Bangladesh-Phulbari updatePublished by MAC on 2007-08-26
26th August 2007
A year ago last Sunday, three teenage boys were killed and scores of people severely wounded when the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles opened fire upon a demonstration by local people which called for the withdrawal of UK-based Asia Energy plc and cancellation of the Phulbari open-pit coal project.
In the twelve months since, "Phulbari" has become a byword for denial of democracy and the threat of indiscriminate mineral extraction in one of the poorest nations on the planet. The "interim government", set up after a coup in January this year, has been hi-jacked by the military which, over past weeks, has further stepped-up further its repression against dissent (notably by students).
Although it hasn't dared return to Phulbari, Global Coal Management plc (aka Asia Energy) remains recalcitrant. Recently it took a group of Bangladeshi media to Germany to view the allegedly benign impacts of open-pit coal mining there. It was an exercise which, as some critics point out, was largely irrelevant, if not spurious.
Last week, we conjectured that opposition to this particular project (and, by extension, to other related foreign investment plays in Bangladesh) was no longer confined to a small group of "dissidents". [http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press1602.htm]
This week, the Bangladesh Workers Party and the Bangladesh Movement for Rights of Indigenous People will be joining others - especially women's groups - which are holding remembrances of those murdered and others still suffering from the criminal firings on August 26 2007.
PHULBARI MOVEMENT DAY TODAY
No step yet to cancel deal with Asia Energy
Staff Correspondent, NewAge
26th August 2007
The government is yet to scrap the deal with Asia Energy on the Phulbari coal field as was agreed to a year ago after three people were killed and more than a hundred injured in firing by the Bangladesh Rifles during a furious protest.
The law enforcers opened fire when several thousand people protested against the Asia Energy's open-pit mining plan at the coal field on this day in 2006. Three teenagers -- Tariqul, Amin and Salekin -- were killed.
After four days of spontaneous demonstrations by several thousand people, the Rajshahi mayor, Mizanur Rahman, on behalf of the then BNP-led government of the time signed an agreement with the protesters, led by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on August 30, 2006, to cancel the government deal with Asia Energy.
The agreement also provisioned that Asia Energy would be driven out of Bangladesh and no open-pit mining would be allowed in the country.
The Prime Minister's Office at that time asked the Energy and Mineral Resources Division on September 29, 2006 to take 'necessary steps' to implement the mayor's agreement.
The division asked for the law ministry's opinion on the issue, but any decision on the issue has yet to be made.
The power and energy adviser, Tapan Chowdhury, told reporters on Tuesday that the law ministry was yet to give its opinion regarding the scrapping of the deal with Asia Energy.
'They [law ministry] has made some queries and we have sent in our replies. We have not received any decision as yet,' he said.
When asked whether the government would allow Asia Energy to develop the Phulbari coal field, he said, 'We are a caretaker government. Why will we make any decision on the matter?'
As for open-pit mining, he said the government would not go against people's wish and interest.
The oil and gas protection committee member secretary, Professor Anu Muhammad, who signed the agreement on Asia Energy ouster on behalf of the people, told New Age on Friday they on the first anniversary of people's movement against the company demanded that the government should implement the major points of the agreement.
The committee has declared August 26 Phulbari Day and urged the government to make an official announcement in this regard.
Anu said the interim government time and again said it was fighting against corruption. 'The Phulbari deal with Asia Energy is a major example of corruption in the country. So if the government really means that it is against corruption, it should cancel the deal,' he said.
'It is sad that the company, for which three people were killed, is still active in Bangladesh. It is still cheating people in England and it is trading shares on the London Stock Exchange by showing that they are developing the Phulbari coal field,' he said.
Anu said the committee had planned to observe the day with programmes on a limited scale with placing flowers in memory of the deceased, rallies, exhibition of photographs, indoor memorial and prayer meetings because of the state of emergency, but the authorities requested them to hold only prayer sessions.
A number of socio-political organisations issued statements, expressing their concern about the 'conspiracy to sell out national resources' to the British company.
The Workers Party hoped that the government would implement the agreement signed between the government and the people in 2006. The party also protested against the present government's restriction on the observance of the day.
The Bangladesh Movement for Rights of Indigenous Peoples will organise a seminar at the Dhaka Reporters' Unity on Monday as part of the observance of the first anniversary of the people's movement at Phulbari.
