PAC for dialogue on crusher row

KATHMANDU: The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today directed the Finance Ministry to immediately resolve its row with entrepreneurs of crusher industries through dialogues. The PAC also requested the crusher industries to call off their agitation and sit for talks to find an amicable solution.

The crusher industries, which export boulders, mixed-sand and crushed stones to India, have been on agitation for the last one month after the government increased export duty on those goods from 122 to 185 per cent from this fiscal. With the slapped duty charge, the ministry plans to collect Rs 135 crore in the current fiscal.

Ramkrihsna Yadav, the PAC chairman, had called Finance Minister Surendra Pandey, Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation Deepak Bohara and entrepreneurs of crusher industries for a discussion on the issue.

Minister Pandey said he increased duty on those goods as per the recommendation by the concerned ministries of Forest and Soil Conservation, Local Development and Environment and Science. He, however, said his ministry would abide by the decision and directives of the parliamentary panel.

The finance minister increased the export duty from last year's Rs 90 per cubic metre of mixed-sand to Rs 200, and, Rs 400 from Rs 350 of per cubic meter of boulder. The crusher entrepreneurs complained that the duty levied on those items was "arbitrary".

Minister Bohara, presenting his case on behalf of the ministry, proposed working out an exit plan of the crusher industries to conserve the environment, biodiversity and habitat of the wildlife in the Chure range, reserves, national parks and the rivers flowing to Tarai from the hills.

"The cost of environmental degradation due to over exploitation of these natural resources is far greater than the revenue generated from these industries," Bohara maintained.

He said that it would take around Rs 300 billion to conserve the Chure range. Whereas the 130 crusher industries in the Tarai region from Mechi to Mahakali are contributing just a meager amount of Rs 650 million in the national coffer annually.

He warned that the entire Tarai would face a problem of desertification and flashflood while the Chure range would see more landslides if such a rampant exploitation of the natural resources were not controlled in time.

Meena Khanal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, said the crusher industries failed to carry out Initial Environment Assessment (IEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which were mandatory for them before their set up close to the buffer zone of the national parks and Chure range. She also admitted her ministry's failure to monitor the industries operated near the reserves and Chure range.

The proprietors of the crusher industries, however, claimed that they had run their business as per the guidelines of the IEA and EIA. They argued that the government could not close their factories all of a sudden as they already had an investment of around Rs 1,200 crore where over 95,000 people are employed.

The PAC members stressed on the need to formulate a national policy for the systematic operation of the industries. They also said the problem persisted due to lack of effective coordination and monitoring mechanism among the line ministries.