Government should take lead to reintroduce the Bill, say NC members

MB Subba 

The Mines and Minerals Bill will not be tabled in the summer session as the government had recently revised the mines and minerals management regulations.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma has said that it would be too early to reintroduce it given the recent change to the regulations.

The government had earlier said that it would reintroduce the Bill in the upcoming summer session after it was deferred indefinitely during the summer session last year.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that it would be better to see the implementation of the mines and minerals management regulations 2022, which was launched in March, for some time. “Later if we feel that a new Act is required, then we can revive the Bill,” he said.

He said that the implementation of the new regulations was expected to address many of the challenges, including that of the social corporate responsibility (CSR) and mineral wealth going to the hands of a few.

With the launch of the new regulations, the private sector can apply for mining licenses. The government suspended the issuance of mining licenses to the private sector in June 2020.

Officials said that the geology and mines department (DGM) has been receiving applications for the operation of mines from the private sector.

The DGM is also processing the mining applications that were received before the moratorium was imposed, according to the officials.

However, the predetermined mines of dolomite, gypsum and coal will be owned by the State-owned company. In other words, minerals that have been allotted to the state-owned company would not be given to the private sector.

Speaking at the pre-session press conference of the National Council (NC) last week, the chairperson of the NC’s natural resources and environment committee, Dorji Khandu, said that it was a government Bill and that it should take the responsibility to reintroduce the Bill.

“When it comes to such important issues, the government needs to have the political will, without which it is difficult for Parliament to come up with concrete results,” he said.

The chairperson of the NC’s good governance committee, Nima, said that the NC could also reintroduce the Bill as there was no difference between the two houses when it came to the legislative powers and functions.

“However, it would be more appropriate and convenient for the parent agency to reintroduce the Bill,” he said.

The Deputy Chairperson of the House, Jigme Wangchuk, said that the National Assembly and the government were made up of political parties but that the NC as the apolitical House needed to take a neutral stand.

“We could not agree with the National Assembly’s stand on the Bill,” he said, adding that one of the roles of the upper house was to apply checks and balances.

The new mines and minerals regulations, some observers say, take a middle path approach to balance the NC’s concerns that mineral wealth was going to the hands of a few with the need to enable private sector growth.

The observers, including some MPs, said the Bill was not likely to be tabled during the current government’s term, given the sharp differences between the two Houses and the lack of clarity on the reintroduction of such Bills.