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Please stop Rio Tinto from devastating an eco-fragile zone through commercial mining of diamonds in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in central India.

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The Panna Tiger Reserve, its adjoining forest cover and pristine watershed is threatened by the Indian subsidy of global diamond giant Rio Tinto,which has sought a mining lease for open cast mining of diamond for Bunder Diamond Mine in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Devastation is imminent if Rio Tinto gets the statutory clearance for mining in close vicinity of Panna Tiger Reserve from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

Serious objections are being raised by environmentalists and conservationists on Madhya Pradesh Government’s full support to the Indian arm of the global diamond giant Rio Tinto for commercial mining of diamonds in an eco-sensitive zone close to the Panna Tiger Reserve.

When asked to comment on Rio Tinto’s Bunder diamond project in Chhatarpur district, a few kilometers from the western border of Panna Tiger Reserve, renowned Tiger expert and natural historian Valmik Thapar had said:  “it is an example of a completely defunct system of government from top to bottom.” For Panna to recover (the loss of all its tigers), it would take at least another 10 years of complete protection of the surrounding forests and all its connecting corridors. When his attention was drawn to the fact that Rio Tinto is on the verge of starting commercial mining of diamond in an area which is also the watershed for Panna Tiger Reserve and the Shyamri River, a tributary of Ken considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in the country, Mr. Thapar said the water regime is also essential for life and no water resource should be negated by forces bent upon commercial exploitation of mineral resources in forest areas.

Almost 99 per cent of the Bunder diamondiferous block is located inside a forest area which is the northern-most tip of the best corridor of teak forests south of the Gangetic plain. It is an established law that mining, including underground mining, is a non-forestry activity - if pitting is involved, prospecting is also a mining activity. it calls for a probe to find out on what grounds clearance for prospecting in this forest area was given in the first place. Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that granting prospecting license or a mining lease is tantamount to the acquisition of new rights in forest areas. Hence prior approval of the Central Government under Forest Conservation Act is mandatory and this is one issue that needs to be addressed most discerningly by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) while considering Rio Tinto’s application for a mining lease in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh.

According to Stefanie Loader, Project Director, Bunder Project, their first Reconnaissance Permit for Madhya Pradesh was granted in 2002. The Prospecting Licenses in the Bunder Project area were granted in 2006 and 2007. Subsequently, they applied for Mining Lease. Rio Tinto’s State Support Agreement (MoU) with the Government of Madhya Pradesh focuses on the development of the Bunder diamond project.

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK. Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited is the operator for Rio Tinto’s mineral exploration activities in India. Rio Tinto is one of the world’s major diamond producers through its 100 per cent control of the Argyle mine in Australia, 60 per cent of the Diavik mine in Canada, a 78 per cent interest in the Murowa mine in Zimbabwe and 100 per cent of the Bunder Project in Madhya Pradesh. The company estimates the total investment to develop a diamond mine at Bunder to be at least Rs. 2200 Crore, or approximately US$500M. Bunder Project's order of Magnitude study identified an inferred resource of 27.4 million carats.

The TOR (terms of reference) issued to Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited, the Indian subsidiary of diamond giant Rio Tinto, by Government of India Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) and the proposal for Bunder Diamond Mine in Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh submitted in April 2012,  raise pointers and also leave many gaping gaps vis-a-vis impact on environment, wildlife, flora and fauna and lives of the stakeholders.

Besides the pointers raised in the TOR issued by MoEF, there are still many more critical issues that would have to be addressed by Rio Tinto, MoEF, and the Madhya Pradsh authorities before any final decision is taken with regard to giving the environmental and forest clearances to Rio Tinto for the Bunder Diamond Mine project. If Rio Tinto gets the mining license for its Bunder project, the company will go for mechanised open cast mine going upto depth of 360 meters. The mineable reserves at present are estimated to be 54.05 Mt and the life of the mine will be about 11 years, excluding development. The estimated cost of the project is Rs. 2300 Cr and it is is expected that Diamonds worth Rs. 600- Rs.1200 Cr. will be available every year.

The proposed lease area of 954 hactare for the Bunder Diamond Mine is a block south of village Sagouriya, about 7 km north of Bakswaha, a tahsil town in Chhattarpur district. Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited initially had a Reconnaissance Permit over an area of 10,000 sq km followed by two Prospecting licences over 45 sq km. The proposed lease is an area selected from these two prospecting licences. The Madhya Pradesh state government also issued a letter for grant of lease for Bunder Diamond Mine on January 10, 2012.

Under the project awaiting environmental clearance, a (minor) dam outside lease for water supply is to be built and there will be one crushing plant and Beneficiation plant within the lease area. The dam is proposed for supply of Industrial water to the project and for use by Forest Department. The entire mining area of 954 hactare, which is Protected forest land, will be used by Rio Tinto for Mining and related operations including opencast pit, dumps, and essential surface infrastructure.

The application for prior Environment clearance, which was submitted to the MoEF by Rio Tinto under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, in April 2012 was incomplete since it did not state who will be building the hydro-structure outside the lease area. The proposal did not mention whether it will be done by the State forest department or the private limited company. This amounts to suppression of fact. Since the company is going to be the beneficiary and would be using the water drawn from the dam for industrial purpose, they should have sought forest clearance for the dam. They have also failed to seek diversion for the pipeline corridor to carry water from the hydro-structure. The application by Rio Tinto clearly spells out the requirement of water stating categorically that ground water will be used initially, till a dam or barrage gets constructed on a local nalla (natural stream) outside the mining lease and water is impounded. The only one semi-perennial water course in this area will be diverted within the lease and a reservoir will be created outside the lease by constructing a dam for industrial water supply to the mine to meet the expected demand of 16050 Klpd of water, excluding water available from tailing pond. The requirement of water for this project is gigantic. Drawl of such huge volume of water will leave a tremendous impact on plant communities downstream as there will be acute water crisis. Even a catchment area Plan has not been provided by the company.

