New Delhi: Following the spirit of the famous proverb “better late than never” those who proudly proclaim to be part of the National Alliance of People’s Movements have suddenly woken up and raised their voice against the Madhya Pradesh Government’s decision to give a go ahead to the stalled Bunder diamond mining project in the Buxwaha protected forests of Chhatarpur.
These self-proclaimed sentinels of forest, green cover and environment, were no where to be seen when I had singlehandedly opposed Rio Tinto, the diamond giant, that had already caused huge damage to the forest ecosystem when it carried out the exploration work in the Buxwaha forest a few years ago. My petition loaded with technical pointers and objections to the Prime Minister of India had led the PMO to call for the concerned file from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and with that the entire process to clear the Rio Tinto proposal to exploit the Buxwaha forest for profit had come to a screeching halt. After some time, Rio Tinto, finding itself against the wall, with time running out and no solution in sight was forced to pack its bags and leave. At that stage, there was deafening silence from all these elements now shouting from rooftops for protecting the Buxwaha forest. They were nowhere to be seen when former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath had given orders to seek new bidders for the Bunder project. Kamal Nath has a past history. He had earned notoriety for himself when his name was linked with Span Motels Private Limited that had built a club by encroaching upon forest land in 1990. The land was subsequently regularised and leased out to the company by the Himachal Pradesh Government when Nath was Union Minister for Forest. This encroachment had even changed the course of the mighty Beas River.
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Check: 1. Storm over diamond mining in Panna belt; 2.Diamond giant Rio Tinto’s Indian connection and questions that need to be addressed; 3. Please stop Rio Tinto from devastating an eco-fragile zone through commercial mining of diamonds in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in central India ( change campaign spearheaded by Lalit Shastri Founder President of CREW); 4. MP Congress Government reopens the aborted diamond mining chapter ignoring the threat to environment;
The National Alliance of People’s Movements on Monday 5 July issued a strongly worded statement against the “destruction of Buxwaha protected forest region in Madhya Pradesh for proposed Bunder diamond mining project.
The project, spearheaded by Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining and Industries Ltd. (EMIL), will lead to irrevocable destruction of dense forest land, including over 2 lakh trees. We convey our full solidarity with the struggle of the local communities and citizens campaigns to save Buxwaha forest and call upon the Govt of MP to scrap the diamond block project with immediate effect.
EMIL is currently in the process of obtaining regulatory clearances for a fully-mechanized open-cast mine and processing plant for diamonds on 364 hectares of protected forest land near Sagoria village. The project is expected to begin in 2022 and the company claims that it has the potential to be the biggest diamond mining plant in Asia.
However, the mine will have devastating social and environmental effects on the Buxwaha protected forests and surrounding region. It will lead to the cutting of at least 2.15 lakh trees, severely threatening the region’s rich biodiversity and the local Adivasi communities. The project threatens critical wildlife habitats, including those of at least seven species listed in Schedule I of Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. It will also adversely impact the tiger corridor between the Panna National Park and the nearby Nauradehi forests of Bundelkhand.
Moreover, Bundelkhand is drought prone and the water situation in the Buxwaha region itself has been declared as ‘semi-critical’. The large water requirement for the mining project (1.6 crore litres per day) will lead to diversion of vital seasonal water sources found in the forests. Mining to depths of more than 1,100 feet will also severely deplete the already low groundwater levels.
Instead of fulfilling their responsibility to protect forests and support local communities, government officials are going out of their way to facilitate the project. Reports by Chhatarpur’s District Forest Officer (DFO) and Chief Forest Conservator (CFC) assert that no wildlife species of specific importance or belonging to endangered categories are found in the region. They also make the blatantly false claim that Adivasi communities are ‘not dependent’ on the area. However, at least 8,000 residents from more than 20 nearby villages rely heavily on these forests for their livelihoods and food security. Such attempts by the government to sacrifice natural resources and local communities for private profit are highly condemnable.
The experience from the Sardar Sarovar dam and other dam projects in the Narmada Valley also shows that the MP government cannot be relied on to carry out proper ‘compensatory afforestation’ programs to compensate for the proposed destruction of Buxwaha forests. In many compensatory afforestation areas of the Narmada Valley, no tree plantation was ever carried out, or the trees have already died and the land is now degraded. It is also important to recognize that no compensatory afforestation can replace the old, dense forests and rich biodiversity of Buxwaha.
The project has already seen severe opposition from affected communities and activists. Groups like Buxwaha Jungle Bachao Abhiyaan and Paryawaran Bachao Abhiyaan have come together as part of the struggle to save Buxwaha from corporate intrusion. In keeping with recent trends where a lot of young people are expressing solidarity with environmental issues across the country, #SaveBuxwaha Campaign has also been highlighted through social media. Despite officials trying to prevent ongoing peaceful forms of local protest like Harit Satyagrahas, the people of the region are determined to save the forest.
The latest order by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to temporarily stay felling of trees and set up an expert panel under the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act is a welcome step which brings some immediate relief. However, concrete government actions are needed to ensure the project is fully withdrawn.
Madhya Pradesh, a state with rich biodiversity is also recklessly pushing ahead many other environmentally destructive projects like the Ken-Betwa River Interlinking Project, Bundelkhand Expressway and other proposed projects in the Bundelkand region, which will cause irreparable damage to local communities and ecosystems. All these projects violate existing legal provisions and their socio-ecological costs need to be critically reviewed.
National Alliance of People’s Movements condemns the Govt of MP’s prioritizing of profit over the lives, livelihoods and culture of Adivasi people, and at the cost of irreparable destruction of the environment, in blatant disregard of existing legislation. We stand in solidarity with the people’s protests against the proposed Bunder diamond mine and destruction of Buxwaha forests. We demand that:
1. Existing sanctions for development of the Bunder diamond block should be immediately revoked.
2. An urgent social and environmental impact assessment of the area should be conducted, which accurately recognizes the Adivasi communities’ dependence on the area for their livelihood and food security, and records the true extent of the loss of biodiversity and wildlife due to the project.
