Bangladesh updatePublished by MAC on 2007-06-14
14th June 2007
Although some international media have recently covered the grave - and worsening - abuse of human rights in Bangladesh, only one national newspaper (New Age) still dares challenge the military which is, de facto, the only current "rule" in the country. Not even a recent United Nations report, inter alia accusing the armed forces of murder, has received much global attention. It's now even doubtful that elections (supposedly scheduled for January this year) will take place before the end of 2008.
In the meantime, the caretaker "government" has been trying to assure investors, both private and multilateral, that they are welcome and the security can be guaranteed.
Investing in Bangladesh under such parlous conditions will deter many companies. However, UK-based Global Oil and Energy (a subsidiary of India's Ispat, operated by Vinod and Pramod Mittal - not to be confused with Arcelor Mittal) has just proposed shelling out US$3 billion on gas exploration and production, power, petrochemicals and coal mining in the country. (It's a proposal which obviously doesn't find favour with Indian rival, Tata.)
This preceded the announcement last week that another UK-based company, Carbon Mining Plc, had located a potentially economic reserve of heavy minerals in the northern district of Rangpur * [see note].
As for London-listed Global Coal Management (Asia Energy plc, redubbed): having already had diplomatic support from the UK government (which tacitly endorsed the January military coup), it's still waiting in the wings to re-enter the Phulbari coal fields. The strong arm of a military regime could be just what it needs in order to do so..
[* Note: Carbon Mining plc is part of Mining House Ltd, a UK-based private equity company whichs advertises Carbon Mining plc as "structuring and funding...a mineral sands project in Bangladesh". Despite this, the company is not registered on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) while its website is still "under construction". Another company in the Mining House group is Delta Pacific Mining plc, linked with Bangladesh's North Bengal Mining company, that claims to have a lease on coal deposits 25km south of Phulbari.
Chairman of Mining House is Laith Reynolds, who was the CEO of Asia Energy when it launched its Phulbari project in 2004.]
Bangladesh military using murder as law enforcement
PETER LLOYD, ABC
7th June 2007
The United Nations has accused the armed forces in Bangladesh of using murder as a means of law enforcement. Despite this, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer prepares next week to unveil a 33 per cent increase in foreign aid to the country.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Bangladesh is one of the youngest countries on earth and also one of the poorest, a poverty exacerbated by more than three decades of political instability.
That instability took a more sinister turn at the beginning of the year when the military took control, aborting elections and imposing emergency rule.
Now the United Nations has accused the country's armed forces of using murder as a means of law enforcement.
And human rights activists have painted a picture of people disappearing by the tens of thousands, and of soldiers engaged in mass arrests, illegal detention, torture and murder.
The horrific revelations come as the Foreign Minister Alexander Downer prepares next week to unveil a one-third increase in foreign aid to Bangladesh.
The ABC's South Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd filed this report from the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. And a warning that some of the following images are disturbing.
PETER LLOYD: Since January, soldiers have been calling the shots in Bangladesh. Troops took to the streets after democracy was suspended and the military imposed draconian emergency ruled.
Now, media restrictions are tight, openly filming soldiers is bad. The army said it took control to clean up a culture of corruption in politics. Dozens of prominent people have been rounded up.
But the ABC has discovered evidence of something far more sinister behind the scenes.
Human rights groups here contend that as many as 200,000 people have been rounded up by the military since the crackdown began. The size of a small city. Now there's no way to fully account for their whereabouts but the belief is that most of them are still in military custody.
Some have emerged with shocking accounts of abuse, torture and murder.
PROTAP JAMBIL , VICTIM (translated): They tied my two hands and feet and eight or nine of them caned me.
PETER LLOYD: Soldiers picked up Protap Jambil on the way home from a wedding. These pictures he says, are evidence of a beating that lasted more than four hours.
PROTAP JAMBIL: I was in tremendous pain, I couldn't move, I couldn't walk, I need four people to carry me.
PETER LLOYD: He showed me how he was forced to lie while up to eight soldiers took turns beating him with bamboo rods.
