Rio Tinto’s controversial Bunder diamond mining project has been put on hold by the Indian government, at least for now. The project is proposed to be spread over 971 hectares of protected area in the Chhatarpur forests in central India’s Madhya Pradesh (M.P.) state and lies very close to the Panna Tiger Reserve, home to around 26 tigers, and Navardehi Wildlife Sanctuary.
Bunder region serves as an important wildlife movement corridor and is home to rich flora and fauna including endangered species like tigers, leopards, sloth bears, vultures, blue bulls, rusty spotted cats, crocodiles, porcupines, deers etc. and over 300 bird species. Bunder diamond mining project, proposed open cast mine, plans to cut almost half a million trees, besides aggravating the water scarcity in the area.
Bunder diamond mining project was awaiting environment clearance since 2014 and the proposal was pending clearance with India’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which in its recent meeting on 12th July decided to put it on hold and defer the clearance. In March this year, FAC had asked India’s nodal authority for protecting tigers – National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to examine the Bunder diamond mining project.
FAC in its meeting reviewed “As per NTCA report – project can potentially disrupt landscape character vis a vis tiger dispersal around Panna landscape … this may be taken only when Ken-Betwa (river) interlink is finalised as well as detailed study is done to assess other alternatives”. Due to proposed Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, still under consideration for environment clearance, Panna Tiger Reserve is already under pressure as the project will take away huge part of the reserve.
FAC mentioned that the revised proposal by Rio Tinto is highly dependent on surface extraction and will lead to permanent loss of high quality forest and suggested the company to explore possibility of underground mining. Though this comes as a good news and a win of environment in the wake of recently celebrated International Tiger Day, the forest clearance deferment and project being put on hold is temporary and may be reviewed again in future. FAC’s decision though being laudable, if the government is serious about saving the environment and tigers, it should permanently scrap the project once and for all.