ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09
Financial Times  

Critical review of the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB)

The transformation of this department to a semi autonomous body has severely affected the regulatory functions of the state and also carrying out basic fundamental research to the geology and applied geological sciences in Sri Lanka. However the Bureau has contributed to the state coffers significantly by way of royalties and other fees.

By Dulip Jayawardena

The Geological Survey and Mines Bureau was established under the Mines and Minerals Act, No 33 of 1992.

The main objective of this statutory body was to regulate the exploration for minerals, mining, transportation, processing, trading in and export of mineral products. The Act also provided under Part 1 the transfer to the Bureau the functions of the Geological Survey Department which was one of the oldest government establishments set up in the year 1903. The first Director who was at that time designated as the Principal Mineral Surveyor was Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy more recognized as a great anthropologist and an exponent of Indian and Sri Lankan arts and crafts. However he was basically a geologist who was awarded his D.Sc from the University of London on the research studies of the crystalline limestone in the Kandy region.

The transformation of this department to a semi autonomous body has severely affected the regulatory functions of the state and also carrying out basic fundamental research to the geology and applied geological sciences in Sri Lanka. However the Bureau has contributed to the state coffers significantly by way of royalties and other fees.

This revenue generation has surprisingly impeded on the effective regulation of all activities related to mineral resources development and retarded geological research. At present the GSMB is being blamed for not providing early warnings and advise on issues related to earth tremors, landslides soil erosion of riverbanks due to sand mining, subsidence etc

I have attempted in this article to compare the present functions of the GSMB and its predecessor the Geological Survey Department (GSD) and make some pertinent recommendations for the decision makers to implement.

The GSD, the predecessor to GSMB was reorganized in 1945 under the late L. J. D Fernando. The department was focusing its activities mainly on geological mapping, water resources investigations in the dry zone as well as ground water studies in the Jaffna Peninsula. Another major function was integrated mineral exploration including geophysical and geo chemical surveys. A major area of activity was also the foundation investigations that were undertaken by engineering geologists. Landslide investigations were also a major activity.

The department during 1945 to 1992 carried out all major activities related to the regional geological mapping of the island water supply investigations for all colonization schemes and industrial units.

It also carried out engineering geology investigations for major industrial units in the island with special emphasis on differential settlements.

In the field of mineral exploration the GSD was responsible for discovery of ceramic raw materials, iron ore deposits at Dela Noragolla at Ratnapura, Panirendawa in the Chilaw District as well as the first base metal find copper and iron at Seruwila .The Eppawela Phosphate deposit was discovered in 1972.

L. J. D. Fernando was Director of the GSD for over 25 years and during his period the state sector institutions such as Ceramics, Cement, Mineral Sands, Steel, etc were established mainly due to the pioneering efforts of the GSD. All the flow sheets for the Pulmoddai Plant were perfected at the GSD laboratories.

The GSD had a Mines Division headed by an Inspector of Mines.

This division had records of all surface and underground mines dating back to 1914.These records were available till the 1980s but have now been destroyed.

All these activities were carried out by GSD on an annual grant of Rs 6 million and a staff of 12 geologists, three mining engineers and four chemists.

It is pertinent to compare this technical staff and financial resources of GSMB of over Rs 300 million and the output of work!!!
The major problem the GSD faced was the absence of adequate space for its offices. The old buildings at Slave Island which were a hospital during World War II was inadequate to house all the equipment and laboratories.

The pilot mineral separation plant was housed at Katukurunda and all underground core samples were stored there.

In the early 1980’s the government acquired this facility for the training of the STF as it was adjoining the Police Training School. With this foolish decision the department lost all its drill cores from all parts of Sri Lanka that were invaluable for geologists doing research and also in reassessment of the discovered mineral deposits specially Phosphate and Copper deposits.

The other serious mistake made was to deprive the Director of the GSD from heading the GSMB and advertising the post. This destroyed the morale of the officials who opted not to retire and continue at GSMB. An outsider who had no administrative experience at all and had other aspirations filled the post of Director GSMB.

The downfall of the GSMB started from this point and continues to the present day except for a brief spell of about two years from 2001 – 2004.

During this period a number of irregularities were detected including the issuance of exploration permits to cover 15 per cent of Sri Lanka.

Most of these permits were issued to foreign companies and some are still under them without any activity at all.

One company from Australia has exploration permits covering vast tracts of land around Puttalam and south of Pulmoddai and it is revealed that the GSMB senior staff has been working as consultants. The involvement of the director on demarcation of continental margin is well known when this was no function of GSMB.

The GSMB was accused of issuing mining permits for sand mining on the recommendation of politicians. It is also recorded that some officials were even remanded on such irregular activities. The only panacea for prevention of such activity is to look at crushing and grinding quartzite rock found in abundance in the Polonnaruwa –Dambulla areas as a substitute

In order to rectify this situation the GSMB should be completely reorganized This is the first time in the history of geological surveys in the world that the Director is not a Geologist. In the GSD only a geologist could go up to the Directorate. All the problems that have now surfaced are due to this reason. The importance of training seismologists geophysists and geologists is more important than training mining engineers. I would like to query as to how many geologists are there in the GSMB Board? I would also like to query whether there are any consultants at GSMB and if so what are there functions?

I would also suggest the government look into the possibility of levying a duty on the export of minerals and the revenue realized used as a slush fund for environmental management.The GSMB revenue is placed in a fixed deposit although the treasury should have access to such funds.

These funds should be utilized to construct urgently the proposed building for the GSMB. Further the Central Environmental Authority should have access to the revenue of GSMB to carry out its functions in management of non renewable resources.

In conclusion I would request the government to appoint an independent commission of inquiry to probe the functioning of GSMB since 1992 to present and also prepare a Action plan for its reorganization.

Political patronage would only result in creating more chaos in this statutory body and will result in appointment of square pegs in round holes. Please leave the scientific community from political interference.

(The author is a former Director of Geological Survey Department and retired Economic Affairs Officer of United Nations/ESCAP).


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