Lost Tradition of Mining

– Ananda Kafle

Nepal’s wealth of water, forest and mineral resources has been a popular local slogan. The issues of their proper exploitation remain notable instruments for election campaigns of some prominent political parties. Politicians have in their minds that if these resources are exploited extensively, the economy of the country can be rapidly developed. ¬†Without talking much about the practical feasibility of utilizing these resources in economical and technical grounds, many are fond of exaggerating their potentials.

During the last centuries, whole quantity of iron and copper used in Nepal were from indigenous production. The metals produced here by traditional smelting were exported to Tibet. The Department of Mineralogy data reveal that there are at least 85 localities within the country that have been identified as iron deposits. At least 107 contain copper and 49 contain zinc minerals. Besides, other minerals comprise those of tungsten, gold, nickel, tin, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, cobalt, etc.

If not all, definitely, some of these minerals can be processed for metals that are in high demand. Copper and iron can be extracted using simpler techniques. Copper has low reactivity with other substances and hence, can be separated from rest of the materials in the mineral, more readily. Iron predominantly exists in the form of its oxide ore, which is easier to process as compared to other complicated forms. Their higher abundance in the country and high utility also point towards potentiality of these metals to be manufactured.

In the past, when no any sophisticated technology was available, our country remained a renowned place for metallurgy. Now, when the world is already richer in technologies, there seems no any practical effort being made here. Following the entry of better refined metals into the country, the conventional metallurgy that used to flourish here began to decline. Instead of making it better, we have stopped doing what we used to.

It looks like we are needed to begin from zilch on exploiting mineral deposits. Nepal government has existing laws and regulations regarding mining. Till now it has distributed hundreds of mining licenses for a variety of minerals including coal, iron, copper, gold, zinc, etc. No one knows, for so long, what is being done of those licenses. Providing licenses alone does not account for the sole responsibility on the government’s part. If it recognizes minerals as the major resources for economic growth, it should be able to present its direct involvement in the sector as an initiative.

Forest, which is remarked as a major national resource is likely to be extinct before the general public can experience any advantage from it. The politics behind hydropower projects has left water resources mainly as a job place for the cadres of political parties. The mineral resources, whose ‘unjust conduct by limited groups (?)’ is widely being lamented, will similarly be a piece of fiction if proper initiations are not made.

(Published in The Kathmandu Post May 23,2013)


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