Phulbari Day and the Coal Policy
by Anu Muhammad and SM Shaheedullah
26th August 2007
TODAY marks the first anniversary of the resistance, waged collectively by all people - young and old, men and women, the Bengalis and the indigenous - against the infamous Phulbari coal project characterised by fraudulence and designed to plunder natural resources under people's ownership, simultaneously causing devastation of human life and environment. This day, last year, nearly 80,000 people marched into the small town of Phulbari demanding cancellation of the project and withdrawal of the multinational company Asia Energy, owned by British, Australian and German interests.
The day's programme was concluded after declaration of a future programme in front of the barricade put up by the law enforcers that had basically cordoned off the Asia Energy office. The demands included immediate deportation of the company, abandoning of the project and social boycott of the company's local staff. When people were returning at the end of the day's programme, personnel of the Bangladesh Rifles opened fire. Three teenagers - Tariqul, Amin and Salekin - were killed on the spot. Among over two hundred wounded, ten had gunshot wounds, with three of them in a critical condition. One of them, Bablu Roy, has returned home recently having spent about a year in Dhaka hospitals. He is now permanently traumatised and distraught. It is circumstantially apparent that government forces opened fire without any provocation from the public and perhaps at the instigation of Asia Energy with the aim of striking terror to quell the movement.
This scheme of Asia Energy failed as it should.
Once people embrace a cause close to their hearts nothing can stop them.
Following the carnage of August 26 afternoon, BDR, police, and government forces created a regime of terror throughout the area. It was the women and children who were the foremost to come out to the streets in protest. They gathered in large numbers and initiated a strong resistance which gradually grew into a mass uprising. Thousands of people from six sub-districts took up ceaseless programmes displaying unity and solidarity. When people all over Bangladesh took up the cause and started action programmes, the movement transformed into a national movement.
Eventually the government of the day had to bow down to people's power and sign an agreement on August 30, 2006 with the people steering the movement. Life returned to normal after this event.
Terms of August 30 agreement
Following are the clear undertaking of the government made in the agreement.
'The seven-point demands raised by the National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources, Power and Port, Phulbari chapter will be implemented as follows:
a. All agreements executed with Asia Energy shall be scrapped and the company shall be driven out from the four sub-districts including Phulbari and finally from the country. Open cast mining method for production of coal shall not be employed in four sub-districts including Phulbari and, for that matter, anywhere in Bangladesh. Other method(s) to be employed for coal production shall be subject to people's consent.
b. Each of those killed on August 26, 2006 in the hands of the law enforcement agency will be given a financial compensation of Tk 2,00,000.00.
c. A sum of Tk 9,00,000.00 will be allotted to financially compensate the wounded persons, the losses to shops and establishments, hotels, restaurants, rickshaws, vans, microphones and households. Compensation will be paid after the losses of the affected persons are assessed by a committee comprising the Executive Officer of the sub-district Phulbari in Dinajpur, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Phulbari circle, a representative of the Civil Surgeon and two representatives of National Committee for Protection of Oil-Gas and Mineral Resource, Electrical Power and Port, Phulbari Branch.
d. A one-man Enquiry Committee comprising the Additional District Magistrate alone has been formed to enquire into the killings of August 26, 2006 and to submit a report. Actions will be taken following the receipt of the report.
e. An Enquiry Committee comprising the Additional District Administrator, an Assistant Police Superintendent and two representatives of National Committee for Protection of Oil-Gas and Mineral Resource, Electrical Power and Port, Phulbari Branch will be formed for dealing with the recovery of the dead body or bodies secretly disposed. This committee will conduct enquiries on the basis of specific complaints and submit its report. Proper actions will be taken after receipt of the report.
f. A memorial tower will be built to commemorate the martyrs in a suitable site by the side of new Phulbari Bridge.
g. The Superintendent of Police will take appropriate measures against "dalals" (lackeys) of Asia Energy on the basis of specific allegations.
All cases and general diaries against the leaders involved in the movement against coal mine will be withdrawn and no new cases will be brought against them.'
The government of Bangladesh has fully implemented clauses 'b' and 'c' of the agreement. People have driven Asia Energy out of the four sub-districts including Phulbari but the company is still engaged in hatching various conspiracies. A site has been decided and partial fund for the Memorial Tower has been placed. Other items have not been fully implemented. We hope that the present government will take appropriate steps for implementing the rest of the agreement.
