Tashi Dema

The deliberation at the National Council (NC) on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 (amendment) so far has overlooked harmonising conflicting provisions of laws over surface collection of riverbed materials and dredging activities.

The recommendations made by the house’s legislative committee in the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 retains authority over surface collection and dredging to both the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) of economic affairs ministry and Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) of agriculture ministry.

Three Acts, the Mines and Minerals Management Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 1995 (MMMA), Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995 (FNCA), and Water Act of Bhutan 2011 have conflicting provisions over surface collection.

Officials at DoFPS and DGM had been at loggerhead because of dual control over the activities.

DGM proposed to repeal section 3g (iv) of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995 on boulders, stone, sand, gravel and rocks and section 26(b) of the Water Act of Bhutan 2011 by the Bill.

The national law review taskforce and Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also recommended the need for harmonisation of the provisions of the laws.

Some NC members, outside the Hosue, however, raised concerns on the need to clarify the roles.

Samtse’s representative, Tirtha Man Rai, said dredging and surface collection pose lots of problem in the south, as DGM and DoFPS have issues over control and responsibility. “Existing policies and guidelines couldn’t solve the issues at the site. “It is important to clarify while amending the Act.”

He said there are issues of availing no objection certificate, as it is not clear if the clearance should be availed by visiting house to house or through public meetings. “There is also no uniform royalty and fee collection.”

Tirtha Man Rai said there are even alleged corruption issues in the activities, affecting communities.

Trongsa NC member, Tashi Samdrup, said section 40 of the Bill states DGM could auction identified surface collection for commercial purpose or fossicking site where the market prospects are large and other sections state the Department of Forests and Park Service would have authority over surface collection. “It’s important to clarify the roles of the departments to ensure there is no conflict while implementing the law.”

He said DGM should have authority to export.

Sarpang NC member, Anand Rai, said dredging activities impacted private land. “Improper dredging in Maokhola and Sarpang Chhu is causing floods affecting local communities.”

He said there are no clear rules and guidelines on how to operate the dredging activities.

However, those following the deliberations are worried that dual control over surface collection and dredging would again result in improper management. “Some members talk as if the Bill, once implemented, would repeal the other Acts,” a source said. “It is necessary to repeal the contradictory provisions and ensure one department has authority.”

The source explained that issues of dredging and surface collection that forced the involvement of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and Royal Audit Authority (RAA) were because of dual control. “If the Bill doesn’t harmonise it, then it is going back to the same problem.”

Another source said that the NC’s chairperson had asked the committee to relook at provisions. “I hope the legislative committee will take the law harmonisation into consideration.”

The NC will continue deliberation on the Bill today.