New Delhi: The government has shelved granting permission to mining corporation Rio Tinto to open a diamond mine in Madhya Pradesh, saying the plan endangers a rich forest area and a tiger corridor between the Panna Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.
Rio Tinto says there are diamonds worth Rs.20,520 crore in Bunder. But environmentalists are concerned that the Rs.2,200 crore Bunder diamond mining project involves clearing 971 hectares of forest area in Chhatarpur region of Madhya Pradesh.
Nearly half a million trees would have to be cut down to make way for the diamond mine.
Rio Tinto says there are 53.7 million tonnes of Kimberlite ore—the rocks that contain diamonds—at the site with 34.2 million carats of diamonds. Royalty and taxes to the state exchequer would have amounted to Rs.2,052 and Rs.208 crore, respectively, according to the government. Rio Tinto, which is one of the world’s biggest mining companies, even claimed that the project would make India one among World’s top 10 diamond producers.
After diamond was discovered in the area in 2004, the Madhya Pradesh government and the Rio Tinto Exploration India Pvt. Ltd (RTEIPL) signed an agreement in 2010.
As per the agreement, the company is expected to evaluate, develop, construct, finance, operate and manage integrated diamond mining and processing operation at Bunder diamond deposit and carry out all related operations, infrastructure and facilities required to support and implement the operations.
The project was considered earlier in March 2016 too but the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the environment ministry deferred it, saying that the forest areas proposed for diversion fall in a proposed “inviolate” category and that they are part of an important tiger corridor—strips of land through which tigers move about between protected reserves.
The environment ministry is preparing a policy of violate and inviolate forest area in inviolate forest areas—which are biologically rich—will be out of bounds for any non-forestry project, including mining and dams.
FAC, in March, had also asked the National Tiger Conservation Authority, India’s nodal authority for protecting tigers, to examine the Rio Tinto project.
“As per NTCA report – project can potentially disrupt landscape character vis a vis tiger dispersal around Panna landscape … this may be taken only when Ken-Betwa (river) interlink is finalised as well as detailed study is done to assess other alternatives,” said the minutes of the FAC’s meeting held on 12 July that were reviewed by Mint.
After the March meeting, the company submitted a revised proposal for diversion of 76.43 hectares.
“The user agency (company) has submitted the revised proposal which is highly dependent on surface extraction which would entail greater extent of forest land use leading to permanent loss of the high quality forest areas. The project proponent may also explore the possibility of underground mining,” FAC noted.
The ecological importance of the forest area sought for diversion can be gauged from the fact that this area is a migratory corridor between the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary for the movement of wildlife, including tigers.
With 2,226 tigers, India is home to over 60% of the world’s wild tigers—the result of a successful conservation drive that rests heavily on the protection of tiger corridors.
Panna Tiger Reserve is already under pressure due to the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, which is still under consideration for forest clearance, as it will take away a significant part of the tiger reserve.