After almost two years of investigations, Gidawom mining case’s verdict is finally out. If a court verdict is judged by who won or lost, as many Bhutanese would like to read, the 29 property owners around the mines have won.
Those following the case are interpreting that the court has taken a middle-path in deciding the case. This conclusion stems from the fact that the property owners demanded a much higher amount in compensation. The court ordered not even a fifth of the claimed amount even after finding that the miners were guilty.
The villagers may feel aggrieved with the amount of the court’s compensation order. But if there is ever a winner, the reason should be because the court had ordered the miners to comply with regulations and agreements they signed when they first ventured into the “lucrative” business. This is going beyond the current issue, thinking long-term.
The Gidawom case is not a major case of conflict between a community and big time miners, but it is significant in many ways. The mining industry, like in many countries, is always portrayed in a negative picture. If it is not about corruption, it is about flaunting environmental rules.
When they are accused of not giving back to the community that is affected by their activity, people will find fault. When they flaunt environment norms, it gives people reasons to sue them. When communities feel that their activities are not monitored, they will suspect collusion.
This case is also not the first case between miners and community. Nonetheless, as more and more people become aware of environment norms and the prospects mining business offer, they will be closely watched. What could arise from this case is the awareness in the community. There were several lapses on the miners’ part, which the court rightfully ordered them to correct.
Mining companies cannot get away as easily as they could in the past. The profile of the “villager” is changing. They are former or serving civil servants or corporate employees. And if they are not in the forefront making issues, they are well behind the villagers. They are not as naïve as many assume. Mining companies know this and point out that communities are making their lives difficult.
The dzongkhag’s Bench II verdict is, therefore, not a “make all party happy” verdict. It will set the tone. Miner will be made to pay for their lapses while communities will be made to understand that they cannot hold the rich mining companies for ransom.
As long as we mine our natural resources, there will be issues. What is good is that the judiciary is reforming. There will be a Green Bench at the Supreme Court that will take up public interest litigation.
It is hoped that the establishment will encourage the protection of the disadvantaged group while also ensuring the protection of our wealth, the environment.