Storm over diamond mining in Panna belt

Environmentalists and conservationists are raising serious objections about the Madhya Pradesh government giving full support to global diamond giant Rio Tinto’s Indian subsidiary planning commercial mining of diamonds in an eco-sensitive zone close to the Panna tiger reserve.

Tiger expert Valmik Thapar, asked about Rio Tinto’s Bunder diamond project in Chhatarpur district, a few kilometers from the Panna reserve’s western border, said: “It’s an example of a completely dysfunctional system of government from top to bottom.” He said that if Panna were to recover (the loss of all its tigers), it would need at least another 10 years of complete protection of surrounding forests and (their) connecting corridors. Asked about Rio Tinto’s plan to start commercial diamond mining in an area which is also the watershed for the Panna reserve and the Shyamri river, considered one of the cleanest in the country, Mr Thapar said the water regime was also essential for life and no water resource should be negated by those bent on commercial exploitation of mineral resources in forest areas.
Almost 99 per cent of the Bunder diamondiferous block is inside a forest which is the northernmost tip of the best corridor of teak forests south of the Gangetic plain. “It is an established law that mining is non-forestry activity — if pitting is involved, prospecting is also mining activity,” a senior state forest officer said, adding that a probe was needed to determine on what grounds clearance to prospect in this area was given in the first place.

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