Rio Tinto India abandoned its plan of establishing a diamond mine in Bunder in Central India early in 2017. The company handed over the mine to the state government of Madhya Pradesh (MP) after developing it for 12 years. How can one explain this counter-intuitive exit within an economic and policy environment that facilitates extractivism? I have been researching diamond extractive assemblages in the area with Professor Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt since September 2016, and investigating this retreat. Based on extended interviews and ethnographic field work, we argue that two factors were responsible in unsettling Rio’s diamond dream: the protests and pre-emptive action by environmental groups and civil society activists to protect the tiger reserve within a protected forest area, and the conflicts between India’s mineral and forest bureaucracies. Yet, it was not truly a victory for either of the warring faction, as the MP state government is now once again enticing private investment. We argue that none of the actors – the state, the corporation and the activist groups – pay attention to the local, marginalised, informal miners who claim customary rights on the diamonds.
Arnab Roy Chowdhury holds a PhD degree from the National University of Singapore, and is an expert on social movements in India. He has researched diamond mining in Central India as well as artisanal gemstone mining in eastern India. Currently, he teaches in the National Research University, in its Higher School of Economics, Moscow, in Russia.