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More than 70 locally elected leaders in 2017 were contractors. Well known political figures in the country have investments in companies involved in natural resource extraction. Environmentalist Gurung says, “Local representatives are colluding to give mining rights to businessmen at an undervalued rate.”
On the other hand, major ongoing development projects mean that legal exemptions are in place to allow for the operation of plants to process construction materials. This has led to industries procuring more materials than required for development projects to make profits on the side with impunity.
The 2020 guidelines for stone, gravel, sand extraction sales stipulated that apart from approval from local governments, they also needed the consent of the President Chure-Tarai Conservation Development Board. But many of the 137 municipalities circumvented the Board to allow contractors to operate within the protected zone.
The Cabinet in May amended guidelines, legitimising ‘crusher’ industries that violated standards and operated near highways, forest areas, dense settlements, and transmission lines. In late June, the Supreme Court blocked the amendment, but this has not stopped them from continuing to operate illegally.
In May 2018, the court ordered the closure of ‘crusher’ industries in the Tadi and Trisuli rivers in Nuwakot, but the District Administration Office was not able to enforce the decision after local elected officials defied the order.
Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are mandatory before excavation of rivers and mountains. However, Sanjay Nath Khanal a professor of environmental science at Pokhara University says the rules are a formality and are routinely flouted.
Nepal’s Supreme Court 2010 decreed that no one should own natural resources and that the government is merely the custodian of nature. The court stipulated that natural resources must be used for the public good, and the collective benefit of all Nepalis.
In 2018, Secretaries of the Ministry of Federal Affairs, Ministry of Finance and the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission blamed the government for exploiting river products and recommended regulation of the activity of contractors.
Professor Sanjay Nath Khanal proposes a ‘people’s partnership model’ that can be adopted in the use of other natural resources like community forests.
He adds, “A model that ensures participation of local residents with contractors for systematic use and conservation of resources would not only help protect the environment, but also in the distribution of benefits to local communities.”