President to decide on estate gem mining
The controversy over intentions by regional plantations companies to start gem mining on estates is likely to be settled by President Chandrika Kumaratunga under whom comes the National Gem and Jewellery Authority (NGJA) which issues licences for gem mining.

Recent opposition to efforts by RPCs to do gem mining on estates is believed to stem from illicit gem miners and traders worried their business could get affected.

Members of Parliament, mainly from the Ratnapura district, recently spoke out in Parliament against moves to allow plantation firms to do gemming. Several RPCs with gem deposits on their land have been trying for years to see whether they could mine for gems as it appeared to be a grey area in the privatisation agreements.

These include those known to have gem-bearing lands, especially estates in the Ratnapura-Balangoda area, such as Kahawatte Plantations, Balangoda Plantations, Hapugastenne Plantations and Bogowantalawa Plantations.

Already, illicit miners are known to do gemming at night on some of these estates or have encroached on lands owned by RPCs, usually with political patronage.

"Some MPs are suspected to be involved in illicit gem mining," an industry official said. "There's a lot of illicit gemming going on on estate lands. Miners dig at night, take the gem bearing gravel in gunny bags and wash it elsewhere. That's why RPCs asked the government to give licences to do gemming."

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