Update on illegal extraction of minerals
l Sonam Tashi, Thimphu
Even after the whole nation has come to know about rampant illegal extraction of minerals at Gomtu in Samtse, concerned officials have done nothing to stop this illegal operation.
These are the words from Bhutanese who see this illegal operation hapenning almost three weeks since this newspaper opened the lid of extensive extraction of minerals such as dolomite, limestone, and quartzite from the banks of Titi and Khakra rivers by non-Bhutanese living in the nearby bordering settlements. But contrary to the expectations of the people, the frequency of this activity is on an upward spiral.
“As usual, they are extracting minerals from our territory every day. In fact, I have noticed that the number of vehicles coming in has increased marginally. Last Wednesday, I counted again and I did that for the whole day. To my surprise, the figure increased to over 40,” said a villager of Nyoepaling under Phuentshopelri gewog.
“What do we have to do to stop these illegal operations? As a concerned citizen of this country, my heart pains to see some non-nationals robbing our treasure at a broad day-light. We have reported this to the concerned officials numerous times but it fell on their deaf ears. We then reported to the gewog office but nothing happened. And then we informed the nation through a newspaper but still it is as it was,” said a resident, Diwash.
He said that they are wondering as to how the concerned officials at Pagli can sleep in peace when illegal extractions of such magnitude is going on right in front of their noses.
“How do these intruders manage to flee from the sites before the arrival of Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) officials? And who leaks the information about the presence of the officials in the area?” he asked.
He mentioned that carrying out mining activity of such magnitude will be impossible if the perpetrators have no close knits with the local people or with the concerned officials.
“They seem to know every movement of the DGM officials. Unless they have informers scanning the area or working hand in gloves with the officials, this is near to impossible,” said another resident.
A ton of dolomite fetches USD 22 in the market. It means a miner would get Nu 1,430 for a ton. For 30 truckloads (each ferrying at least 15 tons) of this mineral are extracted legally, total revenue earned would be over Nu 643,000 every day.
On this basis every month the illegal miners are taking away dolomite worth Nu 19.3 million. And in a year, we are losing over Nu 231.6 million and that will be a colossal amount of revenue to the nation if monitored properly.
Apart from revenue drainage, it is likely to affect the livelihood of the people in Nyeopaling and Doley villages. Mining at Kharka river is damaging the drinking water source of some 50 households in Dolay. And in Titi area, it has affected the wet land of some villager.
“I fear that an electricity transmission tower which is erected at the bank of Titi river will collapse soon. They were digging out dolomite at the nearby area but in the recent days, I have seen them collecting minerals from the base of the tower,” said a villager.
According to the Phuntshopelri gup, Robet Lepcha, he is aware of this rampant illegal extraction happening in his gewog. “I have informed the Dzongkhag administration about this and I hope appropriate actions will be taken soon,” he said.
He also mentioned that he is planning to write to the DGM office at Pagli to monitor the situation.
In the earlier interview, DGM officials had denied of any illegal activities happening at Gomtu area. “We have been patrolling in the area and so far we haven’t come across anything unusual,” said an official.
“This would have happened some years ago before we came here. But in recent years, I don’t think it is happening,” he added.
Contrary to the statement of the DGM officials, the forestry officials at Gomtu had admitted of this illegal operation. “We are trying to stop these intruders but they always outnumber us. While we are only three with two very old rifles, they come in groups with all kinds of arms,” said a forest official.