BANGLA NAGAR: August 26 2006Published by MAC on 2006-08-26
BANGLA NAGAR: August 26 2006
28th August 2006
Shocking news came out of Bangladesh last weekend, with the announcement that up to seven people, including a 14-year old boy, were shot dead and perhaps a hundred injured last Saturday (August 26) as they called for the abandonment of a proposed UK-owned coal mine at Phulbari in Dinajpur province. The killings are being attributed to the state paramilitary force, the Bangladesh Rifles. In the three days since, incensed local people are reported to have taken over Phulbari town, forcing the company to close its offices. More actions against the project are planned elsewhere in Bangladesh over the coming weeks. Blame for the violence continues to be traded between many parties in the country but Asia Energy's project leader, Gary Lye, has surely taken the biscuit for hypocrisy. Flatly condemning the demonstrators for triggering the shootings, he expressed his "deepest condolence" to the people who “had lost their children” since they would not be around to enjoy the "benefits"’ of this "wonderful project", adding: "And that is a real tragedy".
In an disturbing echo of justifications made by the Orissa authorities in India, following India's Kalinganagar massacre last January [see: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press858.htm], the Bangladesh Rifles maintain that the violence at Phulbari was initiated by the demonstrators, some of whom (probably local Indigenous Santals) were "armed with bows and arrows." The company has blamed the initiation of the violence on "outsiders": mirroring an identical accusation offered up by government of Orissa, soon after thirteen people were mown down by police at the Tata steel plant site on January 2nd. The allegation was soon disproved.
As director of Nostromo Research, I traveled to the Asia Energy (AEC, listed on London AIM) project site during April, spending two and a half days in Phulbari and meeting with five communities - two of which were Santal) - in the main lease area. (At least 9% of residents of the area are Indigenous). I was told by three of these groups that the company - despite its claims - had paid only a few visits to assess villagers' opinions of the project and had offered them small gifts (which they refused) - something which struck me as tantamount to bribery. Only one community - a Christian mission station - seemed diffident about expressing opposition to the mine.
I was also asked to address a two hour meeting in Phulbari with some thirty representatives of the protection (dacha) committee of Phulbari and answer their numerous questions which I attempted to do, base on several field experiences of coal mines in India and Indonesia. I can attest that the allegation (cited below) by the UK project director, Gary Lye, is at the least misguided and, in one respect, mendacious. Those agitating for the abandonment of this vast and potentially hugely devastating open-pit mine (it would be the biggest Bangladesh has ever confronted) are predominantly local citizens, representing a large body of opinion. They come from almost all political parties, including the ruling BNP. If they are not united it is in one respect only: some are prepared to endorse an underground mine along the lines of the Araucaria coal mine which currently operates on the fringes of Phulbari town.
Giving the Lye
Together with a Dhaka-based journalist and two residents on the third day of my trip I attended the Asia Energy "information office" at Phulbari - - actually little more than a hastily-converted shop with a small back room. We inspected the visitor’s book which, the company says, shows that eighty per cent of townspeople support the project. In fact, the majority of names in the book were those of people from outside Phulbari, or whose signatures could not be verified.
So much for Mr. Lye's reported assertion that "an unrepresentative outside group has come to Phulbari to cause trouble in our community". If anyone is unrepresentative, it is the company operated by Mr. Lye, his associates and its backers within the BNP government (as well as some from outside, such as the Did - see below). For Lye to dismiss the strength of Sunday's protest on the grounds that some participants came from outside the immediate town should be transparently untenable. As one demonstrator told the New Age newspaper on Saturday night: "'You cannot believe how people in the north feel about the company which wants to displace thousands of people."
Last weekend's demonstration was not an upstart, ill-conceived and politically-motivated manifestation by a small group of agitators, but the culmination of a democratically-organised campaign which has been mounting over the past two years. Opposition to the Asia Energy mine is backed by a raft of prominent and knowledgeable Bangaldeshi citizens [see postings on the MAC site from 2005]. The fact that a reported 20,000 people could turn out to back the protection committee is hardly surprising, considering that a government decision to back the project looked earlier this month to be imminent (Bangladesh government environmental clearance was given in September 2006).
The roles of DfID and ADB
It is well known in Bangladesh - and among some NGOs and industry "watchers" outside the country - that the UK's department for international development (DfID) has backed Asia Energy from the outset, projecting the Phulbari mine as an essential means by which the country can bridge its "energy gap". due to a dearth of natural gas. This is despite the signal fact that, on the company's own projections, of the 15 million tonnes of coal a year which the mine will be delivered at full output, more than half (8 million tonnes) will be sent out of the country. [Environmental Assessment Report: Summary EIA, submitted by Asia Energy Corp (Bangladesh) Pty Ltd to the Asian Development Bank, project No. 39933, August 2006 ( hereinafter known as "EAR 8/2006"), paragraph 7 and para. 198 page 41].
While in Dhaka I was informed by highly reliable sources that the DfID had applied exceptional pressure (it struck me as nothing less than a threat) on a leading Bangladesh-based development NGO, to modify, if not abandon, its opposition to the Phulbari mine or jeopardise its UK-government funding.
The World Bank has so far refrained from investing in the mine (no doubt keenly aware of the disastrous failures of backing for Coal India in the 1990s). However, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is already committed to partial funding of a "railway component" to speed the export of much of Phulbari's output to international markets - despite the company's own admission that "only a basic EIA [on the export proposal] has been carried out [to date]" [EAR 8/2006, page 34].
