Sunday, 14 June 2009

Bhutan : Parops protest mining boom

12 June, 2009 - Paro dzongkhag, known for its cultural and religious sites, and popular with tourists, may soon be known as a mining dzongkhag, with an increasing number of quarries coming up in the last few years and scarring the landscape.

Paro currently has 10 quarries that came up in the last four years. An additional 3-4 quarries are under process.

Affected local communities are unhappy about the new developments and have even lodged complaints with the dzongkhag administration.

About 40 people from surrounding villages, including the Hebu monastery trulku, complained about the dust, noise, blasts, road blocks, and environmental damage caused by a road being built towards the 9.48 acres Haselo marble mine in Shaba, according to the dzongkhag forest officer, Akey Dorji.

“They also said that the blasting threatened the safety of school children and that the mine area was at the entrance to an important nye (religious site),” said Akey Dorji.

The residents had also complained about not being consulted, since a former village tshogpa had signed a local government clearance on their behalf without consulting them, according to dzongkhag officials.

Based on local complaints, the dzongkhag had earlier stopped the quarry, but the department of geology and mines (DGM) had given the go ahead to the company.

In Dawakha, villagers were shocked to find that their nye was being mined in violation of their original agreement with the 12.41 Thynsungkha stone quarry that was supposed to quarry only at the base of the nye.

The quarry has been temporarily closed after strong protests from the people.

The former Paro dzongda Namgay Wangchuk had written a letter against the increasing number of quarries in Paro to DGM, with copies to the national environment commission (NEC), ministry of economic affairs, ministry of agriculture and ministry of home and cultural affairs.

His letter had strongly recommended stopping further stone quarry and mining operations in Paro.

“Most of these quarries are around settlements, historical monuments and are adjacent to highways, which have both direct and indirect impact on the local environment and communities,” said Namgay Wangchuk.

In fact, the Lamjolo stone quarry, with extensive excavations and blasting, is located just around 150 to 200 m from Dobji dzong and could be affecting the structure, says Namgay Wangchuk.

“These mines are also causing a lot of social tensions, community discords, repeated legal litigations and also diverts the dzongkhag administration from their normal work,” said Namgay Wangchuk.

The present Paro dzongda, Tsencho, said: “Paro is an important tourism gateway to Bhutan and one can see everything from the air, so DGM should be careful while allotting mines.” On the Heslo marble mines, he said, he had written to DGM to resolve the issue with the local people before reopening the project.

Observers say that the current system of “first come first serve” indiscriminate offering of mines would be detrimental to the environment and local communities.

Paro dzongrab Namgey Rinchen said that Paro was supposed to receive a high level inspection after a discussion on mines in the annual dzongda’s conference, which had not happened yet.

“The problem is the lack of understanding at the local level in terms of grating permission and other issues,” said acting DGM director general, Ugyen Wangda .

Mining head Sangay Tshering said that all the mines in Paro had sought clearance from DGM.

NEC deputy minister Dasho Nado Rinchhen said. “We ‘re talking with DGM on making quarry system more systematic and going on joint inspections.”

By Tenzing Lamsang

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