Tshering Palden 

The Mines and Minerals Bill mandates the state to provide three percent of the annual revenue from the mining sector to Bhutan For Life Fund and Bhutan Health Trust Fund.

The Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) proposed the new section recommending that at least one percent of the mining sector’s annual revenue should go to the two Funds. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering supported the recommendation and proposed raising the amount to three percent each. The rest of the House unanimously adopted the recommendation.

This is one of the changes in the major overhaul to the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995. The Assembly approved the Bill that has the creation of a regulatory authority, broad-based ownership of the companies, heftier penalties for violations, and more benefits to the communities close to mining areas, among others.

The House passed the Bill with a resounding majority. Of the 44 sitting members, 40 voted in favour, one voted against the motion and three abstained.

The National Assembly adopted a new clause in the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which states that at least 30 percent of the employment opportunities should be provided to members of the local community.

The Bill states that the lessee shall provide preference to the eligible affected community for employment opportunities and procurement of goods and services.   

The Bill also requires the lessee to allocate at least three percent of the shares floated to the public.

The State has to plough back up to 10 percent of the royalty received from the lessee to the community to maintain roads, ensure safe drinking water, periodic health check-up, agriculture and other livelihood conservation, enhancement programmes, and compensation for displacement and resettlement.

The Bill also has a substantial increase in penalties for offences compared to the Act.

If a person carries out prospecting or exploration of minerals without prior approval he would be penalised with a fine of the daily national minimum wage rate (DNMWR) for 365 days. The MMMA fine was of 40 days.

If one abandons any part of the leased area with risks to the health and safety of a person or the community and alters or removes any mine boundary pillar without approval, the fine is 30 months DNMWR with immediate suspension of a mining operation until the problem is fixed.

The penalties for subletting a mining lease or permit will be slapped a fine equivalent to 35 months DNMWR and suspension of activity for three months.

The Bill also specifies the responsibilities of the ministry, department and the regulating authority including the composition of the board of the authority.

The Bill will now be forwarded to National Council.