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Good news on International Tiger Day 2016 : govt picks forests over diamond mines

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 29 July 2016, 13:56 IST

There's some good news for tigers on International Tigers Day. The environment ministry has put on hold a massive diamond mining project because it will damage 971 hectares of forest, including important tiger habitats and corridors.

The Forest Advisory Committee or FAC is an expert body that examines all big projects that propose to destroy forest land. It often approves such projects on the condition that same or more number of trees are planted elsewhere.

In its meeting on 12 July, minutes of which were released late Thursday, the FAC took a strong position on a diamond mining project proposed by Rio Tinto, the global mining corporation.

The Rs 2,200 crore project in Bunder, Chhatarpur district, MP, planned to mine diamonds worth nearly Rs 20,520 crore.

But it required surface mining, i.e. where forests are removed to dig up the earth beneath.

The area falls in the tiger corridor between Panna Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, and is integral to the larger Panna landscape.

The FAC, hence, sought the opinion of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex body tasked with protecting tigers in the country.

The right call

The NTCA told FAC that the project can "potentially disrupt the landscape character vis-a-vis tiger dispersal around Panna landscape."

It also said the project can potentially disrupt "vital connecting links in the landscape." The connecting links help tigers move from one habitat to another, in search of mate and prey.

Besides, tigers are territorial animals, and if we are to grow our tiger populations, these links to other forests are vital.

Which is why the NTCA also told the FAC that if one takes in the long-term perspective, then the diamond project will rule out future plans to build links between the tiger populations of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary.

Finally, the NTCA said that the Ken-Betwa river link, which is also being considered by the government, proposes to come up on the same landscape, and also disrupt corridors. So, the FAC agreed that it doesn't make sense to consider this project before the river link issue itself sorted out.

FAC has told Rio Tinto to consider underground mining.

Although Rio Tinto planned to use the entire 971 hectares of forest, it later submitted a revised plan of just 76 hectares.

But the FAC held that even this area is a part of the tiger corridor. Not just the tiger, but other important wild animals like chausinga, leopard, cheetal, chinkara and peacock were also found at the location.

"User agency has submitted the revised proposal which is highly dependent on surface extraction which would entail greater extent of forest land use leading to permanent loss of the high quality forest areas. The project proponent may also explore the possibility of underground mining," the FAC said in its final decision.

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First published: 29 July 2016, 13:56 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.