Many ethnic households in the northern mountainous Lai Chau Province’s Ban Giang Commune have accused a farm owner of illegally exploiting minerals, which has polluted the environment and damaged crops.
U A La, village chief of the Na Sai Village, said 84 households, mainly belonging to the Giay ethnic minority group, had suffered severe losses as a result of mud produced by the illegal mineral operations. The sludge had contaminated vital water sources, killing fish and damaging crops.
La said the farm, owned by Nguyen Duy Thanh from Lai Chau City, had become a wasteland. The man purchased the land and began extracting minerals in 2011.
According to one reporter, about 20 workers are said to be working at the site using dredgers and digging tools. A large ore grinding mill, pipelines and some other tools have been observed on the land, surrounded by numerous earth mounds and holes full of stagnant water.
The farm is not carrying out any agricultural production activities.
La said the owner of the farm had directly discharged the mud, which was produced during the exploitation process, into the stream. The stream, which is the main water source for the village, distributed the contaminated water to crops in the area.
Nearly 30 hectares of rice fields and 20 hectares of ponds have been seriously affected.
In April, some local residents reportedly went to the farm, destroying machines and seizing property from the owner.
Thanh later sent a petition to the Tam Duong District Police Department and People’s Procuracy, claiming the farm had been attacked and requesting compensation of VND170 million (US$8,095).
Nguyen Ba Kien, Chairman of the communal People’s Committee said the committee had reported the case to the district’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Following its own inspections of the farm, the committee mandated the owner remove the machinery from the site, citing he had not obtained proper exploitation certificates.
Kien said the owner alleged he had taken the machines to the site to dig fish ponds, a position that was fiercely opposed by local residents.
Bui Quang Vinh, Deputy chairman of Tam Duong District’s People’s Committee said the oversight by local authorities over illegal mineral exploitation had been lax, citing the enterprise had been able to conduct the illegal operations since 2011.
The committee is yet to receive a report from local police.
Vinh said the committee was focusing on verifying the responsibilities of those involved, including local authorities, and calculating losses incurred by local residents.