Is it ethical to mine diamonds worth billions for development, but at the cost of priceless forests, wildlife and tribals?
Team ulaunch explains the pros and cons of the Buxwaha Forest Diamond Mining Project and its effects on the environment.
Why is the Buxwaha forest in the news?
The Bunder Diamond mining project in Madhya Pradesh, undertaken by Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining & Industries Limited, will spread over 364 hectares of forest land. It is estimated to mine about 34 million carats of rough diamonds for which more than 2 lakh trees will be cut. The proposed project has a huge investment of about Rs. 2,500 crore and is believed to have the potential of becoming one of Asia’s largest diamond mines. This diamond mining project will not only clear a vast area of forest, leading to loss of biodiversity but will also strain the water resources of an area that already faces water scarcity.
Why is the Buxwaha forest important?
The life-giving role that forests have in our biosphere cannot be emphasised enough. Our lives are possible due to forests and their products. The ‘Heart of India’, Madhya Pradesh, retains the Buxwaha forest which extends over a vast area of 3 lakh hectares in the Chhatarpur district, Bundelkhand region. This forest is home to some rare species of animals like Indian Gazelles, Chowsingha, Sloth Bears, Leopard, Tiger, Monitor Lizards, Indian Rumped Vultures, and Peacock. It also sustains trees with medicinal benefits like Teak, Ken, Behda, Banyan, Jamun Tendu, Khair, Bel, Dhava, Seja, Ghoat, Renjha, Amltas, Saugon, etc.
What will be the impact of the bunder Diamond Mining project on Buxwaha Forest?
The Bunder Diamond mining project will likely have the following detrimental impacts:
- Extensive damage to flora and flora: The lives of the animals living in the forest will be endangered due to massive deforestation. The forest ecosystem will be significantly damaged due to habitat destruction, man-animal conflict and the setting up of infrastructure in the environmentally sensitive region.
- Disastrous impacts on the Natives: The life and livelihood of native tribals in the Buxwaha forest heavily depends on the forest. Most of them earn their living by collecting and selling various forest products. Moreover, their lives are intricately tied with the forests and their knowledge can help to flourish the natural wildlife.
- Water scarcity: Tribal farmers in this region mainly depend on groundwater reserves for water supply. The mining project will consume a gigantic quantity of groundwater, which may lead to a massive water scarcity crisis, both for the farmers and the wildlife alike. It should be noted that the region is already a water-scarce region and meeting the requirements for the project would further increase the burden.
- Debris dumps: Initially, only 62.64 hectares of the land were granted mining permissions by the government but later the mining firm began demanding about 383 hectares of forest land. It plans to use this forest land to dump the debris generated. This would render the forest inaccessible and pollute the region, thus wreaking havoc on the forest ecosystem.
- The danger of natural disasters: Mining and similar human activities in sensitive natural regions lead to ecological and geographical imbalance. This imbalance becomes the reason for natural calamities such as earthquakes, droughts, floods etc.
What is the Government’s stand and Peoples’ Reaction ?
Identified as one of the richest sites of Diamond Reserves in Asia, the Bunder diamond mine project in the dense forests of Buxwaha in Chhatarpur district is facing fierce defiance and resistance from the local communities and environmentalists. Reports state that the project will claim over 200,000 trees in the region and will require an estimated 5.9 million cubic meters of water per day, that too in the already water-prone Bundelkhand region. The facts are distressing and alarming at the same time when the world is already facing severe consequences of human interventions with nature in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic.
People have started expressing their dissent and outrage through social media campaigns. Over 1.25 lakh people have come forward and supported the protest #saveBuxwahaforest and #IndiastandswithBuxwahaforest through social media campaigns. Many activists and environmentalists such as Dr Dhanendra Kumar, Neha Singh, Karuna Raghuvanshi are making maximum efforts to turn this campaign into a mass movement.
On the other hand, MLA Pradyumn Singh Lodhi of the incumbent BJP government has condemned these voices stating that “Those opposing the project are opposing the felling of trees without proper knowledge. It will bring development and 15 times saplings will be planted for the chopped trees” he added, claiming the project will bring in big-time royalty which will benefit the State and the region. However, numerous researches and empirical evidence point to the fact that damage to a naturally grown forest is irreparable and can’t be compensated by growing the trees elsewhere. This is because these trees will take decades to flourish into a forest and tribals and animals will have nowhere to go till then.
Similar Movements in the Past
India has witnessed numerous movements and protests in the past that were organised for a social cause. Some very popular environmental movements are The Bishnoi Movement, The Chipko and Appiko Movements, Jungle Bachao Andolan, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Save Silent Valley Movement etc. These movements emerged in different parts of the country, at different times, but the common thread that ties all these movements together is the cause behind them which is – ’Development at the cost of Destruction.’
Development at the Cost of Environmental Destruction?
“The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.– Mahatma Gandhi
COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to stop for a moment and think. Think about our practices, think about the consequences of interfering with nature. Destroying the green cover at the expense of the diamonds, especially when oxygen scarcity had rattled the nation amid the Covid-19 pandemic where thousands died due to the unavailability of oxygen.
And hence, it becomes extremely important for us to reconsider the idea of Development at the cost of Destruction. The execution of the Bunder Mining Project will surely escalate the exports of the diamond rather than importing them which would thereby increase the GDP of the country. And, the project will also lead to the development and upliftment of the erstwhile backward region.
But the question is whether is this the type of development that we really want? The one at the cost of lakhs of trees, millions of gallons of water, and rare species of flora and fauna which can never be restored through afforestation programs under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016? The tribals who dwell in these forests for their livelihoods are the most affected communities. They are promised proper rehabilitation with adequate compensation. But how useful is it for them in the long term?
Climate Action has always occupied a backseat when it came to choosing between development & environmental protection but the events of the world are forcing us to rethink the time we have left. If the climate crisis is not acted upon, the planet will hurtle toward an apocalypse. The political and social events that are transpiring certainly makes one feel that way but the rising awareness through protests, especially among the youth provides us with a sliver of hope.
The famous case of Narmada Bachao Andolan can be considered here. On one side the Sardar Sarovar dam has indeed many benefits but at the same time, it has displaced more than 41,000 families (over 200,000 people) in the three states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh. Over 50% of the people affected by the dam are Adivasis. The project has admittedly the best ever resettlement and rehabilitation policy in India, but still, there are thousands of families whose lives have been completely transformed due to the project and who are still hoping for a better tomorrow. Thus, it’s high time that we reconsider the idea of Development. And the ideal way forward for the same is for all the stakeholders to sit together at the decision making tables. This will lead to holistic planning, execution, feedback of such projects and will shape a brighter future.
Also, Read about S Sathish, a Tamil Nadu Forest Range Officer, who won the ‘International Ranger Award 2021’ for his selfless service and determination in conserving forests and marine life.
Researched and written by Aanchal Sahu & Disha Shinde, Team ulaunch.