No safe port in a storm?
The company's recently-released project Environmental Assessment Report [EAR 8/2006], aimed at the ADB, outlines modalities of the mine and proposed implementation standards. However it concentrates on trying to evaluate the impacts of transporting coal from Phulbari to the point of export at a terminal in Khulna port, 330 km south of the minesite. The Report concludes that:
* 3,200 people "will be removed from Khulna port area" [EAR 8/2006: para. 188, page 46] This is in addition to the 40,000 villagers the company acknowledges will have to be shifted from the mine project area itself.
* Barges will carry the coal from Khulna, a distance of 107 km to Akram point. [EAR 8/2006: para.135 page 36].
(It should be noted that, while the company states that it will employ a range of safety measures and adopt best international standards in operating these barges, the EAR does not address "sudden disaster" events, such as a mid-river accident or collision resulting in loss of most or all of the cargo. According to US data on collisions affecting inland coal barge transportation, safety standards have not measurably improved over the last decade. [See: www.mainland.cctt.org/istf2006/accidents.asp] ).
* The offloading facility will be situated in a deep-water anchorage at Akram Point which, acknowledges Asia Energy, is "within the Sundarbans". This is not only a World Heritage site, but the "world's largest marine area" - and (adds the company somewhat gratuitously) "is very sensitive. " Somewhat contradictorily the company claims that "the deep water anchorage at Akram Point will be at least 1.3km [[!] from the nearest shoreline which itself is 16 km north of the Sundarbans World Heritage site" while shipping channels "...will pass at least 1.5 km from these protected areas." [EAR 8/2006: page 15].
(NB. Indian legislation states that no industrial facility should be sited less than 25km from a marine site of biological significance).
Focus on India
Integral to exportation of product from Phulbari is an upgrading of the rail link to India. The EAR states that "as many (sic) as eleven trains a day will transport coal from Phulbari...to domestic markets throughout Bangladesh, Indian markets via Darsam and international markets...via Khulna" [EAR 8/2006, para.117 page 34].
This places the project firmly within a major debate , currently ensuing in India, over the first use of the country's own mineral resources, as against permitting increased substitution by imports or allowing. A grandiose US$ 3 billion-plus scheme by India's largest private company, Tata, to construct steel foundries within Bangladesh, while gaining control of the country's energy reserves (including coal )has currently been suspended by the Bangladesh government. Although Tata says it is interested in construction of another coal mine at Barapukuria, it would be naive to assume that Tata has not also got its eyes on Phulbari with its huge, 572 million tonnes, deposits (according to Asia Energy)of high quality bituminous thermal and semi-soft coking coal.
On Monday (August 28 2006) a Tata spokesperson claimed the company was digesting lessons from the weekend's killings. What he did not point out was that it was his company's proposed steel plant in Orissa that prompted the protests that led to the Kalinganagar massacre last January.
We shall not be moved!
At this point, I am not offering a detailed critique of the EAR which the ADB - and no doubt DfID and potential project funders - will be mulling over in the coming weeks. However, it is worth taking Asia Energy at its words (or lack of them) in respect of two major consequences should the Phulbari coal mine be allowed to proceed:
* The company (as pointed out) estimates that some 40,000 people will be "relocated" to make way for the mine. In fact, the number is likely to be much greater (other estimates in Bangladesh have ranged between 100,000 and 400,000) as the excavation proceeds, albeit with promised backfilling and site reclamation/revegetation. "[A]t any one stage", according to the EAR, the mine will occupy some 2,189 hectares [EAR: 8/2006, page 15]
Such major dislocation is supposedly offset by an estimated "0.7% - 1%" increase in Bangladesh's GDP, and the promise of "more than 20,000 new and indirect jobs" [EAR page 14]. However, the mine itself will only employ "1,200 to 2,100" full-time workers [EAR 8/2006, para 276], while the company "allow[s] for a multiple for 10 additional jobs for every direct job"[EAR 8/2006, para.268]: an allowance which is not based on any firmly researched evidence. Also highly speculative is Asia Energy's claim that, since "more than 80% of agricultural land will be restored", the net loss of productive land is "only [sic] USD57 million" [EAR 8/2006 para. 276] .
It is obvious that the company is deliberately under-estimating, or even ignoring altogether, the loss of productive capacity in the short-term.
In a moment of rare candidness, Asia Energy agrees with opponents that "a significant reduction in land acquisition and population displacement is not possible [my emphasis] without compromising the economic and technical viability of the project" [EAR 8/2006, page 33].
* Apart from land and income loss, the many people I interviewed in April at or close to the project area were most concerned about potential impacts on water supplies: their availability, quality and the prospect of flooding. While Asia Energy claims it will institute a number of de-watering and water treatment controls, its' discussion of these critical aspects is speculative and based on hydrological/climactic projections which it does not convincingly anticipate [EAR 8/2006 pages 28-29] .
In regard to potential flooding, Asia Energy claims that "[t]he mine and the Phulbari town-ship will be protected against even the most extreme flooding by embankments constructed of material from the mine overburden. " At the same time, i t concedes that the mine de-watering systems, to be initially be installed as a "ring of dewatering bores around the box cut footprint "will have "potential impacts on local hydrology. Dewatering activities will cause groundwater drawdown of approximately 25 m [sic] at a distance of 4 km from the mine pit, and 15 m at a distance of 6 km."