PROTAP JAMBIL: I really did not have any thoughts in my head. I kept praying to God and his son Jesus, I thought that I would die, that's what I thought.
PETER LLOYD: Mr Jambil wasn't alone. His brother-in-law was also arrested and tortured but Cholesh Ritchel (phonetic) did not survive.
PROTAP JAMBIL: At first they tied both of Cholesh's hands and feet then they tortured soles of feet and all over his body. They unzipped his pants and attached pliers to his penis and to all of his fingers and toes. They put candle wax on the wounds and then they put hot water mixed with dried chillies and salt and poured it all over his body and through his nose and ears.
PETER LLOYD: Attempts by human rights groups to document abuse cases have been met with threats and intimidation. But some refuse to be silenced.
FARHAD MAZHAR, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: People have been picked up without any kind of evidence and then they've been tortured.
PETER LLOYD: Farhad Mazhar is from a human rights group called Odhikar. The organisation says the security forces have killed at least 100 people since January at a rate of almost one per day. Those who do emerge from military custody tell a disturbingly similar story.
FARHAD MAZHAR: People complain that their nails have been taken out. They've been tortured very badly.
PETER LLOYD: Military run interrogation centres operate all over the country. Some are brazenly open. This is Fatullah stadium on the outskirts of Dhaka.
A year ago Australia played a Test match against Bangladesh here. Today it's military occupied. We filmed early in the morning and for only a few minutes to avoid being detected.
One witness who was too fearful to appear on camera has described to me how he heard torture victims screaming in agony during a local cricket match. Later in the same day a senior army officer boasted openly that suspects were far more talkative after they had been electrocuted, beaten and subjected to water torture.
General Moeen Ahmed is the head of the Bangladesh armed forces. The man behind emergency rule. The general refused to grant an interview to the ABC, so we turned up unannounced.
Will you take action on the allegation of human rights abuses by the soldiers?
GENERAL MOEEN AHMED , ARMY CHIEF: Already it has been undertaken and all measures will be, nobody is above the law in this country. So if anybody makes a mistake he will be taken to task.
PETER LLOYD: Have you ordered them to stop torturing and murdering suspects?
GENERAL MOEEN AHMED : It is already not there. It's not there. There are no such things that are going on now. Not at all.
PETER LLOYD: There are at least 100 cases according to human rights groups of murders since you took power?
GENERAL MOEEN AHMED: No, no, no, this is not correct. You have to find out the figures. Anybody can say anything, but go and look in the ground and see what is the truth.
PETER LLOYD: To provide cover from allegations that he carried out a coup, General Moeen Ahmed hand-picked a civilian caretaker government to run Bangladesh.
Who runs the Government? Is it the civilians or the soldiers?
GENERAL MOEEN AHMED: No, no, it's absolutely a civilian government, supported by as I said, the middle classes, the soldiers, the police.
PETER LLOYD: Iftikhar Chowdhury is the army approved Foreign Minister.
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY , FOREIGN MINISTER: The army plays a role given it by the Government, absolutely. There is noc
PETER LLOYD: So they're doing your dirty work for you?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: No, it's not a dirty work. Army is taking certain actions in terms of the anti corruption drive which has full support of the community.
PETER LLOYD: There are by all accounts as many as 200,000 people who've been arrested. How could that credibly be occurring under due process?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: The arrests are made under some allegations of breach of law. Due process begins with the effecting of the arrest when people are, those arrested are brought before magistrates, as is always the case here.
PETER LLOYD: The United Nations sees it differently. It recently accused the Bangladesh armed forces of using murder as a means of law enforcement.
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: Bangladesh has done better than most countries of the world in these respects. So I can tell you this and we're proud of our record.
PETER LLOYD: You're proud of your human rights record?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: In human rights Bangladesh is better than many, many, many, countries.
PETER LLOYD: Name one. Zimbabwe?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: No, I'm not going to name any. It is not for me to name foreign countries or finger point.
PETER LLOYD: In January, Bangladesh was on a knife edge as political rivalries were being played out in violent street clashes, western diplomats were shuttling around the capital trying to mediate.
