Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur district--in the heart of the Panna region, famous for its diamonds -- a Rs 55,000 crore mining project spanning over 300 hectares is being undertaken by corporate giant -- The Aditya Birla group.
In 2019, Aditya Birla Group’s firm, Essel Mining, won the bid for the country’s biggest diamond exploration and mining unit. The project involves a 50-year mining lease for 374 hectares of forest land for which the government has already earmarked land for compensatory afforestation, according to the mines ministry.
This is the single largest allocation of natural resources in the country under the new auction regime, after coal. However, local residents fear a massive loss of trees, devastation of the natural ecosystems if the project proceeds further.
Local residents and environmental activists fear the loss of trees, including varieties of Teak, Ken, Behda, Banyan, Jamun, Tendu, Arjuna, and other medicinal trees that can run up to over 2 lakh in numbers.
The past few years have witnessed significant interest over mining in the region. The gram panchayats had in 2014 vehemently opposed mining in the region stating that it threatens livelihood of those dependent on forest produce, and it was clearly violative of the environmental assessment policy.
Beerendra, an activist from Tejpur associated with the movement against mining in Buxwaha, said: “The fight of the people has just begun to protect forests and wildlife, people state that despite consistent mining activity in the Panna region, there has been no development of the people, the condition of the area on the ground remains rife with malnutrition and poverty. Those living around the forest lands are dependent on it, moreover, mining activity in the region could worsen the water woes and environmental degradation in the region.”
Buxwaha is located near Chattarpur falls, a drought-prone area of Bundelkhand region. Tampering with nature and forests through deforestation could lead to massive ecological degradation, say activists, adding that the Buxwaha mining project misery adds to the massive ecological devastation awaiting with Ken-Betwa river interlinking project in the region. The project, which has been in talks for years, is likely to lead to the felling of over 20 lakh trees by conservative estimates and has also stirred silent protests in the region.
Initially, the mining project in the region was to be carried out by the Anglo-Australian mining major Rio-Tinto, which had applied for the land in 2010.However, they withdrew their application later. In 2019, the Madhya Pradesh government issued a tender to auction the forest, which was won by Essel Mining and Industries Limited.
Beerendra said: “In 2014-2015, when Rio Tinto entered the region, we had to fight with the government to ensure land rights and community forest rights, so there is a substantial movement emerging on the ground against the project. A similar resistance movement is emerging as meetings are now being initiated across villages. The government is aiming to initiate the project at a time when the pandemic is raging, people are angry with the government trying to put our natural resources on the line for corporate gains.”
Panna is about 400 kilometres away from the state capital, Bhopal, and is in Bundelkhand, a region that faces much distress due to factors such as water woes, migration, and malnutrition. Rich in minor forest produce such as tendu leaves and mahua, the place is also a natural habitat for wildlife including tigers, leopards, Indian fox, sloth bear, and many more.
NewsClick has previously reported on the precarious conditions of the region. Our reports revealed the prevalence of rampant illegal diamond mining with support from politicians, government officials and the Forest Department. Moreover, the region is rife with acute poverty, as industries elude the local population and inaccessibility of forest land to majorly adivasi dominant villages As a result, migration, malnutrition, poverty has risen in the area.
Satyam Srivastava, a member of the committee created by the ministry of environment for the protection of habitat rights Said: “Civil society, common people have become extremely assertive about the issue. While the land is not an entirely tribal populated area, many are dependent on forest produce. Amid the pandemic the movement is gaining significant ground on social media. The Birla firm has claimed that they are likely to start work from next year. The issue of evictions is still not clear as of yet, as the government has given protected forest land for mining.”
NewsClick contacted Essel Mining in order to understand their view on the claims of the locals, however, did not receive a response. This story will be updated if and when we get a response.