Protect Our Forests, Protect Our Future: Save Buxwaha

May 20, 2021

Protect Our Forests, Protect Our Future: Save Buxwaha

Submitted by APNED member, Renuka Kad of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra

During the second week of March, I stayed at Panna in Madhya Pradesh for a few days. The summer of March had just begun, but it was not so intense. Since it was a part of the forest around Panna, the summer did not feel so harsh. One of these days, I came to know of a forest fire in Buxwaha, Bundelkhand, near Panna. I kept hearing the same thing until I returned from there (by the end of March). The summer of March was not so intense in the forest, but was the forest burning, or was it being lit? There were many questions and doubts about it because there is a background behind the forest fires in Chhatarpur and Panna forests.

In February 2014, a public hearing was held in Kasera village in Chhatarpur district under the Environmental Assessment Policy with the local district administration, Pollution Control Board, and Australian mining company Rio Tinto and villagers. The then District Collector himself was present for the public hearing. The public hearing was organized for the upcoming Bunder Diamond Project. Suppose this Bunder diamond project becomes a reality. In that case, it will cause massive damage to the environment and destroy the livelihood of the tribal people who depend on forest products. Their livelihood problems will be aggravated. The local tribal people had protested in large numbers saying We do not want this Bunder Diamond project.

Administrative officials and officials from the Rio Tinto Mining Company, who attended the public hearing, tried convincing them by telling them that the Project would employ 400 people. The forest’s natural resources provide for the livelihood of 5,000 tribal people. The Project was vehemently opposed at that time, citing environmental damage, the eviction of tribal who have lived here for generations, and the question of their livelihood. The tribals insisted that the Project was against the environmental assessment policy. In the meantime, the work had slowed down a bit. However, in 2019, the Project gained momentum again. In the meantime, the environmental assessment report was changed. And in 2019, the Madhya Pradesh government issued a tender to auction the forest.  In 2010, Rio Tinto had applied for the land. They withdrew the application before a final decision was taken by the environment ministry. Now Rio Tinto has fallen behind, and Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining and Industries Limited have won the tender. The Madhya Pradesh government has leased 62.64 hectares of treasured diamond land to Birla Company for the next fifty years. From here, started the destructive attempt to trample on the environment and human rights to obtain the treasure.

The land will have to be excavated or mined deep to get the diamond treasure in Buxwaha. For this, the forest department counted the trees here. According to their census, there are 2,15,875 trees in the forest of Bakswaha. To carry out this excavation, a treasure trove of natural resources of the forest, including Teak, Ken, Behda, Banyan, Jamun, Tendu, Arjuna, and other medicinal trees that total up to 2,15,875 will have to be cut down. Reasons for cutting down trees: Panna district in Madhya Pradesh is world-famous as a diamond mine. In the last few years, a massive treasure of diamonds has been found in the Buxwaha forest in the Chhatarpur district, close to Panna. It is estimated that there are 342 million carats of diamonds in the Buxwaha forest. This quantity is said to be fifteen times more than the treasure of diamonds in Panna. However, to get this treasure of diamonds, the valuable natural resources of this forest, namely herbal plants and all other trees, will have to be cut down. For this, preparations have been started to destroy 382.131 hectares of forest. The locals are protesting against this.

To stop this, a Twitter Storm campaign called #Save Buxwaha was launched on May 15. In some parts of the city, a young man tried to raise his voice by wearing an oxygen tank on his back and an oxygen mask over his mouth, saying that he wanted oxygen instead of diamonds. When the government tries to impose such destructive projects on the people in the name of development, the government needs to understand that the definition of development should be based on equitable development.

What progress is this that uproots the tribal people who have been living there for the past hundred to hundred and fifty years and generations, cultivating the forest and believe the nature as their deity, while making a living through the forest, take utmost care that the resources of the forest are not destroyed. What kind of development is this evicting them from their original place? And the real question is how to define development? Going further, are we not going to learn anything from the Covid epidemic, or are we going to keep “Shavahini Gange” (death bodies buried in river sand) for the next generation? This should be thought about; future generations will suffer the consequences, and it is up to us to correct this problem NOW.