Revisiting the Choice of Diamonds over Trees

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and one another” – Mahatma Gandhi

These words by Mahatma Gandhi are so relevant in the present times when we humans have reached a situation where we are struggling for the fresh air to breathe in. While destroying the lungs of the earth, we had never thought that one day human lungs would crave for their sustenance. Forests are not only the basis of human survival; they are also a habitat for various other living species on the earth. Being the superior among all the species with respect to intelligence and resources, it is our responsibility to save this habitat for those who cannot speak but, feel the same pain as us, when their home is destroyed.

Today, looking at the world around us it is difficult to find any hopes. The only resolution and aspiration we see is in ‘Greens’. It is the time when the authorities have to emphasize and implement the measures to safeguard the forests.

But amid the conditions when there is dire need to focus on increasing the forest cover in the country, the decision taken by the Government of Madhya Pradesh to lease out an area of 364 Hectare in Buxwaha Protected Forest to Essel Mining & Industries Limited (EMIL) came as disbelief.

In the beginning, the ‘Bunder Project’ was being dealt by Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited (an Australian mining company). The Government of Madhya Pradesh in the year 2006 had granted Prospecting License to M/s Rio-Tinto Pvt. Ltd. for a period of 3 years for the exploration of diamonds in Buxwaha. This licence was extendable for further 2 years. But, after five years of exploration work, the company had stepped back and handed over the project to the State Government. The reason behind the dumping of the project by M/s Rio-Tinto Pvt. Ltd. was their fear of not getting environmental clearances for the project.

In the year 2019, the State Government had auctioned the mine site and called for bids from the corporate giants. Essel Mining & Industries Limited (EMIL), which is a part of Aditya Birla Group had won the bid and got a 50 years mining lease.

Essel Mining states “EMIL plans to develop a fully mechanized opencast mine and state of the art processing plant for recovery of Diamonds with an investment of around INR 2500 Cr. The project once operational have the potential to become one of the largest Diamond mine in the Asian region. EMIL is currently in the process of obtaining various regulatory clearances such as approval of Mine Plan, Environment & Forest clearances required for execution of mining lease. The company targets for execution of Mining Lease by end of FY22 and thereafter initiate the mine development and plant construction activities.”

Certainly, this would be the largest diamond excavation in India as the mines are estimated to have 3.42 crore carats of diamonds. But, this mining would occur at the cost of 2,15,875 trees in the forest of Buxwaha. Yes, you read it right. More than 2.15 lakh trees need to be cut in order to dig diamonds from these mines as EMIL has asked for an additional 382.13 hectares of forest land. This land would be adjacent to the mines and is to be used for diamond processing and polishing activities.

Already the earlier exploration works done by Rio Tinto had resulted in cutting down of 11 lakh trees in the area. Now, this further cutting down of trees is unbearable and would only result in ecological imbalance.

The above mentioned segment of trees is a huge treasure and a big source of living for the people in the nearby villages. The Bunder area is a part of Narmada valley dry deciduous forests Eco Region. It is home for various animals, rodents and birds like jungle cat, sloth bear, jackal, hyena, wild dog, Indian fox, porcupines, grey quail, blue rock pigeon and so on. The trees in this area are of rare kind and have great medicinal value. Amaltas, ghont, amla, bamboo, haldu, teak, dhudi, saja, bija, kusum are among the various other wonderful and precious species of trees found in Bunder area.

As these mines are located in the drought prone area of Bundelkhand region, further deforestation would only make the situation graver. Already our country is facing multiple problems and destroying our natural resources in the name of development, is not justified.

In this context, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has already been filed with the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the Madhya Pradesh Government’s project. The plea further states that it has been filed against Essel Mining and Aditya Birla Group which are planning the cutting down of trees in such large numbers. Earlier a petition was moved in NGT, Bhopal Bench but the case could not be listed there. The intention behind filing the PIL is stated to stop the respondent parties from destroying the natural resources. It is further intended to bring forward the negative impacts of deforestation on the environment and climate change.

On September 14, 2020, The Union Environment Ministry informed Rajya Sabha that around 10.76 million trees have been marked for felling in forests and other areas for developmental projects in the past five years.

In 2019-20 around 1.263 Million trees have been marked for felling. The numbers were highest in 2018-19 at 3.036 Million. The above figures are a clear reflection of the troubles we are facing today. Development done on the heap of cut trees and displaced wildlife can never bring fruitful results. We had been challenging the nature since years and now the nature is hitting back on us.

Every year many parts of our country face floods and natural disasters. The very reason behind these calamities is deforestation which results in soil erosion. Forests are not only the binding for the soil; they are also holding our lives. They provide us food, medicines, shelter, water and the most important of all pure oxygen to breathe. A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. In the past two months, we all have well understood that the forests of concrete do not let us breathe. We have to make a choice between ‘Grey’ and ‘Green’. Diamonds are luxury but trees are the necessity. We can very well live without diamonds but survival without trees is impossible.

Several social media campaigns have been started to save Buxwaha forest. These campaigns are well supported by various environmentalists and people from every corner of the country are joining the campaign. Webinars are being conducting with huge number of participation to chalk out the strategies for saving the massive deforestation. As of now, because of the prevailing COVID-19 situation, the protest campaigns are going online at various social media platforms. However, when the virus would be in control, the activists and volunteers are planning to reach Buxwaha to mark their protest against the cutting down of trees and hence the ‘Bunder Project’. If need be, they would hug the trees. This reminds us of the ‘Chipko Movement’.

Very recently on May 21 this year we have lost Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, a great Indian Environmentalist. He was the founder of ‘Chipko Movement’ in India. This movement was a non-violent protest against deforestation and had grabbed the attention of the world. Under this movement people started hugging and holding the trees when they were being cut. Mr. Bahuguna’s incredible efforts for preserving the environment and saving the Himalayan forests would always be remembered. He was the man who made the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to put a 15 years ban on cutting of green trees in 1980. He gave a slogan during Chipko Movement “Ecology is permanent economy”. Definitely an economy cannot flourish by ruining its ecosystem. Ecology has to be given due importance and must be put first in any kind of development plan. Uprooting lakhs of trees for crores of diamonds can never be a profitable deal. Trees will continue to reward us for our love and care for them for years to come and keep nourishing the generations of mankind. Trees can breathe, they can whisper, they can sing, they can dance and last but not the least falling sunshine on the green trees looks more glorious than diamonds.

– Neha Singhal (Freelancer)

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