Miners Say 5% Royalty Too High
By Nirmala Kannangara
Pictures by Pavithra Jovan De Mello
The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) has so far failed to introduce a methodology to scrutinize the gold mining process in the Kelani River at Pugoda although it is nearing 14 days since issuing precious metal mining licences to the villagers.
Over 250 villagers obtained permits on May 29 at the GSMB mobile service held at the Kumarimulla Mosque. Though the GSMB has set 19 guidelines to be followed by the miners, the Mines Bureau too is clueless as to how these guidelines are to be implemented.
“Yes, we have to find a method to scrutinize the whole gold mining process. It will take a few days,” said Mining Engineer GSMB Kushan Gunasekera.
According to Gunasekera, GSMB has faced a daunting task in monitoring the gold mining process in the Kelani River since they do not have enough staff to be deployed at the venue.
“Our field officers visit the venue for random monitoring. Under provisions of the Mines and Minerals Act powers to monitor mineral mining are vested with the police. It is up to them to supervise whether people are violating the given guidelines,” said Gunasekera.
“We had meetings with the Dompe and Pugoda Police before the mobile service was held and there is no necessity for us to request them to monitor the process as powers are vested with them,” Gunasekera added.
This contradicts Director General GSMB Anil Peiris’ statement made to this paper last week in which he said that he has so far not decided whether or not to meet the higher officials in the Police Department to seek their assistance.
However, the difficult task ahead for GSMB officials is how they are going to calculate the output quantity of each licensee to charge the 5 percent royalty. In addition there are no proper plans to supervise whether the weight of the sand with the gold that is removed is not more than 250g per day. The other issue is to monitor whether people engage in gold mining before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m.
Although Gunasekera is of the view that the GSMB would be able to find a solution into the monitoring process, he was unable to say as to how long it would take and whether it would be a joint operation with the police or not.
“True, there are many shortcomings from the GSMB’s side. Unless we deploy our field officers to monitor the output quantity of gold of each licensee it will be difficult to charge the 5 percent royalty unless we estimate the daily income of each licensee as Rs.1,500. However it is the sole responsibility of the police to see whether the people obey the stipulated time frame given for mining and also whether river deposits within five meters from the river bank towards the river are not extracted,” added Gunasekera.
However Police Spokesperson SP Ajitha Rohana said that the police can only act against the illegal miners but cannot monitor whether the licensees follow the guidelines.
“If we are told that illegal mining is taking place we can take action against the wrongdoers but it is up to the GSMB or National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) to monitor whether miners follow their respective guidelines,” said SP Rohana.
When asked whether the GSMB has sought the police department’s assistance to monitor the gold mining process, SP Rohana said that there was no such request nor has the police met GSMB officials at any point. When The Sunday Leader visited Pugoda last week to see how the mining process is going on, the miners said that the GSMB has given them a ‘death certificate’ instead of a gold mining licence. “From the beginning the GSMB cheated us very badly. First we were told that only the licence fee of Rs. 2, 000 would be charged and once we got the licence we realized that a 5 percent royalty would be charged. We were told that a 5 percent royalty would be charged from the licensees on the basis that the daily gold output of every person is worth of Rs.1,500 which is unfair. That is why we say that the GSMB has issued a death certificate by putting the innocent licensees in trouble,” said Jayaratne. However some were very thankful to the government and the GSMB for allowing them to mine in the Kelani River. “Knowing the difficulty the people are going through, the GSMB was kind enough to give licences to the villagers. We can now mine without any fear but the only issue is the 5 percent royalty they are going to charge us. Our daily income is not more than Rs.700 which has to be divided among three. So it is unfair by us if this said 5 percent royalty is charged from our small income,” said Nasardeen. It was disheartening to see how men and women plunge into the water to collect the river deposits to try their luck. Although it was raining heavily it was not a disturbance for them. Their packets of lunch were soaked in rain water but they were not bothered about it. Their only concern was to mine as much as they could, to earn a few hundred rupees to meet their daily needs. Although the GSMB has restricted mining within five meters from the river bank, all the miners were seen extracting sand from the river bank itself. They are also ignoring the time restrictions. There were neither any police officers nor GSMB officials to monitor the mining process.