Dispute between mining company and local community will now have to be settled in court

Mining: After two rounds of negotiations failed to bring closure to the Gidawom mines case, proceedings continued yesterday at Thimphu district court’s bench II, four months after the last hearing.

The main issue being contested in the court is whether the July 21 blasting last year had caused cracks on the walls of 26 houses in the community, and breach of an internal agreement between the companies and the community on social corporate responsibility.

Five witnesses, including two government officials, were summoned to testify on several aspects of the case, but most did not have answers the parties sought.

An elderly man from Jamdo was asked to locate the sacred place (nye) of the local deity Jeesuup.  However, he said, the local deity he knew of was only worshipped by the residents of Jamdo.

“I don’t know where the Gidawom community villagers go to worship,” he said.

One of the contentions of the case was that mining activities have affected the holy site of the local deity.  The defendants or the four mining companies had argued that there was no particular place identified.

“As more than 230 acres of the area is allotted to the mining companies, the nye falls within this area and, will ultimately be destroyed,” a plaintiff member said.

Officials from the department of geology and mines (DGM) were asked if blasting in the mines above the village for several years had a cumulative effect on the community or the homes.

Both the officiating director and the mining division head could not answer the question, not having the technical background and lacking details of how the blasting is done.

“If the blasting is done at once, then there isn’t much effect,” the mining head said.

A representative of the plaintiffs, who comprise 26 households from Jamdo and Gidawom villages, said that the geology and mines in-charge at Khasadrapchu, who has now retired, found that the mine, which was blasted on July 21, had exceeded the permissible limit.

However, a subsequent study by DGM, after suspension of activities in the mines for 10 days, ruled out the claims.

The court has summoned two blasting engineers from Mangdechu hydropower project on April 20 to testify on the cumulative blasting effect.

Thimphu dzongkhag’s environment officer submitted that a study spearheaded by the National Environment Commission (NEC) last year could not ascertain if the mining activities had resulted in drinking water becoming scarce.

“There was no baseline data to compare the present findings with,” she submitted. “The study recommended carrying out similar studies in future to see if water is becoming scarce in the area.”

The NEC report stated that the water scarcity in the area could be because of increase in population and industries.

Another witness, the plaintiff brought in was a woman, who was in the locality on a picnic with her family.  She said that she heard a loud noise from the blasting.

The court has also been collecting information from government agencies on the holy site and the blasting at the mines.

The defence counsel, Ugyen Dorji, said that negotiations failed because the miners were not allowed to meet the villagers.

“Without talking to them, there was no way to negotiate and settle the issue,” he said.

The plaintiffs have claimed Nu 72 million as compensation, after their earlier demand was found too high.

The court had given them a month to settle the case mutually but, since negotiations have failed, court proceedings on the case resumed yesterday.

By Tshering Palden