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Rio Tinto's Bunder Diamond Mine and Murder Scandal in Madhya Pradesh, India

Activist Shehla Masood was killed when exposing Rio Tinto's illegal mining proposal at the Bunder Diamond Mine next to the Panna Tiger Reserve. Her assassination was blamed on a love affair but many say otherwise.


The Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh in Central India is home to the Panna Tiger Reserve, which is an important ecosystem for various critically endangered or highly sensitive wildlife species. The reserve itself is part of Buxwaha forest, which is ecologically important because of its teak forest cover and watershed sourcing the Shyamri River (formerly considered one of the cleanest in the nation) [16].  However, this vulnerable ecosystem has been threatened by transnational global giant Rio Tinto’s Bunder Diamond Mine proposed to open only a few kilometers away from the Panna Tiger Reserve and with 99% of its area within the forest [10, 11, 16]. Because it is a protected area, only forestry activities are permitted, making it very questionable as to whether the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests really did grant Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited the lease and rights while violating the Forest Conservation Act. Environmentalists and conservationists heavily criticized the mine for its potentially degrading practices [16]. For example, the mine could lead to habitat loss for endangered tigers and this in turn affects their ability to move between reserves to find non-incestuous mates and diversify their gene pool. Drilling would lower the water table, dry the forests, and pollute the Shyamri river [17]. At the mine itself, over 99% of mined ore would be wasted and dumped along with precious topsoil. The mining and processing equipment runs on diesel, which creates a lot of air pollution. Blasting, drilling, loading, and transportation also release a lot of fumes and dust contributing to such air pollution. All processes also generate much noise pollution, disturbing humans and many nearby wildlife populations [16].  

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Rio Tinto's Bunder Diamond Mine and Murder Scandal in Madhya Pradesh, India
State or province:Madhya Pradesh
Location of conflict:Chattarpur
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Specific commodities:Diamonds
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK and is one of the world’s major diamond producers. Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited is the operator for Rio Tinto’s mineral exploration activities in India. The Bunder Diamond Mine project was proposed as a mechanized open-cast mine up to 360 meters deep. Reserves are estimated to be at about 54.05 million tons and the life of the mine would be at about 11 years, excluding development. The proposed lease area of 954 hectares is a block south of Sagouriya village and about 7 km north of Bakswaha village. A minor dam was also planned to supply water to the project. Other facilities planned were a crushing plant and beneficiation plant as well as other infrastructure to support the mining process [16].

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Project area:954
Level of Investment:9,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,216
Start of the conflict:06/10/2009
End of the conflict:28/01/2017
Company names or state enterprises:Rio Tinto (Rio Tinto ) from Australia
Essel Mining Company (EMIL) from India - New owner of Bunder Diamond Mine
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF)
Central Bureau of Investigation
Bhopal Police
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Progressive Muslim Women’s Association
Front Line Defenders
Toxics Watch
RTI Anonymous
India Against Corruption
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:When Masood was killed, the opposition to the mine was effectively silenced. The government sold the proposed mine rights to another company in 2019 who will continue it instead of Rio Tinto.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Book: The Murder that Shook the Nation (Sharma 2019)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Newsworks Web. Shehla Masood, who was campaigning against plans to open a mine when she was killed (2011)
[click to view]

[5] India TV. Love Triangle Behind Shehla Masood's Murder (2012)
[click to view]

[6] Times of India. Mining firm denies role in Masood killing (Pinjarkar 2011)
[click to view]

[7] London Mining Network. The Murder of Shehla Masood: Rio Tinto denies any involvement (Richard 2011)
[click to view]

[8] Cause Because. Wildlife conservation champion and RTI activist shot dead (2011)
[click to view]

[11] Mines and Communities. The Murder of Shehla Masood (2011)
[click to view]

[13] The National. What really happened to Shehla Masood? (Chamberlain 2011)
[click to view]

[2] The Weekend Leader. Murdered activist Shehla Masood had been involved in various issues (Mahabal 2011)
[click to view]

[3] Daily Bhaskar. Obsessed Lover Zahida Kept Used Condoms In A Packet Before Killing Rival Shehla Masood (Athwal 2017)
[click to view]

[4] The Quint. Politics or Love? Decoding Activist Shehla Masood’s Murder Mystery (Talwar 2017)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Facebook memorial and campaign: Punish Shehla Masood's Killers
[click to view]

Fictional TV Episode based on the case
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update02/03/2020
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