Just before the army hit the streets the British and American ambassadors each held private meetings with the military chief. Some suspect General Moeen was given a green light to take over.
NURUL KABIR, NEWSPAPER EDITOR: That's an interference with the, an ambassador, official speaking isn't supposed to do all these things. I don't believe that my ambassador in Washington can even think of entering into the headquarters to discuss politics.
PETER LLOYD: Nurul Kabir is an influential newspaper editor. He says a clique of western diplomats known as the Tuesday Club interfered in his country's internal affairs.
The Tuesday Club is an informal caucus of the big donor nations that meets every week. Its core members are ambassadors from the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada, the EU and Australia. Kabir says the Tuesday club not only courted military intervention but campaigned for civilian politicians to accept it back in January.
Now none of the diplomats will agree to talk about it.
NURUL KABIR: We feel we as a citizen, I feel embarrassed and I'm sure that people of the country that they have sent here would have been embarrassed, too, to see how their High Commissioners and ambassadors in Dhaka is meddling themselves in politics.
PETER LLOYD: You say meddling?
NURUL KABIR: Yes, meddling.
PETER LLOYD: Australia's High Commissioner, Douglas Foskett refused to be interviewed for this story, but he remains an open backer of the Government despite the military's behaviour.
(reading a press release from Douglas Foskett): We are happy that all is looking positive for the future, he said.
Such is Australia's apparent faith in the current state of affairs in Bangladesh, the Federal Government is preparing to increase foreign aid from $43 million to around $57 million, a 33 per cent increase.
Iftikhar Chowdhury will visit Canberra next week to collect the cheque. It's unclear what, if any conditions are attached.
Has the Australian High Commissioner, Doug Foskett, has he specifically raised with you any human rights concerns?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: Douglas Foskett has been a tremendous ambassador. He's a very good High Commissioner. We have always talked about common interests.
PETER LLOYD: Does it include human rights?
IFTIKHAR CHOWDHURY: Ambassadors are not, know that there is sometimes a fine line between interest and interference. They don't, they understand this very well. This country is as you like, we would like to be as we say we are, in charge of our own destiny, in the driver's seat of our programs, plans. Australians understand and appreciate that very much.
PETER LLOYD: General Moeen insists democracy will return to Bangladesh with fresh elections by the end of next year. But he recently raised eyebrows by promoting himself to Full General. Many wonder how long civilians will remain in the picture.
Generals in Bangladesh have a notorious history of thirsting for absolute power.
KERRY O'BRIEN: In a statement tonight, the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Greg Hunt, said Australia's aid to Bangladesh had been increased in line with its status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Mr Hunt pointed out that Australian aid does not go directly to the Bangladeshi regime, but to reputable organisations like UNICEF and the World Food Program. #
The news documentary was broadcast on June 7, 2007 with reports of Peter Lloyd, South Asia Correspondent from Dhaka
For watching the video, check out http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/
BULLETS AND BALLOTS: Army Takeover in Bangladesh
Stalls Key Muslim Democracy: US, UN Backed Move To Prevent Flawed Vote; Mass Jailings in Dhaka
YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Wall Street Journal
4th June 2007
WHEN the Bangladesh army intervened to abort a flawed election in this Muslim nation of 150 million in January, the U.S. and United Nations both offered tacit support for the coup.
But now the army-installed caretaker government is back-pedaling on its pledge to organize a quick, clean vote and then relinquish authority. And the once-bloodless coup is turning into something more sinister. Since January, an estimated 200,000 people, including hundreds of leading politicians and businessmen, have been jailed under emergency rules that suspend civil rights and outlaw all political activity. According to human-rights groups, scores of others, seized by the troops in the middle of the night, have been tortured to death or summarily executed.
Bangladesh's new rulers insist the crackdown is needed to reform what international watchdogs such as Transparency International have frequently ranked as the most corrupt nation on Earth. "We do not want to go back to an elective democracy where corruption is all-pervasivecand where political criminalization threatens the very survival and integrity of the state," the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moeen Uddin Ahmed, explained in a rare speech in April.
