Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sad story of sad Pemagatshel

A month ago, I had travelled to Pemagatshel. It was my first visit to this place. Like most of you, this remote southeastern dzongkhag was one among few that I had never been to before. The others were Gasa and Lhuentse. 
So this particular visit made me think why a place like Pemagatshel remains absolutely secluded, backward.

The ride on the Pemagathsel road, after we diverted from the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang highway, was very bumpy, rough; to put it more accurately, scary ride. The road was too bad - very narrow, very dusty. Potholes were so common. It seemed like the road was not maintained for many years.
To the locals and travellers, this road was known as notorious for its bad condition and reckless trucks plying on the road. Incessant jumbo gypsum trucks ran along the road like it was a runway, blatantly ignoring the IMTRAT’s notice “This is highway, not runway”. 

However, the infinite forest of coniferous and broad leaf kept me amazed all the time. And quite wondrously, they consumed all the mountains. 87.65% of the total area was under forest cover. 
Being a resident of Thimphu, where I was used to looking at the thinly spread pine tree over the mountains, this forest of coniferous was a real treat to my eyes - so thick, so broad, so green and so lush.

Amidst the slopes of those deep mountains and dark forest, a few pockets of human settlements have rested forlorn, which brought a deep melancholic feeling to my heart. They appeared to me like God’s rare handiwork. 
After four hours of rough and scary ride, I could finally spot Pemagatshel valley. From the top, it has amazing views looking at scattered settlements. The shape and landscape of the valley was like a bowl, like a lotus flower. Several strings of sharp-edged slopes like lotus petals fell around into the bowl, which were dressed by blissful villages. 

Truly, quite accurately, it’s Pemagatshel, meaning “Blissful land of the lotus”.

Then suddenly, an ominous scene right in the middle of the valley, right in the middle of human settlements appeared to steal the scene. The Gypsum Mining, an area of 26.77 hectares in Khothakpa, was an eyesore. It was ripping apart the “Land of the blissful lotus” and its pristine environment.
Looking at it, I just felt a twinge of disappointment and frustration. The mining looked like a cancer digging deep into a human body and ripping apart his flesh. Entire valley echoed, trembled with the sound of the monstrous machines grinding mercilessly at the sites.

After a little while, it put me into such a miserable mood. I felt so bad I almost cried. There’s no doubt that it was a beautiful sunny day. But the villagers couldn’t feel it, as the dust in the sky was obscuring the sun like the day was under the solar eclipse.

Peach plants were blossoming everywhere, but the dust had mired them, suffocated their growth. The clothes drying up outside had collected fresh dust. Roofs and tree leaves were coated with layers of dust. The day was bitterly hot. 
Coming to Pemagatshel, I felt like I was not in Bhutan. It was as though I had just stepped in a mining-obsessed state, where the development philosophy was not GNH but greed and materialism, where they wouldn’t mind extracting wealth at the cost of destroying their pristine environment and ruining their own people’s health and life.  

How long Pemagathselpas have stopped seeing beautiful days? How long they have missed the clear view of the sun, stars, and moon? How long they have been suffocated with the dust-filled air? How long they have been tolerating this unlikely heat? How many lives of the local people were affected by the mining?

Enough is enough. For, you cannot bruise and wound a place more than this. For, you cannot give more sufferings and pains to the innocent people than this. However, the most important question to ask is: How long this will go on?
The locals have been bearing the ills of these environmentally degrading venture for the past three decades. The mining brought more harms than fulfilling its objective of utilizing the reserve for economic development of the area and optimization of revenue to the Royal Government of Bhutan.

If we look at the statistics, the overall contribution of mining sector to the nation’s economy was very insignificant, at a mere two percent. The gypsum mining was started at Pemagatshel in 1983, and quite ironically, according the website of Dzongkhag, the Pemagatshel still has second highest level of poverty at 26.9 percent after Lhuentse.  

So what?

Mining is an undesirable economic venture, which doesn’t serve the community, local people or the interest of the nation. It benefits a handful of people. 
The wound was too deep, but not too late to fix. Pemagatshel still will be a better place, the land of the blissful lotus. The current auction lease of Khotakpa will expire on December 31, 2018. The government should stop such harmful venture. But most importantly, the people of Pemagatshel should knit together and say NO to mining.

Say it loud, and say it bold. 

17 comments:

  1. This is a real eye opener about Pemagatshel which is laid back and not well populated yet so much damage has caused in its natural environment. The government should be able to prevent further problems by creating more awareness. The panoramic mountain views are fabulous and heavenly. Hope it will be this picturesque for many thousand years to come.

    I discovered that bloggers in your country write beautiful English and I read as many blogs each day to learn about your lovely country. I noticed that hardly 0.1% would bother to read my blog postings. I wonder whether they only write blogs and not read blogs? This is hilarious.

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    1. As always, this comment of yours brought a smile on my face. Thank you for your kind words, and keep supporting me and other Bhutanese bloggers.