Asia Energy propaganda for open cast mining
Asia Energy is busy making all sorts of endeavours for wining the favour of the media at the time when the review committee recently formed by the government has been working to finalise the policy for extraction and utilisation of coal. Its main target is propagation of misinformation and misconception on the issue through purchasing the support of journalists and consultants through special favours. As a part of this policy the company organised a grand tour of a good number of journalists of the press and the TV channels to a coalmine in Germany. On their return some of them have presented a glossy report in press and TV describing how open cast method of mining has been successful and effective, and suggestions on how Bangladesh can gain by replicating it. Clearly such reports are dedicated to promotion of Asia Energy's Phulbari coal project.
These reports only embody the brief of officials of RHE Company, an associate of Asia Energy. It is not hard to imagine why the views of those organisations and researchers who have been studying the issues in the project have not been collected by the journalists, or not included in their reports. This is because they would contradict Asia Energy's propaganda.
The reasons why open cast coal mining method in Germany is not at all comparable to such a one in Bangladesh are listed below.
1. The geological structure and features, aquifer depths, rains and floods in Bangladesh are sharply different from Germany's and preclude use of open cast mining method.
2. The density of population of Bangladesh is too high for comparison with Germany. In Germany people can easily be moved from an area to be resettled in another without much suffering and cost while in Bangladesh migration on a large scale is impossible because of total lack of vacant or lightly used space.
3. Bangladesh is crisscrossed by a network of rivers, canals and water bodies and underlain by continuous aquifer and this is not the case in Germany. So in our country pollution in one area spreads fast in all directions to cover an extensive area. The mobility of dispersion increases manifold during floods. In Germany, the pollution resulting from open cast method of coal mining will not spread and affect a large area. Again, the area of land in Bangladesh which will be dehydrated and gradually turn into deserts on account of continuous pumping of water due to high permeability of soil will be much larger than in Germany where the soil is nearly impermeable and the water bearing aquifer is low.
Because of soil characteristics in Bangladesh the sides of excavation tend to cave in over a large width but the rocky soil in Germany has no such tendency for collapse. Even then, as many as 244 villages around the mine visited by journalists in Germany have been devastated by the effect of mining.
Water near the mine area may look fresh to the viewers but is, in fact, poisonous. And then what is going to be the toll in Bangladesh?
4. The company doing the mining in Germany is home-grown. On top of it, the total ownership of the mine is not vested in the company.
In Bangladesh the entire mine, save 6 per cent royalty, was proposed to be transferred to proprietorship of a foreign company.
In Germany, open cast mining method was used to cater for a large domestic demand and not for export in the interest of a private company as was planned in Bangladesh.
Noteworthy, open cast mining method is not above question even in Germany in spite of the low-scale of negative factors with respect to Bangladesh scale. The toll is quite large in different sectors. The fact of poisoning of water and rendering agricultural land unsuitable for agriculture by the mining despite strict and skilled supervision by the German government and the measures taken to curb pollution at a great cost are not highlighted in the sponsored report. But the data and information are easy to collect.
Abandoning of open cast mining in different countries
Consciousness and concern is growing worldwide regarding the adverse effects of open cast method of coal mining on land, water, varieties of living creatures and natural environment and on people and their livelihood. In some countries the method is being banned by law. This year the United States has resisted open cast coal mining in Canada at a site near their common border on the ground that the mine would wreak havoc to the US population adjacent to the border. During the past one year, Argentina and Costa Rica have banned open cast mining. Again, in consideration of the adverse impact on population, environment, life and livelihood, open cast gold mining by a Canadian firm in Peru had to be abandoned on the basis of the people's opinion obtained through a referendum.
Multinational companies are resorting to diplomacy and misinformation for implementing this method in weak countries whose rulers are plunderers, corrupt and pliable. But mass resistance is growing everywhere gradually.
Framework of coal policy
Our government has formed a committee to finalise the coal policy. A draft has already been prepared. We expressed our view a number of times in the past and still hold the view that coal policy should be part of an integrated energy policy. In developing a policy for or taking a decision on oil, gas, coal or energy, the vital points laid down below must be borne in mind:
1. Mineral resources are non-renewable. Wrong decision once taken cannot be reversed nor corrected later.
2. The resource is very limited. Therefore, the last iota of the resources shall be used for the utmost profitable use.
3. Worldwide escalation of commercial energy demand has created a lack of security and instability in countries like Bangladesh.
Total control over our own mineral resources is, therefore, essential for facing the situation.
