Famous for its dazzling hamlets and eye-catching picnic spots, Swat also has precious emerald mines that if properly explored can generate a huge revenue for the country. The precious gemstones rank among the best in the world.
Discovered in 1958 in Wali-i-Swat’s era, the precious emerald mines are still yielding a meagre revenue because of unavailability of skilled labourers, latest machinery and cutting and polishing facilities. These mines were once a source of livelihood for thousands of people of Swat, but due to lack of interest and negligence on part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government only one of the three emerald mines is presently functional.
Also read: Closure of mines costing KP dearly
The mine in Fizzagat, near the district headquarters Mingora, is functional while one each in Shamozai, Swat, and Shangla district are closed for the last many years. Outlawed Swat Taliban had reportedly plundered the precious gemstones to run their activities after taking control of Swat valley in March 2009.
Discovered in 1958 in Waali-i-Swat’s era, the precious emerald mines are still yielding a meagre revenue due to unavailability of skilled labourers, latest machinery and cutting and polishing facilities
Khalid Khan, the owner of Swat emerald mine, told Dawn that there was a great demand for emeralds in the international market, but because of lack of government the other countries, particularly India, had been taking advantage of the Swat emerald stone as it resembled the raw stone after value addition and then sold out as that of India in the international market.
He said that Swat emerald mine had remained closed from Dec 1998 to Dec 2010. He said that his company got lease of the mine in Dec 2010 for 10 years at Rs102.4 million. He said that there were about 500 labourers attached to the profession of discovering emeralds. “It is the only emerald mine, which is the property of the provincial government,” he said, adding that unfortunately the government had not been taking advantage of the natural resources accordingly.
Mr Khan said that if the government installed a cutting and polishing industry in Swat, it would be able to generate a sizeable revenue from the gemstone business.
“There is a great demand for emeralds in the international market but due to lack of facilities we are auctioning the discovered raw stones locally,” Mr Khan said and added that the local gemstone traders then supplied the precious stone to Peshawar, Dubai, Thailand and other markets of the world. The government, he said, should facilitate the business by establishing cutting and polishing industry in Swat and arranging gemstone exhibitions to create a space for the emeralds and other natural resources of the area in international market.
Wafa Mohammad, a mining engineer, said that Swat emerald mine was discovered in 1958 during Wali’s rule in the state of Swat. “After discovery of the mine it was run by Prince Ameer Zeb and Haji Ibrahim till the merger of the state in Pakistan in 1969,” he said and added that the West Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation looked after the mine till 1972 when the emerald mine was taken over by Sarhad Development Authority. He said that the Gemstone Corporation of Pakistan managed the affairs of the Swat emerald mine from February 1, 1979 to Feb 15, 1995.
“The federal government handed over the mine to the provincial government, which auctioned it in Oct 1995,” Wafa Mohammad said and added that a private company, Emerald Mining Company, got its lease and run it till Dec 1998. He said that after remaining closed for over 12 years the provincial government last auctioned the mine to a private owner in Dec 2010.
The engineer said that according to rules nobody was allowed to construct house in 150 feet radius of the mine, but there were so many houses built near the mine and no government authority took action of this illegal practice, which might harm the natural resources.
He said that during militancy in Swat district the insurgents uprooted fences around the mine. “The mine is unsafe now and people could easily enter the site,” he said and demanded of the government to take steps for protection of this asset of the province.
There are two major groups of labourers working in Swat emerald mine, which has reserves of approximately 70 million carats of emeralds. One group is getting fixed salaries, while the other is working on share basis with the owner.
Sher Ali, 50, said that he had been working in the mine from last two years on fixed monthly wage of Rs9,000. “When we discover emeralds the owner also gives us cash prize according to size of the stone,” he said. Barkat Ali, 36, said that they were working in groups of six labourers on share basis. “When we discover emerald stone, money equal to its 40 per cent price is distributed among the group of labourers,” Mr Ali said.
Tawab Khan, a gemstone dealer, told this correspondent that he usually got demands for emeralds from Peshawar, Afghanistan, Dubai and some other countries. He revealed that a major quantity of Swat emerald stones was supplied to India where value addition process was cheaper than other countries. He said that in order to get maximum benefit of the natural resources the government should install a cutting and polishing machinery in Swat besides making arrangements for imparting training to local labourers.
Owner Khalid Khan said that the only functional mine was damaged during militancy in Swat as miscreants carried out large-scale excavation in the emerald mine. He said that the government should take steps to make functional the other two emerald mines in Shamozai and Shangla district. This will not only generate jobs for people, but also yield handsome revenue for the government, he said.
When contacted, deputy director mines, Swat, Khan Badshah said that the auction process was underway to give the two mines on lease. He said that the government had established a training institute in Peshawar to impart latest skills to labourers. However, he said that the emerald mining was a private profession and the owners of mines should use modern technology for the excavation process.
Published in Dawn, Aug 3rd, 2014