Says the company: “This may result in reduced groundwater availability to the local farming community. However, various mitigation procedures, including injection of water back into the aquifer and a reticulated water supply for irrigation and for affected townships and villages, will ensure that the Project in reality will have a positive effect on the surrounding area. Clean water from the dewatering bores will not require treatment before being released to watercourses and/or directed to irrigation systems, aquifer injection systems, the regional water supply, and the construction camp. Surface-water runoff from rain falling on areas disturbed by the mine will be directed to retention and/or sedimentation ponds. " [EAR 8/2006 page 299].
For comparison it may be pointed out that one of India's largest mines (Neyveli), which has been producing since the country's independence, has experienced considerable problems of pit flooding and water draw-down that are still not being adequately addressed after sixty years of mine operation, while one of India's newer coal mines, at Asansol in West Bengal (not far from Phulbari) exhibits similar problems as the underground aquifers are exposed. And, while Neyveli's annual production is "only" 6.5 million tonnes/year, the projected output from Phulbari, at the height of its operations, will reach more than double this.
At the very least, development agencies, such as the ADB and DfID, should withdraw any further support for this project and call for an immediate moratorium until a fully independent EIA has been performed (adhering at its minimum to the World Bank/IFC's policy and performance standards on social and environmental sustainability and the IFC's disclosure policy). Apart from any other considerations, Asia Energy is a company whose leadership is dubious (see: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press1101.htm) and which has no pre-existing operational record. It is unacceptable that such a company should be admitted to control of such a massive and potentially damaging undertaking - where the World Bank itself has so far feared to tread. From now on, any permitting process must be informed by far more comprehensive social, human rights, environmental (including regional hydrological and climate studies) than have so far been performed - along with a full range of public hearings (not only in Phulbari but along the coal export route). There must be done without any intimidation, or whiff of corruption, as has already been alleged.
But, in the final event, it is the people of Phulbari who will carry the greatest burden if this mine (and indeed Tata's coal project in the same area) proceeds. They have already made their wishes known, and last weekend these were written literally in blood). If Asia Energy's mine proceeds it will not only bring further conflict to northwestern Bangladesh but enormous social repercussions will be felt elsewhere in Bangladesh and across the Indian border.
Roger Moody, Nostromo Research, London, August 28 2006
Five killed, 50 hurt as police fire on protesters: Cops go berserk as 20,000 demonstrators protest against open-pit mining at Phulbari
Staff Correspondent, NewAge
27th August 2006
Dhaka, Bangladesh, www.newagebd.co
At least five people were killed and more than 50 injured when the police and the paramilitary BDR opened fire on demonstrators protesting against the plan for open-pit mining at Phulbari coal field in Dinajpur on Saturday, according to police and witnesses.
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Saturday lays siege to the Asia Energy office at Phulbari in Dinajpur, left, law enforcers go for action on the committee activists, right.
The demonstrators under the banner of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, laid a siege to the office of Asia Energy, a UK-based multi- national company which signed a deal with the government for mining coal, at Phulbari, 271 kilometre north-west of capital Dhaka, in the afternoon.
Witnesses said the lawmen opened fire on the 20,000-strong demonstrators when they started hurling stones at the police force after being intercepted. The indiscriminate firing left one person dead on the spot and scores of others injured.
Four protesters died in Dinajpur Medical College Hospital.
Locals alleged that the paramilitary BDR personnel, who were also deployed to maintain order, took away two bodies.
They confirmed identities of four deceased -Tariqul, 22, Khairul, 10, Ahsan Habib, 25, Chunnu, 28 -while the name of a Rajshahi University student could not be known.
The police and the BDR fired at least 70 gunshots and lobbed 100 tear gas canisters to disperse the angry demonstrators who fought pitched battles with the law enforcers for several hours.
A number of police personnel were also injured in the clash.
A local committee styled 'Phulbari Rakksha Committee' called a dawn-to-dusk shutdown in Phulbari for today to protest against the killings.
The police and locals said several thousand people gathered in front of the GM College ground to join a scheduled protest programme organised by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Port to lay a siege to Asia Energy's Phulbari coal mine project site in Dinajpur.
The committee's programme was to register protest against an open-pit method of mining at the Phulbari coalfield leased to Asian Energy. Such mining could pose a serious threat to the environment and livelihoods of the local people.
At one stage the demonstrators, led by Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah, convener of the committee, Professor Anu Muhammad, its member secretary, Bimal Biwas, general secretary of the Workers Party, Tipu Biswas of the Jatiya Gana Front, and Mosaddek Hossain Labu, co-ordinator of the Dinajpur district committee, marched towards the coal mine site.
As soon as the protesters neared Urbashi cinema the police and the BDR swung into action charging batons indiscriminately to disperse the agitators. The angry demonstrators retaliated by hurling stones at the law enforcers triggering the clash. The police fired at least 100 rounds of tear gas shells on the protesters.
As the whole area turned into a virtual battlefield and the situation deteriorated the police and members of the Bangladesh Rifles fired on the demonstrators, leaving five people killed on the spot and more than 50 others injured.
Nayeem Ahmed, the DIG of Rajshahi division, told New Age that the situation was under control and huge contingents of the police, the armed police, the BDR and members of the RAB were deployed in the area to avoid further troubles.
'I cannot say how many people were killed. Police said three persons were killed, but the media claimed that more than five were killed,' Nayeem added.