4. Many countries of the world are condemned to suffer from the vicious circle of poverty, crime and lack of economic development despite huge wealth of natural resources. This is the outcome of genocide, occupation of land, crowning of corrupt dictators in government -- all handiworks of imperialists in the aid of multinational companies dedicated to plunder and misappropriation of mineral resources of weak countries.
In these countries foreign investment with the object of plunder has resulted in the above vicious circle and its perpetuation.
Therefore, there is no way to escape the vicious circle of poverty and crime except ensuring people's ownership of natural resources and saving the resources from being looted by plunderers, home-grown or foreign.
Remembering these facts and on the basis of experience all over the world, the following principled position is essential for formulating an energy policy:
1. This is common property and since total security is dependent on it, 100 per cent ownership of people over this property, that is full proprietorship and authority of the people over it, has to be guaranteed.
2. Since the resource is limited and non-renewable, we must rid ourselves of the enchantment of profit from export, and ensure the most profitable use inside the country, and energy security. Use of these energy resources in the productive sector for dynamic growth shall be given top priority. Export shall be banned by law.
3. The rich fertile soil, fresh water, geographical variety and variety of creatures in Bangladesh are as precious as the mineral resources. For this reason, selection of the method of coalmining shall be such as conserves, as best as possible, the environment, land, employment, water, life and livelihood. After scrutinising all the relevant factors, viz. dense population, high price of land use, the surface water and underground water, existing makeup of life and livelihood, we are convinced that open cast method of mining will bring disastrous consequences. This method is to be shunned from all angles of view - technical, economical and social.
4. In order to ensure utmost utilisation of natural energy resources the national capacity for exploration and production of the resources shall have to be enhanced. What is required is to abandon the policy of deliberate crippling of national institutions such as Bapex, Petrobangla, Geological Survey of Bangladesh, Bureau of Mineral Development, etc and to invigorate them earnestly and seriously. At the same time, an institution bearing such name as Coal Bangla shall be established for carrying out all exploration and extraction of coal and ensuring maximum utilisation of coal in national interest.
Any shift from the above principled position could put to risk and jeopardy the goal of most profitable use of coal and best energy security. Planning and resource-funding shall be in keeping with the above principled position and for the same reason, immediate voiding of all agreements, memorandums of understanding and actions not in conformity with the above policy is obligatory. Immediate moves shall be taken to scrap the Phulbari coal project and oust Asia Energy associated with various irregularities and fraudulence.
August 26 has come to be a symbol of unique struggle for the people of Bangladesh. On one front, the government now faces a gang of national and foreign plunderers whose project of fraudulence, corruption, irregularities are against the interests of people, environment and human development, while on the other, it has to come to terms with an agreement, which is a big victory mark demonstrating victory of people's power over forces of corruption and destruction.
Last year people of Bangladesh shed their blood for warding off the project of plunder and destruction of national wealth. This event is a source of inspiration for not only Bangladeshis but for all peoples of the world captive to imperialist plunder. Now the name Phulbari is synonymous with struggle for emancipation, in different countries of the world. To commemorate the event, a decision to observe this as Phulbari day was taken last year. We have come to learn that the day will be observed throughout Bangladesh. However, suitable programmes cannot be taken up on account of the emergency in Bangladesh. In the days beginning August 26 till August 30 - the day of the signing of the agreement, our limited programme will include laying wreaths in memory of the martyrs, rallies of grief, exhibition of photographs, indoor memorial and prayer meetings.
We expect the government will extend full cooperation in this matter and also observe the day officially to honour our people's struggle for protection of national resources and against corruption and plunder.
We strongly feel that if the government is earnest about fighting corruption, they should publicly announce the cancellation of all agreement and understanding with Asia Energy both above board and underhand, if any, and thus demonstrate respect for the agreement concluded with the people. Ouster of Asia Energy, exponent of corruption, plunder and fraudulence, and mobilisation for raising national capability may mark the beginning of the march of Bangladesh in a new direction. We seek unity and consolidation of people from all walks of life in our struggle.
* Anu Muhammad is member secretary and SM Shaheedullah convener of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port
Phulbari: life and struggle continues
Report by Nasrin Siraj Annie , Meghbarta
25th August 2007
Roaming in and around Phulbari town and surrounding villages has always been an extraordinary experience for me. Here I meet people who made history to protect land and resources of Bangladesh from disastrous open pit coal mining project proposed by Asia Energy.
