The government, during the 30th Lhengye Zhungtshog (Cabinet Meeting) held on July 8, has decided to allow the ongoing surface collection and dredging activities in allotted sites to continue.
The Cabinet Secretariat issued the order on July 26, which superseded the Cabinet order issued on February 27 this year.
The Cabinet had then ordered the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest (MoAF) to suspend issuance of new and renewal of approval for surface collection, including dredging activities. The ministry was also required to ensure that there was no increase in surface collection, including dredging. It also asked the dredgers to dispose off stocked materials by August 31 this year.
This decision was taken in view of reviewing and harmonising the laws on surface collection and dredging works.
The Cabinet Secretariat on December 27 last year instructed the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to carry out an in-depth study on issues related to surface collection of sand and stones.
The new order also supersedes the government’s interim guidelines for surface collection and dredging of riverbed materials (RBM) for export 2019, which came to effect on June 6.
After the guideline was issued on June 6, dredging companies had pointed the government did not consult with the dredging companies already involved before it was approved.
Clause (11) under Chapter 2 of the guideline, which stated, “The surface collection or dredging of RBM shall be allowed from dry river bed or seasonal river and it shall not be allowed from the perennial river,” worried people involved in dredging.
It meant the boulders could not be dredged from those rivers with continuous flow of water.
Dredging companies were worried that the whole purpose of “dredging” was defeated.
Their argument was that the dredging works were given to protect the river from flooding and affecting public and private properties. It was also to stop stones get washed down across the border and being lifted from within.
The interim guideline had stated that all sites for implementation of this interim guideline shall be treated as new sites and new applications shall be processed for allotment of the sites for operation from next immediate season (October 1, 2019). Open auction of the sites will take place in September, the guideline stated.
Along with the surface collection and dredging works allowed to continue, the latest Cabinet Order also stated that the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) will issue renewal of clearances.
Feasible sites, if any, will be allotted to the new applicants by DoFPS following due assessments.
A separate environment clearance (EC) from the National Environment Commission (NEC), which was required has also been withdrawn. The cabinet order has underscored that the DoFPS is a competent authority to issue such clearance.
Meanwhile, the royalty and fees shall be as per new revision the government announced in June 5 this year. Different royalties and fees were charged depending upon which of the three agencies, DoFPS, NRDCL, and DGM approved the work.
The Cabinet Order also says that every forestry clearance issued to the applicants must state that the clearance is valid until the Mines and Mineral (MM) Bill is enacted by the Parliament and comes into force.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing