In everybody’s interest

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.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    To come up with a strong ‘Yes’ or a strong ‘No’ for mining at any levels for any intensity is never an easy box to tick. And between the the two extreme boxes, we have the business of mining and even the issues that we usually complain about. If very much neutral an observer, at any point, can make a statement that one needs to be rich or powerful in other ways to survive and sustain a difficult mining business; we are already up against a difficult scenario. But good thing is that it’s only an unlikely assumption here and should never be a reality when we talk about environment friendly mining.

    The court verdict is out now and justice has been done. And we all much respect it as even the court has made it clear that mining has to be clean and environment friendly where all the miners should always comply with all the rules and regulations in place.

    But when we are dealing with unlimited demand of mined products and miners are given a time limited permission to mine; it is expected that mining will be a bit aggressive in nature. If mining involves machinery which are always imported or acquired through various contractual leases; mining activities are bound to face the pressure of time always. Between ‘time overrun’ and ‘cost overrun’, if only one is to be strictly considered; today’s businesses are strongly in favour of limiting ‘time overrun’ in most of the cases.

    But if more resources are to be deployed for the same, even keeping cost under control will have its pressure to act upon. And if supply gets restricted for quality keeping cost in control for every businesses, every sector in the market is bound to face a ‘natural monopoly’ like situation to be controlled only by a few players. But that’s only in my opinion. And if the sector is mining, the industry is always dealing with issues regarding environment.

    The business in mining is always a bit complex than it can usually be read as by any ordinary observer like me. But for mining to remain a business for quality protecting the environment, the authority in place may need to re-look at the business as a whole than just having rules and regulations to put a check on things that only creates confusion too complicated to understand at a much later date. Thankfully, we are going to have a Green Bench now and that should solve it all.

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