The Indian government has deferred granting permission to mining giant Rio Tinto to open a diamond mine in Madhya Pradesh, saying the plan endangers a dense forest area and a tiger corridor between the Panna Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, writes Live Mint. The project for forest clearance has been pending since 2014. Rio Tinto says there are 53.7 million tons of diamondiferous Kimberlite ore at the site, containing an estimated 34.2 million carats of diamonds valued at roughly $3 billion. But environmentalists are concerned that the $330 million Bunder diamond mining project involves clearing 971 hectares of forest area in Chhatarpur region of Madhya Pradesh. Nearly half a million trees would have to be cut down to make way for the diamond mine. Rio Tinto claimed that the project would make India one among World’s top 10 diamond producers.
After diamond was discovered in the area in 2004, the Madhya Pradesh government and Rio Tinto Exploration India Pvt. Ltd. signed an agreement in 2010. As per the agreement, the company is expected to evaluate, develop, construct, finance, operate and manage integrated diamond mining and processing operation at Bunder diamond deposit and carry out all related operations, infrastructure and facilities required to support and implement the operations. The environment ministry, however, is preparing a policy of violate and inviolate forest area, and inviolate forest areas - which are biologically rich - will be out of bounds for any non-forestry project, including mining and dams. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the environment ministry in March also asked the National Tiger Conservation Authority to examine the Rio Tinto project. “As per NTCA report, the project can potentially disrupt landscape character vis a vis tiger dispersal around Panna landscape," and says it needs to assess other alternatives, including asking the company to explore the possibility of underground mining.
With 2,226 tigers, India is home to over 60% of the world’s wild tigers—the result of a successful conservation drive that rests heavily on the protection of tiger corridors. Panna Tiger Reserve is already under pressure due to the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project, which is still under consideration for forest clearance, as it will take away a significant part of the tiger reserve.