But critics say the outcome amounts to this: With the support of the U.S. and the international community, what used to be the world's second-largest Muslim democracy, after Indonesia, has turned into the world's second-largest military regime, after Pakistan.
Bangladesh's new government "is very quickly squandering the goodwill that it had at the beginning," says Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "At this point, it's quite clear: The army is running the country. And they're making it pretty clear they don't intend to leave anytime soon."
For the U.S., this unexpected turn of events presents a dilemma. Bangladesh has long been a U.S. ally at the strategic crossroads of India and China. But its version of democracy had been hijacked by two powerful political dynasties that resorted to violence and graft in their contest for power, and that struck alliances with radical Islam.
By contrast, the new military-backed government in Dhaka is positioning itself as an eager participant in the U.S.-led global battle against Islamic extremists.
Yet a protracted military dictatorship in Bangladesh could end up backfiring and catalyze the so-far limited support for these extremists echoing what happened in Pakistan following Gen. Pervez Musharraf's coup in 1999. There, the Islamists have become the main political alternative to the regime, as increasingly strict religious observance spreads throughout the country amid violence by fundamentalist groups.
To disrupt this dynamic in other places, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the administration of President Bush has been pushing to democratize the Muslim world. This strategy has been dented by electoral victories that Islamists often win when given a chance, from Lebanon to Egypt to Palestinian territories.
But Islamists have always fared badly at the polls in Bangladesh, a former province of Pakistan that became independent in a bloody war in 1971. Islamists backed the losing side. Since 1991, Bangladesh also had a democratic system that, however imperfect, allowed the opposition to oust incumbent governments in generally free and fair elections, something that almost never happens in the Arab world.
So far, the Bush administration has abstained from open criticism of the new Bangladeshi government's behavior though, at a briefing last month, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack urged Bangladesh to "move as quickly and as effectively as it can to elections."
Harsher words are coming from Congress. In a May 14 letter to the Bangladeshi government, 15 senators expressed "strong concern over the ongoing state of emergency" and "custodial deaths" in the country.
They also urged a prompt restoration of "full civil and political rights to all citizens of Bangladesh." Signers include Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, and Christopher Dodd, as well as a handful of Republicans, including Richard Lugar.
Officials in Dhaka respond to such criticism by saying foreigners just don't appreciate the magnitude of the new government's task.
"After the collapse of the civilian government, after a civil-war situation, don't you think it takes time for any government to bring the law and order situation under control?" says Mainul Hussein, the caretaker minister of law, justice and information, in an interview.
Mr. Hussein adds that he's particularly "fed up" with Westerners bringing up human-rights abuses in his country. "Bangladesh is going through a huge crisis," he says. "Is this the time to discuss individual cases? Individuals are not important!"
The civil strife that the army-backed regime stepped in to quell sprang out of a bitter, personal conflict between the two individuals who had taken turns in governing Bangladesh over the past 15 years.
The first, Khaleda Zia, prime minister in 1991-96 and 2001-06, is the widow of the general who led Bangladesh's 1971 independence war against Pakistan and who was later assassinated by army officers in a coup attempt.
The second, Sheikh Hasina, was prime minister in 1996-2001. She is the daughter of Bangladesh's founding prime minister. Along with most of her immediate relatives, he had been slaughtered by soldiers in an earlier coup.
The two women, who still command the loyalty of millions of supporters, cooperated in organizing mass pro-democracy protests that ousted a previous military regime in late 1990. Since then, however, Bangladesh's political life was defined by their increasingly acrimonious feud.
Though Ms. Hasina is seen as slightly more secularist and liberal than Ms. Khaleda, both women built their political parties through patronage networks and dynastic allegiances rather than well-defined ideologies. The two parties sold parliament seats to deep-pocketed businessmen, used criminal gangs to silence critics, and funded election campaigns through extortion, independent observers and Western diplomats say. During Ms. Khaleda's second term, in particular, "Mafia-like structures captured the state," says Kamal Hossein, a prominent lawyer and the drafter of Bangladesh's constitution.
