Mining Bill may have limited the state’s rights over minerals  

MB Subba

The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 gives the state the prerogative to promote and develop minerals if they are found either on government or private land. 

However, a new Section that provides for obtaining written consent from the landowner may have limited the state’s right to extract the mines and minerals from private land to the nation’s economic benefit.

The National Assembly yesterday adopted the recommendation which states: “A written consent shall be obtained from the landowners concerned for promotion and development of mining in private land.” The proposal came from the economic and finance committee. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering supported the recommendation but cautioned that the House needed to see if the new Section was in line with provisions of the Constitution that states that mines and minerals are a state property. “The only concern is what if the landowner does not give the written consent,” he said.

The Bill also states that the rights over mineral resources shall vest in the State. But the concern was that the new Section could render that meaningless.

Chairman of the committee, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the clause was added to protect the rights of the private landowner. He added that mines and minerals belong to the state but that it was important to obtain the consent of the landowner as both the state and people have rights.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs shall have the right to earmark and declare mineral potential areas for future resource tapping and to guide infrastructure and developmental works in such areas, the Bill states.  

According to the Bill, the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) must give notice of entry to the landowner or any person owning such land before prospecting on private property. The landowner shall allow the authorised person to enter his land to carry out mineral prospecting. 

Drametse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said there should be clear mention on whether mines and minerals exploration will be allowed in parks and protected areas. “If the mining is on private land, there should be a provision for compensation mentioned in the Bill,” he said.

Prospecting or exploration of minerals is allowed to private individuals as per the Bill. “A person shall not be required to apply for prospecting or exploration license for exposed minerals where the deposit can be directly assessed as feasible for mining.”

If a person discovers any strategic mineral and fossil specimen during prospecting or exploration of permitted minerals, the person shall report to the DGM for compensation, collaboration for development or as may be determined by the government. 

The committee had proposed to open protected areas for development and operation of mines, but the House rejected it. The House also rejected the committee’s proposal to close the mining sector to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that about 50 percent of the forests are identified as protected areas and parks. “People are not allowed even to harvest trees from those areas. And those places should be kept as it is,” he said.

The Bill states that the state should operate strategic mines while the non-strategic mines are open to the private sector.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that mining opportunities should be left open to both the state and the private sector. He said that the mines and minerals benefit the country either way.

The Bill states that the exploration license may be transferred to any eligible person on payment of transfer fee as prescribed. 

An exploration license holder shall use the exploration license for the intended purpose, and not for speculation and land banking, according to the Bill.

“A prospecting license holder shall have the right to prospect minerals specified in the license. The department shall give notification of entry to the landowner or any person in custody of such land before prospecting in private property.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the landowner’s consent was not required for the purpose of prospecting but only for exploration. “A patient’s signature is required only for operation,” he said.

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