Unprecedented operation of surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials since January 2017 resulted in huge revenue loss to the government, according to the findings of the Royal Audit Authority (RAA).

Although Kuensel could not obtain the audit report, sources confirmed that awarding surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials works directly by the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) resulted in loss of about Nu 454.929 million (M) in about 21 months through auction fees and dividends.

Sources said there was also financial implication of about Nu 35.643M to the government through royalty, as DoFPS awarded the work to private parties.

A source alleged that the agriculture ministry, a custodian of natural resources, adopted the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations 2017 (FNCRR) and allowed dredging with heavy machines as part of surface collection.

Another source, on the condition of anonymity, said the department did not even follow the FNCRR 2017, which states that surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials shall be given to authorised agency.

“DoFPS has directly awarded works to 33 individuals and private parties directly contravening the provision of the rules and regulations,” the source said.

He alleged that the department also failed to exercise due diligence in awarding the work.

The source said section 366 (6) of the FNCRR 2017 was included without even consulting relevant stakeholders like the Department of Geology and Mines and forestry officials. The section is on the requirements that have to be met for surface collection. 

A forester said everyone involved in the adoption of FNCRR 2017 should be held accountable. “Even the chief forestry officers were informed after the rules and regulations was adopted.”

Another source, well aware of the issue, alleged that FNCRR 2017 was adopted so that some contractors could benefit. “Some private contractors started operating right after the rule came into effect, which indicates they knew the new rule and started processing even before it was adopted.”

He also said private operators were excavating the rivers in the southern dzongkhag because of the revenue they generate through export. “Without any monitoring at the site, there are no studies conducted to ensure sustainability of the natural resources and also conservation of the aquatic life.”

Sources alleged that DoFPS allotted sites to private contractors, who did not even prepare a detailed project report to ensure there are no environmental damages and over-harvesting.

The present DoFPS director, Lobzang Dorji, said there are many people working on the issues related to surface collection. “There is already an audit memo as reported.”

Officials at the ministry said there were lots of things happening because of the surface collection issue. “Some people were put under tremendous pressure,” said an official.

“Hope the issue would be resolved soon.”

  Tashi Dema and Tshering Palden