Though this pervasive corruption deterred many foreign investors, Bangladesh's economy dominated by agriculture and textiles, and dependent on remittances by overseas workers benefited from the recent economic boom in its neighbors India and China. While Bangladesh's per-capita income still remains below $500 a year, among the world's lowest, the country's economy last year expanded by a healthy 6.7%.
This growth, however, received a hit at the end of 2006, as the long-running hostility between Ms. Khaleda and Ms. Hasina flared up ahead of elections scheduled for Jan. 22. Ms. Hasina was believed to be the front-runner, especially after she put together a broad alliance that despite her party's secular roots also included a radical Islamist group that admired Afghanistan's notorious former rulers, the Taliban.
Ms. Khaleda, whose governing coalition already included Islamic fundamentalists, was widely seen as attempting to fix the upcoming vote. A study by the U.S. National Democratic Institute, which was observing the campaign, found that the updated voter rolls inexplicably contained some 13 million more names than would be possible given the country's population. The supposedly independent electoral commission, stacked with Ms. Khaleda's supporters, did little to purge these phantom voters, and to address other concerns raised by the opposition.
In response, Ms. Hasina and her allies angrily withdrew from the election they viewed as irreparably fraudulent, and vowed to disrupt it by force. Strikes, road blockades and clashes of armed gangs supporting the two rivals spread all over the country, derailing economic activity and causing dozens of deaths.
Amid the bloodshed, U.S. Ambassador Patricia Butenis and other Western envoys shuttled between the two warring women in a futile attempt to find a compromise. Ms. Butenis warned Ms. Khaleda and Ms. Hasina that the Bangladeshi army could intervene if the situation deteriorated any further, people familiar with these meetings say. Bangladeshi generals, at the same time, were informed in separate meetings that most Western ambassadors would pull out of Dhaka if the controversial election took place, according to a senior member of the Bangladeshi military.
Ms. Khaleda discounted this talk of a putsch, confident of the army's support; Ms. Hasina says she believed an army intervention would be in her favor.
Indeed, until the very last moment, Bangladeshi generals seemed reluctant to strike. Trying to be seen as a benign, enlightened force after democracy was restored, the army has focused on helping the U.N. maintain peace and organize free elections in the world's trouble spots. Nearly 10,000 Bangladeshi soldiers are deployed today under U.N. command in Lebanon, Congo, Ivory Coast and elsewhere, an arrangement that lets them earn more during a year on U.N. payroll than in a lifetime at home.
Following extensive consultations with the U.S. and other Western nations, which by then had denounced the upcoming election as unfair and pulled out observers, the U.N. on Jan. 11 took action. In a formal statement released in Dhaka, the most senior U.N. official in Bangladesh, Renata Lok Dessallien, cautioned that the scheduled election "would not be considered credible or legitimate." Because of this, her statement warned, there may be "implications" for the Bangladesh army's future participation in U.N. peacekeeping should the election be allowed to take place.
Before the day was over, a delegation of Bangladeshi generals led by the chief of staff, Gen. Moeen, walked into the office of the country's president, a supporter of Ms. Khaleda, with the U.N. statement in hand, according to senior officers. They demanded that the Jan. 22 election be canceled and that power be transferred to a new caretaker administration hand-picked by the army. The army by then had disconnected the land line and cellular phones of Ms. Khaleda and her top aides. The president complied.
In a statement released shortly thereafter, the U.S. government noted that it had been urging Ms. Khaleda's and Ms. Hasina's parties "to engage in dialogue to resolve their differences, and to refrain from violence" and added that the Bangladeshi authorities "felt compelled to declare a state of emergency." A U.S. official says that, while the U.S. government did not "actively" seek a coup, it felt "relief" that a catastrophe had been averted. Ms. Dessallien of the U.N. has declined to comment on the record about her role in these events.
The new government installed by Bangladesh's army is headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed, a respected former World Bank economist and central-bank governor. Dr. Ahmed insists that he, and not the army, is ultimately in charge. Some foreign diplomats who deal with the regime and many Bangladeshis dispute that. In his first speech, in January, Dr. Ahmed declared he is "pledge-bound to hold new elections within the shortest possible time." Other government officials said at the time that an elected successor would take over within three to six months.
