Bhopal: The Opposition Congress is eyeing the withdrawal of global mining giant Rio Tinto from the Chhattarpur diamond mines in Madhya Pradesh suspiciously.
Congress’ deputy leader of Opposition Bala Bachchan raised the issue during the Question Hour in the state assembly on Tuesday and asked mining minister Rajendra Shukla for a copy of the agreement signed between the government and mining giant. He also specifically asked for the conditions that were laid down for the company by the government before giving it licence to excavate for diamonds in the Bunder region.
“Will the mining minister tell us with what conditions did the state government allot the Bunder diamond mines to Rio Tinto?” Bala Bachchan asked. “Did they excavate the areas allotted to them? How much diamonds have they handed over to the state government? Why did the company which was excavating the diamond mines for years suddenly decide to withdraw and leave? We suspect there has been theft of diamonds from the mines after which the company decided to leave. How much diamonds have been taken?” he said.
Rio Tinto started an exploration for diamonds in 2002. A prospecting lease was endorsed with the state government in 2007 after a survey which said that Bunder mines would yield 37.4 million tonne of kimberlite containing 27.4 million carats of diamonds.
Giving his reply in the House, mining minister Rajendra Shukla explained, “In the agreement, we gave two stretches of 45 sq km and 25 sq km for excavation so the company could take out samples. There was a prospecting lease and the company had applied for a licence from the Centre which was under process. It was an international level decision by the company after which they decided not to invest in the Bunder mines anymore. The company has its right to take such a decision and the government cannot stop the same. It is, however, wrong for a senior member of the House to make an accusation of diamond theft.”
In August 2016, Rio Tinto argued a 47% decrease in its profits and carried out an evaluation of its projects around the world. During this assessment, the company decided to shut-down its work in the Bunder project in Chhattarpur district by end of 2016.
Mining minister Rajendra Shukla said, “The company had extrated 2722 carats of diamonds from the mines worth Rs 15 lakh which was returned. The company paid Rs 64 lakh as royalty to the state for the sampling. While withdrawing its business from here, the company handed over to the government Rs 50 lakh worth of vehicles including an ambulance. It also gave the government a property of 32 acre of land worth Rs 18 crore.”
Shukla said that a copy of the agreement with Rio Tinto would be sent to Bala Bachchan by Wednesday. As the debate on Rio Tinto was still on, minister for panchayats Gopal Bhargava took a dig at the Congress’ deputy leader of Opposition. Bhargava said, “It seems like Bala Bachchan watched the film Jewel Thief last night.”