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MP diamond mining project to 'destroy' 2.15 lakh trees, 'threaten' biodiversity, Adivasis

Counterview Desk 

The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), a top civil society network, even as “strongly opposing” the destruction of Buxwaha in protected forest region in Madhya Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region for the proposed Bunder diamond mining project, has demanded that the government “must immediately withdraw all projects which threaten the ecological and socio-cultural significance of Buxwaha.”
In a statement, NAPM said, “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.” Pointing out that the government is making “the blatantly false claim that Adivasi communities are not dependent on the area”, NAPM claimed, “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”, it added.

Text:

NAPM condemns the decision of the Government of Madhya Pradesh to carry out the proposed Bunder diamond block in the Buxwaha protected forests of Chhatarpur. 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. The Government of Madhya Pradesh 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.
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