Kopchey people’s unwillingness to give ‘public clearance’ had no effect on operations

Mining: The people of Kopchey’s refusal to give their “public clearance” have not stopped the Dhapar quartzite mine (DQM) in Chengmari, Samtse from operating.

Kuensel found that the mining has been in operation for the last two years because of an “interim lease award,” that the department of geology and mines (DGM) has continued to issue to the company.

The mining company has been waiting for public clearance for the last two years after its five years lease term expired in December 2012.  The mines had to shut down for about six months between 2012 and 2014.

Starting yesterday, the company again started mining quartzite after the renewal of a new interim lease award.  The earlier lease expired on March 31, 2015.  In total, the mining company has been able to avail seven interim lease awards from the DGM to continue its operations.

Bhutan Minerals, a company based in Phuentsholing, owns the mining, which started operations in 1997 and was renewed in 2007 with an extension until 2012.  Quartzite is a decorative stone used in walls, roofing, and flooring.

As the mining site rests below Kopchey, and fearing the kind of impact mining would have on the community, the villagers are adamant on not issuing the clearance.  Villagers had articulated through local leaders that the mining site was falling closer than the distance it needed to be at.

As per the rule, mining has to be about 500m away from a particular boundary of a village land.  Villagers claimed that its site fell within 300m of the village boundary.

However, DGM officials said the distance would be more than 500m.

Initially in 2013, Kopchey villagers had refused to give the clearance, stating it would pollute the air, damage paddy fields, and cause landslides.  Later in the same year, 13 villagers also wrote a petition to the dzongkhag land lease committee (DLCC) in Samtse to discontinue the mining works.

Eventually, the Samtse DGM stopped the mines from operating.  However, the site is active with the interim lease awards it availed.

During Kuensel’s visit, it was found that the complainants from the petition owned land in Kopchey, but were all living outside Samtse.  Although the petition didn’t specify how the mining would affect them, it had asked the committee to stop further detonation of their territory by mining activities.  Further, the letter stated that about 25 households would be affected with the mining.

A DGM official in Samtse, Lham Tenzin said their office has been waiting for directives from the lease committee on the case for the last two years.  The committee later forwarded the case to the DGM headquarters from where the interim lease was awarded and the mining works continued until now.

Some villagers in Dhapar said the dzongkhag environment had verified the place and found that the mining could operate without any disturbance to Kopchey and its lands.

“The village falls behind the hill on which the mine is operating and it will take ages to see the kind of impact the Kopchey people are complaining of,” Ramey Rai said. “As of now nothing has happened.”

Ramey Rai also said that the mining has helped many Dhapar people earn income.

There are 71 households in Kopchey today with more than 200 residents. About 42 households are near the mining site.

Meanwhile, the interim lease award this time, Kuensel has learnt doesn’t have a time frame like the earlier leases.

By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing