The recently unveiled budget by the government of Nepal for the FY 2021/22 reveals many ambitious projects for the country. With, social security allowances hiked by 33 percent, NPR 400 million allocated for skill development training, the launch of ‘Made in Nepal, Make in Nepal’ campaign, ban on plastic bags, and with the priority given in controlling the COVID-19 crisis and the for the economic recovery the budget promises to bring positive changes in the country.
However, the government’s announcement to pursue the aggregate mining industry in order to reduce the trade deficit has put the public into confusion. It seems to be a viable economic opportunity for the country but the social/environmental point of view is somewhat different. According to the National Forum of Environment Journalists (NEFEJ), the Government of Nepal brought the mining programme into the budget without prior consultation with the Ministry of Forest and Environment (MoFE) and without any scientific study of its impact on the environment. Although the Government has not mentioned any specific regions where the mining can take place, the Chure range that runs 1,220 meters east-west across the country, remains a common area for mining in Nepal. For several years the Chure hills, Bhavar plains have suffered due to overgrazing, logging and the establishment of crusher plants along the river banks has caused unimaginable environmental degradation leading to landslides, floods, and in the future could lead to water shortages and loss of habitats. In 2014, the government had banned mining, quarrying related activities of rocks, stones, gravels in locations that fall under the Chure region due to excessive degradation. Because the Chure region is geologically very young and fragile and is most vulnerable to water-induced erosions, the ban was imposed only in the particular region. Prior to the ban, a large number of unchecked exploitation and unlawful extradition of resources were also reported in the region. Reviving the mining in this environmentally sensitive area has thus raised concerns. The irony to all of this is that the government has set aside NPR 1.53 billion for the Chure conservation programme in order to construct 200 ponds, control soil erosion in 164 rivers in the Chure region and on the other side.
While mining in itself has definitely been a major revenue earner for multiple countries, in Nepal’s case considering the environmental concerns, instead of mining the Chure, other potential natural resources could be explored. For instance, in the past few years, there have been several occurrences of oil seepage in the Himalayan belts, which confirms the presence of oil and natural gas in Nepal. The government can focus on the extradition of these minerals which are of higher value for exports. One may not be able to measure the environmental damages that could occur during the mining process for these materials but in this case, the government can utilize the most abundant resource that Nepal has – water. Nepal has the capacity to generate 42,000 MW of hydropower, 2100MW of solar energy, and 3000 MW of wind power. Utilizing unlimited resources like wind and solar for generating power exporting them can be more sustainable and profitable for Nepal in the longer run.
Even in the case of mining, the government’s plan on uplifting the ban on mining and exporting of resources is not entirely wrong. Exporting such resources may help us overcome the trade deficit but the government can work with the MoFE, environmentalists, and researchers on ways to extract resources by mitigating the possible risks to the environment. For example, extracting and collecting mine-based resources from the areas approved by environmental study report, taking consent of the district disaster management committee, collecting river-based resources in such a way that it does not affect the irrigation system and the river beds. The government can allocate a budget for the extraction of minerals like uranium, semi-precious stones like Kyanite, amazonite, etc. which are found in different parts of the country away from the Chure region and try exporting them in high value.