Anu Muhammad, the member-secretary of the National Committee and a professor of Jahangirnagar University, who was one of the organisers of the protest programme at Phulbari, told New Age on Sunday evening that the police and the BDR fired on a peaceful demonstration of the National Committee. 'I cannot give the exact number of the dead or injured, but the casualties were high,' he said. He demanded exemplary punishment of the killers.
The Workers Party general secretary, Bimal Biswas, who also took part at the Phulbari protest rally, told New Age that the police and the BDR opened fire without provocation.
Mohammad Khurshid Alam Moti, the principal of Phulbari Women's College, told New Age, 'we condemn such barbarous attack on peaceful demonstrators.'
Tension was prevailing in the area and huge contingents of the police, the armed police, the BDR and the RAB were deployed.
People defy ban, agitate at Phulbari: Law enforcers conduct house-to-house search, hartal observed
Staff Correspondent, NewAge
28th August 2006
Phulbari and surroundings are simmering with tension following the death of five people in police firing on a protest demonstration against a coal mine project which locals fear would displace the farmers and threaten the environment.
The first day of the indefinite hartal [strike] enforced by the people of Phulbari passed off on Sunday amid mounting tension while a half-day hartal was observed peacefully in Dinajpur town. The local administration has slapped a ban on gatherings in Phulbari.
The government has formed a committee to probe the bloody incident. The state minister for home affairs, Lutfozzaman Babar, told reporters that the deputy commissioner of Dinajpur, Tahsinur Rahman, had been directed to investigate the incident.
Besides, he said, he had requested the energy adviser, Mahmudur Rahman, to find out why the people had turned ‘violent’ in Phulbari.
During the strike on Sunday, several hundred people took to the streets at Phulbari defying the restrictions on gatherings and staged agitation all day.
They shouted slogans condemning the unprovoked firing by the police and the paramilitary BDR on demonstrators.
The demonstrators vowed to continue their movement until the Asia Energy, a British multinational company with which the government signed a mining agreement, was ousted from the country.
The protesters blocked the main roads with stones, bricks, logs and electric poles. At about 9:00am, the BDR personnel charged batons on a procession in the Phulbari municipal area.
They also snatched cameras from two photojournalists and returned those after the on-duty magistrate, Sudipta Roy removed the rolls of film, witnesses said.
The demonstrators and the law enforcers also chased each other at different places including Sujapur Road, TT Mor, Dhaka Mor and Gouripur Road.
During the hartal, all shops, even the kitchen markets, offices and educational institutions remained closed. There was no traffic on roads snapping the tiny northern town from the rest of the country.
Earlier, the law enforcers conducted a house-to-house search on Saturday night forcing the residents to stay indoors putting out lights.
The locals alleged that the law enforcers had tortured innocent people during the overnight raids. The law enforcers also looted sweetmeat and cigarette shops, they alleged.
The Phulbari upazila nirbahi officer, Hasan Sarwar, told the media that the activities of Asia Energy would be stopped if the people did not want it.
‘Nothing will be done here against the people’s will,’ he said.
The deputy commissioner of Dinajpur, Tahsinur Rahman, admitted that five people had been killed in Saturday’s incident. However, the police superintendent, Delwar Hossain Miah, denied the law enforcers had opened fire. He claimed that the police lobbed tear gas shells and fired rubber bullets.
The Phulbari unit convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, Syed Saiful Islam Jewel, alleged that the law enforcers had opened fire on demonstrators without provocation on Saturday.
He demanded an inquiry into Saturday’s police firing and suspension of the activities of Asia Energy. ‘We’ll continue movement until the persons responsible for Saturday’s incident are punished,’ he said.
The Phulbari municipality chairman, Shahjahan Ali Sarkar Putu, demanded compensation for the dead and injured in Saturday’s incident.
The bodies of the victims were not handed over to their relatives. Three of the bodies were lying at Dinajpur Medical College Hospital morgue while the rest two at the Rangpur Medical College Hospital morgue till the evening.
At least five people were killed and more than 50 injured when the police and the paramilitary BDR opened fire on demonstrators protesting against the plan for open-pit mining at Phulbari coalfield in Dinajpur on Saturday.
Phulbari Coalmine Killing: Thousands defy ban, stage protest
28th August 2006
Thousands of locals took to the streets in Phulbari yesterday violating section 144 during a daylong shutdown protesting Saturday's police firing on demonstrators against an open-pit coal mine project that left seven killed and around 300 injured. The agitators vowed to continue their ongoing indefinite strike until Asia Energy (Bangladesh) Pvt Ltd, the British company operating the Phulbari coalmine project, leaves the town.
Hundreds of members of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and police swooped on the demonstrators since morning. Over ten thousand people participated in a namaz-e-janaza of the deceased at Nimtali crossing in Phulbari at 5:30pm.
Shops, offices and schools remained closed during the hartal while communication from Phulbari to nearby Birampur, Nawabganj, Hakimpur and Ghoraghat upazilas has remained snapped since Saturday.
The protesters organised a protest rally at about 8:00am.
The law enforcers obstructed the rally at different places. The BDR and police dispersed the agitators whenever they tired to regroup and join the rally.
An agitator claimed that the BDR men also attacked their houses on Friday and looted valuables. The demonstrators set fire to tyres in front of a hotel at noontime and threw brickbats at the police. Additional BDR and police forces have been deployed in the area to contain further violence. Meanwhile, Shahjahan Ali Sarkar Putu, Phulbari Pourasabha chairman and convenor of Phulbari Protection Committee, said they had no involvement in Saturday's programme.
