It is an example of involving the community, of sharing benefits of natural resources and, say, inclusive decision making. The people of four gewogs of Samdrupcholing in Samdrupjongkhar are thankful for the government’s intervention in giving them a second chance to be a part of the mining business in their locality.
Mining is a lucrative business. The benefits surely can be spread far beyond a few companies or contractors if planned consciously. The Samdrupcholing case is an example. With the contract of hiring heavy earth moving machines with the current private company coming to an end, the miner, State Mining Corporation Limited, wanted to float tenders. It would have attracted the big companies. The locals, most of the time, benefit from operating small tea stalls or canteens even as they complain of the impacts of mining on the community.
It becomes an eyesore for the locals when they see, for instance, their tsamdros or watershed being ravaged because of mining activities and see more dust settling rather than benefits trickling down.
The government had come under a lot of flak last year when they were not keen on the recommendations of handing over mines to SMCL. One of the many reasons for the recommendation from the National Council was involving local community in mining. The government’s decision to wait for the company formed by villagers is therefore welcome.
There are success stories of how local communities can be a part of the mining industry. They may not have the capacity to be miners, but from the experience of Khothakpa gypsum mines in Pemagatshel, benefits from mines can be shared. Locals could benefit when equipment hiring or transportation business are outsourced to the community instead of mining companies giving it to sister companies to maximise profit.
When hundreds of jobs are created, the socioeconomic conditions of the people in the community and surrounding area improve. That is one purpose of reaping the benefits of our natural resources. A lot of the issues surrounding mining could be smoothened out when communities are involved not only for profit making but for greater causes including check and balance and preventing environment degradation.
The government has taken a big risk in waiting for the company to get ready. SMCL, as a state-owned company, will have to follow procurement rules. The best bet for them is to tender out hiring of equipment. However, not to say that the government has flaunted rules, a government with the promise of narrowing the gap could develop and execute policies that minimises inequalities of income, the concentration of wealth, and promote equitable distribution of public facilities among individuals and people living in different parts of the Kingdom. This too is mandated by the Constitution.
Involving local contractors or companies, however, is not the end. The purpose is defeated if only a handful of local influential people are involved or benefits from the decision. It is also the mandate of the government that the intention is not going wrong or a few influential villagers taking the government for a ride in the name of involving local communities. Inequalities are huge even at the village level.
If all goes well as planned and decided, it would be the best losar gift for the people of Samdrupcholing.