DIFFICULTIES AND REWARDS OF RUBY MINING IN MOGOK
U BA Htay started mining for rubies 40 years ago and now runs 30 Jay pin twin ( square mining pits with wood supports) and one mine that he explores using heavy machinery.
The ruby production of his mines for this year is still unconfirmed as the gravel that was extracted has not yet been washed.
Pointing to the packages of the gravel in front of his house, he said, “Only after washing the gravel will I know how many rubies have been found.”
U Ba Htay said that ruby production will increase only if new mining areas are exploited.
“The current ruby mining areas are rather exhausted, as we have been digging them for severa! years,” he said.
Because of this, mining in the Mogok area has become increasingly difficult.
“The ruby mines are getting deeper and deeper, so now we must use 20 men for the work that formerly 10 men could do,” said Dr U Kyaw Khine, the director of the Kyaw Win Tun Gem Company.
One difficulty faced by mine owners is the fact that leases must be extended every three years, forcing them to compete with other companies to retain their operations or get the areas they want. Some who have spent years developing mines suddenly find that they cannot afford the new bidding price and are forced to drop out of the business.
U Ba Htay described the situation: “When we start a new mine everything is rough. If it is remote we must build a paved road and other facilities to ease access. After investing three years of hard work, just when we are about enjoy the fruits of our labour, the lease expires and people with huge amounts of money are waiting to outbid us and take over.”
He said that the bidding prices should be negotiated with the current owner, so that they can get back what they invested.
In response to the rarity of local owners of ruby mines, officials announced plans to issue permits for about 60 plots open daily to Mogok inhabitants who wish to start small operations. The fee will be about K500,000 a permit, U Ea Htay said.
He hoped the program would facilitate a boom in Mogok’s ruby industry.
Dr U Kyaw Khaing said thai the production of rubies from Mogok has decreased during the past six or seven years.
With support from the government miners would be able to increase production again but would never be able to achieve the levels of the golden days of Mogok mining seven years ago, he said.
But he added that the use of explosives to extract rubies from metamorphic gestone has already helped raise production.
Permit holders must pay a 20 per cent tax to the government and are allowed to sell rubies on the local market, but not in border areas or to foreign markets.
“Most of my stones are sold in Mogok. We ‘need money to continue mining, so it is better to sell them locally;” Dr Kyaw Khine said.
He said that running a ruby mine was costly. Among the expenses are workers’ wages, food, healthcare and heavy machinery.
He said that it was essential to have native ruby mine experts on hand to oversee operations, “Without them, the process would not go as smoothly,” he said.