Sonam Tashi, Samtse
Gomtu is yet again plagued by rampant illegal extraction of minerals. This time, it is the Indians living in nearby bordering settlements who pilfer our rich mineral deposits across the border in huge quantities.
According to the residents of Nyoepaling village under Phuentshopelri gewog, some three groups of Indians sneak in their territory and extract at least 30 truckloads of minerals such as dolomite, limestone and quartzite from the banks of Titi river every day.
“They come in equipped with arms at the break of dawn and leave late at night. A few days ago, I have tried counting the number of Indian trucks leaving back with our minerals and my count stopped at 32,” said a villager Tasbir Mongar.
Many a times, some villagers tried to defend the minerals in the locality but they were threatened to death by the goons. “They pulled out their rifles and knives and scared us away when we tried to stop them,” he said.
“We also do report this to the concerned officials but somehow, the perpetrators manage to flee before the official arrives at the site. We are eager to know how this has been possible. The information gets leaked every time. At times, we suspect our villagers for sharing the information with the perpetrators and sometimes we doubt that the illegal miners are working hand in glove with the concerned officials,” said a villager.
Another villager, Sukman Mongar, is more worried about his land that falls adjacent to the river bank. “Due to excessive extraction of minerals from the base of my field, a portion of my land had been eroded,” he said.
Khakra river bed too has rich deposits of black dolomite and stones and it is another site where illegal extraction of minerals is rampant.
“Several trucks bearing Indian registration number ply in and takes away our minerals. This is very usual here. We fear that if this is not stopped, it will soon affect the water source of the people of Dolay village. We have also written to the gewog official but nothing has happened so far,” said Diwash.
Although the department of geology and mines (DGM) had approved a Bhutanese, Phurba Wangdi, to carry out surface collection of minerals, but many local residents said the activities at the site are more than collecting minerals on the surface of the river bed.
When a reporter of this newspaper visited the site, he saw an excavator digging out the minerals from the river bed, and this as per the DGM approval was impermissible.
The reporter also talked to an Indian trucker at the site who was loading boulders on his truck with the help of some few labourers. He was told that they were working for Phurba Wangdi.
This contradicted what the DGM officials at Gomtu told this paper. The officials said that Phurba Wangdi’s operation had been suspended more than two months ago.
The officials also denied of any illegal extraction of minerals happening in Gomtu area. “We have been patrolling in the area and so far we haven’t found anything unusual,” said an official.
He mentioned that the residents should inform them of such activities if it is really happening.
“This would have happened some years ago and we are oblivious of it. We allow people to collect stones from river banks on daily basis and I think the residents are taking this of illegal extraction,” he said.
According to Phurba Wangdi, he has not operated this year and thus, he is unaware of the trucks transporting minerals from this site.
“As per the mining procedures, we have to deposit royalty fees in advance and that I couldn’t do. When I went to deposit the fees, I couldn’t meet the officials and therefore, I am yet to commence my works,” said Phurba Wangdi.
“And about the issue of illegal extraction of minerals, I don’t know whether this holds any water. I only know that I operate legally. If this is really happening, then it is the job of the DGM and forest officials to monitor such activities,” he said.
The Phuntshopelri gup, Robet Lepcha, admitted that some Indians are extracting mineral deposits in the shadows from some places in his gewog. “I have informed the district officials and some of them even visited the sites which are very prone to such illegal activities,” he said.
“The only solution to this issue that I see is to enhance manpower in the concerned offices here. We have only four forest officials and a handful of DGM officials to monitor all forestry and mining activities,” said the gup.
A forest official when asked to illegal timber trade admitted that it is prevalent but not to the extent that would cause a concern. “With a porous border that we have, this will happen, and we are playing our roles,” he said.
More than timber extraction he said they worried about increasing illegal extraction of minerals in the area.