Thick forest covers most of Bhutan, making the tiny Himalayan nation famous for its pristine natural landscape. But increasingly, a stark sight is appearing amid the lush greenery: across the country, mines are springing up.
With the issuance of new licences, the past decade has ushered in a golden age for mining in Bhutan. As of 2013, the latest year for which official data is available, there were 27 mines and 46 quarries in operation, from just 17 mines and 10 quarries in 2006.
The sector has long been embroiled in controversies and criticised for putting corporate interests before people and the environment. Critics say that the current system benefits only a few rich individuals while burdening local communities with a host of environmental impacts, from air pollution to road and infrastructure destruction and poorly managed waste.
The government acknowledges that mining and quarrying have an impact on the environment, stripping vast swathes of land of their vegetation and affecting ground stability and water reserves. But it has also stated that taking advantage of the country’s rich mineral resources can help the economy.