Madhya Pradesh's Chhatarpur district has been making headlines for the past two months for the mining project undertaken by the Aditya Birla Group's Essel Mining & Industries Limited (EMIL) that would adversely impact the Buxwaha forest, which is located near the site, and would lead to felling of more than 2,00,000 trees.
The ₹55,000 crore project will be spread across 364 hectares of forest land. A total of 2,15,875 trees would have to be cut down for the proposed mining project. The area is estimated to have 34 million carats of rough diamonds.
The protests involving the commoners and the environmentalists have cautioned against the ecological vacuum that would be created due to the project, reported The Quint. People from across the country are raising objections and questioning the government's conscience on the lessons learned due to the worst public health crisis that led citizens to gasp for oxygen.
The Mining Project
A report by Mongabay-India stated that the firm plans to develop a fully mechanised opencast mine and set up a state-of-the-art processing plant for recovery of diamonds with an investment of about ₹2500 crore (₹25 billion).
The project, when functional, is expected to become one of the largest diamond mines in the Asian region. The company has targeted the execution of the mining lease by the end of the financial year 2022.
In the pre-feasibility report of the project, the water requirement of the project is estimated at about 5.9 million cubic meters per day.
"To meet this requirement a seasonal nullah will be diverted by constructing a dam. The water storage in the reservoir is estimated at around 17 MCM (million cubic meters)," the report revealed, according to Deccan Herald.
In this context, it is important to note that the Buxwaha region is already declared semi-critical by the Central Ground Water Authority. It falls under the drought-prone area of Bundelkhand and there have been multiple reports of water scarcity in the region.
Local And Environmental Concerns
The project is witnessing opposition and environmentalist have flagged serious implications on the biodiversity and the locals who are dependent on the forests.
Activist Neha Singh filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Supreme Court to stay the project. Activist Dr. PG Najpande, moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT) requesting to retract the permission granted for the diamond mine, reported The Quint.
Several activists have also raised concerns about the existing water crisis in the region. The seasonal water bodies are the only source of groundwater recharge and stressing these sources would harm the ecological balance.
"The region is still considered backward. Around 7,000 villagers of the 17 tribal villages in the territory depend solely on forest products, like Mahua, Tendu leaves, Chironji, Amla, etc, for their livelihood. The proposed mine would snatch away their income sources. For example, Mahua earns a family about Rs 40,000 to Rs 1,00,000 in a season," said Amit Bhatnagar, a volunteer with 'Buxwaha Jungle Bachao Andolan', reported The Quint.
Forest Department Present A Different Picture
Anurag Kumar, District Forest Officer (DFO), however, said that his team has been paying regular visits to the forests and the tribal villages. He stated that the locals are not against the project and are extending their support since the mines would bring employment opportunities.
As per media reports, he also said that the 'outsiders' have been protesting while the locals are 'welcoming the mine'.
A report submitted by Chhattarpur's Chief Forest Conservator (CFC) has claimed that the tribals of the area are not dependent on the proposed forest area and no right of the tribals has been identified in this region.
Protests against this ambitious mine project have been growing since 2019 when EMIL acquired it. Recently, a group staged a symbolic 'Chipko movement' in the Buxwaha forest on June 5, World Environment Day.
Other protests are being organised online amid the COVID pandemic. Environmentalists have created social media pages to raise awareness on the issue. On May 20 '#SaveBuxwahaForest' was among the top ten trending topics on Twitter.
In the report by The Quint, Sharad Singh Kumre of Bhopal's 'Paryawaran Bachao Abhiyan', who has become part of the Buxwaha protest, said, "Forests across the country are being destroyed by industries. But most of it goes largely unnoticed. It is a blessing that the protest for Buxwaha's forest has come to the national limelight. Many scientists, professors, retired civil servants, and judges are expected to join the protest as it gains momentum."
Madhya Pradesh is one of the largest diamond mining states in India accounting for about 90.18 percent. The others are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha.