Some Indian Farmers Are Finding Diamonds Worth Millions On Their Land (2)
In central India's Panna district, digging for diamonds is a common profession, with many families dedicating their lives to the job. All photos courtesy of Anupam Singh

Some Indian Farmers Are Finding Diamonds Worth Millions On Their Land

“Some people have to search on their land for years, and some just stumble upon it while roaming in fields or forests.”
SJ
Mumbai, IN

More than 60 percent of India’s population is dependent on farming. But few have the luck of Lakhan Yadav, the 45-year-farmer who became a millionaire overnight.  

Last year, Panna National Park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh was classified as a national forest and tiger reserve. Yadav was one of the many indigenous people who were forcibly evicted from their homes inside the Park. He arrived at a small village in Panna district and began doing odd jobs, mainly farming and selling his produce, to keep a steady income. 

Advertisement

On Dec. 5, he was tilling a plot he had leased last month for INR 200 ($2.71) when a sparkling object amid the dust and dirt caught his attention. “I was digging the land and it looked like a shiny pebble,” Yadav told VICE World News. Later, Yadav would know that he had discovered a 14.98 carat diamond worth INR 6 million (about $81,443 ).

Lakhan Yadav diamond digging panna madhya pradesh India

Lakhan Yadav, who also works as a farmer, became a millionaire overnight after chancing upon a diamond on his land.

“I finally have the money to get my children educated. I also bought a motorbike for myself after riding a bicycle my entire life. 

Interestingly, Panna is India’s biggest center for mining diamonds. It’s also known for its “diamond diggers” -- people who avail a license from the government to search for diamonds in a designated area of land.  

“Every year, the government gives out about 500 licenses for these people to find diamonds. On an average, around 15 end up finding valuable diamonds every  year.” Anupam Singh, a diamond valuator from Panna, told VICE World News. “Some people have to search on their land for years, and some just stumble upon it while roaming in fields or forests.” According to Singh, the standard government rate cuts 12.5 percent of the diamond’s value as a tax. “This year, more than 70 diamonds have been found since the last auction in January,” he said. 

Diamond digging Panna India Madhya Pradesh

In many cases, several generations of families spend their lives scrounging for diamonds in the dirt by buying a government license.

But Yadav does not believe that his life has transformed. He plans to live in Panna, looking for more diamonds.

He is one of the four people in his district who have found diamonds in this manner in the last two weeks. 

Advertisement

While hundreds of people flock to Panna to try their hand at diamond digging, the job demands high stakes for a high reward. “I had been searching for diamonds for almost 20 years until I found it now,” said Yadav. Like many in this unusual profession, Yadav treated diamond digging as a side gig, keeping farming as his primary occupation. “But because we don’t know anything about the worth or value of the diamond, it’s easy for people to cheat us and lowball us,” pointed out Yadav. 

Balbir Yadav Bilkura, another farmer in Panna, said  that while everyone comes with the expectation of finding diamonds, it is often too little too late. “I’ve been searching for these diamonds since I was a child,” Bilkura told VICE World News. “We grow up listening to tales of poor men like me who can become rich overnight with these diamonds. I have two children and this year, my family had no work or even food to eat.”

In late October this year, Bilkura finally found a 7 carat diamond, for which he got INR 100,000 ($1357). “By then, I had taken so many loans that most of the money went into paying them off. I have now lost hope of finding another diamond because there are too many people doing this work now,” he said. 

There are reports of Panna’s diamond diggers selling diamonds in black market. One diamond digger VICE World News spoke to said that while the official fee for digging on the designated land is INR 200 ($2.71), the actual amount is inflated by local authorities. “I paid at least INR 1200 ($16.29),” he said. 

Advertisement

“There are a lot of under-the-table payments that are expected to be made.”

But for many, diamond digging remains a profitable side hustle. In 2018, a labourer found a 42 carat diamond, the biggest diamond found in Panna since 1961, after three generations of his family had spent their lives searching for the valuable gem. 

“We are mostly small-time farmers or construction workers who enter this industry with the hope of earning money overnight,” said Yadav. “We didn’t have the opportunity to get a proper education so this is the only way we know.”

Follow Shamani on Instagram and Twitter.