He said he had lodged a general diary (GD) with the Phulbari Police Station on August 2 saying the Phulbari Protection Committee will not be responsible for any untoward incident during the programme.
Phulbari Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Hasan Sarwar said what happened on Saturday was totally beyond their control. The BDR fired 70 rounds while the police shot 30, he said.
Syed Saiful Islam Jewel, Phulbari unit convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources and Electricity-Port, severely condemned Saturday's incident and said the administration opened fire on the common people to protect the interest of the looters.
However, the police superintendent of Phulbari told him that the police did not shoot. Meantime, leaders of the committee demanded judicial inquiry into the matter and punitive measures against the responsible. They also demanded compensation to the families of Saturday's victims.
The hartal in Phulbari will continue until stoppage of all activities of Asia Energy and its removal, Saiful said. Claiming that at least 10 were killed in Saturday's shootout, he alleged that the BDR dumped the rest of the dead bodies.
"The police have prevented the people of Phulbari from seeing the dead bodies of their relatives. They are also not saying clearly if the dead bodies will be returned," he said.
Our correspondent in Dinajpur adds: Two more of the seven killed were identified yesterday: they are Amin, 14, son of Abdul Hamid of Barokona village, and Salekin, 24, son of Abdul Hashem of Jharapara village of Nawabganj upazila.
The identity of another deceased could not be known as of 9:30pm yesterday. At least seven to eight people of Janpara, Barokona and Jholapara, including SSC candidate Ekramul, son of Mokbul Hossain, have been missing since Saturday.
Meanwhile, the BDR raided and ransacked several houses in Jholapara, Dhanapara and Sajalpukur on August 26 night. They even assaulted some women, sources alleged.
The designated magistrate snatched the film of a local photojournalist when the latter tried to take his snaps in Nimtali area. Sources said the BDR asked for the approval from the Phulbari UNO for shooting. The UNO, however, denied it.
Mahmud, Oil Gas Committee trade barbs
Staff Correspondent, NewAge
28th August 2006
he energy and mineral resources adviser, Mahmudur Rahman, and Asia Energy on Sunday came up with almost identical conclusions blaming the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port for the bloody incidents at Phulbari.
The company chief executive officer, Gary Lye, who met Mahmud at his office, also thanked the authorities for ‘protecting’ the company personnel at Phulbari (by taking actions against demonstrators which left at least five persons killed).
The committee, however, said that the government including Mahmud was the ‘patron’ of the company and the government and the Asia Energy were solely responsible for Saturday’ tragic incident when law enforcers opened fire on ‘peaceful demonstrators.’
Mahmud told reporters that the leftists as well as the committee were trying to get political benefit by making the people of Phulbari ‘guinea pigs’.
‘They [the committee] are responsible for Saturday’s tragic incident. They instigated the violence, which was unnecessary as the government has not yet taken any decision to allow the company to go for mining,’ he said.
‘It is up to the authorities to determine exactly what happened, but I would say that the unforgivable events and the needless loss of lives and sufferings that took place yesterday in Phulbari were entirely the fault of the organisers [the committee],’ Gary said in a statement.
The committee member-secretary, Professor Anu Mohammad said, ‘Mahmud was trying to shift the blame for the killings on the committee. It is natural that when criminals commit crime they try to shift the blame on the innocent and sufferers,’ he said.
‘People are not so foolish that we can make them guinea pigs. They are well aware of their rights and thousands of locals joined the demonstration spontaneously as they knew that the company would harm them, that the (coal mine) project was a threat to their livelihoods,’ he told New Age.
‘We thank the authorities for protecting our personnel… I have got 40 people and their families living out there at the moment and I am concerned about their security. The situation is also intimidating for them and it’s not fair,’ Gary Lye said in his statement.
He also expressed his ‘deepest condolence’ to the people who lost their children, who are not going to be around to enjoy the ‘benefits’ of this ‘wonderful project’. ‘And that is a real a tragedy’ he added.
When asked whether the police firing on demonstrators was necessary, Mahmud told reporters that the district administration could say better and that the home ministry would handle things emerging out of the tragedy.
The future of the coal mine project and Asia Energy would not be determined by the tragedy but by the law, the coal policy and national interest, Mahmud declared.
‘Rejection of the Asia Energy agreement must be avoided. If we reject it the question of compensation might arise,’ he added.
Anu said that the energy adviser himself termed the agreement ‘against the interest of the country’ a few months back. ‘We want this anti-state agreement scrapped. Yes we want to gain something and it is for the interest of the country,’ he said.
Australian High Commissioner, Douglas Foskett, meanwhile, met Mahmud on Sunday and expressed grave concern over the security of Australian nationals, working at Phulabari coalfield.
Countrywide daylong hartal Wednesday
Staff Correspondent, NewAge
28th August 2006
The opposition combine led by the Awami League and the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Sunday announced separate programmes including a nationwide dawn-to-dusk hartal on August 30 protesting at Saturday’s killing at Phulbari.
The combine decided on the programme of hartal at a meeting at the Awami League chief’s Dhanmondi office in the afternoon where the leaders reviewed the situation at Phulbari where five people were killed, and other political situation.
‘We condemn the attack on the people which was nothing but the continuation of repression by the BNP-led alliance government,’ said the Awami League chief, Sheikh Hasina, after the meeting.
The opposition alliance will observe ‘protest day’ on September 7. Sunday’s meeting also decided to send teams of the alliance and a parliamentary delegation of the Awami League to Phulbari on Tuesday.
