Muscat: Ongoing efforts by the Omani government to regulate the quarrying industry, long accused of giving short shrift to host communities and the local environment, are a step closer to bearing fruit, according to the head of a high-level panel tasked with tackling the issue.
Ahmad Bin Hassan Al Dheeb, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement to Oman News Agency (ONA), that the panel has identified suitable sites that can be offered to quarry operators for exploitation. These sites are being offered in lieu of locations that quarry owners had been forced to relinquish in the wake of a government drive to regulate the sector.
Following a crackdown on alleged irregularities in the industry, authorities have shut down dozens of sites allotted for construction aggregate quarrying and crushing, as well the mining of marble and chrome ore. A number of operators are also facing prosecution for violating licence terms. In some instances, operators were found to be running illegal quarries or mining for industrial minerals well beyond the limits set by their licences.
Elsewhere, communities located in the vicinity of quarries and crushers complained of exposure to noise and dust pollution. The outcry led to a government-declared moratorium on the issuance of new permits for quarrying and crushing activities, coupled with an extensive review of practices in the mining and quarrying industry.
But with the closure of quarries and crushers contributing to a spike in the cost of construction material, the government decided to expedite the quest for solutions to this long-standing problem. A pan-sectoral committee, with representatives from nine different ministries and government agencies, was constituted to look into the problem. Officials from the ministries of tourism, environment, regional municipalities and water resources, heritage and culture, housing, and Royal Oman Police, currently sit on the panel.
Last week, the panel inspected a number of sites around the country deemed suitable for quarrying and crushing activities. Permits for the exploitation of these sites will be issued against a strict set of criteria, said Al Dheeb. Licences will be issued only to companies jointly owned by a minimum of 35 Omani citizens. Furthermore, at least five per cent of the profits will have to be ploughed back into the local community through investments in community welfare schemes.