MAC: Mines and Communities

A deadly deal, indeed!

Published by MAC on 2006-08-27

A deadly deal, indeed!

Aminul Islam

NewAge, August 27, 2006. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Not long ago the energy and mineral resources adviser, Mahmudur Rahman, termed the agreement with the Asia Energy for the Phulbari coalfield to be running 'against the interest of Bangladesh.'

It was proved on Saturday when law enforcers fired to kill five demonstrators who were laying siege the office of the company, protesting at its activities before going for the proposed open-pit mining.

The controversial agreement was initially signed with the Australian BHP during the previous BNP government in 1994.
The subsequent Awami League government signed the agreement with the Asia Energy in 1998 after the BHP handed over the licence for the field to the Asia Energy in 1997.
The controversy over the agreement has been raging for few months after the Asia Energy early this year submitted a scheme to the government for the development of the field and extraction of coal.
The company proposed to follow open-pit mining at the field that would result in displacing about 50,000 people at Phulbari and turn 5,000 hectare of cultivable land into coalfield.
The local people, however, began agitating against the company's move and experts also started questioning the agreement with the company that would allow the government only 6 per cent of royalty when it starts exporting coal.
Mahmudur Rahman on March 16 at meet-the-press said the previous two governments were responsible for the agreement, which was 'against the interest of the country'. He said 'those who signed the agreement should be tried.'
Mahmud told New Age on Saturday night the incident at Phulbari was very sad. Asked if the incident proved the agreement with the company was against the country, Mahmud passed over the responsibility for the agreement to the previous Awami League government. 'We did not sign it.
The Awami League government signed the agreement.'
He, however, blasted the national committee to protect oil, gas, power and port for organising the programme of siege at a time when the government suspended all activities regarding the Asia Energy.
'The government has not yet signed the mining agreement with the company. The government has not taken any steps to allow it to mine coal from the field. So why was there the programme of siege of the company office?' he said.
'The committee should not mobilise people to attack the office of a foreign investor. The committee has shown irresponsible attitude,' he said.
The people of the north, however, said the people at Phulbari joined the programme spontaneously as the entire northern people were angry at the presence of the company.
Ronnie, a business administration student at Stamford University in Dhaka, who is from Dinajpur, said, 'You cannot believe how people in the north feel about the company which wants to displace thousands of people.'
There will be more agitation programmes if the Asia Energy continues its activities in Dinajpur, he said.
'The situation will worsen if it is allowed coal production.'
Sajib, a second-year student of Rangpur Medical College, said, 'In Rangpur, everyone knows about the company. The Rangpur people feel the same way the people of Dinajpur feel.'
The Asia Energy chief executive officer, Gary Lye, however, claimed, 'It is most unfortunate that an unrepresentative outside group has come to Phulbari to cause trouble in our community.'
He said the company has been operating lawfully at Phulbari for several years in accordance with a 'legally binding contract' with the government.
'The company is confident that it has the overwhelming support of our community at Phulbari and the adjacent upazilas. We have achieved this by being open, helpful and supportive of many local causes,' he said.

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