only on paper, not on the ground. With no care, the saplings intended to compensate for the thousands of trees cut down for the Bundelkhand interstate route are barely alive. There is a hope of jobs for educated locals (which are not many in the area) but also a threat to the environment. Many plant and animal species will be put at risk, and the state's pet project of tiger conservation will suffer. The fact that Buxwaha is a drought-prone location and diamond mining is a water-intensive project means that water scarcity is unavoidable.

The million-dollar point-solution 

The National Green Tribunal has ordered that tree cutting in the Buxwaha forest be halted until further orders. However, this is simply a temporary solution; the real issue is Crony's capitalism, which sells common natural resources to benefit a privileged few. Diamond mining in the Buxwaha region would require around 5.9 million cubic meters of water, or 590 crore litres of water every year for the next 50 years. Can we afford that? The output is diamonds, which have no intrinsic value of their own. We are still living in the Victorian era with a fascination for anything that shines. One way can be to embrace lab-created diamonds, which are in no way less lustrous than mined diamonds. The carbon dioxide in the air can be captured and used for creating diamonds, killing two birds with the same stone. This is not a fictional concept. It has already been implemented in many countries. It is high time that we use realistic and sustainable solutions to make our lives easier.


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