The Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley in a recent meeting with the private sector in the Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) hall on 21st march 2013 took a strong and public position against mining.
He said that Mining was going to be strictly controlled and that it has to be shared as it is a national resource.
Lyonchhen said that mines besides causing pollution and health affects needed to be saved for future generations. He said that country’s mineral resources belonged to the people and not to a few individuals.
He said “Common people will get nothing out of this business while a few rich people will make all the money.” “If we can’t make our mineral resources sustainable, then we are not living in a GNH country,” he added.
However, The Bhutanese has found that contrary to his publicly stated position Lyonchhen’s own family members operate and have also applied for multiple mines.
Under his governments tenure two mines have already been approved to his relatives and in laws while another is in the final stages of being approved with all necessary government clearances already being issued. Several more mines have also been applied for.
The Bhutanese has found that the Prime Ministers son-in-law Kezang Wangchuk married to his daughter has applied for a 40 acre stone quarry in Adagangchu in Wangdi Phodrang under Dangchu Gewog which is estimated to be close to the hydropower sites there.
The mine was applied for in 2009/2010 and has received all neceassry government approvals from Dzongkhag land Leasing Committee, Forest Department, and National Land Commission and is in the final stages. It has been put for a final approval in the National Environment Commission where the Chairman is the Prime Minister.
After approval from NEC, Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) will lease the stone quarry for a period of 10 years which can be further extended later.
Recently in January 2013 the DGM under the Ministry of Economic Affairs approved a 36.30 acre quartzite captive mine for the Bhutan Ferro Industries Limited owned by one Aum Damcho Dem who is the sister of the Prime Minister’s wife.
Towards the end of 2011 the DGM approved a 25.36 acres stone quarry for Kunley Wangchuk the owner of Riverview hotel and the father of the Prime Minister’s son-in-law.
The stone quarry is already in production and as of December 2012 was generating around 100 truckloads a month.
In 2010 the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Department of Geology and Mines approved an Indian Foreign Direct Investment in a major captive Gypsum mine in Pemagatshel now called Druk Presidency. The mine is owned by Aum Shekha Choden who is closely related to the Prime Minister’s wife. The mine supplies a Plaster of Paris factory in Bhutan. The mine was in operation from around 1993.
It is also learnt that the Prime Ministers in laws who also own the Riverview Hotel have since 2010 applied for at least seven sites for limestone mines in Zhemgang. Of the seven two have shown to have potential to develop into limestone mineral mines after the DGM did a feasibility study.
Legally none of the above mines have violated the laws but all of them have been applied for, operationalized or expanded under the tenure of this government.
The approval and application for these mines can also happen only through the oversight or cooperation of government agencies like DGM, Dzongkhag, NEC, Forest Department and the National Land Commission.
Despite several attempts to contact the Prime Minister which included an email to his personal email address, contacting the Prime Ministers media team and several calls since Friday afternoon the Prime Minister was not available for comments.
Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu