The cat there had died. The one here had drowned.
This old adage depicts the plight of the Samdrupcholing community who wanted to have a stake in the mining business and get a share of the riches. Running from pillar to post in the hope of, now preventing loss in the millions before a piece of coal was mined, and recovering the Nu 20m advance they paid, the circumstances they are in is making them edgy.
Their request for time extension to ready earth moving machines – in a pandemic year that disrupted normal life with restrictions and lockdowns including the export or imports of goods – has seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Time extensions had been granted, twice for that matter. But nipping the hopes in the bud does seem unfair given the circumstances we are in today.
As representatives become desperate, with losses looming large, there are even suspicions that their inability to arrange heavy earth-moving machinery on time was not the only reason. They are feeling that they were given a raw deal, if not the conditions made were to squeeze them out of the contract. Some are convinced, in retrospect, that the requirement of having to ready more than a hundred new heavy earth-moving machinery like excavators, trucks and payloaders were nothing but to make them fail to take up the lucrative contract.
If what representatives said are true, which is in some ways are, there are already machineries hired from private individuals including those with connections to the State Mining Corporation Ltd or its parent company. Most of them are not new machineries. There are 4,187 members from four gewogs that make up the private company. A relook into their plea sounds logical even if two extensions were granted.
The project of hiring machines to the SMCL was conceived in November 2019, a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic. When they got the nod from the miner and the letter of intent to prepare for the business, the country was already in the midst of the pandemic. Setting up a small business needs years of planning and finance. Pedmi Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDKPL) is a big company worth billions if they get the job. As one member puts it, even organising a game of lawn tennis with just two people, a ball and a racquet takes time. Time and circumstances were against them. The contractor, unfortunately, failed them too.
Representatives of the company are not giving up. There is a lot at stake. Getting the work after much investment and hard work including starting a company involving villagers from scratch is important. Not getting their money back is increasingly worrying them. The concerns people are raising is digging up a lot of issues, if not coal. As they wait for their fate and money, more issues are likely to be dug up.
The Samdrupcholing case, in relation to the debate over the deferred Mines and Mineral Bill 2020, is a good lesson for all parties. One concern against state enterprises taking over mine was leaving out the private sector. The other was about letting trickle down the benefit of mining natural resources to the people.
In this case, a community and a state enterprise are at loggerheads and almost the entire households of four gewogs seem to be at the losing end.