There is something fishy brewing in the hills of Chengmari, Samtse.  Villagers of Kopchey have refused to sign a clearance for a mining company to operate, fearing environmental damage and to their land and property.

The mine is not new.  It started in 1997 and the license to mine was renewed in 2007.  In others words, there has been a lot of mining activity going on in the vicinity.  Realising the negative impact, and probably becoming wiser, the villagers have refused to sign the community clearance, a must for any mining activity.  Since then it has been waiting for the public to give the green signal.

Surprisingly the mining has gone ahead, ignoring the interest of the locals.  What is more astonishing is that the department of geology and mines, the authority to clear mines, had found a way to bypass the community.  By issuing an interim lease award, the community’s concern has been swept under the carpet.  In all, seven such leases have been awarded, which means the locals were fooled all this time.

Mining may be a lucrative business, but it is not popular with the prevailing notion that a handful of people are making huge profits on finite resources that belong to the nation.  Like anywhere in the world, the mining sector has a bad image.  If it has the slightest impact on the community, people will make noise.  This is where authorities come in and investigate.  If it is bad for the environment and the community, mining methods should be improved, if not stopped.

The community clearance has also become an issue recently, with companies claiming that, in the name of the community, some people in the community can stop mining for reasons other than for the benefit of the community.  Communities also believe that mining companies owe more than fulfilling norms to the community.

The issue is not new nor is this the first such case.  That is why authorities will have to be prompt and fair in settling such disputes.  It is a loss, both for the community and the mining companies, when authorities hang their decision in the air, and keep issuing interim lease orders.  Such indecisiveness will make communities more suspicious.

The affected community will not have the expertise or the knowledge to prove that mining is affecting them.  If such a decision is made, they do it by seeing the quality of air change, crop yield or damage to property from blasting and eroding of the land.  The community of Kopchey seems to be serious.  They have approached the local government and also petitioned the dzongkhag land lease committee, requesting them to discontinue the mining activity.

There is no time frame on the current lease, which leaves room for more controversy and suspicion.  There is expertise with the authority.  It would be wiser to clear the issue once and for all.  If the mine is not affecting the community, their license should be renewed.  If not, no lease permit should be issued.