The Mines and Minerals Bill stalemate

The Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan, Athang_Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk

TASHI PARYANG | Thimphu

The disputed Mines and Minerals Bills (MMB) 2021 was not deliberated during the recent parliament session as the Bill was not included in the agenda.

In two years deliberations of the MMB had been deferred for few times in both the National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) after several meetings of the joint committee. 

The MMB 2020 originated from NA during the third Session of third NA. It was to be passed in the 26th Session in 2021, however, it was deferred during the joint sitting of the Fifth Session of the Third Parliament.

The MMB 2020 was deferred by the National Assembly Speaker, Wangchuk Namgyel, which disappointed many including observers and parliamentarians. 

The Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan, Athang_Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk recommended that the Mines and Minerals Bill of Bhutan 2020 be deferred in the Joint Sitting. The Chairperson submitted that despite holding meetings for six times, the Joint Committee could not arrive at a consensus on the Bill. 

The Members of Parliament especially Members of National Council were disappointed with the Speaker’s decision to defer the deliberations on the MMB without even giving a specific time frame. 

The National Council’s Chairperson Tashi Dorji said that the Bill remained at a deadlock in the previous Session.

The Chairperson said that having had discussed it for so many years, the decision to defer is not fair and nobody would be satisfied. “It is disheartening that the Bill couldn’t be passed during my tenure.”

The Deputy Chairperson of NC and Member of Parliament of Samdrup Jongkhar, Jigme Wangchuk during the press conference held by NC before the session said, “The Mines and Minerals Bills will not be discussed even during this winter Session of Parliament as it is not included in the agenda.”

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).

The National Assembly or the government initially wanted the State to operate strategic mines and auction non-strategic mines to the private sector. There was also a proposal to divest up to 49 percent to private shareholders.  

However, the NC in its stand said that the House will stick with the constitution while deliberating on the disputed clauses of the Mines and Minerals. The differences between the two Houses had led to dispute over the Bill.

Clarifying the fundamental differences, the intention of National Council was to uphold the Constitution.  Article 1.12 of the Constitution states that the rights over mineral resources, rivers, lakes, and forest shall vest in the state and are the properties of the state which shall be regulated by the law.  

The contention over the bill is that the NA supports the state’s rights over strategic mines while leaving non-strategic mines open to the private sector. On the other hand, the NC wants the state mining corporation or state-owned enterprises to run all the mines.

The government had earlier said that it would reintroduce the Bill in the last summer session after it was deferred indefinitely during the summer session of 2021.

However, the government last year said that it had recently revised the mines and minerals management regulations and that it was better to see the implementation of the mines and minerals management regulations 2022.