The first legislative public hearing on mining operations by the National Assembly (NA) was conducted on 10 January. The hearing was informed of the adverse effect of the mining operations on the nation, economy and the people.10 members of the National Assembly were present at the public hearing to address questions towards participants from various organizations and sectors.
The hearing highlighted the importance of mining as a revenue generator in Bhutan, as well as its other beneficial aspects, like employment generation, newer business opportunities and its impact on other sectors. There were also questions from each member of the Economic and Finance Committee of NA.
A question was in regard to the government’s intervention as a policy maker and ownership of mining operations, which would result in a conflict of interest, as the committee representative pointed out. Following which a short discussion regarding the flexible lease period took place.
Member of NA, Dorji Wangdi, questioned about the inequal distribution in wealth, where the better positioned sections of the social hierarchy had greater concentration of the wealth.
The question was put forward to different parties. One of the respondents stated that it cannot be proven, and yet, he personally felt that such was not the case. Highlighting the community benefits while convening the Cooperative Social Responsibility index.
Second question was put forward by Gyembo Tshering, NA member, regarding the problems that people faced due to mining works. Three representatives from different regions in proximity of mining areas responded by pointing to the dusty conditions in the vicinity due to excessive vehicle movements around the mining areas.
Another common problem that was stated during the session was regarding the lack of drinking water at times, as the dust maintenance works were carried on by sprinkling water on the roads.
One of the representatives stated that, initially the dust was an issue, then on, after their surveillance of the areas, they also found out that, a lot of irrigational water and drinking water supply were darkened with coal or tar ashes, which declined crop yield comparatively from that in the past.
They reportedly pointed out that the authorities did their task of managing the areas, but some respondents said that, only the areas near the mines were taken care of in some places, while the area of settlement was ignored.
Other than such hassles, the people’s representatives shared their worry about natural hazards like flash floods and soil erosion, if such works were not taken with caution.
Some said that the truckers were not very considerate about the impact they were bringing to the community, and due to poor air quality caused by dust, there are reports of people being sick, which is maintained at the hospital.
Following the issue, a question was raised as to how it can be curbed, and the concerned person in the audience said that management works are being done well enough, and in some places where there are mining works for about 40 years it did not succumb to much damage. He stated that the matter is not as critical as some have suggested.
“Yet, we are aware of the hassles,” he said. There is added welfare to people from mining works, and when they looked into the problem, he discussed that one of the issues was due to the non-synchronized timing of stopping water supply.
In the follow up to the answers, Jurmi Wangchuk, NA Member asked as to whose responsibility was it to take care of the matter.
The question, which was passed on to the focal person, then stated that the road is designed according to the number of vehicles and the capacity of vehicles. In terms of Primary National Highway (PNH) from Thimphu to Trashigang, he stated that it was designed to withhold about 30 metric ton of weight at a time, and was calculated to last up to 5 years.
But then, due to frequent truck movements, which he pointed out that, although trucks are barely 20 metric ton with loads, the road gets damaged in about 2 years timespan- surmounting to maintenance cost for the government.
Therefore, he said that it was evident that the frequent heavy vehicles are mostly to account for. But the truckers and the mining operators said that they are paying a fair share of taxes to the government, to which he restates that, it might be the government’s responsibility after all.
Rinzin Jamtsho, NA member, asked a question to the truckers’ association representative as to how they were faring in the presence of mining business, to which he responded that it has both challenges and benefits.
Bimal Thapa, NA member, added another question, asking if mining works were generating employment at present. To which the people’s representatives stated, “Yes, there are jobs, but it is 10 out of 100, and mostly, the jobs are lower than supervisor level- blue collar jobs, while the entire community is being affected by the effects of mining works”.
The session ended with a note of way forward in collaboration and cooperation by all the participants present. The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 will be tabled in the upcoming Parliament session.