September 22, 2023, Friday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

Budget targets export sand, stone and aggregates

Environment activists oppose the proposal

The Nepal Weekly
June 6, 2023

In a parliamentary session on last week, Finance Minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat unveiled the budget for the forthcoming Fiscal Year 2080/81 (2023 July 16 -2024 July 15). The budget was announced during a joint session of the National Assembly and House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament. 

Minister Dr Mahat said that the government would collect Rs 1 trillion and 248 billion in revenues the next year. Likewise, foreign grants, foreign loans and internal loans would contribute Rs 49 billion, Rs 212 billion and Rs 240 billion respectively.

Despite the critical economic situation at present, the government has targeted achieving economic growth of 6 per cent next FY. Likewise, the government says inflation will be controlled within 6.5 per cent.

Some important aspects in connection to environment conservation and climate actions are as follows.

·     Rs 1.05 billion for the President Chure Conservation Project

·     The use of paper and cloth bags instead of plastic bags

·     Rs 15.56 billion for the sector in total

·     Rs 4.17 billion for the Sunkoshi Marin irrigation project

·     Rs 1.65 billion for river control projects

·     Electricity to be made accessible to all households in the next 2 years

·     Per-person electricity consumption to be increased

·     Rs 900 megawatts to be added to the national transmission line; total capacity to reach 3,600 mega watts

·     Rs 1.74 billion for the promotion of alternative energy

·     Rs 38.32 billion for the improvements in electricity distribution systems

·     Rs 87.45 billion for the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation in total

·     Special climate projects to be launched in 43 local governments

·     Disaster-hit and disaster-vulnerable populations to be relocated

Environmental balance will be maintained through forest, biological diversity and watershed management announced by Minister Dr.Mahat. He also said that its contribution to the national economy will be increased by sustainable use of forest resources and development of forest-based enterprises. He added that programmes such as bamboo planting, recharge ponds, irrigation, landslide control, etc. will be conducted to protect water and land.

In the budget announcement one crucial aspect included is that the Government will allow the export of sand, gravel and aggregate stone. It is mentioned that the minerals of Chure will be mined and exported. Similar proposal was incorporated in the budgets in the past. But giving verdict to writ the Supreme Court ordered to stop implementation of the programme.

It is to be noted that Chure region covers 12.78 per cent of the country’s total area and is spread over 36 districts from Ilam in the east to Kanchanpur in the west. It is a part of Mahabharat hills. 

It is possible to produce sufficient quantity of stone and gravel from the Chure hills. At the same time, the region is not only a source of soil, sand and gravel but also rich in natural resources.

During the tenure of the then President Rambaran Yadav, the government started and implemented the “President Chure Conservation Program” because of the possibility of a major environmental crisis in the Chure area. However, in this area, a large amount of river products are being wasted every year. This is the reason why the river changes its course and causes problems.

In the federal budget of the financial year 2021-22, the idea of exporting stone and sand was brought. “Based on environmental impact assessment, the trade deficit can be reduced by exporting mining-based stone, stone and sand,” the then finance minister said while announcing the budget.

The said decision was challenged in the Supreme Court saying that it would destroy nature and increase the risk of natural disasters. The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court issued an interim order and directed the government not to implement the policy of exporting stone, gravel and sand.

The Chure region is considered as a fragile mountain range in the Himalayas because of its young age. This region is a major source of water, ecology, and biodiversity. Sometimes, this region is also referred to as the water tower because the Terai region, where millions of people reside, depends directly on the water supplied by this region. Recently, the rivers in this region started to dry which possibly due to mass extraction of sand and boulders for construction works.

Thus, to protect the region, a programme was initiated with focus to reduce the possible damage by climate change and natural disasters. This is supposed to be done by implementing sustainable management of natural resources such as land, water, vegetation and biodiversity in the Chure area of Terai region. The program also focuses on water-borne disasters. In addition, the program works with the community to increase access to firewood and fuel resources to reduce the impact in the environment.

President Chure-Terai Madhesh Conservation Area Program is one of the National Pride Projects initiated by the Government of Nepal. The aim of the programme is to conserve the natural resources of Chure region, which occupies 12.78% of Nepal, by sustainable management and promotion of ecological services.

Nepal Forum of Environment Journalist (NEFEJ), environment activists and media persons and institutions engaged in environment conservation had opposed the provision made in the budget to export sand, gravel and aggregates from Nepal. Although potential locations are not specified in the Budget speech, this act will sure to harm Chure region which needs huge efforts to protect, is easily accessible and it is near to the southern border.

The activists say that this act will not support reduce widened balance of payment in the foreign trade, rather than that the country will have to pay huge loss in return as more damage to Chure region will bring more problems to people and properties in the downhill – the Terai. The region has faced trees in both sides of rivers are cut, river beds are deepened, water table beneath the surface is shrinking year by year. 

Thus, this proposal, which will bring results of opposite to climate actions and invite crises to the country and people should not be implemented. (By R. P. Narayan)