A rally will be held on September 18 as part of the alliance’s ongoing movement against the government. Sheikh Hasina later had an exclusive meeting with the Gana Forum president, Dr Kamal Hossain, in the Awami League office.
The two leaders discussed the latest political situations and Kamal gave his opinion on dialogue with the government and reform proposals of the opposition, the meeting source said.
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port also called a half-day countrywide hartal for the same day to protest at the killings and demanding scrapping of the Phulbari coal project and expulsion of the Asia Energy.
The committee announced the programmes at a briefing in the Communist Party office in Dhaka. The committee also planned to observe mourning day today and to hold a rally at the Central Shahid Minar at 5:00pm. The committee will observe ‘demonstration day’ on Tuesday.
The opposition-leaning student organisations have called a strike in all educational institutions for today. The Dhaka University has suspended all the examinations scheduled for the day.
Political parties, student organisations, and cultural and green groups on Sunday came down heavily on the government for killing five people and injuring scores who were protesting against at open-pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur.
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port held a rally at Muktangan. The committee convener, Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah, said the multinational company Asia Energy was trying to plunder national property with the help of the alliance government.
‘If coal is mined through open-pit method, thousands of people will lose their homesteads,’ Anu Muhammd, the member secretary of the committee said at the rally. The opposition combine held went out on demonstration across the country and held a rally on Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka.
The combine coordinator, Awami League general secretary, Abdul Jalil, said the people had no security of their lives.
Awami League presidium member Amir Hossain Amu said the alliance government wanted to snatch away people’s rights.
Chaired by the Dhaka city combine coordinator Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, the rally was also addressed by Awami League presidium member Matia Chowdhury, Workers Party politburo member Fazle Hossain Badsha, central leader Quamrul Ahsan and Samyabadi Dal leader Harun Chowdhury.
The Bikalpadhara Bangladesh president, AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury, in a statement demanded judicial investigation of the killing. Badruddoza said a perfect analysis of the people’s demand incorporating politicians, economists, geologists and entrepreneurs is required to solve the crisis over coal mining in the region.
The Ganamukti O Jatiya Sampad Rakkha Jatiya Committee, Communist Party of Bangla- desh, Workers Party and Ganasanghati Andolan held rallies at Muktangan.
The Progressive Students’ Alliance, a group of eight left-leaning student bodies, brought out a procession at Dhaka University, denouncing the killing and demanding immediate cancellation of the agreement with the Asia Energy.
Green groups such as Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan, Green Voice, and Green Force, condemned the killing.
The top executives of seven non-governmental organisations in a statement demanded an immediate end to coal mining by the Asia Energy.
The statement said the government made the agreements without taking into consideration people’s view. Sultana Kamal Shamsul Huda, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Taslimur Rahman, Mahfuzullah, Maheen Sultana and Khushi Kabir signed the statement.
The rights watchdog, Odikar, Bangladesh Farm Workers’ Association, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Garments Sramik O Shilpa Rakkha Jatiya Mancha, Bangladesh Juba Moitri, Jatiya Sramik Federation Bangladesh, Bangladesh Chhatra Moitri, Bangladesh Chhatra Union, and Bangladesh Chhatra Federation also condemned the killing.
Agreement with Asia Energy: Option open for govt to make pro-people deal
Sharier Khan, The Daily Star
28th August 2006
The 1998 deal with Asia Energy dictates that the company must accept whatever rules and regulations related to mining are changed anytime, says former chief of the Bureau of Mineral Development (BMD). This means, the government can practically change or modify the Mines and Minerals Rules, 1968 to address the needs of modern times and change other policy issues to make the coalmine deal more acceptable to the people, experts say.
As per the law, Bangladesh can also cancel or revise the deal. The nation can penalise the contractor for its faults or violation of any mining rules and regulation.
The deal with Asia Energy gives Bangladesh only six percent royalty for production of coal, and a nine-year tax holiday for Asia Energy -- the first nine years of production -- to be followed by 45 percent corporate tax.
Since the contractor is bound to accept changes of rules and regulations, the finalised draft-new coal policy can immensely benefit Bangladesh if adopted. However, for mysterious reasons, this policy remains shelved since early July when it was about to be sent to the cabinet for approval.
The new policy asks the coalmine developer to pay the government the existing low royalty rate of six percent if they sell the coal in the domestic market. However if it exports the coal at a per ton price above US $25, the royalty rate will increase as per a formula. At the present international rate of coal, which is being sold around $50 per ton, the royalty will be 16 per cent. The policy seeks to export 60 percent of the country's coal, leaving the rest 40 percent for domestic consumption.
Asia Energy has been objecting to these aspects of the coal policy.
Asia Energy entered the coal mining scenario in 1998 by buying the mining contract originally awarded to international coal giant BHP on August 20, 1994. During the 1998 transfer of the agreement in the shape of Assignment Agreement of Exploration Licences under the Mines and Minerals Rules, 1968 a number of clauses were added that made the deal better than the original agreement with BHP.
According to former chief of BMD M Muminullah, the BHP deal was unsolicited. However, there was a national negotiation committee headed by Sajedul Karim, who retired as secretary recently. This committee comprised of members from the Petrobangla, Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB), the BMD and other departments.
"The negotiations with BHP were thorough. We tailored the deal as per the international practice. On April 12, 1994, we signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BHP. Then we followed all the processes required for such an agreement which was signed in August of that year. There was legal vetting and then the gazette notifications," Muminullah said brushing aside allegations of a hush-hush deal.
