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Footprints: Great Chinoti gold rush

Published Feb 20, 2015 06:30am


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CHINESE workers drilling boreholes in different places in and around Dangraywala village site in Rajoa, some seven kilometres from Chiniot, reportedly to collect samples of gold and copper.—Photo by writer
CHINESE workers drilling boreholes in different places in and around Dangraywala village site in Rajoa, some seven kilometres from Chiniot, reportedly to collect samples of gold and copper.—Photo by writer

YOU don’t see Sam Brannan parading through the streets of Chiniot, shouting, “Gold! Gold! Gold!” Nor is there a rush of gold prospectors to be seen anywhere in the city. Life in Chiniot, known for its hand-carved wood furniture and gritty leather and textile traders, remains unaffected by the (re)discovery of the yellow metal along with what is being called one of the world’s biggest reserves of iron and copper ores.

The activity suggested by the media frenzy triggered by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to one of the drilling sites in Rajoa is nowhere to be found. “We’ve known about the iron reserves for far too long,” says schoolteacher Arif Ali. “But the claims about gold seem greatly exaggerated to me. What do you say?”

Also read: Pakistan discovers 'huge' reserves of iron ore

He is, however, happy that iron ore extraction will pave the way for the establishment of a steel mill as promised by the government and create several thousand new jobs for the people of Chiniot and its adjoining area. “If that happens, our children will not have to go to Lahore or Karachi in search of jobs,” he muses.

A policeman guarding the Chinese workers at a site off Jhang Bypass echoes similar doubts: “There are traces of gold in some samples,” he laughs. “But you know as well as I do that there is more noise than gold in these rocks.”

The Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) is drilling boreholes in different places in and around Chiniot to collect samples.

“We have seven rigs installed at different points in the project area spanning 28 square kilometres,” a spokesman for the MCC told Dawn during a chance meeting at one of the heavily guarded drilling sites in Ibrahim Town, a semi-rural locality in Chiniot. He refuses to share project details, saying: “You had better contact the Punjab Mineral Company [a provincial government-owned firm, which is headed by retired nuclear scientist Dr Samar Mubarakmand, set up to fund and oversee the project].” Nor does he give the estimates of gold and copper ores. “Nothing is final at the moment,” he reiterates. “We will be able to share such information only after the completion of laboratory test reports.”

The MCC, which started drilling boreholes in May, will collect samples from 50 sites to prepare the project feasibility report. Yet this hasn’t stopped the Punjab government — or Dr Mubarakmand — from dubbing the Chiniot gold and copper reserves to be much bigger than those found in Saindak and Reko Diq in Balochistan.

The security at all the drilling sites has been tightened since the prime minister’s visit to Dangraywala village site in Rajoa, some seven kilometres from Chiniot; no one is allowed to approach the Chinese and Pakistani workers or take pictures of the machines. Between 450 and 500 elite force personnel have been brought here from Lahore and elsewhere to protect the 40 to 50 Chinese workers deployed.

“You can’t be here, it is a high-security place,” a policeman yells at us as we approach one of the three boreholes in Ibrahim Town. “You need any information, talk to the Chinese company’s spokesman.”

A few metres from the site, villager Allah Yar is worried that the government will acquire their homes and fertile land if the final tests of the samples confirm the presence of precious metals.

“Everyone is anxious,” he says. “We are happy that the discovery will change the future of this country. But what about the people living here and cultivating these lands? The government just takes over the piece of land the Chinese explorers require to dig boreholes for up to three months, without paying rent to the owner.”

A realtor from the area confirms that no one has so far been “compensated for the use of his land” by the Chinese company. “The government doesn’t need to ask for the landowner’s permission. People are keeping their mouths shut for fear of police,” he tells me.

Nazir Ahmed, a resident of Dangraywala, is hopeful that the landowners will get royalty once the economic viability of the project is established and a steel mill is set up. “Still, the landowners here are scared,” he notes. “What if the government decides to acquire the land at the officially notified rate of Rs0.8-1 million an acre rather than paying them the market price of Rs2-5 million?”

At Dangraywala, the policemen let us step inside the designated area and talk to a Pakistani worker. “Four Chinese men and as many Pakistanis work in two shifts of 12 hours each at every borehole site,” he says without giving his name.

