Three decades on, there is no respite in sight from the dust at Gypsum mines in Pemagatshel. People residing nearby gypsum mines are inhaling polluted air since 1980s and will be continue to do for few more years.
The dust from the mines has affected production of fruits and crops, and sources of drinking water. People say because of the mines the source of drinking water is drying up. But there is a little hope as the mines will be taken over by government by the end of 2018. People hope that the government will manage the mines better. The mine is currently leased to Druk Satair Corporation and the contract will end in December 2018 after which the government wishes to take over the operations.
Although gypsum is a non-toxic, inherently safe mineral, but the dust particle produced from the vehicular movement pollutes the air in and around the mining areas.
A 34-year old shopkeeper in Khothagpa, Yangay Zangmo said although she could generate some income by running a shop along the highway, the dust from the area causes diseases such as cough and cold which she believes are commonly caused by presence of more dusts. She said that the area is becoming dustier over the years and it is difficult to maintain health and hygiene.
Fourty-four-year-old Phurba Thinley from Nangkor village, said that although the company had created employment opportunities to the nearby as well as to the far flung villages, the long hours of the mine’s operation causes inconveniences to the workers and their families and even to the people leaving nearby especially during the night since the work operates for 24 hours.
He said there were cases of cracks developed in the houses due the blasts at the mines. He added drilling and blasts created a lot of dust in the area causing inconvenience to the workers and the people living nearby.
Dawa Zangmo, a 44-year-old shopkeeper agreed that it is difficult for them to maintain good health in the area although people put up shops and businesses with a hope to earn some money.
A local resident, Sonam Dorji agreed that because of the development, the village has a road and standard of living has improved. A lot of trucks that carries the raw materials belong to the people of Pemagatshel. But it is risky to live with young children and aged parents around the area due to the pollution.
Shumer Gup Sangay Chophel agreed that the mine has brought about a lot of benefits to the locals; there were cases of heavily loaded trucks damaging the roads. He said that in the recent year’s fruit trees has dried up but didn’t attribute it solely to the dust from the mines.
Dusts generated by various mining activities are of major concern to the people living in the nearby areas. Dust is generated by blasting, loading and haulage, vehicular movements, open air disposal of waste rocks, drilling, and crushing. These fine dust particles from mine site as well as from the vehicular movement adds to the air and eventually settle down as fine dusts on nearby trees and houses. People said that dusts were dirtying their houses as well as making their fodder plants inedible for the animals.
Farmers living nearby the mining site, particularly those households nearby the main road of gypsum, said that yield of their oranges have gone down significantly over the last few years. Farmers alleged this decline to effects of dusting from blasting, and trucks that transport gypsum caused the death of the orange trees.
An official from the dzongkhag agriculture sector said that the death of orange trees is not only caused by the dusting from the mining but it also added by the changes in the environmental condition of the place. Official added that the research has not been done about the death of the orange trees.
The chief executive officer of Druk Satair Corporation Ltd., Letho said that the company has two water tankers at mines site and one in Samdrupjongkhar, which are used primarily for spraying water for dust suppression. These are also used during fire incidents.
The CEO also added that the company does controlled blasting, which has minimal or zero damage to the houses or land in the vicinity. “The noise pollution is within the permissible limits. So we seldom come across incidents of damaged caused due to blasting,” said the CEO.
The CEO also added that the company have taken fallow lands owned by the villagers for dumping their over burden waste for which they make yearly payment of not less than Nu.100, 000 a household.
The gypsum mine is located at Khothagpa village, some 13 kilometers below Pemagatshel town. It has a total mine area of 26.67 hectares. Mining first began in the early 1980s and was managed by the department of geology and mines.
Using semi-mechanized open cast method, the corporation mines gypsum mostly exported to India and also a small proportion is exported to Bangladesh and Nepal, and a small amount sold to Bhutanese buyers.
In 1993, government leased out the mine to Druk Satair Corporation for a period of 10 years. The corporation won the bid to operate the mine for another 10 years in 2004.
DSCL operates auctioned mines for which company is paying Nu 413.50 million to the government during its 15 years lease period, besides royalty, mineral rent, surface rent, CIT and other levies.
As a part of company’s corporate social responsibilities (CSR), the company provides support, both in kind and cash during emergencies such as fire, wind storms, earth quakes etc. to the locals, and for environmental conservation, social, religious, educational, sports and other activities in Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar. The company has spent over Nu.3million on the above cited activities in the year 2016, which would have benefited the local communities in Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar.
Since Druk Satair Corporation Ltd. is an incorporated public limited company, 31 percent of shares are owned by general public consisting of over 1,250 shareholders of which over 90 percent are owned by rural farmers, largely from six eastern Dzongkhags and out of that 53 percent of the total shareholders are from Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar which consist of 673 shareholders.
This article is written with the financial support from Department of Information and Media