BHP was interested in Bangladesh following the discovery of coal in Barapukuria by the GSB in the 80's. "The Barapukuria discovery was never announced by the government," Muminullah said adding that by the time he took over the BMD as its director in April 1994, the government had already finalised the Barapukuria coalmine deal with China.
Petrobangla sources on the other hand say the exercises on Barapukuria negotiation suffered heavily due to linguistic problems and much of the decisions about the deal was rather imposed by the then energy minister.
In contrast, the BHP deal saw better negotiations.From the beginning, the BHP was interested in open-pit mining. However, within a couple of years, the BHP said that it would not be interested to develop a coalmine if the coal is found at a depth lower than 130 meters. It said BHP does not find it economically attractive. Then the BHP got heavily involved in mining in Malaysia. That's when it struck a deal with Asia Energy," said Muminullah, who ran the BMD for eight years until 2002.
The Barapukuria mine's coal deposit is located 191 meters below ground while Phulbari's coal is situated 151 meters below.
Muminullah sees nothing wrong in open-pit mining, even though majority of geologists of the country oppose this as an environmentally hazardous and anti-people operation. Muminullah says, "You must accept some environmental damage for greater gains. To minimise the damage, you have to implement the project systematically. In the US, 60 percent of power is generated by coal from open-pit mines. Open-pit mines are present in other western countries as well," he said.
Muminullah added that the agreement with Asia Energy is far from anti-state as the government can change or modify the concerned laws to suit its needs.
The 1998 clauses clearly state that the government holds the first option to purchase the coal. Plus, Asia Energy shall comply with the provisions of the Mines and Minerals Rule 1968, as amended from time to time, and other applicable laws of the land.
Besides, the government can stop the mining if the lessee is found involved in mining activities that jeopardise the conservation of the mineral wealth.
Asia Energy gave its $2 billion scheme of development last year for government approval upon getting environmental clearance. However, as the open-pit mining scheme suggests resettlement of more than 50,000 people, resistance has been brewing in the country against the deal. This has stopped the government from approving the deal before the elections.
The company in its study shows the mine has 572 million tonnes of high quality coal.
Asia Energy Bangladesh CEO Gary Lye says that in 30 years time, Asia Energy will earn $7 billion while the government will earn a royalty of $1.2 billion, another $2.8 billion as corporate tax. Bangladesh railway, the Mongla port authority, the income tax division and the customs department will make another $3 billion earnings.
Bangladesh coal mine protest spreads after deaths
By Serajul Islam Quadir
DHAKA, Aug 27 (Reuters)
Protests erupted across Bangladesh on Sunday over a British company's plan to develop a coal mine, a day after six people were killed, when police opened fire during a demonstration.
At least 20 people were injured in fresh clashes with police after the protesters gathered near the offices of Asia Energy Plc in Phulbari in the northwest, where the mine is being developed, demanding its immediate closure.
Asia Energy wants to develop open pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur district, 350 km (220 miles) northwest of Dhaka.
Local residents and rights groups say the mine would displace hundreds of families and damage the environment.
Police evicted a group of protesters who blocked a highway bridge linking the northern districts with Dhaka.
In the capital, students staged demonstrations demanding the resignation of the government's energy adviser Mahmudur Rahman and state minister for home affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar for the deaths of the six protesters on Saturday.
A rights group called Alliance for Economic Justice staged a protest in Dhaka, accusing the British miner of being responsible for the Phulbari deaths.
"Killer Asia Energy get off Bangladesh", "How much blood do you need?" read placards carried by the alliance members.
Asia Energy's chief executive officer in Bangladesh, Gary Lye, on Sunday met energy adviser Mahmudur and discussed the situation in Phulbari and elsewhere. He voiced concern for Asia Energy personnel in Phulbari.
"I have got 40 people and their families living out there at the moment and I am concerned about their security. They are being intimidated and it's not fair, not fair to anybody," Lye told reporters after meeting the adviser.
Officials and witnesses said more than 100 people were also wounded during Saturday's clashes, when police and paramilitary troops fired hundreds of bullets and at least 50 tear gas shells to disperse about 20,000 demonstrators.
Police said the violence had erupted when the protesters, some armed with bows and arrows, tried to storm the office of the British firm.
Students have called for a nationwide strike in educational institutions on Monday to protest about the protesters' deaths.
Lye issued a statement on Saturday denying the project would harm the environment and said it would benefit local people.
In another statement on Sunday, Lye said Asia Energy deeply regretted the protesters' deaths and sent its sympathies to the families of the dead and injured.
He said Asia Energy arranged water supply and health care for the poor villagers in Phulbari and recently offered them televisions to watch the World Cup soccer.
"We are not enemies," he told reporters. "A section of people trying to derive political benefits out of conflicts ... are fuelling the Phulbari violence."
Energy adviser Mahmudur said: "the victims of the violence were guinea pigs in the hands of vested quarters. This is really unfortunate for every one of us."
"This incident has sent the wrong message to foreign investors, which we cannot afford at all when we are struggling hard to woo more and more investment."
A deadly deal, indeed!
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.
Phulbari killings condemned
Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 27, 2006. Dhaka, Bangladesh
Different political parties and their front organisations condemned the killing of five persons in the police firing at Phulbari in Dinajpur on Saturday.
The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port condemned the killing and extended its support to the dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Phulbari Rakkha Committee at Phulbari today protesting against the killing.
