Choki Wangmo

With the indefinite deferment of the Mines and Minerals Bill 2021 (MMB) by the Parliament this week, officials said that the current issues surrounding surface dredging and riverbed dredging will continue to affect the clear implementation of clauses by the agencies involved.

In the status quo, the Mines and Minerals Management Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan (MMMA) and the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan (FNCA) both enacted in 1995 have conflicting clauses, giving dual authority and responsibility to the forests department and the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM).

“Until there is clear instruction on who is going to do what, the issues will remain. We were looking forward to the MMB to solve these challenges but with its deferment, we will have to continue working without clear directives,” a source said.

An official said that if the Bill was passed by the Parliament, it could have clarified many issues, creating a clear line between the basic definitions of the mines and minerals and forest produce. “There is an apparent contradiction in the definitions.”

MMMA 1995 defines minerals as essentially anything that is on or in the earth, including sand and stone while forest produce includes boulders, stone, sand, gravel, rocks, peat, surface soil according to the FNCA.

“FNCA gives authority to the forest department and MMMA to the DGM over the same materials,” the official said.

According to the Cabinet order issued in June 2019 , till the new Act comes through, the authority over surface collection clearance is given to the forests department.

A source said that issues of dredging and surface collection that forced the involvement of the Anti-Corruption Commission, the interim government and Royal Audit Authority were because of the dual control issues.

The MMB 2020 defines a mineral as any substance occurring naturally in or on the earth and having definite chemical formula formed by or subject to a geological process and which can be obtained from the earth or surface of the earth by digging, drilling, dredging, quarrying, hydraulicking, sluicing, collection or other mining methods.

It also gives DGM the sole authority over the surface collection and riverbed dredging while the forest department has authority over forest clearance, the official said.

However, the official said that it was uncertain about how the DGM will be able to carry out these roles, given the shortage of human resources, unlike the forest department that has range offices and gewog RNR centres across the country .

An official at DGM said that they did not anticipate the deferment but were looking forward to changes in the current system. “We had been working based on the MMMA 1995 but the National Council said that it was not in line with the Constitution. We are thoroughly confused.”

“The government should provide a clear directive on the way forward since the MMB 2020 is deferred,” the official said, adding that the forests department will be guided by the FNCA while DGM will be guided by MMMA unless there is action from the government to address the current challenges.

Currently, the department has suspended private applications for mining activities. “We will have to lift the suspension or we might have to stop. But nothing is clear because the bill is deferred.”

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the government will immediately issue a press release after the parliamentary session. 

Edited by Tshering Palden