Talc mining leases to be suspended till the Mineral Policy is approved

The Mineral Development Policy (MDP) has passed the screening test done by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) and is soon to be submitted to the Cabinet.

The Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) officials said even though it is not on paper, they have heard so.

Talc mining leases will be suspended till the time the policy is approved, and once the policy is approved, then it would be clear if the suspension should continue or not, said an official at DGM.

Further, after concerns were raised by the public on the negative environmental impacts, of talc mining, it was suspended as an interim measure by the government on 20 July 2010. In the last two years since the ban, the DGM has recieved four new applications to lease talc mines.

However, right after the suspension took place, applicants who were half-way through processing talc mining leases were also stopped. Despite these steps to suspend the lease, the department has been receiving applications from individuals. In 2011, they received three applications and one this year.

According to a mining official, talc occurs in fragile zones and mining it has a negative impact on the environment.

Other ores are usually uniform in density so it can be extracted with planned drilling. However, in the case of talc, it is formed in small bands in the rocks. The nature of talc is it appears and disappears.

He said that leases should be allowed provided it is carried out reasonably and sustainably.

Decades ago, talc mines or any other mines were not operated in a scientific way. However, with time it has improved though it would still further improvement, he added.

He said that most of the problems related to environment damages were because of smaller mines. “Because they are small timers they do not have the budgetary problem and lack the technical capacity,” he said adding that the other reasons were most talc mines were located in fragile areas. “There was a lack of technical know-how among those who operated the mines. Any individual with money started operating mines.”

The MDP would now streamline the allocation of mining leases. First, the government would study sites that doesn’t fall within the fragile areas and allocate the leases for these areas to a capable operator who would be chosen through a bidding process. Preference would be given to those who can operate

the mines more scientifically, said another official.

Also the policy reflects the need to value-add before exporting the raw minerals. However, experts in this field say that there should be a complete stop in the export of minerals in the raw form. If it i processed within the country and then exported, we would make more money, they say.

As reflected in the policy, the scale of mining operation in terms of production ranges from 5,000 MT to over a million (mn) MT annually. In 2005, the total amount of talc produced stood at 0.043 mn MT, 0.062 mn MT in 2007, 0.064 mn MT in 2009 followed by 0.027 mn MT in 2010 and by 2011 the total was 0.017 mn MT.

As per the list of mines and quarries in Bhutan, there 18 talc mines mostly located in Samtse and Phuentsholing with different validity dates and status of operation.

Of the 18 talc mines that have been either closed or are pending for renewal, most have not yet restored the areas they operated in.

The DGM has called all of them and asked to prepare a Plan of Action on how to restore those areas. “It is not easy to coordinate so that is why it is taking time,” said the official.

Currently there is only one talc mine under operation at Shadumardu in Phuentsholing.

The Simanadara talc mine has applied for renewal of its lease and the environment clearance of lower Kharipakha mine has expired.

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