In an attempt to protect their settlement and natural resources, the villagers of Dorithasa in Gakiling gewog in Haa through their local leaders pushed to suspend mining exploration activities in their area.
The Dzongkhag Tshogdu on Wednesday endorsed their concerns and decided to suspend mining exploration.
The Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) began the exploration work in 2019. Locals began to share their concern while the department started small drilling works to study the mining area, mineral components, grade, and depth.
Director of DGM Choiten Wangchuk, while presenting the details and procedure before leasing the mining area, said that the department carried out exploration activity in block A which lies above Dorithasa.
He said that locals were worried as there was a landslide near the drilling area. However, he said that it was difficult to conclude if drilling caused the slide as the site has loose soil.
After the dzongkhag wrote a letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the exploration work was suspended. “There is no work going on, and equipment was removed,” he said.
He said that the department did not seek clearance from the environment, community and forest during exploration and prospecting as per the Act and mandate to explore and study the mines and minerals of the country.
As per the exploration estimate, there are around 37 million metric tonnes of marble in block A, 3km away above the highway.
Choiten Wangchuk said that except for block A, other blocks were far from the settlement and did not affect the village.
Gakiling Mangmi Tempa Rinchen said that the locals were against future mining activities in block A and B. They believe that there was Yuelha– local guardian deity surrounding block A above their village, and block B is a source of their drinking and irrigation water.
While it has already been two years since the research began, he said that the locals raised the issue to stop any activities from protecting their village and the surrounding environment.
The mining area falls under Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve (JKSNR), home to the endangered Red Panda.
According to DT chairperson, Thinley the park and gewog did not even give the permit for rural timber to conserve Red Pandas.
He said that minerals are national wealth, but the locals and natural ecosystem was at higher risk if such explorations were permitted.
Gakiling Gup, Gashey requested the DT to stop the exploration work. He said that it was a waste of the government’s budget to research in a park area as they won’t get the approval anyway.
Thinley said that mining activities around block A would significantly impact the secondary national highway due to loose soil.
JKSNR’s Chief Forest Officer Sonam Tobgay said that the area beyond Tergola until Dorithasa falls under the park, the endangered red panda’s prime habitat.
He said that the reserve in consultation with gewog had declared it as a high preservation area where logging and collection of forest products were prohibited. “Developmental activities have a huge impact on these species. The chance of getting approval for mining is slim.”
In the meantime, Samar Gup Tshewang Tobgay suggested allowing other blocks for mining considering the benefit of mining on the community’s development and economy.
Choiten Wangchuk said that the mining companies must seek clearance from the community, forest office and environment commission before mining. “If they don’t get the clearance, the department will not give the license.”
Considering the community’s concern, the DT passed a resolution to stop the exploration work and mining of marble in block A and B.
DT decided to leave the other blocks up to DDM and JKNSR to study the feasibility.
DT also highlighted the need for public consultation before working on a project to reduce the state budget.