MAC: Mines and Communities

Bangladesh suspends work on coal plant after demonstrators killed

Published by MAC on 2016-04-09
Source: BDNews 24, Reuters, Dhaka News

A Bangladeshi company has suspended work on a planned Chinese-backed coal-fired power plant after four demonstrators opposing its construction were killed earlier this week.

Those supporting local activists note that at least five people were killed, according to the families of the victims who are unable to speak to the media under threat from state forces. They stress that the protesters were non-violent, stressing that it was the police who attacked the protestors.

[With added update from 25 April noting that protests may recommence after protestors feel that initial promises have been broken]

Banshkhali locals vow to protect land

Anwar Hussain

6 April 2016

Chittagong - The residents of Gondomara union in Chittagong’s Banshkhali upazila have vowed to nip the coal-fired power plant project in the bud to protect their lands, the main source of their livelihood.

Tension remained in the area yesterday after at least four people were killed and at least 30 people, including 11 police members, were injured in a violent clash among two groups of villagers – one supporting the power plant project, the other rejecting it – and police over this construction of the power plant on Monday.

The Dhaka Tribune talked to a number of victims who sustained injuries in the clash, as well as the families of the deceased at Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH).

Bodi Ahmed, who lost two of his brothers and his son-in-law in the clash, said: “We will not allow the power plant in the area by any means as it will deal a severe blow to both our livelihood and our environment.”

Renu Akhter, wife of Abdul Khaleque who was shot in the clash, said: “My husband works in a salt field. We already live from hand to mouth. We will have nowhere to go if my husband loses his work.”

“We will die before we let this coal-fired power plant to be built here,” said Nurul Haque Shikdar, secretary of Gondamara Union Unnayan Sangram Parishad.

Hundreds of people assembled on Hadirpara and Rahmania Madrasa premises in Gondomara yesterday to protest the death of four villagers, chanting slogans against the power plant.

“We will continue our movement until the government scraps the project and brings the perpetrators to book,” said Liakat Ali who presided over the rally.

The Chittagong chapter of National Committee to Portect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports will bring out a protest procession in Chittagong city’s Cheragi Pahara area today.

“We will also organise a rally on Chittagong Press Club premises protesting the killing over the construction of this power plant,” said Hasan Maruf Rumi, coordinator of the committee in Chittagong.

Chhatra Oikkya Forum has announced a general strike in Banshkhali today in protest of the four deaths as well as demanding to move the power plant project from the area.

3 cases filed against 6,200 people

A total of three cases were filed against over 6,200 villagers in Gondamara union following the clash.

Of the three cases, family members of two of the victims who died in the clash filed two cases, while the other case was lodged by police for obstructing and launching an assault on police with Banshkhali police station.

Chittagong Additional Superintendent of Police (South) Md Habibur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune that Sub-Inspector Bahar Miah lodged a case against 57 identified and 3,200 unidentified people.

“We have also arrested three people who were involved with the clash,” he added.

Bashir Ahmed, elder brother of Anwar Ali, one of the victims, filed a case accusing six people as identified and 1,500 people as unidentified.

Monowara Begum, wife of Jaker Hossain, another victim, filed another case accusing 1,500 people as unidentified.

Chittagong district administration formed a committee to probe into the incident. Headed by Additional District Magistrate Mominur Rashid, the committee was asked to submit its report within seven working days.

Experts against the power plant

The coal-based power plant is not an environment-friendly option and should not be allowed to be set up, said Prof Dr Mohammad Danesh of Institute of Forestry and Environment Science in Chittagong University.

“The developed countries are no longer adopting any such coal-fired project since it is one of the major sources of air pollution,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Muhammad Edris Ali, associate professor in chemistry department at Government Mohsin College, said: “The use of coal for generating power has become almost outdated. The fly ash emitted from the coal-based power plant will casue many problems, such as respiratory diseases.

Banshkhali tense two days after death of four in clash over coal-fired power plant

Chittagong Bureau

7 April 2016
The situation at Gondamara union in Chittagong’s Banshkhali is yet to get normal two days into death of four people in police firing on villagers protesting against a coal-fired power plant.

Neither police nor someone from the administration visited the area on Wednesday.

The inhabitants of the village have continued demonstration against the power plant.

