Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma in his written response said that following a presentation to the Cabinet in December 2018 on the issue of surface collection licences being used for dredging and mining, the government has asked the office of the attorney general (OAG) to review the case independently.

Wamrong’s Member of Parliament (MP), Karma Thinley, raised the question to economic affairs minister at the National Assembly on December 11.

MP Karma Thinley said that the misuse of the surface collection licences caused huge environmental impact leading to the loss of revenue to the government due to the differences in the royalty levied for surface collection and mining.

For surface collection, royalty of Nu 50 per truckload, irrespective of truck size for both export and domestic purposes is collected.

For quarry, Nu 9 per a metric tonne (MT) for boulders and Nu 13 per MT for aggregates is charged as royalty. The rate is specifically for export.

Minister Loknath Sharma said that earlier surface collection of stone was confined to lifting of broken boulder from surface of land and riverbeds without excavation machinery.

This was jointly monitored by the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) and Department of Forestry and Park Services (DoFPS).

Minister Loknath Sharma said that after several issues related to surface collection surfaced in 2008, a guideline for surface collection was jointly prepared by the two ministries and was approved by the Lhengye Zhungtshog in 2010 to address these challenges.

He added that as per the guideline, surface collection was to cater to local requirement only. “Further, the guideline allowed surface collection of riverbed stones and sand primarily to the Natural Resource Development Corporation Limited only. However, the issues in relation to surface collection has resurfaced after amendment of the Forestry and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) 2017 by the MoAF.”

Surface collection permits are issued by the DoFPS.

With regard to normal mining and quarrying, the DGM allocates the site through execution of a mining lease agreement with the applicant upon completing formalities such as prefeasibility study, land clearance, geological assessment, mine plan and environmental management plan, environmental impact assessment and environmental clearance.

According to eligibility criteria, applicant will have to be technically and financially eligible to operate a mine.

Minister Loknath Sharma said that with the adoption of the FNCRR 2017, ministry of agriculture had taken up the responsibility for the compliance monitoring of surface collection.

There are 22 mines and 29 quarries spread all across the country today.

Phurpa Lhamo