MAZAR-I-SHARIF (Pajhwok): Gypsum is illegally extracted from mines located in Chamtal district of northern Balkh province by local people and a number of companies, causing the government 25 million afghanis loss each year. Gypsum mines are located in Chamtal, Khulm and Marmal districts of Balkh province but the mineral is illegally extracted from the ones in Chamtal and Khulm.
Pajhwok Afghan News findings show people use explosives to extract the mineral such as ‘dynamite’ which local officials term as dangerous for environment. According to local people, the gypsum mines in Chamtal district are under the Taliban control while the ones in Khulm district are under the government’s control.
Mohammad Sabir, not a real name, a tribal elder from Chamtal district, told Pajhwok that gypsum mines were illegally dug in the district since a long time. “There is no restriction to prevent local people from extracting the mineral”, he said. “This white soil which is also called plaster is used in construction of houses, local people can openly use them, but if someone transfers it in a vehicle, he should first take permission from the Taliban,” he said.
Ahmad Zia, a resident of Khulm district said gypsum was illegally extracted from open pits in the district. He said that there was no any restriction on the mineral extraction and people could transfer it in any amount they need. However, he said some specific figures were allowed to extract the mine and transfer it to other areas for sale. “This area is under the government’s control, but all mining activities are under the influence of local commanders and strongmen,” he added.
Mohammad Rassoul, alias name, who is the owner of an extraction company in Balkh, said that around 10 major and small companies were involved in illegal gypsum mining in the province. He said the gypsum mine in Chamtal district was under the Taliban’s control while the one in Khulm district was influenced by local powerful figures and illegal commanders.
He said that the mineral was extracted by using explosives. “Each bag of the dynamite costs 30,000 to 40,000 afghanis, almost all companies use this explosive for extraction,” he added. Rassoul said that around 200 tons of the mineral was illegally extracted from the mines in Chamtal and Khulm districts on a daily basis. “As the activity is illegal, each truck pays 300 to 500 afghanis as bribe to (police) in the entrance of the city before they transfer the mineral inside,” he said.
On average, 15 trucks of gypsum enter Mazar-i-Sharif city every day and each truck contains 10 tons of the mineral, he added, saying the mineral was then sold in the open market after being processed in the city. Besides revenue loss, a number of people also lose their lives due to substandard mining of gypsum yearly in Balkh province.
Local officials acknowledge illegal gypsum mining: Taj Mohammad Rahimi, Khulm district chief, said that some people working in the gypsum mines even lose their lives to dynamite explosions each year. He said that two workers lost their lives due to substandard mining in the district two months ago. Balkh mines and petroleum department officials confirmed illegal extraction of gypsum in the province.
Haji Osman, an official of the department, said that they had no any contracts for gypsum extraction with any companies since 2015. He said that all extractions were currently ongoing illegally in the province. “We have shared these concerns with local administration and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum… local people, Taliban and local strongmen are involved in the illegal activities, but unfortunately these activities could not be prevented so far,” he said. Osman said that there were many gypsum mines in the province but most of them were located in unstable areas.
Balkh mines and petroleum officials say each ton of gypsum should be charged 460 afghanis as tax. A truck that carries 10 tons of the mineral should be then charged 4,600 afghanis. “If 15 trucks bring the mineral to Mazar-i-Sharif on a daily basis, it can generate 69,000 afghanis in tax in a day”.
The mines and petroleum department of Balkh province says the government loses 25 million afghanis on average in gypsum tax each year. Due to insecurity, the officials concerned could not visit the mines and thus so far no survey to determine the volume of the mineral had been carried out so far. Balkh provincial council Chief Mohammad Afzal Hadid said the ongoing insecurity played a key role in illegal mining.
He added that fighting was ongoing in seven districts of Balkh and that the armed opponents and some others were taking advantage of the situation. Hadid also confirmed that police in Mazar-i-Sharif took bribes from vehicles carrying the stone. At the same time, environmentalists consider the use of dynamic explosives for illegal extraction of gypsum mines as dangerous to the environment.
Rahmatullah Zahid Adili, head of the Balkh Environmental Protection Agency, said the use of dynamic materials in the mining sector was threatening the lives of forests, birds and animals, as well as causing landslides. He said that the use of these explosives also caused noise pollution and the authorities should stop the use of dynamic materials.
Munir Farhad, spokesman for the Balkh governor, also confirmed that plaster deposits were being mined illegally in some districts of the province, but said the government had no control over those areas. He added that residents of the area were heavily involved in the illegal excavations. He hoped that the Ministry of Mines and the Balkh Department of Mines would work on a new approach to address the problem. Farhad said the Balkh local government was not indifferent to the problem.
Meanwhile, Balkh police chief Syed Merajuddin Sadat said they had not received any complaints about the use of dynamic explosives in mining. But he says he has cracked down on police illegally taking money from trucks. “We prosecute police officers who illegally take money from vehicles. In just a few days, we arrested five policemen and referred them to the prosecutor’s office,” the police chief said. Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Pajhwok Afghan News he had no information about illegal mining in the Taliban-held areas of Balkh.