Wearing black badges, they gathered and shouted slogans against the station in a demonstration on Gondamara Government Primary School premises.

In Chittagong City, a group of teenagers, under the banner of ‘Aware Students of Banshkhali’ demonstrated in favour of the construction of the plant .

Several of them said they were not from Banshkhali.

Police have handcuffed two persons undergoing treatment at Chittagong Medical College Hospital for bullet injuries during the clashes on Monday.

They have been identified as Zahirul Islam and Abdul Khaleq.

Khaleq lost his two uncles – Mortuza Ali and Anwarul Islam - in the clashes. 

A forum of Banshkhali students in Chittagong had called a shutdown for Wednesday demanding judicial investigation into the incident.

But traffic at Banshkhali was normal throughout the day. No demonstration in support of the shutdown was seen either.

Four persons were killed and at least 19, including police personnel, were injured during clashes between police and people protesting against the power plant of S Alam Group at Barhaghona of Banshkhali’s Gondamara on Monday.

The families of the deceased persons have initiated two cases while police filed one against 6,000 people accusing them of attack and obstruction to duty.

Bangladesh suspends work on power plant after demonstrators killed

By Serajul Quadir


7 April 2016

DHAKA - A Bangladeshi company has suspended work on a planned Chinese-backed coal-fired power plant after four demonstrators opposing its construction were killed earlier this week, a senior company official said on Thursday.

Villagers for and against the power plant clashed on Monday before riot police fired their weapons after coming under attack. Three protesters died that day and a fourth died later in the hospital.

S Alam Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate responsible for building construction at the site, has halted the work because of safety concerns, said the official.

"The development work is suspended for now and hopefully the situation will be improved soon to start our work again," he said, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The $2.4-billion, 1,320-megawatt project in the coastal district of Chittagong would help Bangladesh end electricity shortages. The plant, located 265 km (165 miles) southeast of the capital Dhaka, is a major source of foreign investment into Bangladesh, and one of a series of plans Beijing is pushing to cultivate closer ties with Dhaka.

China's SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corp, which signed a deal to build the plant with S Alam on Monday, wants the government to intervene to end the violence before it restarts work, the S Alam official said.

"They wanted to know how many days will it take to settle the issue and how it will be solved," he said.

A leading protester told Reuters on Thursday that he had given the government a deadline of Friday to cancel the plant or opponents would continue their demonstrations.

"If necessary, the people will sacrifice their lives to save their forefathers home and land," Liakot Ali said.

The protesters say villagers around the project will lose their homes and it will disturb the graveyards of relatives as well as cause environmental damage.

The plant aims to produce electricity by 2019 but it might miss the target, Ajharul Islam, chief engineer of the state-run Bangladesh Power Development Board in Chittagong said.

S Alam project coordinator Bahadur Alam said 360 acres (146 hectares) of land has been purchased for the project. He said the site lies in an isolated area and accused protest leaders of provoking neighbouring communities after their demand for money was rejected.

Liakot Ali denied demanding any money from S Alam.

Bangladesh's government would provide assistance in moving the site of the plant if asked, Nasrul Hamid, a junior minister for power, energy and mineral resources, said Thursday.

Electricity "is a top priority sector," he said. (Reporting by Serajul Quadir; additional reporting by Nazimuddin Shyamol from Chittagong; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Christian Schmollinger)

Of deception and ‘development’

Anu Muhammad

9 April 2016

The Banshkhali coal plant project has already seen lives lost over its construction. Is it even worth it anymore?

No one wants development that is not carried out transparently 

The government has allowed fast-growing conglomerate S Alam Group to install a coal-based power plant in the coastal Gondamara Boroghona area of Chittagong’s Banshkhali, which is a locality of over 7,000 households and comprises arable land and salt and shrimp farms.

A Chinese company is associated with the project. In December 2013, S Alam Group struck an agreement with the SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corporation of China to set up the plant.

On February 16 of this year, the government signed power purchase agreements with two private joint ventures led by S Alam Group to purchase electricity at Tk6.61 per kilowatt-hour from the proposed 1,224MW power plant. The project needs 600 acres of land. The plant authorities say the Chinese company will manage 75% of the investment.

Even though all the preparations have already been completed, we did not hear that any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was done, whereas no such project can be accepted without an EIA. Because the impacts of a project and profit and loss are measured through such an assessment.

