Yangyel Lhaden

An asphalt and mixing bitumen plant in Bjemina was denied a lease extension and ordered to shut down after the community near the plant complained about air pollution. The plant’s temporary lease ended on October 1.

The residents and the school near the plant, which belonged to Green Roads, raised concerns about the pollutants from the plant affecting the health of students and residents. They filed their complaints with the Mewang gewog administration and Department of Industry’s (DoI) estate manager.

The gewog officials forwarded the complaints to the dzongkhag administration. A team from Thimphu dzongkhag inspected the pollutants from the factory in October.

Thimphu Dzongdag Dorji Tshering said that since the dzongkhag did not have an environmental officer, the administration wrote to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) and the National Environment Commission to study the pollutants.

“Without the capacity to assess the emissions we were not in a position to take action,” he said.

DoI’s estate manager in Bjemina, Daba, said that the plant was asked to shut down due to the expiry of the contract period, and moreover, the allotment of the plant was temporary.

“The Green Road proprietor’s request to the Ministry of Economic Affairs to further extend the contract starting October 1 was not approved.”

He said that the operation of the plant was discussed at various levels in the ministry and the complaints from people were also taken into consideration.

The company signed a contract with the MoEA in 2019 to operate for two years and completed the two-year term in April 2021. The plant got an extension until October 1.

Daba said that the plant was given an extension until October 1 to make up for the work lost during the pandemic-related lockdowns.

He said that the area where the bitumen plant was set up was supposed to be a landfill. However, without a budget, it was temporarily allocated to the company. “The plant has to vacate the area by the end of November.”

Daba said that Nu 1 million is allocated in this fiscal year to construct a dumping ground.

He said that the department was consulting with factory proprietors in the industrial estate to construct and conducting a study into whether a landfill or a centralised collection for waste can be constructed.

Meanwhile, the gewog administration gave clearance to tap a new dedicated water source for the industrial estate. The clearance was delayed for two years after the community raised concerns about pollutants from the bitumen plant. Daba said, “Work has already been awarded to a contractor.”