Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mining companies must repair environmental damage: official

More than 1000 jade mining companies will be forced by law to clean up their sites in Hpakant and Lone Khin mining areas in Kachin State once their permits have expired, the government says.

U Win Htein, director general of the Department of Mines, under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, told The Myanmar Times on August 2 that the government would enforce an existing law requiring companies to protect the environment and repair any damage inflicted by their operations.

The new ministry, which is prioritising environmental restoration, also plans to put a Natural Environment Management Plan out to tender.

The Hpakant and Lone Khin zones, the heart of the country’s jade mining country, are scarred and disfigured by swathes of treeless, grassless tailings and slagheaps that have killed hundreds of itinerant workers in landslips.

The Myanmar Gemstones Law requires mining companies to repair the environment through landscaping and other methods to the satisfaction of the ministry.

The provision is already included in the procedures for granting licences, U Win Htein said.

“We will send them letters to make sure companies know to make the site safe. They can’t just leave [when their permit expires]. They have to stay until the mining department has inspected the site.”

Last week the ministry said it would not renew mining permits for jade and gems when they expire and would only consider issuing new permits once by-laws to the Myanmar Gemstones Law have been passed.

Local residents welcomed the new approach to enforcement. “The companies should be aware of the regulations, but most do not pay attention to the details,” said Hpakant Gems and Jewellery Entrepreneurs Association deputy chair U Zaw Shan Lone.

“No company has ever repaired the environment of their site once their permit expires. We have not heard that companies are doing anything to conserve the environment,” he said.

Hpakant resident U Kyaw Myint said the government should go further, suspending existing licences until the mining companies take steps to restore the environment.

“People die when they fall into big holes the companies have dug. The holes fill up with water, and the water leaks out. Some roads are impassable. There are no trees. There’s no grass,” he said.

There are 1002 worksites whose permits are about to expire in Hpakant and Lone Khin, out of 7368 private worksites permitted by previous government.

There are also 302 jade worksites wholly or partially operated by the government. U Win Htein could not say when the permits for the remaining 6000 or so worksites would expire.

Translation by Khant Lin Oo