The committee will also hold a protest rally at Muktangan in the capital city today from where fresh action programmes will be announced.
The 14-party opposition combine led the Awami League also condemned the killing and extended their support to the hartal programme.
The opposition alliance will also demonstrate across the country today in protest against the BDR-police firing.
The 11-Party Alliance, a combine of the left and democratic political parties, demanded immediate arrest of the killers, formation of judicial inquiry committee, and punishment for the killers. The coordinator of the combine, Abdus Samad, said the police and BDR personnel opened fire on the innocent people at the provocation of the Asia Energy Corporation officials.
The Communist Party of Bangladesh condemned the killing and decided to hold a protest rally at Paltan crossing today. It also extended support to the hartal called by the Phulbari Rakkha Committee.
Panch Bam Dal, a combine of the five left leaning political parties, will hold another protest rally at Muktangan in Dhaka. The combine coordinator, Zonayed Saki, called upon the people to make the protest rally a success.
The Workers Party president, Rashed Khan Menon, and general secretary, Bimal Biswas, condemned the killing and demanded exemplary punishment for the killers.
Garments Sramik O Shilpa Rakkha Jatiya Mancha, Bangladesh Juba Moitri, Jatiya Sramik Federation Bangladesh, Bangladesh Chhatra Moitri, Bangladesh Chhatra Union, Bangladesh Chhatra Federation also condemned the killing.
Asia Energy Coal Mine Protest
7 killed, 60 bullet-hit as cops, BDR open fire
Indefinite hartal called
Kongkon Karmaker, from Phulbari, Dinajpur
At least seven people were killed and about 300 injured as police and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) opened fire on demonstrators advancing towards the office of Asia Energy Corporation (Bangladesh) Pvt Ltd in Dinajpur yesterday.
Thousands of demonstrators, mainly farmers and indigenous people including women armed with bows and arrows and sticks, joined the protest apprehending massive eviction and loss of farmland that might be caused by the implementation of the Phulbari Coalmine Project. The protesters enforced an indefinite hartal at Phulbari starting today in protest of the police action.
The Asia Energy yesterday said in a statement that "unrepresentative" outsiders created trouble at the Phulbari coalmine site, UNB reported.
The dead include Tariqul Islam, 24, son of Mokhlesur Rahman of Chandpara, Ahsan Habib, 35, Osman, 24, Raju, 8, and Chunnu. The identity of two others could not be confirmed. Hospital sources said 60 of the injured, including eight policemen, were bullet-hit and many of them are in a critical condition.
The injured were taken to local Upazila Health Complex by vans and rickshaws as the roads had been made off-limits to all kinds of motorised vehicles since morning for the demonstration programme.
Witnesses said the protesters under the banner of National Committee to Protect Oil and Gas, a platform of different rights groups and leftist parties, marched towards the Asia Energy office around 4:30pm after a huge rally at the Dhaka intersection.
They chanted slogans against the British company that is operating the Phulbari project. The police had put up a barricade near the bridge over the Chhoto Jamuna river about 1.5km off the Asia Energy office. This led to a scuffle between the leaders of the demonstrators and the law enforcers.
The police lobbed around 100 rounds of teargas shells to disperse the demonstrators trying to break the barricade.
The protesters regrouped a little later and attacked the law enforcers from different directions. Admitting the death of two people in the firing, district Superintendent of Police (SP) Delwar Hossain Mia said, "The police were forced to open fire after being attacked by the demonstrators equipped with lethal weapons." Deputy Commissioner Tahsinur Rahman said additional forces were deployed at Phulbari and other places.
As the news of killing spread, the crowd damaged the information centre of Asia Energy at Phultali about 3.2km from the coalmine office.
The fight was continuing at the time of filing this report at 8:00pm last night. Angry locals were also chanting slogans against local MP Mostafizur Rahman Fizar calling him an agent of the Asia Energy for supporting the project.
Earlier, addressing the rally the protesters said at least 4,70,000 locals including 50,000 indigenous people will have to be relocated if the Phulbari Coalmine Project is implemented. Extraction of coal through the open pit method will also affect half of the Phulbari town, they added.
The speakers said according to the agreement the Asia Energy will extract coal for 30 years and export two-thirds of it. The foreign company will hold the ownership of the project during this period while Bangladesh will receive a royalty of only six per cent, they said.
"The proposed open pit system will cause more damage to the ecology than what the economy will get from the coalmine," Prof Anu Muhammad of Jahangirnagar University told the rally.
UNB adds: Immediately after the incident, Asia Energy Chief Executive Officer Gary Lye said in a statement, "It is most unfortunate that unrepresentative outsiders have come to Phulbari to cause trouble in our community."
Lye noted that the Asia Energy has been operating at the site for several years in accordance with a legally binding contract with the government of Bangladesh.
He said the coal project is an open and transparent business that will bring far-reaching benefits to both the local community and the people of Bangladesh.
Meanwhile, leaders of different socio-political organisations yesterday condemned the police firing on the demonstrators and demanded proper investigation and immediate trial of the law enforcers involved. They also demanded compensation to the victims' families and proper treatment of the injured.
The Awami League-led 14-party opposition combine will stage countrywide demonstrations today to protest the killings at Phulbari.
The 14-party also extended its support to the indefinite hartal called at Phulbari by the demonstrators, Rashed Khan Menon, president of Workers Party of Bangladesh and a leader of the opposition combine, told The Daily Star last night.