SONAKHAN, India, May 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The village of Sonakhan in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh hardly looks like the site of a gold rush.
There are no gun-toting ruffians, nor squalid camps of desperate fortune seekers. The dusty village with its distinct reddish soil, is a collection of modest brick homes and small patches of cultivated land amid scraggly forest.
But the village, a two-hour drive from the capital Raipur, could soon be enveloped by India’s first private gold mine. Residents of Sonakhan – ‘sona’ is gold in Hindi – sift for flecks of gold on the banks of the river Jonk during the monsoon rains. They voice fears the mine will up-end their lives.
“When they dig for the mine, they will cut down trees and damage the forest. They will make the water dirty. Where will we go?” said Rajesh Singh, who cultivates a small plot of land.
“This land is sacred for us. We do not want to give it up to a big company that will destroy our homes and our livelihoods.” Vedanta, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources, last year won India’s first auction of a gold mine, as the country opened up the sector to private companies.
The Baghmara mine has potential reserves of about 2.7 tonnes of gold, and officials have said mining will begin in two years. Vedanta said at the time that the mining block, measuring 6.08 sq km (2.35 sq miles), required extensive exploration.
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