They have neither classified nor determined the primary data available with the State Chief Wildlife Warden about Buxwaha, which is part of the tiger corridor. There have been recent instances when tigers brought to Panna Tiger Reserve under a tiger re-population programme have used the forest corridor of Buxwaha and wandered as far as the outer periphery of Lalitpur near Jhansi from where they have been brought back by Panna forest managers. The proposed lease area, a Protected Forest area, is in close proximity of Panna Tiger Reserve. According to forest and wildlife experts, the proposed lease area also forms a perfect watershed for Panna Sanctuary.

The responsibility of approval of mining plans and mining schemes has been entrusted to Indian Bureau of Mines by the Central Government. The role of IBM in the protection of environment has also further been strengthened by the notification under Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and Environment (Protection) Rules 1986 as well as in the Mineral Conservation Development Rules, 1988. Clearance from the IBM is also required for the mining plan which has not yet been acquired. The Rio Tinto plan is half baked since their application also lacks a detailed plan on disposal of debris and also there is no reclamation Plan. The application is also silent on the linkage of transmission line for supply of 132 KV from Sagar, a distance of about 60 kms. It is also not clear whether they have sought clearance for diversion only for mining lease or also the corridor involved in laying the transmission line.

Under the law of the land diversion permission is required for laying the transmission line, building the hydro-structure, laying the pipline for carrying water from the hydro-structure to the mine and diversion of land for roads for transporting heavy machinery. They should also obtain permission from the State water Resource department for drawing huge quantity of water.

The project proposal talks of tailing pond but no blue print has been provided regarding its design and architecture. There are instances where defect in designs have even led to the bursting of tailing dams. This has earlier happened at Korba in Chhattisgarh.

Rio Tinto is also silent on the issue of the colloidal material they would be using to separate diamond from kimberlite. They are also silent on the toxicity of the colloidal liquid and the impact it would leave on vegetation in that area. Even in the TOR , MoEF is silent on the toxicity of the colloidal material. It is a matter for probe, why MoEF is silent on this crucial aspect especially after the experience of the NMDC Panna Diamond Mine at Majhgavan which has polluted and played havoc with the Kemasan river and the biotic life in that area.

The area being sought on lease for open cast diamond mining has been notified as protected forest under section 29 of Indian Forest Act, 1927. In this area the villagers and local communities have been enjoying nistar rights. They have been grazing their cattle and meeting their requirement of firewood and wild fruits from this area. They will not only forfeit these rights but also the right to collect tendu leaves (used for rolling beedis)once the mining lease is granted to Rio Tinto.

Instead of going for the straight wall technology, Rio Tinto has opted for the funnel shaped open cast mining technology in Bunder. There is also no mine closure plan or a plan for filling up more than 300 meter deep funnel that would be dug up for mining. When ground water will be used all wells in the vicinity are bound to collapse. No study has been conducted on this impact and the impact on ground aquifers.

Rio Tinto is also silent about the top humus rich layer that would be dug up during the mining operations. This should be kept stored and after the over-burden (dump and debris of kimberlite rocks) is reclaimed, the humus soil should be spread on this area and only then the area should be reclaimed biologically to restore productivity.

The Rio Tinto diamond mining project, if it is allowed to come up, may even leave an adverse impact on avian life-especially the white backed, king and longed billed vultures found in Panna, Chhattarpur and Tikamgarh districts.

Rio Tinto has admitted that existing vegetation will be cleared over most of the area. Forest land will be converted for – Mining and related operations, including a water reservoir will be constructed outside the lease area for supply of water for the project.

According to Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited, run-of-mine (ROM) ore will be produced by mechanised opencast mining and processed to separate diamonds. After separation of diamonds, over 99 per cent of ore produced would be waste and it would be dumped separately for coarse and fines. Solid waste consisting of overburden and coarse rejects after separation of diamonds will be externally dumped within lease, Fine processed rejects will be dumped in a tailing pond within lease. Total hard overburden quantity is estimated at 113.06 Mt. It will be externally dumped. In addition, coarse rejects and tailing from beneficiation plant are expected to be about 32.4 Mt. These will be externally dumped within mining lease and the fine tailing will be going to the tailing pond. Top soil, estimated to be 2.37 Mm3, will be externally dumped. Workshop Sludge, after removal of oil and grease, will be suitably treated and disposed off to external dumps.

Besides the dumping of 99 per cent ore produced, there will also be emissions from production processes. Diesel operated equipment will exhaust burnt gases to atmosphere. Dust will be raised during opencast mining operations like drilling, blasting, loading, and transportation. Blasting will also result in fumes. Emissions will also be there from materials handling and fugitive dust will be generated during handling and movement of ore and waste.

Noise will also be generated during drilling of blast holes, blasting, loading and transport of blasted material from processing and beneficiation. There will also be noise from the ore processing plant, and operational traffic within the lease area due to movement of dumpers.

The nearest meteorological station at Sagar, about 60 km away has recorded thunder storms and the fragile ecosystem in the Buxwaha forests is bound to be affected adversely once mining operations are allowed in that area.

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