… retains dual control over dredging and surface collection

Tashi Dema

With all 22 members present yesterday at the National Council voting for the adoption of Mines and Minerals Bill 2020 (MMB), the House passed the Bill. 

The Bill will now be forwarded to the National Assembly for re-deliberation.

Presenting the Bill for adoption, the chairperson of the legislative committee, Pemagatshel’s NC member Choining Dorji, reported that of the 150 sections submitted for deliberation, 48 sections were reassigned to the committee for review, four sections were withdrawn and five new sections were added during the internal meetings the committee conducted.

With a show of hands, the House adopted all the amendments made by the committee and unanimously adopted the Bill.

However, the House retained dual control over the contentious dredging and surface collection to the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPS) and Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) by inserting new sections.

With both departments claiming authority over surface collections, as the Mines and Minerals Management Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 1995 (MMMA) and Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995 (FNCA) provided the respective departments authority over it, the Bill was expected to harmonise conflicting provisions of law over the activity and also provide authority to one department.

While officials of economic affairs ministry and DGM, who attended the NC session yesterday, said they could not understand the contents of the Bill properly, as the House adopted the amendments made by the legislative committee through show of hand and not through proper discussions, those following the Bill closely said it defeated one of the main objectives of the amendment of the MMMA.

Choining Dorji explained that the House was divided on the issue but through majority decision, it decided that DoFPS would look after surface collection of sand and stone for both commercial and rural purposes.

He said that the House made the decision for effective public service delivery, as there is shortage of manpower in DGM. “Since DoFPS has foresters in gewog and dzongkhag, it will help in timely issuance of permits to public,” the legislative committee chairperson said. “They also have adequate human resource for monitoring purpose.”

He also said DGM does not have offices in the dzongkhags.

DGM’s director Choiten Wangchuk said while the NC members, in their wisdom, left dual control over the activities, he expects the Bill would go for joint sitting where the issue would be resolved. “Our submission was that one department, either the DGM or DoFPS should look after the activity. Public will be confused which departments to approach and dual control is not practical.”

He said that since it is related to mining, it should be with mining.

DGM officials also said with online services, it is not necessary to have offices in dzongkhags. “Our proposal was to authorise local government officials for rural purposes,” the director said.