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  2. I am from pema gatshel, and I agree with your points...things have been taken from our own land, in front of eyes and little or no development is given-just like the condition of road to the dzongkhag; it truly is bad. That's one reason many pemagatshelpas settle in other dzongkhag. We are left out, deliberately I feel.

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    1. It is sad to know that Pemagatshelpas are migrating to other dzongkhags due to this reason. Thank you, Saacha for your comment.

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  3. I am from pema gatshel, and I agree with your points...things have been taken from our own land, in front of eyes and little or no development is given-just like the condition of road to the dzongkhag; it truly is bad. That's one reason many pemagatshelpas settle in other dzongkhag. We are left out, deliberately I feel.

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  4. A great piece that reaches to the core of national wound. Hope there are leaders not easily sold out to money. But money is powerful and royally influential. May Pemagatsel get a second chance to bloom for her native people.

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    1. I hope Pemagatshel would get a second chance and become a better place. Kadrinche la, Sir Wangcha for your comment.

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  5. A great piece that reaches to the core of national wound. Hope there are leaders not easily sold out to money. But money is powerful and royally influential. May Pemagatsel get a second chance to bloom for her native people.

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  6. I have worked in that mines when I was a student. People living in that vicinity, and especially those who work in the mines are some of the poorest of people. They risk their lives working in that risky condition for a mere wage of nu.100/day(don't know if it's been revised yet). That town (my town) is a pure specimen of exploitation of mother nature and fellow humans for the gain of shameless few. Thanks for sharing the plight of my folks.

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    1. The benefits of this mining seems quite less to the community; even it has, this venture is quite unhealthy. Thanks Gara!

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  7. This is the only Dzongkhag that I could not set my feet. But your article gave me the most daring insights that I felt I was in Pema Gatshel as I fervently kept reading your lines so lucid. In any mines the fist thing that strikes me is, how many years would have this natural layers of minerals must have taken to bring to present glory. But sadly, it is being butchered mercilessly and the brunt has to be born by the people of Pema Gatshel. The next which comes to my mind is about the revenue generation. What is the benefit to the community there? What is the royalty that this mine contribute to the Government. Sometimes, I feel the nature is best left untouched. We talk so much of pristine environment, does it qualify for one looking at this?

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    1. I appreciate your words, "the nature is best left untouched". Thank you Wangye Sir!

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  8. Gypsum contribute 30% as taxes from 100% profit and they declared dividend for the income year ,however most of the shareholder are wealth man and women and people ofpemagashel don't get any other then dust and you will same story at Nganglam DCCL,Nganglam town is filled with dust polution.Actually ,they have assure to public that Factory is 100% polution free........thanks for your Article

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    1. Choki, thank you so much for the information.

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  9. I grew up in the locality of the Gypsum mining and my much of my chilhood days were spent in that area. I could remember vividly those old days. As pointed out by the author, the Gypsum mines, besides profiting few individuals, has not been of good to the locals as far as i could imagine.

    In the summber, rain creates havoc with mud and land slides coz of the mining activites and in the winter, the whole area is blanketed under the cover of dust.

    I remember that even some of the news paper (i can't exactly remeber which paper) also carried out story on the so called Gypsum mining and its ill effect. I can tell for sure that local farmers have suffered the most. Their agricultureal yield and products has been immensely affected.

    The healh of the local people and those working at the mines, i am sure, would have been adversely affected too. To compound the problem, one factory, the Plaster of Paris (POP) is set up right in the middle of the village. I sometimes wonder how could the concerned agencies and authorities grant a permission for such an activity.

    I could only wish that before it is too late, we debate this issue in the wider forum and that the concerned authority/officials pay attention to it.

    I salute the author for the article.. Cheers!

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  10. This is a very pertinent issue you have brought up. It's true that the mining activities have done more harm than good to any community. The Department of Geology and Mines of MoEA and National Environment Commission need to seriously look into such factors before approving any mining activity in the country. I thought all mining projects like any other major project of the government goes through GNH screening to ensure they are in harmony with the four pillars of GNH: culture, environment, equitable socio-economic development and good governance...But the kind of news we get from any mining community is heartaching. I think it's a wake up call for the concerned authorities to heat up their brain and look for more community-friendly alternatives. Thanks, Riku, for sharing your first-hand experience.

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  11. Sir,
    While i share your concern on mining thing, i am bit into another school of thought.

    I as a pemagatshelpa, i want to say one thing. Gypysum mining is breaking thing for many environment lobbyist including you and I.

    Yes, it has coming with huge environment destruction or the cancer like you have mentioned. But you know sir, PG wouldn't have been like what you have noticed. It would have been the worst.

    I am saying this because it is the Gypsum that brought the status of PG to this level. Away from the destruction, it has brought economical returns to the people nearby.

    well, this is what came to my mind by reading your wonderful work! Keep being the icon of inspiration. Have a good day

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