Suspects policy corruption in dredging business

Rinzin Wangchuk 

Representatives of the 11 proponents who proposed to dredge and collect river bed materials (RBM) will appeal to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) today after suspecting policy corruption in the award of dredging sites in the Amochhu basin in Phuentsholing and Samtse.

They are appealing after they found out that 7.05 acres of dredging site in Titiring, Tading gewog, Samtse was awarded to Druk Magical Private Limited (DMPL). DMPL was one of the applicants among the proponents who applied for dredging to the government in 2018.

The dredging zone, Zone C at Titiring with good RBM deposits is the most sought after and has also become the most controversial site, as others were denied the approval to dredge.

However, through a Cabinet order last year, only DMPL was given the approval to dredge from an identified 7.05 acres in zone C. The site was finally allotted to DMPL in August this year.

Proponents were unhappy as DMPL was not only among the 12 applicants who applied for RBM collection and dredging at Tititring in 2018, but also among proponents  who approached the Prime Minister in 2019 to let them dredge RBM from Titiring.

Recently, the Cabinet also directed the agriculture ministry  to discuss with Chephen Nordup Export and permit the company to dredge at the “average auction rate” per acre established by the ministry. Forestry officials said that no auctions were held in the past in awarding dredging sites and are wondering what the “average auction rate” would be.

The decision to allow Chephen Nordup Export had further confused and aggrieved the proponents who were waiting for environment clearance since 2018. “Since we all applied for the sites together, why was DMPL given the privilege?” one aggrieved applicant said.

They alleged that DMPL’s Samten Wangdi was allotted dredging work by the agriculture minister with support from Samtse’s Chief Forestry Officer without the knowledge of former forest director, Phento Tshering. 

They are also questioning why the Cabinet decided to allow  Chephen Nordup Export to dredge if the allotment of new sites were stopped.

Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the ministry has stopped new site  allotment and all feasible sites will be allotted through open auctions. The minister in an earlier interview said that allotment of new site to DMPL was given based on ACC’s decision as part of the Action Taken Report.

Proponents are accusing that both DMPL and Chephen Nrodup Export are promoters of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT). “We have now no option but to approach ACC for intervention and curb policy corruption,” one complainant said.

The issue over Titiring site allocation emerged following the DoFPS’s public announcement on September 14, 2019 that all the new feasible sites (24)  for surface collection and dredging would be allocated to new applicants on a first come first serve basis.

The applicants questioned the notification claiming that Titiring area was already accorded approval by the agriculture minister. They alleged that CFO Thinley Wangdi manipulated the area from 116 to 7.05 acres when the former CFO, late Yeshey Jamtsho, had already submitted the report considering a buffer zone of 648 acres and feasible area of 116 acres (total 764 acres). “The former CFO forwarded the feasible report based on Cabinet’s directive issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on July 26, 2019,” one proponent said.

Five applicants filed a case against the CFO at the Samtse dzongkhag court on November 20, 2019 for not respecting forest and agriculture minister’s approval and manipulating acreage of sites to 7.05 acres. However, the court dismissed their petition as the case was administrative in nature.

The issue disappeared for some time.


A background on  Titiring controversy

Of the three Zones, A, B, and C identified as dredging sites by Phuentsholing Thromde Development Project (PTDP), Zone C at Titiring has a total area of 277 hectares  (684 acres). Of this, 47 hectares or 116 acres are feasible for surface collection and dredging.

In 2018, twelve proponents, mostly construction companies and individuals excluding Natural Resource Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL), applied to the  DoFPS for RBM collection and dredging works along the Titiring area.

Accordingly, the CFO of Samtse Forest Division, Yeshey Jamtsho, wrote to the former DoFPS director, Phento Tshering, for forestry/environment clearances on January 8, 2019 based on the field verification report by the Range officer.  Along with the letter, all relevant documents like site assessment, survey report and map as required by Forest and  Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) 2017, were forwarded to DoFPS.

The field observation findings revealed that the proposed area in Titiring has 764 acres including the grassland in total. However, the area along Zone C, the actual feasible area, was only 116 acres.

However, the DoFPS delayed issuing environment clearance (EC) as there was a royalty dispute between DoFPS and Department of Geology and Mines (DGM).

Meanwhile, Samtse CFO on July 7, 2019 sought a letter of intent from NRDCL with copies to all applicants for operating new sites for surface collection and dredging.

Finally, a Cabinet order issued by the Cabinet Secretariat on July 26, 2019 stated that the 30th Lhengye Zhungtshog on July 8 decided that feasible sites, if any, will be allotted to the new applicants by the DoFPS following due assessments. It also stated that ongoing surface collection and dredging activities on allotted sites will be allowed to continue and the DoFPS will issue renewal of clearance.

The applicants approached again to the agriculture minister who accorded approval by remarking on the application stating:  “unless the site was originally operated by NRDCL, please allot new sites to new applicants. Only sites originally operated by NRDCL will be allotted to them on renewal of the clearances of DoFPS”.

However, the CFO refused to allot the site, according to Lungten Dorji. “We then lodged a complaint to Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor on August 9, 2019 but there was no response from the minister.”