Bundelkhand, a culturally rich region is a mountain range in central & North India. This hilly region, for the past two months has been at the forefront of protests to protect over 382.131-hectare patch of the protected Buxwaha forest. This large patch of land is proposed to be allotted to the Bunder diamond block and this will lead to not only a mere clearance of area but a total of 2,15,875 trees would have to be cut down leading to mass deforestation.
Buxwaha forest is nestled in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh and is still considered a “backward region” as emphasized by a volunteer of ‘Buxwaha Jungle Bachao Andolan’, Amit Bhatnagar. As informed by him, the villagers around this forest depend on the natural ecosystem for their livelihood. They lead simple lives and are in close contact with nature. They depend on forest products, like Mahua, tendu leaves, chironji, aamla, etc for their livelihood. This proposed mining project undertaken by the Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining & Industries Limited (EMI), if materialises, will lead to many hungry mouths, devasting thousands of lives and the atrocities on nature, as always, will be continued.
However, a report by Chhattarpur’s Chief Forest Conservator (CFC) paint a totally rosy picture claiming that the tribals or the villagers were ‘NOT DEPENDENT’ on the forest products. District Forest Officer (DFO), Anurag Kumar readily agrees with the CFC stating that he has not come across any resentment and agression towards the proposed project by the villagers in any of his visits to the area. These statements, however, do not hold any accountability as it is not the first time that a mine project has faced stiff opposition. The Madhya Pradesh government in 2006 had granted a prospecting licence to Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. The project was called off in 2016 by Indian Bureau of Mines and the approval was shelved. The project faced a lot of backlash for trying to endanger a rich forest area and a tiger corridor between the Panna Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.
Is this another instance where the people in power step on the rights of the poor and deprived and only working for their objective gain?
Many environment acctivists like Neha Singh and Dr PG Najpande are on the frontline of trying to prevent this atrocities. Singh has a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Supreme Court to stop the project, meanwhile, Dr. Najpande has pleaded to National Green Tribunal (NGT) to quash the permission granted for the diamond mine.
The symbolic ‘Chipko movement’ in Buxwaha was staged by a group on 5th June, honouring and celebreating the World Environment Day in a true sense. In this online era, nothing can escape the scrutiny of social media networks and by using it to Nature’s advantage, environment lovers have created social media pages to raise awareness on the issue. ‘#SaveBuxwahaForest’ was among the top ten trending topics on Twitter.
DFO Kumar, in a poor attempt of consolation stated “As per the rules, the mining company will have to compensate for the forest diversion due to the project by way of afforestation in another area.” Although, such words can hardly bring assurance. It has been witnessed, far too many times, how big companies headed by rich masterminds have been exploiting the poor and nature for their motive. The visionary “afforestation” is only on paper and not really practiced in reality. Many activists have citied examples from the region’s past projects. The trees planted to make up for the lakhs of trees that were uprooted for Bundelkhand Expressway Highway are hardly alive and thriving. With the implementatuon of this new project, it is a sure matter that many animals will be left homeless. Several activists have also raised concerns about the existing water crisis in the region.
Ecological balance will be disrupted as EMIL plans to develop a fully mechanised opencast mine and state of the art processing plant for recovery of diamonds with an investment of about Rs. 2500 crore. The block is estimated to have 34 million carats of rough diamonds. The important question, however, still loom around: Is greed worth the loss?
Visuals by: Rahul Haloi
Written by Medeline Terangpi and Shruti Dutta Banik, The North-Eastern Chronicle