But in his second speech three months later, Dr. Ahmed announced that the election won't be held before the end of 2008, and that the country must first undergo profound reforms transforming it into a "luminous star of good governance in South Asia."
Before any vote, Bangladeshi officials say now, new voter rolls must be prepared, complete with computerized photo IDs a formidable task in a country with barely functioning infrastructure and a population that is more than 50% illiterate.
"I'm in doubt as to whether they really want to hold an election," Ms. Hasina says in an interview at her tightly guarded residence, minutes after consoling crying wives of her detained supporters.
The army, meanwhile, has attempted to push Ms. Khaleda and Ms. Hasina into exile. Informed by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence while visiting the U.S. in April that she could not return home, Ms. Hasina kept trying to board Bangladesh-bound planes in London. International indignation forced Bangladesh to reverse the ban. A separate attempt to exile Ms. Khaleda to Saudi Arabia failed because the Saudi embassy wouldn't issue her a visa.
So, while Ms. Khaleda and Ms. Hasina remain relatively free, the new government concentrates on destroying their political parties, locking up former ministers, parliament members, mayors and senior apparatchiks. Those in jail include the secretary-general of Ms. Hasina's party, as well as Ms. Khaleda's son Tarique Rahman, who had amassed great fortune and power as her likely successor. Some independent human-rights campaigners who criticize the army have also been thrown behind bars.
Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury, a retired lieutenant-general who was appointed in February to head the country's powerful new Anti-Corruption Commission, calculates that "at least 99%" of Bangladeshi politicians are corrupt. A return to democracy without eliminating the existing political establishment would be pointless, he explains in an interview: "Half of these corrupt ones will come back as members of parliament again, so you will not have achieved anything by having an election."
One method followed by Mr. Chowdhury, Gen. Moeen's immediate predecessor as army chief of staff, in his purges is to demand from his targets a complete statement of assets, which must be prepared within a few days. Those whose statements show even a minor discrepancy with actual assets are detained pending a trial by special fast-track courts. Bail is usually not allowed.
This crackdown, along with daily detentions carried out directly by the army, has caused a panic in Bangladesh's business community, frightened by the seeming randomness of many arrests. As a result, inflation has spiked, and economic growth is expected to slow down this year. "In this country, corruption was systemic but there are a lot of people who are much more corrupt than the ones they've arrested," complained Abdul Awal Mintoo, former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and chief executive of the Multimode Group, a Dhaka-based conglomerate. "All of us are corrupt here," he added over coffee on a recent afternoon. "Can you take everybody to jail in this country?"
A few days later, Bangladesh's military took him into custody, in its latest round of arrests under emergency rules.
Ispat Group to invest $3bn in Bangladesh
Business Standard (India) / Kolkata/Mumbai
12th June 2007
The Vinod- and Pramod Mittal-controlled Ispat Group is all set to invest around $3 billion (Rs 12,000 crore) in Bangladesh in a gamut of sectors, including gas exploration and production, power, petrochemicals and coal mining.
Global Oil and Energy, an investment outfit of the Ispat Group, today signed a preliminary memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bangladesh’s state-run Board of Investment (BoI) for this purpose. The group will begin funding after the completion of the detailed feasibility study. The actual quantum of investment by the group might vary, depending upon the outcome of the feasibility report.
Sources in the Ispat Group said the neighbouring country had huge potential for big investment opportunity due to its gas reserves. The group would begin with investing in the gas sector in Bangladesh. Projects in the steel, coal and mining sectors would follow.
A delegation led by group Chairman Vinod Mittal today also met the BoI officials.
Industry sources said the investments would include $300 million for mine development, $100 million for oil exploration and production, $500 million for power plants, $1.5 billion for petrochemicals and $500 million for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and related projects.
They said the investment, if cleared, would be the largest in Bangladesh.
