Yangyel Lhaden

The Green Bhutan Corporation Limited (GBCL) is gearing up to embark on the first-ever mine restoration project in the country. The project will focus on restoring the Habrang coal mine located in Khateythang, Samdrupjongkhar.

The Habrang coal mine covers an area of 105.62 acres. Of the two blocks, Block A is already exhausted, while Block B is nearing depletion.

This mine is the first coal mine leased by the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) from the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) for a period of 10 years, starting from January 4, 2016.

At the time of its inception, the mine had a probable deposit of 600,000 metric tonnes (MT) and an average production of between 40,000 and 50,000 MT of coal per year.

The GBCL’s chief executive officer, Karma Jigme Temphel, said that the Corporation was preparing a plan for the restoration project according to the guidelines of the DGM. The plan will be presented to the SMCL and then submitted to the DGM for approval.

“Coal B is expected to be exhausted by the end of this year,” Karma Jigme Temphel said.

GBCL’s restoration plan encompasses several key steps. Initially, terraces will be constructed, and topsoil will be applied to the site. Following this, vegetation, such as grasses or native species found prior to coal extraction, will be planted to enhance site stability and promote long-term sustainability.

“Given that the coal extraction process has removed the topsoil, the soil in the area has become hardened,” said Karma Jigme Temphel. “To rehabilitate the land and mitigate the risk of soil erosion and landslides, it is important to add topsoil layer and construct terraces.”

In areas where constructing terraces is not feasible, particularly on steep slopes, geonets—drainage mesh material—will be used. In the small channels or valleys formed by running water, check dams will be constructed. Check dams serve as water-control structures to manage erosion and sedimentation.

“The overall objective of the restoration plan is to produce a landscape that is safe, stable and compatible with the surrounding landscape,” Karma Jigme Temphel said. “Surface mining may alter landscapes and cultural settings. Restoration plans must outline compatible post-mining land uses.”

The environmental assessment conducted at the Habrang coal mine site revealed that the area was sparsely forested, with only 8.5 acres covered by vegetation. The flora species identified included Sal, Hillock, Simul, Chilaune, Saj, Daubanga, and various shrubs.

As for fauna, animal traces indicated the presence of elephants, monkeys, wild boars, porcupines, and various snakes. However, no protected species were identified, except for elephants.

During the consultation meeting with stakeholders and the community, community members voiced concerns regarding drinking water access, irrigation, and the possibility of repurposing overburden land into recreational areas.

These issues were brought to the attention of GBCL for consideration and potential incorporation into the restoration plan.

At the two coal sites where two streams currently flow, GBCL has plans to divert these streams back to the community.

In response to community requests, GBCL plans to repurpose the overburden land into football and archery grounds.

These initiatives aim to address community concerns while also promoting recreational activities and enhancing community amenities.

“With this restoration project, GBCL is not seeking profit,” said Karma Jigme Temphel. “Our focus is on restoring the land and delivering high-quality work that benefits the community and the environment.”