Reko Diq once again made headlines in the International and Pakistani media after long years. It made headlines because a tribunal of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, a World Bank arm, and imposed fine of $5.9 billion in Pakistan for denying mining rights to TCC. This is the third time when Reko Diq made headlines.
The first time it made headlines in 1992 when we were told that huge reserves of gold and copper had discovered in Reko Diq that is going to transform the Baluchistan. Second time it made headlines in 2013, when Supreme Court had strike down the deal between the Baluchistan government and TCC.
Nobody really knows anything about Reko Diq before the discovery of gold and copper reserves 27 years ago. Reko Diq is neither a tourist attraction nor it is a historical town. It has Inhabitant Mountains with rugged terrain. The terrain was inhospitable: no roads, no vegetation, and no water, nowhere to stay. It is situated in one of the most backward and farfetched areas of Baluchistan. It is near the hometown of chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani- Naukundi. Siah Rek is a nearby village in Reko Diq.
Rutti is a midpoint in the vast triangle that is Chagai district — wedged between Quetta to the northeast, Taftan (on the Pak-Iran border) to the southwest and Hamun-e-Mashkel Lake to the southeast. To the east of the village is an area that has both water and vegetation and to its west is an immense nothingness: tiny hamlets separated by enormous stretches of desert — Siah Rek being one of them.
Chagai is the largest district in Pakistan areas wise; spread over 44,748 square kilometers of sand dunes. Besides being the site of the country’s 1998 nuclear tests, it is known for its massive mineral resources – geologists, so far, have identified the presence of 23 minerals here. Variously called by opinion writers as a local El Dorado and key to the country’s economic future, it is mostly a Pakistani version of the Australian outback — arid, sparsely populated, impoverished and underdeveloped. Roads are difficult to find here, as anyone traveling from Nok Kundi to Reko Diq will find. After the first 25 kilometers, even the dirt track disappears under boulders flowing through multiple small streams (called rud by the locals).
The area lacked basic facilities for running water, schools, hospitals, roads, and electricity. The local people are mostly poor and do petty works to earn their living.
I made several visits to Baluchistan before the beginning of the nationalist insurgency after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Once I traveled alone from Karachi to Quetta while staying at different places on the way. It was a fascinating journey for women traveling alone. I started to understand Baluchistan and its people after making those visits. It is difficult to imagine the wilderness, depth, and vastness of Baluchistan province without traveling within it.
There were high hopes of jobs, development, and prosperity in the area as the result of gold discovery. The people in the nearby villages and areas welcomed gold diggers with open arms. In 1993, Siah Rek and its nearby village Humai got another name: the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project.
The Chagai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (Chejva) was signed in 1993 between the Balochistan Development Authority (BDA) and BHP Minerals, incorporated in Delaware, United States. In 2000, TCC entered into an agreement with BHP to replace TCC as main investor and shareholder in this project. This project has seen one legal battle after the other. The mining has been halted for several times. The local people and workers are real victims of this prolonged legal battle. They lost jobs and thus the wages. Their hopes of better lives have been shattered.
Reko Diq contains one of the world’s largest copper-gold deposits, with estimated ‘mineral resources’ of at least 54 billion pounds of copper and 41 million ounces of gold.
According to a report published in monthly Herald “The proponents of the project also point to the progress that it has made in its four-year life. A number of administrative and residential facilities were completed at the project site; technical processes such as geological and partial structural mapping of the reserves were completed and contour mapping was done over 24 square kilometers of mining and processing area.
Three holes for metallurgical tests and geotechnical studies and 20 confirmatory holes were drilled; the contract for the chemical analysis of 5000 ore samples was signed — analysis has already been done on two batches of 40 and 24 samples. Bidding documents for the purchase of a Sulphuric Acid Plant were prepared and basic conceptual design and basic equipment design of Solvent Extraction and Electro-winning plants were completed; 11 pieces of equipment were purchased and received at project site”.
But legal battles have halted the mining in Reko Diq. For many local people, life has also stopped.
When the TCC was working in the area and most of the locals were engaged there in labor work. Mostly petty jobs but they were getting decent wages. It was enough to feed their families. Now many people sleep empty stomach. The locals were hoping that mining activity will bring jobs, economic opportunities, and development in their area. Those hopes have not materialized and the putative owners of what is known to be one of the world’s largest deposits of gold and copper remain as resource-poor as they always have been. “Rearing goats and sheep was, and still is, the sole source of income here.
Now the local people want the mining company to return to the area to resume mining.
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27 September, 2019