Takhar salt extraction at standstill due to negligence

TALOQAN (Pajhwok): Extraction works at two salt mines has been stopped in northern Takhar province due to insecurity and lack of government’s cooperation with the contractor. Local Takhar officials say the contractor owed over $800,000 to the government while the company officials say insecurity and interference from strongmen created problems for their operations.

Taqcha Khan Salt Mine is located in Namakab district and Archa Kutal Salt Mine is located in Kulfgan district of Takhar province. The contract for extraction of salt at the two mines was signed with Westco International Company in 2013. Based on the contract, the company had to extract salt using modern and professional techniques, but the company instead hired local people and used traditional methods.

Pajhwok Afghan News obtained documents exchanged between the company and local Takhar government organs. One of the documents shows that the company has asked the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to ensure security in the area so the company is able to extract the salt using professional methods. Another document shows the company has asked local officials to stop traditional mining by local people.

Another document sent to the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum last year by the Westco International, said that Takhar Mines and Petroleum department has misused its authority and referred the company to the Attorney’s Office. The ministry in response to the letter asked Takhar mines and petroleum department to resolve the problem in coordination with the provincial governor’s house. The company once again sent a letter to the ministry and local administration and said they were ready to develop the mines if they were provided with adequate security.

The reason the company did not remain committed: Hamid Arasta, director of Westco International in Takhar said that they failed to remain committed to their pledges due to pressures from local strongmen and lack of cooperation from the government side. “Ensuring security for the mines, mapping, prevention of illegal mining by strongmen were the commitments of the government which it did not honor. We wanted to extract the salt using machines, but local people did not allow us because they were losing jobs. The company faced many problems that stopped us from working,” he said.

On the other hand, Ahmad Zia Tariq, Takhar economy director, said that the Westco International company owed $847,000 in royalty payment and expenses in the social areas. “This company has failed to pay the money in eight years,’ he said.

onstruction of Qashqala bridge, graveling of the road between Taqcha Khana area to the mine area with a lenth of three kilometers, construction of Jami Mosque of Taqcha Khana, construction of damages caused by floods in Sholsh Dara, Zir Kutal Gach and Dasht Chaharson areas were the responsibilities of the company.

Junidullah Faiz, the chief of Namakab district, said that the company did not take any steps for implementing these promises since the last eight years. “Besides failing to honor its promises, the company also defaulted on nearly a million US dollars,” he said. On the other hand, Amruddin Masdaq, deputy head of Namakab Social Council, said that the extraction salt did not give any benefits to them. “Had the company implemented its promises, the life of people would have been changed,” he said.

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) has cancelled the contract with the company for what it said the company did not implement its promises. Azizullah Gharwal, spokesman of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum said, “We have canceled the contract and stopped extractions as the company is defaulter and failed to implement its commitments.”

Mostly children work in Takhar salt mines: Children transfer salt on the back of donkeys from Taqcha mine to the center of Namakab district after an hour commute. Residents of the area whose main income is from working in the mines say they were obliged to bear a hard labor. Abdul Rassoul, 11, a resident of Taqcha village who had worked for several years in the salt mine, said that he was working from morning until evening in the mine for earning some money for his family.

“Every morning when I wake up, I take my donkey and go to the mine area, I try very hard to complete three turns so I will earn 300 afghanis,” he said. There are also elderly people who enter the depth of the mine and extract and transfer salt with on their back. Jalaluddin, 22, who worked half of his age in the mine, said that the hard labor had disabled many of workers of the mine.

“No one can work more than 10 years in this mine, they would either get disabled, killed or fall ill,” he said. Local people say the contracted company should extract the salt by using professional methods, but the company instead collected sedimentary salt and did not remain committed to its responsibilities. Takhar province has mines of gold, salt, coal, gypsum and sulfur, but only salt and coal is currently extractable.