As Nepal's ecology is very fragile, the country has an important role to play in preserving the natural environment. There is no doubt that the country has expressed its firm commitment to abiding by many international conventions and pacts associated with the ecological conservation. The nation has been working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) despite facing a variety of constraints and challenges. This is certainly a testimony to the fact that Nepal is making a great stride in this direction. However, there has been an increasing practice among people to haphazardly use excavators and other heavy equipment for constructing roads even in the geologically weak areas.
In the name of taking development to the rural areas, even the local governments are often found opening tracks without studying the possible adverse environmental consequences. This has put many ecologically vulnerable places and settlements at risk of natural calamities like landslides and floods. Excessive extraction of riverbed materials across the country is another pressing issue. Illegal activities like mining of rocks, grinding of pebbles and excavation of sand from different rivers and rivulets have been going on rampantly. These materials are exploited mostly for a commercial purpose. Such activities have led to soil erosion, water quality degradation and threat to bio-diversity. Thus, these practices have given rise to ecological imbalance. The nation may have gained some economic benefits in terms of revenue from the riverbed extractions. But the nation and the people are sure to bear the brunt of these activities in the long run.
The incumbent government has drawn concerns from different quarters for a plan to export mineral-based materials like stones, pebbles and sand in order to reduce the widening trade deficit. However, the government wanted to open up this business avenue by strictly adhering to the environmental impact assessment (EIA). In its budget unveiled for the upcoming fiscal year 2021/22, the government has also aimed at granting customs duty waiver on construction materials for the ropeways linking the mines to a depot. Conservationists as well as opposition political parties have opposed this plan, saying that it may prove to be detrimental to the delicate ecology of the Chure belt. They have called on the government to withdraw the plan.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Paudel, however, has clarified that the government would not do anything that may put the Chure region at environmental risk. Speaking at a function organised in the capital on Wednesday, Paudel said that the mining materials would be extracted only from the places endorsed by the Department of Mines and Geology on the basis of EIA. No mention has been made of Chure in the concerned budget statement regarding the export of sand, pebbles and stone. DPM and Finance Minister Paudel has urged everyone not to politicise the matter by linking it with Chure region. The government is fully committed to protecting the Chure hill range from the east to west, and the same is true for the protection of the Himalayas and the Mahabharata region, he assured. It is worth mentioning here that Chure falls in the government’s conservation priority area and the government has been spending more than Rs. 1.5 billion annually for the conservation of this region.