Findings: Over 60 percent of mines and quarries in the country have violated the environment clearance terms and conditions.

It was found that most mines and quarries were not in line with the final mine feasibility study, environment management plan, had poor management of overburden materials, poor dust suppression and delayed implementation of progressive restoration works.

Although details were not available on which mining company or quarry violated what terms and conditions, some mines and quarries were also found operating without a valid environment clearance.

This was found during an annual compliance monitoring that the National Environment Commission (NEC) and department of geology and mines (DGM) conducted between March 4 and June 8.   NEC and DGM also had conducted a special monitoring between October 2013 January 2014.

The findings were presented to the mining and quarry companies during a compliance-monitoring meeting on June 15 in Thimphu.  At least one representative of the 44 active mines and quarry companies attended the meeting.

There are today 73 mines and quarries in the country, of which 44 are operational, 22 non-operational, four have not commenced yet and another three under restoration process.

According to the findings, benches and its parameters in the mines and quarries were not maintained as per the approved mine plan, a document that ensures development, operation and closure of concerned mines and quarries are strictly carried out.

Some mining companies had changed the mine plan without informing NEC while some were operating on expired mine plan. Companies had also mined and quarried in extended areas.

Environment clearance’s terms and condition also mention that the companies carry out progressive restoration as the development of benches advances downward, but NEC and DGM found most mines and quarry not complying with it.

There was also no designated environmental focal person or environmental unit as required by section 22 of the Regulation for the Environmental Clearance of Projects 2002.  The section states that all agencies shall establish an environmental unit responsible for reporting on the implementation, enforcement and compliance of the environment clearance.

NEC secretary (Dr) Ugyen Tshewang said fines and penalties were imposed for not complying with the terms and conditions adding that there is a need to improve the current compliance and monitoring system.

Representatives from all mines and quarries signed an undertaking during the June 15 meeting to mitigate the violated terms and conditions of the environmental clearance.  This, according to the undertaking, will improve compliance with the terms and conditions and the environmental legislations.

The participants have set deadlines, ranging from three to 18 months to comply with the violated terms and conditions.

“There are some grey areas where existing rules do not apply, so with this undertaking we’re reinforcing the rules,” he said. “Failing to comply the undertaking will help us take appropriate legal action.”

He, however, said that NEC does not want to do policing with the quarries and mines but rather facilitate so that they followed rules and regulations.

While many mining and quarry owners were against a joint undertaking, they signed it anyway.  Owners were sceptical and said it undermined the importance of an environment clearance.

Environment officer with Punatsangchu II, Sangay Dorji, said, they were not comfortable signing the undertaking to show their commitments in following the environment clearance’s terms and conditions.

In a meeting that lasted almost 12 hours, the participants also raised concerns that public consultation in mining and quarry area was becoming controversial.  Few influential people in the community, participants said, were creating issues against the mines and quarry.

“When few influential people try to stop mining, NEC and government need to step in,” one of the participants said.

By Nirmala Pokhrel