Industry observers, however, cautioned about the Ispat Group’s investment in Bangladesh, saying “it all depends on the pricing and availability of gas”. They also warned that the projects might run into rough weather if the next government opposes it. “There is a bit of political uncertainty for an investment proposal being signed with an interim government,” they added. A caretaker government has been ruling Bangladesh since January.
The Vinod and Pramod Mittal combine is the second Indian promoter to announce such large investments in Bangladesh.
Tata group Chairman Ratan N Tata had signed an expression of interest (EoI) in October 2004 for a $3 billion investment in Bangladesh, the single largest investment in the country.
Under the planned deal, Bangladesh had agreed in principle to guarantee a 20-year supply of natural gas for the Tata projects: a $700 million 1,000 mw power plant, $600 million fertiliser plant and a $700 million steel mill with a capacity of 2.4 million tonnes. To run all the three plants, Tata would require up to 600 million cubic feet of gas per day.
But the project went into limbo following the political turmoil in Bangladesh. However, experts said the project might be revived after an elected government comes to power.
It may be recalled that steel baron Laxmi Niwas Mittal, elder brother of Vinod Mittal, is setting up a plant in Jharkhand, the stronghold of Tatas.
Global Steel, the holding arm of Global Oil and Energy, operates and manages about 14 million tonnes of steelmaking capacity and associated businesses in mining, energy and logistics in various parts of the world.
Impoverished Chilmari found mineral rich
Sharier Khan, back from Chilmari, The Daily Star
14th June 2007
The resource-starved impoverished Chilmari area of Rangpur district may become a world class source of heavy metal minerals mainly used in high-tech industries, according to a primary exploration report.
Based on a 1979 finding of Geological Survey of Bangladesh (GSB), British company Carbon Mining Plc for the last four months have been exploring for heavy metal minerals in the Brahmaputra riverbed in Chilmari and detected significant volume of the minerals carried by the river from the Himalayas.
The economic implication of this finding could be enormous, if the Carbon Mining finds it economically viable to set up a mineral mining establishment to tap a high-end export market.
Primary tests of the minerals done at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Cox's Bazar recently detected garnet, ilmenite, kyanite, magnetite, rutile and zircon. As the AEC lab can only separate seven kinds of minerals from sediments, Carbon Mining is now sending about one hundred samples to a sophisticated laboratory in Perth, Australia for confirmation and further analysis.
Carbon Mining Plc's Chairman Wahid Salam says that after the tests in Perth, his company would formally announce the findings. The test results would be available in August.
"If the results are positive, we will conduct a feasibility study within early next year. If it is feasible, we would then propose how to mine this resource," Salam pointed out.
Ex director general of GSB who detected the minerals here for the first time in 1979 Khurshid Alam believes that further tests in Perth, Australia would reveal the presence of several other mineralsincluding apatite, anatise, brookite and kecitarite.
The 68-year old veteran geologist who joined Carbon Mining two years back believes that the unusually thick sediment layer of Brahmaputra might even contain rare minerals such as uranium.
Whereas the maximum thickness of sediment in Australia is about 25 meters and in China 30 m, its about 50 m in some areas of Brahmaputra river. Consequently some mineral contents in the Brahmaputra sediments seem significantly high. Mineral content here is apparently much higher than that in the Cox's Bazar sea beach, which is already a recognised mineral zone.
Based on its 2005 application, Carbon Minerals Plc was given a one-year license in February to explore 3987 hectares of land in Brahmaputra around the Chilmari area. Since then it collected samples from about two dozen spots.
Alam says, studies indicate heavy mineral percentage is more than 8 percent in the sediments of the Brahmaputra river. Mining of heavy minerals in North Strandbroke island, Australia is considered profitable if this figure is 0.5 percent or above.
Based on the Atomic Energy Commission report, Alam notes that whereas the world's proven Garnet reserve is 67 million tonnes, the leased area in Brahmaputra alone has the potential of 68 m tonnes of this mineral. The leased area may also contain 23 m tonnes of ilmenite, 7.6 m tonnes of kyanite, 7.6 m tonnes of magnetite, 15 m tons of rutile and a half million tonnes of zircon.
