Yangchen C Rinzin

Failing to exercise due diligence and levy loyalty as per metric tonnes for surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials (RBM) under the jurisdiction of divisional forest office (DFO) in Gedu and Samtse, has led to the government losing revenue of Nu 230.920 million (M).

The surface collection of RBM had levied royalty on truckload basis instead of per metric tonnes, thereby losing the revenue, according to the Annual Audit Report 2019.

Failing to implement standardised carrying capacity for truck, the DFO led the exporters to earn more revenue than the government. Exporters earned huge revenue ranging from a minimum of USD 14 to as high as USD 27 per metric tonnes. The government received only Nu 40 per truckload as royalty.

The audit also observed that lack of clarity and inconsistency in charging of export permit fees has led to short of Nu 1.745M for the export of surface collection and river dredging materials under Gedu DFO.

The Samtse DFO levied export permit fees at the rate of Nu 20 per permit page while the Gedu DFO charged only Nu 10, where such rate is not mentioned in the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) 2017.

“It was noted that there was no basis for revision of export permit fee from Nu 10 to Nu 20. It was not produced during the audit,” the report said.

Apart from leading to loss of revenues, the DFO of both Gedu and Samtse has violated the conditions prescribed in FNCRR 2017 during the issuance of forestry clearance to permit dredging work along the Budhuney river.

Although it was marked that 16 requirements as fulfilled in the inspection report, the site inspection team did not declare that the area is a habitat of peacock including the vicinity of a critical watershed and water sources.

A total of 25 parties comprising of 13 under DFO Samtse and 12 under DFO Gedu operated dredging works without forestry clearance.

This happened because the DFOs had not ensured that surface collection and dredging activities were carried out only after obtaining all the clearances.

“Of the 25, 15 parties had forestry clearance for surface collections and 10 did not obtain forestry clearance for both surface and dredging works,” the report. “Operating surface collections and dredging activities without obtaining the forestry clearance is a direct violation of prevailing Acts and Rules.”

There was also a clear incidence of undue favouritism to the operators in terms of issuing required clearance by the DFO Gedu and Samtse where they did not enforce the need to obtain all required clearances.

“This is laxity on the part of regulatory agencies,” the report said.

For instance, if the activities fall within highways and near to human settlements, the clearance from the roads department and the local community is a must to indicate there is no adverse impact from carrying out surface collection and dredging.

A total of 32 operators had not obtained applicable clearances from the relevant authorities.

The DFO Gedu and Samtse had also failed to comply with the requirement for environmental clearance for surface collection and dredging activities for RBM.

It revealed that for nine parties, the department of forest and park services (DoFPS) had issued environmental clearance for both surface collections and dredging works.

While the clearance for surface collection of sand and boulders are supposed to be obtained from DoFPS, for dredging works, National Environment Commission Secretariat (NECS) is supposed to issue the clearance.

“This is a pure contravention to the provisions outlined in Regulations for Environmental Clearance of Project. Only one party, M/s BMML enterprise had obtained clearance from the NECS,” the report said.

Both the DFOs had not carried out proper detailed project report for environmental mitigation and prevention works including operators also failed to carry out proper demarcation, plantation activities, as indicated in the environmental clearance’ condition.

The RAA pointed out that the activities of surface collection and dredging of RBM without valid environmental clearances has violated the terms and condition questioning the legitimacy of operation. It also pointed out the lack of due diligence on the part of regulatory authorities.

“This has resulted in huge negative environmental and social impacts. Instances like diversion of the river due to excessive dredging, damage to government properties, non-implementation of mitigation measures were observed,” the report stated.

This was also attributed to lack of coordination among relevant agencies in the governance, management and operation where most agencies were functioning in isolation.

The DFOs Gedu and Samtse did not review and demarcated the areas for mitigation works including mitigation plans submitted by the parties.

Although six parties had submitted mitigation plans for obtaining environmental clearance, none of them had executed the mitigation plans. The mitigation work would have otherwise cost Nu 622.581M.