Tshering Palden

Villagers of Bjemina, approximately 25 km from Thimphu, are hoping their health and harvest will improve with the dzongkhag yargay tshogdu (DYT) having discussed the issue of air pollution and crop damage caused by the dust from stone crushing machines in the area.

About 150 households in Bjemina have been breathing the dust for more than a decade. “It has become a way of life but it’s becoming more difficult since the dust seems to have increased lately,” said a villager. This he attributes to a newly installed crushing machine, bringing their number to three, in one of the quarries below his village. Besides, villagers say, the constant movement of scores of trucks exacerbates the situation, not to mention the constant wind erosion of the huge heaps of aggregate left lying around.

Villagers have complained of reduction in paddy produce be- cause of cracks in the water channel of the nearby hydel caused by tremors caused by blasting. The water leaks through and hampers the paddy fields below the channel.

They say that the blasts also shake their homes and make cracks in the walls.

Villagers told Kuensel that they frequently suffer from respiratory problems when the dust blows out strongly. The Gidakom hospital records show 13 residents of Bjemina suffered from tuberculosis between 2005 to December 2007, of which one died.

Villagers said the chilis dried on the roof are white with dust and they had to wash it several times to remove the dust. “Before, the apple harvest was good but it’s declining now,” said a farmer.

Some villagers say they had raised the issue in the gewog yargay tshogchung (GYT) before but nothing happened. In October 2006, the issue was forwarded to the DYT by the GYT. “But, because of other important matters, it couldn’t be discussed,” said the gup of Mewang gewog. However, in March 2007, the Singye Industries chairman came down to settle the matter with the villagers. The meeting concluded that an investigation regarding the dust would be carried out and the agriculture department would be requested to study its deleterious impact on the crops. The chairman said that the company would help all households affected by the quarry activities. The meeting also decided that the application to the dzongkhag would be withdrawn.

Sources told Kuensel that the company had so far delivered fertilizers to 36 households at a fifty percent discount, given free aggregates, cement, transportation and other construction material that the quarry produces. Sources also said that employing local people was the top priority for the company and there were plans to install dust-suck- ing machines at the quarry. There are water sprinkling machines at the quarry to control the dust. The chairman of the company could not be contacted as he was abroad.

A woman living nearby said that the company also provided CGI sheets that are destroyed by the stones flung during blasting.

The agriculture research centre in Yusipang carried out a study on the impact of dust generated from the quarries on apples, which gewog officials are unaware of. “The study at least needs several years to get results,” said the gewog agriculture extension officer.

However, some of the villagers who had earlier demanded compensation for damage are now reluctant to raise the issue. Some said it could be because of the new political developments. others opined it might be because some of their relatives work there. “But the public at large can’t suffer because some people benefit,” said the tshogpa. “That’s why we’ve raised the issue again.”

The gewog officials also said that, although Bhutan Marble and Singye agreed to conduct investigations on how much damage the villagers had suffered, nothing has been done so far, ac- cording to the submission by the villagers to the DYT.

“We have three dust-sucking equipment for the past two years and also other dust control measures,” said the Bhutan marble manager, D B Gurung. “For any new installations, we always seek public approval.” The company will meet with the public on Monday to seek approval for its license extension.