Actually, the project involved a number of irregularities and forceful land acquisition since the beginning. The local administration suggested land acquisition in favour of S Alam Group, claiming that there are only 150 households. But in reality, there are over 7,000 families, 70 mosques, graveyards, and cremation grounds, 20 shelters, around 20 educational institutions, five marketplaces, and a government hospital.

Allegations of irregularities and intimidation in procuring land are not new. Many of the locals alleged that they were not given a fair price. This is why the locals have been agitating for quite a long time against the location of the power plant, and its land procurement and acquisition process. But as a result, they were intimidated by hoodlums and brokers.

The locals had suggested that the government selects land outside the densely-populated areas and pay the prices directly to the owners instead of using brokers. A peace rally was held at Gondamara Bazar on March 23 in presence of the UNO, ASP, and OC, and attended by around 30,000 people of the area. They asked the government to exclude the crowded areas while implementing the power plant project.

Despite that, supporters of S Alam Group went to the area on April 2 and subsequently faced resistance from the villagers. A case was filed over the incident and police arrested seven locals on April 3.

Enraged at the arrests, locals announced a rally for April 4 under the banner of Basat-Bhita Rokkha Committee (Homestead and Graveyard Protection Committee). To foil the rally, S Alam Group supporters called a counter rally at the same time, prompting the local administration to announce Section 144 (ban on public gathering).

The anti-plant protesters gathered at Gondamara for the rally but these unarmed people came under gunfire, first by the police and later by some criminals who arrived on motorcycles.

Five people, including a woman, were killed, while scores of others were left injured. The attackers even obstructed the people from taking the injured to the hospital. It is anticipated that the number of deaths could go up. It is the government and S Alam Group which have to shoulder responsibility for the casualties.

Now the question is: If it is indeed all for “development,” why do you impose your decision without conducting any EIA? What is the problem in taking the locals’ opinions into consideration? Why is the government afraid of the people’s resistance? Why is the media pressured to not publish news items on this matter? Why do not they speak openly?

No! No one will be able to protest, no rally-processions would be allowed. Criminals and police would be let loose on the protesters!

It has become a common scenario wherever there are development projects being carried out, because the government certainly knows that these projects are meant for plundering money and grabbing land under the guise of development. We saw the same thing in Phulbari, in Rampal, Rooppur, and Matarbari.

Meanwhile, the influential pro-power plant quarters have forced or convinced some media outlets to not tell the people the true stories of the Banshkhali resistance, and the arguments and the related information regarding the project. This is why the recent events of demonstrations in Banshkhali were not covered by the media.

Tension and resistance will be certainties if a so-called development projects like this are implemented forcefully and through fraudulent activities and corruption.

People will not accept any project that goes against the locals’ interests or may harm the national interests or is taken up without maintaining transparency. How long can intimidation suppress public opinion

This article was translated by Probir Bidhan.

Banshkhali protesters to resume protest

Anwar Hussain

25 April 2016

Chittagong - After a 15-day hiatus, residents of Gondamara union in Chittagong’s Banshkhali upazila are resuming their protest against the coal-fired power plant project in their area.

The protesters, gathered under the banner of “Committee to Protect Homestead and Graveyard,” made the announcement during a press conference at Gondamara Rahmania Madrasa yesterday.

“We will hold a protest rally on April 26 on Hadipara Primary School premises to voice our demand to scrap the project,” said Liakat Ali, convener of the committee. “We will announce tougher movement if the project is not cancelled.”

Liakat also vowed to wage a movement against coal-based power plant with National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports after May 15.

“Banshkhali residents are ready to resist the move to construct the power plant at any cost. The proposed power plant will deal a severe blow to our environment,” he said.

“We halted our protest on April 9 because Abdullah Kabir Liton, a local Awami League leader, assured us at a public meeting in Gondamara that he would take some positive steps in this regard within 15 days,” Liakat said at the press conference.

“He assured us that a team of experts would visit the site of the proposed power plant within 15 days and make an assessment on possible impacts of the project on the environment. He also said all cases filed against the villagers would be withdrawn and the government would ensure punishment for those who were involved in the shooting. But none of his commitments have been met yet.”

Four villagers were killed and dozens were shot when police allegedly opened fire on them during a protest rally against the coal-fired power plant in Gondamara on April 4.


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