Mining of such minerals typically involves dredging comparatively small area for setting up mineral separation processing plants and can involve huge local participation at the level of mineral collection. Required investment may be no less than one billion dollars.
Alam, who has played a key role in mapping geological resources of the country, explains the use of the minerals. Garnet is an abrasive used in leather, aluminum, ship building etc; imported by the USA in large quantities. Ilmenite and rutile is used for making titanium paint used in aerospace and industries.
Japan is a large consumer. Kianite is used in steel industry. Magnetite is used for making magnets and iron. Zircon is used in nuclear reactor, sand blasting, nuclear submarine, guided missiles, steel industry, bullet proof glass, ceramics and production of innumerable kinds of high end products. The per ton cost of zircon in the present world market is 712 dollars.
From a layman's perspective, Ashtamir Char would look like a near barren ordinary shoal on the Brahmaputra river. To the local people, the best utility of this shoal is to have the cattle graze there.
This shoal is located 12 to 15 kilometres off the old Chilmari river port, which is now abandoned. During the rainy seasons, this shoal remains submerged like many other shoals in the river.
But if you simply grab a handful of sand and look closely, you would instantly realise that something is different about this place. Its dark and yet colourful texture shows presence of various minerals even to the naked eye. This is one of the two dozen spots from where Carbon Mining's people are collecting sand samples from surface to a depth of up to 150 feet.
Khurshid Alam demonstrates how rich the mineral contents of this sand is. He dips a magnet in some surface sand, slightly screened in the water to shred off the lighter particles. After he raises the magnet, it was sparsely coated with heavy metal mineral that has magnetic properties.
"This is a simple and a low technology way to collect magnetic minerals. In future, if this venture is successful, we can deploy large number of poor people to collect magnetic minerals from the shoals and rivers," he says.
"If we find this feasible, the livelihood of the people will change," Alam notes, "this would be a different type of mining that does not affect any community or the environment."
Wahid Salam points out that Carbon Mining was investing there with the understanding that it would be given the mining license after the one-year term of exploration license is over.
Tatas Cool to Mittal's Bangla deal
The Telegraph, India
12th June 2007
Mumbai, June 11: The Tatas aren't battening down their investment hatch in Dhaka and seem to be unfazed by the PK Mittal group signing a memorandum of understanding with the interim authorities to invest about $3 billion in that country.
Agency reports said that Global Oil and Energy Company, the holding company of P.K. Mittal's Ispat Industries, today signed an agreement with Bangladesh to invest $2.9 billion in the country's energy sector. The Telegraph had reported yesterday that the deal would be signed today.
The Tatas have been pursuing plans to invest in Bangladesh since 2004. Early last year, they cranked up their plans and offered to invest $3 billion in a power plant, steel mill and a fertiliser unit. The Tatas have been waiting for clearances from the Bangladesh government and the entry by the Mittals creates a piquant situation but they won't admit it.
Sources in the Tata group told The Telegraph that while they have "not given up" on their plans, they are waiting for the government to decide. "We will be ready to go forward after that .... There is no change in our plans," the source added. The indications are that the Tatas will not have to wait for long. Reports emanating from Bangladesh, which quote the new executive chairman of the Board of Investment, say the interim government will sign a deal with the Tatas shortly.
In May, Nazrul Islam, chairman of the Bangladesh Board of Investment, said a decision on the Tata proposal would be taken soon after the coal policy in the country was finalised. Islam had said the proposals from the Tata group were "complex" since it covered the four areas of power, steel, coal and fertiliser. The previous government had been unable to take a decision because the elections were looming.
The United News of Bangladesh quoted Nazrul as saying that there was no assurance of uninterrupted gas supply to the Indian conglomerate for 25 years. Only 10 years of gas supply would be guaranteed. It may be recalled that last year, the Tata group decided to halt investment in Bangladesh after facing a lot of delays and both sides could not agree on terms of natural gas supply and its pricing.
Senior officials from the group had then said that their investment in the country, which was the largest FDI there, was only in a pause mode and that it stands committed with the proposed investment. Global Steel Holdings, which is owned by Pramod Mittal, seems to have stolen a march on the Tatas.