August 22, 2018 10:20 AM NPT
By: Dipesh KC
KATHMANDU, Aug 22: A section of individuals and organizations that has access to power and higher officials has allegedly started acquiring quarrying licenses of various mines from the government and selling the same licenses to third parties at hefty prices.
While some individuals have acquired quarrying licenses in their own name and controlled various mines, some individuals have acquired licenses by setting up companies. Majority of the individuals and organizations acquiring such licenses have neither the financial capacity to operate quarries nor the technical expertise, according to sources at the Department of Mines and Geology, the authority responsible for issuing quarrying licenses.
An official at the department who did not want to be named said that a majority of those acquiring quarrying licenses and controlling mines are those who have access to power and higher officials.
In fiscal year 2017/18, various individuals and organizations acquired licenses to quarry 26 various mines at a total of 484 places across the country from the department. Of the total authorized 484 places, quarrying operations are underway at 124 places while quarrying operations are yet to begin at 360 places.
A total of 221 individuals acquired quarrying licenses but only 21 of them have managed to start quarrying operations. Majority of the individuals have quarrying licenses of limestone mine followed by quartzite and silica sand. A total of 101 individuals have limestone quarrying licenses but, much to everyone's dismay, only four individuals have started quarrying. Similarly, 42 individuals have quartzite mining license but only six of them have managed to start quarrying. The department has even granted gold mine quarrying license to individuals but the license owners are yet to begin their work.
Quarrying license of a gold mine spread in an area of 10.5 square kilometer in Rolpa was granted to an individual named Chhitiz Bhandari last year. Similarly, the department has issued licenses to various foreign companies for quarrying other nine gold mines. But not a single individual or a company has started quarrying so far.
According to the department, as many as 24 individuals have transferred the ownership of their quarrying licenses to other individuals. “All the licenses were sold at hefty prices. Acquiring quarrying licenses of various mines and selling the same licenses has been a lucrative business. Individuals with good political connections are acquiring licenses and putting on hold quarrying operational work deliberately so that they can later sell the license at a hefty price to a third party,” said another official of the department who did not want to be named.
The official said that politicians and top government officials often pressurize the department officials to the grant quarrying licenses of various mines to their near and dear ones.
“The law states that the license holder can transfer ownership of the license to another individual. The legal loophole might have led to the malpractice of clandestinely selling the license ownership,” said Krishna Dev Jha, spokesperson for the department.
The department can revoke the quarrying license if an individual or company does not start quarrying work but the department has not taken action against a single license holder either not starting quarrying works even after a year of acquiring license or whose progress is not satisfactory.
An employee of the department said that the department has been renewing the quarrying licenses just by reviewing the progress report submitted by the license holders. “In reality, the department should send its officials to see if the progress claimed in the report matches the reality or not. Only after that, it should decide whether to renew an individual's quarrying license or not. But officials of the department are renewing quarrying licenses accepting bribes,” the official said.