3. Govt of MP must not allow diversion of forest land without full recognition and settlement of forest rights under FRA, 2006. Outstanding Community Forest Rights of affected villages over Buxwaha forests under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 should be recognized with immediate effect.
4. The Government of Madhya Pradesh should stop inviting fresh bids for mining in protected forest areas and offer unconditional protection to Buxwaha Protected Forest and Panna National Forest regions from similar projects in the future.
The signatories to the statement are:
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Dr. Sunilam, Adv. Aradhna Bhargava, Kisan Sangharsh Samiti; Rajkumar Sinha, Chutka Parmaanu Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Amula Nidhi, NAPM, Madhya Pradesh; Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), National Campaign for People’s Right to Information; Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL); Kailash Meena NAPM Rajasthan; Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad, Samajwadi Jan Parishad & Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, Manorama, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti; Lingaraj Pradhan, Satya Banchor, Anant, Kalyan Anand, Arun Jena, Trilochan Punji, Lakshimipriya Mohanty and Balakrishna Sand, Manas Patnaik, NAPM Odisha; Sandeep Pandey (Socialist Party of India); Richa Singh & Rambeti (Sangatin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan, Sitapur); Rajeev Yadav & Masihuddin bhai (Rihai Manch, Lucknow & Azamgadh); Arundhati Dhuru & Zainab Khatun (Mahila Yuva Adhikar Manch, Lucknow), Suresh Rathaur (MNREGA Mazdoor Union, Varanasi); Arvind Murti & Altamas Ansari (Inquilabi Kamgaar Union, Mau), Jagriti Rahi (Vision Sansthan, Varanasi); Satish Singh (Sarvodayi Vikas Samiti, Varanasi); Nakul Singh Sawney (Chal Chitra Abhiyan, Muzaffarnagar); NAPM Uttar Pradesh; P. Chennaiah, Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union-APVVU, Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, Chakri (Samalochana), Balu Gadi, Bapji Juvvala, NAPM Andhra Pradesh; Jeevan Kumar & Syed Bilal (Human Rights Forum), P. Shankar (Dalit Bahujan Front), Vissa Kiran Kumar & Kondal (Rythu Swarajya Vedika), Ravi Kanneganti (Rythu JAC), Ashalatha (MAKAAM), Krishna (Telangana Vidyavantula Vedika-TVV), M. Venkatayya (Telangana Vyavasaya Vruttidarula Union-TVVU), Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana; Sister Celia, Domestic Workers Union; Maj Gen (Retd) S.G.Vombatkere, NAPM, Nalini Gowda, KRRS, Nawaz, Dwiji Guru, Nalini, Madhu Bhushan and Mamatha Yajaman, Susheela, Shashank, NAPM Karnataka; Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai; Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation; Suthanthiran, Lenin, Inamul Hasan, Arul Doss, Vikash NAPM Tamilnadu; Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan, Prof. Kusumam Joseph, Sharath Cheloor, Vijayaraghavan Cheliya, Majeendran, Magline, NAPM, Kerala; Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti; Basant Hetamsaria, Aloka Kujur, Dr. Leo A. Singh, Afzal Anish, Sushma Biruli, Durga Nayak, Jipal Murmu, Priti Ranjan Dash, Ashok Verma, NAPM Jharkhand; Anand Mazgaonkar, Swati Desai, Krishnakant, Parth, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti; Nita Mahadev, Mudita, Lok Samiti; Dev Desai, Mujahid Nafees, Ramesh Tadvi and Bharat Jambucha, NAPM Gujarat; Vimal Bhai, Matu Jan sangathan; Jabar Singh, Uma, NAPM, Uttarakhand; Manshi Asher and Himshi Singh, Himdhara, NAPM Himachal Pradesh; Eric Pinto, Abhijeet, Tania Devaiah, Caroline, Diana Tavers, Emil, Francesca, NAPM Goa; Gautam Bandopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha; Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA, Alok Shukla, Shalini Gera, NAPM Chhattisgarh; Samar Bagchi, Amitava Mitra, Binayak Sen, Sujato Bhadro, Pradip Chatterjee, Pasarul Alam, Amitava Mitra, Tapas Das, Tahomina Mandal, Pabitra Mandal, Kazi Md. Sherif, Biswajit Basak, Ayesha Khatun, Rupak Mukherjee, Milan Das, Asit Roy, Mita Bhatta, Yasin, Matiur Rahman, Baiwajit Basa, NAPM West Bengal; Suniti SR, Sanjay M G, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe, Mukta Srivastava, Yuvraj Gatkal, Geetanjali Chavan, Bilal Khan, Jameela, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan; Chetan Salve, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Pervin Jehangir, NAPM Maharashtra; J S Walia, NAPM Haryana; Guruwant Singh, Narbinder Singh, NAPM Punjab; Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan; Mahendra Yadav, Kosi Navnirman Manch; NAPM Bihar; Sr. Dorothy. Rajendra Ravi, NAPM; Bhupender Singh Rawat, Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Anjali Bharadwaj and Amrita Johri, Satark Nagrik Sangathan; Sanjeev Kumar, Dalit Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch; Anita Kapoor, Delhi Shahri Mahila Kaamgaar Union; Sunita Rani, National Domestic Workers Union; Nanhu Prasad, National Cyclist Union; Madhuresh Kumar, Priya Pillai, Aryaman Jain, Divyansh Khurana, Evita Das; Anil TV, Delhi Solidarity Group, MJ Vijayan (PIPFPD)