The agriculture and forests ministry stopped issuing new surface collection and dredging permits from last month.

However, those commercial firms in operation would not be affected by the decision, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor said.

Lyonpo said that the Cabinet instructred the ministry to stop issuing any new permits after the Cabinet delved into conflicts between the provisions in Forest and Nature Conservation Act (FNCA) 1995, Mines and Minerals Management Act  (MMMA) 1995, and the Water Act 2011.

The temporary suspension for commercial permits would remain until the Acts are harmonised, lyonpo said. “This suspension would not affect rural households,” he said.

Following the enactment of the Acts, there were issues on overlapping control over surface collection materials.

An executive order from the Cabinet in 2007 gives sole authority over sand to Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd. However, the order does not mention stones and boulders. The Water Act 2011 gives the authority to state owned enterprises to manage all river bed materials.

The Cabinet in January 2009 gave the authority to Department of Geology and Mines (DGM). The release of the forest nature conservation rules and regulations 2017 complicated the matter further.

“This has led to territorial issues between the DGM and the forestry department under agriculture ministry,” lyonpo said.

During the recent meet the press session, Lyonchhen said that the government would iron out the differences, streamline the process, and give ownership to one of the Acts.

“To harmonise that we couldn’t allow new permits,” he said, adding that the trade would continue including the export of boulders to Bangladesh. 

He said that through one permit the revenue earned is only Nu 50 a truck. Through another, it is Nu 12 per metric tonne.

“By one formula, we’re entitled to get almost Nu 500 a truck but we get only Nu 50 a truck, so there is need to harmonise this,” lyonchhen said.

Both agencies claim ownership of the resources and their rights from the Acts which were enacted at the same National Assembly session in 1995.

“Because of this DGM and the forests department are at war.”

The MMMA 1995 section 15 states, “All exploration in the Kingdom shall be carried out by the Division or where authorised by the Head of Division, by other persons/agency operating under his supervision and under such terms and conditions as may be prescribed.”

FNCA 1995 states that the forest department is given responsibility for sustainably managing government reserved forests (GRF), and for regulating the production, protection, transport and trade of timber, other forest produce and wildlife, whether or not located in GRF, and as provided by rules for community or private forests or where responsibility for regulating a particular type of minor forest produce has been given to another agency or department of the Royal government.

Forest produce includes boulders, stone, sand, gravel, rocks, peat, surface soil.

The Office of the Attorney General is currently working on harmonising the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995, Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995, Water Act 2011, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said.

Tshering Palden