Rush For Riches?
- De Beers has obtained permits to look for diamonds over 6,000 sq km in Mahabubnagar district
- Tribals fear they will be displaced, forests damaged
- Opposition parties up in arms
De Beers, the diamonds giant, is exploring the Mahabubnagar district, setting off once again the Man vs Mining debate. Tribals of the Nallamala forest zone in the district, led by some rights groups, are voicing fears that they might be displaced and the area irreparably damaged. In November 2009, De Beers obtained a reconnaissance permit to prospect for gold, precious stones, copper, lead and zinc across 6,000 sq km of the district, valid for three years. It allows the company to conduct aerial surveys and collect samples from the ground and from streams. Earlier, De Beers had surveyed for diamonds in the Anantapur and Kurnool districts but given up. Its sights are now set on Mahabubnagar’s kimberlite pipes. These ingrowths of igneous rock are often rich in diamonds.
De Beers has paid Rs 20 in permit fee and another Rs 20 in security deposit per sq km, obtaining three government orders dated November 16-24, 2009. With nothing more invested than that, rights groups allege, De Beers has over the last one year been pressurising the Chenchu tribals of the forested areas which fall in the permit area to relocate to new places. While the state government’s mines and geology department denies aerial surveys have been conducted so far, the Chenchus say they have spotted low-flying choppers.
What has alarmed people in the district is digging operations in the Mallapur tanda of the Gattu mandal of the district. “Private farm lands are being explored by De Beers. A farmer in Mallapur tanda was told that a borewell was being dug for his convenience. Soon enough, they had dug more than 10 such ‘borewells’, to the farmer’s horror. What right does the government have to give away farmers’ lands to De Beers?” asks K. Kavitha Rao, president of Telangana Jagruthi, and daughter of TRS chief K. Chandrasekhara Rao. The government orders have not listed the names of mandals where De Beers is exploring; only latitudes and longitudes demarcating the area have been given. “This itself is misleading,” says CPI state secretary K. Narayana. Kavitha, too, cites the same point. One spot De Beers is exploring is right next to the Krishna; another patch lies at the tip of Nallamala forests.
De Beers technical manager K.V. Suryanarayana Rao and senior geophysicist Manish Kumar say that of the 6,000 sq km the company is allowed to survey, “only 130 sq km comes under reserve forest areas”. They say reconnaissance permits are only the very first step; it will take 8-10 years to move on to mining.
In the first phase, De Beers had conducted extensive aerial surveys in Anantapur and Kurnool districts. But in Mahabubngar, it is armed with data said to have been purchased from the Geological Survey of India. There are three stages in diamond mining: the reconnaissance permit stage; the prospecting licence stage, where exploration is narrowed down to areas of 500 sq km or less; and finally, the mining licence stage, after which mining begins. What is angering Opposition parties and ngos is that the government orders clearly state that the company must stay within the bounds of forest conservation laws. “But it is being violated here. We have all seen how the Bellary brothers, with just 130 sq km of mining permit, managed to wipe off the boundaries between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh,” says Kavitha. The fear is that a giant like De Beers could do much worse than that.