“Though we are getting good wages — Rs18,000 a month — there is no concept of a weekly day off and we are not allowed to visit home except for an emergency.”

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2015

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Comments (17) Closed

Ahmed USA Feb 20, 2015 06:59am

Gold or not...politicians are gonna make hay out of it for piece of advice...just keep corrupt feudal lords, politicians and businessmen far far away from the site as possible...otherwise they will not even spare a single strand of "hay" literally...

A. Khan Feb 20, 2015 07:10am

"establishment of steel mill with creation of thousands of new jobs"

I hope these are not the ghost jobs created at KSM, which filled the pockets of mill management, union leaders and political parties in Sindh. We cannot afford another white elephant.

Faisal Feb 20, 2015 07:19am

So....why is a nuclear scientist running a mineral exploration company??? Do we not have geoscientists in Pakistan?

shahid dhair Feb 20, 2015 09:02am

mothing there just drama by sharif brothers

fawad aslam Feb 20, 2015 09:37am

may we expect that it will end our crippled economy and will bring prosperity or its gone , all in vain like Saindak and Reko Diq in Balochistan.???

Rafiq Feb 20, 2015 09:57am

Cant we involve pakistani company in ore extraction rather than chinese. we are giving free hand to chinese to exploit our resources.

saad s Feb 20, 2015 10:05am

government should ensure that landowners get royalty or acquire the land at market price once the economic viability of the project is established till then they should be given rents. wages should be better keeping in view incessant nature of work.

IBN E ASHFAQUE Feb 20, 2015 10:34am

If army is fit to run the whole country why can't a nuclear scientist run a mineral exploration company...........this is Pakistan where anything is possible........particularly illogical things. That is why a resource rich country cannot feed half of its population decently, yet our PM spends more than half of his time touring the world.

AW Feb 20, 2015 11:32am

CM Punjab has done a good job in prioritizing exploration at Chiniot and Rajoa. However, this is not the time for announcements and claims because the feasibility has not been completed which probably will take another one year. If the feasibility come out positive, then the government should privatize this venture otherwise it will turn into another white elephant like the Pakistan Steel Mills and PIA etc. We must learn lessons from the economic transformation which took place in China in which the Chinese government aggressively allowed private sector to expand with the help of overseas Chinese while drastically reducing the size of government's involvement in infrastructure ventures.

atif khan Feb 20, 2015 12:15pm

Dear schoolteacher Arif Ali you children will keep on going to other cities, because our gov especially Mr Nawaz "if its found" is going to hand it over to chinese at cost of peanuts, like they did in sandak.

Akram Feb 20, 2015 02:18pm

as a mining investor I have some understanding and experience of mineral exploration, the exploration is still taking place, we still don't know how much or whether the mineral is economically viable to extract, yet Nawaz Sharif is talking about a "gold mine" how unprofessional is that?

They are making announcements on the hoof before a feasibility study has even been written. For all we know its going to end up too costly to extract, yet the PM is blowing his trumpet. That sums up the N league.

Javed Iqbal Feb 20, 2015 06:17pm

@saad s Believe me if you involve some Pakistani company in the ore extraction, You will not find a bit of it in Government warehouses as all will be accumulated in the private warehouses of the powers that be.

B R chawla Feb 20, 2015 06:54pm

May god bless Pakistan with discovery of gold in this region so that it can be fruitfully applied for development education and health. Prosperity will take the best of misery and hate education that has been in store for our brothes in Pakistan.

Jam Feb 20, 2015 09:11pm

Have u seen the miserable conditions of the people of sindh , where u find many oil and gas reserviors. Go and look outside of these gas/oil fields. Chinoti has good industry but not the rural sindh

atif khan Feb 21, 2015 12:08am

@Javed Iqbal and if you involve foreign company they same pvt warehouse people will sell it at a cost where they wont be needing a warehouse :)

Tariq, Lahore Feb 21, 2015 01:44am

Find the precious metals first rather than cooking 'khiali pilao'.

mian zakir shah Feb 21, 2015 09:17am

@IBN E ASHFAQUE Dr M is a very wise he knows What is good for Pakistan we must trust him .He is honest in his wok for Pakistan .