More questions about the assignment of the dredging site to DMPL

ACC is not the issuing authority, say dredging professionals

Rinzin Wangchuk

Following claims by the Minister of Agriculture that the 7.05 acre site at Titiring has been awarded to Druk Magical Private Ltd (DMPL) on the basis of the decision of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), stakeholders in the block sector question the claims of the Minister of Agriculture.

Last week, following complaints, Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said the allocation of the 7.05-acre site in Titiring to DMPL had been granted based on the ACC decision and no had nothing to do with Cabinet or the Ministry. “Our position was very clear not to issue the permit,” he told Kuensel last week.

This has led dredgers and developers to question the legality of ACC permit issuance when the issuing authority is in the Department of Forests and Parks (DoFPS). “The mandate of the ACC is to investigate and recommend action if procedural deficiencies are found,” said one dredger. “To transfer the fault from one organization to another is to cover up possible corruption of politicians,” said one of them.

Why did the MoAF refuse?

In September 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture approved the Titiring dredging site and announced that it would be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

However, the application submitted by DMPL for the site could not be processed because another company filed a complaint with the court in Samtse dzongkhag against DMPL. The same complainant also informed the Director of Forests and Secretary of MoAF.

The ministry, at the repeated request of Druk Holding and Investment Limited (DHI), Phuentsholing Thromde Development Project (PTDP) and Construction Development Corporation Ltd (CDCL) to halt ongoing work and not allow new Dredging in the Toorsa Basin, called a meeting of several stakeholders meeting on September 30, 2019. The meeting decided that the DoFPS will not issue a new authorization for surface collection and dredging of riverbed material (RBM) in the three zones, A, B and C of the PTDP, including three sites falling in Zone B.

Zone C is at Titiring which has 277 hectares (684 acres).

“This was aimed at avoiding complications in the future and protecting the long-term national interest, as all areas should be developed for the extended township of Phuentsholing,” said a letter the MoAF secretary wrote to the ‘ACC on June 18, 2021.

With DMPL, three other sites in Zone B were not assigned.

On December 12, 2020, however, the Cabinet issued a letter asking MoAF to allow DMPL to dredge the identified 7.05-acre site in Zone C if there was a feasible deposit and transportation accessibility could be achieved. organized with SSD Ventures and PTDP.

Based on the recommendation of the Cabinet secretariat, the DoFPS proposed alternative sites to the DMPL. DMPL rejected the alternative site and insisted on assigning the site to Titiring or an upstream alternative site to Tading. The DMPL also submitted its grievance to the Cabinet Secretariat and ACC, making several allegations against the DoFPS / MoAF for creating misunderstandings and discord between the agencies.

DMPL accused the forestry ministry and department of conspiracy and bureaucratic politics and even probable collusion between individuals and officials for blatantly ignoring Cabinet orders.

“After evaluating all the miscellaneous matters, complaints, a court case and objections against DHI and PTDP’s dredging activities, the MoAF was unable to consider both RBM’s dredging and export requests of DMPL, ”the MoAF secretary said in the letter.

The ACC stand

ACC officials said that after reviewing DMPL’s complaint and the ministry’s report and hearing from both sides, the commission discerned that the ministry did not assign the Titring site to DMPL primarily because of the DHI reservations that dredging activities could hamper PTDP’s work as access to the area passed through the project site.

They said ACC learned that DHI wrote eight letters to MoAF, one to the Prime Minister and one to MoEA regarding dredging and surface collection and observed that no issues were raised downstream or in zone C of the PTDP where the Titiring site is located. The same issue was not raised at the stakeholder meeting represented by DHI, CDCL and MoAF.

“Given the prevalence of evidence and explanations, ACC finds no compelling reason why the Titiring site was not assigned as publicly notified for dredging and surface collection to the business entity, DMPL , which has fulfilled all the requirements specified in the public notification, “said the letter that ACC President Deki Pema wrote to the Minister of Agriculture on July 29 of this year.

The DoFPS announced on September 14, 2019 that all new feasible sites for surface collection and dredging will be allocated to new applicants on a “first come, first served” basis. Of the 24 sites announced, 12 were in Samtse, seven in Sarpang and five in the Gedu forestry division.

ACC officials said DMPL followed due process and was listed first in order of “first come, first served” for site allocation.

The letter said the Commission had decided to opt for the Action Taken Report (ATR) so that the case could be resolved at the complaint stage, thus giving the agency the opportunity to correct any unintentional errors and take appropriate measures to remedy any systematic fault.

The ACC gave the department two weeks to submit an ATR. As a result, Forestry Director Lobzang Dorji submitted the ATR to ACC on August 10 stating that the Titiring site was assigned to DMPL.

Meanwhile, some aggrieved parties in the dredging industry said there were three companies and one individual who submitted their applications for the titling site on a “first come, first served” basis. However, they were refused as in the case of DMPL. “That is why we have filed a complaint with the Samtse court,” said the developer of Gawai Nyima Construction. The court, however, dismissed the case, finding it to be administrative in nature.

Another dredger said the Titiring site assigned to DMPL falls under a buffer zone where construction or dredging activities cannot be carried out.

An assessment report compiled by CDCL found that 13 species of birds and 9 species of mammals were at risk at the dredged site. As part of the study, a rapid biodiversity assessment was undertaken as required by AfDB to understand the possible route of elephants from Jaldapara National Park in India to Bhutan.

Forestry director Lobzang Dorji, meanwhile, said the DoFPS recommended that Cabinet issue an environmental clearance to the SSD company. It was not approved.

SSD is threatening to sue the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry and the Director to seek compensation for 60 million Nu (M), losses the company claims it suffered due to unfair treatment.

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