National Environment Commission officials say rivers are polluted by natural causes during monsoon
If an Indian media report is to be believed, Bhutan’s natural coal zone in the south may be polluting rivers that run through different villages downstream in India.
The media report claimed that polluted water released from coal mines in Samdrup Jongkhar posed threat to Paharpur, Hortola, Sukanjuli and nearby villages near Darangmela in the Indo-Bhutan areas of Basksa district in Assam.
The silicon factory upstream has been polluting the river and it has turned black due to the pollutants from coal mines, the villagers were quoted as saying in the Assam Tribune.
Villagers told the newspaper that a few years ago the water of Kalanadi was not black in colour as it is now. The water used to be good for cultivation, drinking as well as for other activities, they said. The villagers also reported decrease in crop production and fish population, and that cattle and people were contracting various diseases.
They said that chemical substance like oil is seen floating on the surface of the river water which may be effluent of the silicon factory.
However, it is not an unknown fact that coal deposits along Bhutan’s southern belt are often washed into the rivers that flow through Indian villages during monsoon.
Speaking to Business Bhutan, an environment officer with the National Environment Commission (NEC) and the former Samdrup Jongkhar district environment officer, Tshering Dorji, said Bhutanese mines and silicon factory in Samdrup Jongkhar do not dump waste in the river as there are designated dumping areas.
He explained that coal deposits of a few abandoned coal mines might be carried away to the river during monsoon which polluted the river.
“The NEC has strict guidelines which the operators have to follow and if it is found to be violated, they will be penalized,” he said. “But there have been no such cases.”
The officiating environment officer of the SD Bhutan Ferro Silicon factory in Samdrup Jongkhar, Sonam Dhendup, said river Lebra is not very close to the factory as reported in the Indian media. “It is situated around 5 football fields away from the river,” he said.
Sonam Dhendup said the by-products called micro-silica from the factory are transported to Kolkata. “We do not dump any waste in any river. We know it is harmful so we do not do it,” he said.
The general manager of Eastern Bhutan Coal Company, the only operational coal factory in Samdrup Jongkhar at present, B.B Tamang, said the reasons for the river turning black and muddy is due to natural causes.
“The river inside Bhutan is also muddy and black. This might be due to the coal deposits that are there in and around and that are eroded by rain and fed into the river. I don’t think we will dump coals in the river as it is very expensive,” said B.B Tamang.
“It is a concern but we are not dumping anything in the river. We have our own designated dumping sites inside the factory premises,” he said.
During a joint verification by the Bhutanese and the Indian authorities a few years ago on similar issues in a different area, it was established that rivers downstream were turning black and muddy during monsoons due to natural causes and not because of pollution from Bhutan.