When I went there first time in January, 2006, at an open meeting on Phulbari coal project attended by different professionals, I realized how absurd and cruel it would be to let a company to destroy the locality. Phulbari is not a dumped area, in fact from primary school I learned to love Dinajpur area as the best place for rice, mango and lichi. It was totally unacceptable to let Asia Energy to destroy this highly populated and fertile land. Why should people give up their livelihood, land, resources and culture for corporate interest that would make generations after generations sufferer?
During August 26 uprising I was in Rangpur and went to meet injured villagers at Rangpur Medical Collage. There were Bablu, Prodeep and Srimon. From their injuries and narration I could easily understand that the Bangladesh Rifles fired bullets on mass gathering blindly. I could only send a small story to Meghbarta and Uttorshuri email group.
I went again to Phulbari 3 months after the uprising, firing on mass people, killing of 3 children by BDR, continuous protest from local level to national level and Government's agreement on cancel to open pit coal mining. On that trip I met mothers of Torikul, Amin and Salekin, those were killed on 26 August, Pradeep, who just returned from hospital and his family, villagers who were in the demonstration. I saw vast crop field, small mud houses, tears and pride for sons, rubber bullet hit youths and old, brave hearts and eyes with commitment and promises. This was an experience where I didn't have to try much to find stories. Indeed, people all around me were s/heroes of Phulbari uprising. Rickshaw pullers, van drivers, passengers, tea stall owners, customers, passerby, all had stories to tell. This July I went to Phulbari again but with a still camera. Let me introduce some people of Phulbari who protected land, water, air, coal of Bangladesh from plunder and destruction.
Bablu Roy, Shondhya, Dipto, Dipu and Diponkor. On 26 August, 2006, Bablu was injured on spinal cord by bullets fired by BDR on a peaceful mass protest against Phulbari Open Pit Coal Mine project proposed by Asia Energy. After long 11 months Bablu returned home in Phulbari. For nearly one year Bablu had to stay laid on the hospital bed, paralyzed bellow hip, from Rangpur hospital to Dhaka PG to Savar CRP believing that he will live and walk again. For these days Bablu could not see his parents, for hundreds and thousands of moments he missed his love- Shondhya, every second he was longing to see the face of his newly born son Diponkor, every fraction of seconds he wanted to kiss and hug Dipto and Dipu, his other 2 sons.
Bablu was a van rickshaw driver. His father has only 3 decimal homestead land where Bablu's father, mother, Bablu and his brother Ratan live with wife and children. Ratan works at a nursery. On an average this joint household could earn only 100/200 taka per day. They consume or demand very little but sacrificed highest to save natural resources of People's Republic of Bangladesh.
It took Dulali, Bablu's mother, whole life to build this sansar. Open pit coal mine project was a cyclone to her that has made her bread earner young and healthy son wheel chair bound.
Bablu's parents Vobesh Chandra Roy and Dulali. At this age they are not supposed to start a new earning project.
Once again I was speechless in front of Amin's mother. How can I console her! How can I wipe away her pain! With what can I fill her emptiness and what can I do with her remembering her son every moment!
Amin (12) was among three who died on August 26, 2006 by BDR open fire on that peaceful mass protest against Phulbari open pit mining project. Other two victims were Torikul (20) and Salekin (13).
In memory of 26 August Saiful Islam a banner/signboard artist has drawn about 50 paintings. This is Shahid Minar for martyrs according to Saiful's dream. People of Phulbari live everyday with pain and memory of loosing 3 children on August 26, 2006.
'We don't want coal mine by destroying our home'. Typical street and typical wall writing in Phulbari.
Wall writing says, 'dear mother I promise you, we shall protect Phulbari'
Wall writing giving warning to Asia Energy collaborators.
'Hands off Asia Energy'
Sayema Begum owns a small shop in Phulbari town, where she sells tea and biscuits. On August 27 she was in front of processions and resistance to break 144.
Nurunnahar Begum, while pregnant for 2 months, came out on the street to break 144 on 27 August, 2006. Her pictures of vocal confrontation with aggressive BDR were published in front pages of national dailies during Phulbari uprising. She wined her battle on 30 August and Government had to agree with the protesters to cancel deal with Asia Energy and say no to open pit coal mining.
Renu, another 'hero" of Phulbari uprising. She manages households, perform domestic duties. She is not supposed to understand "big" issues like 1% growth of GDP, global politics around energy, neo-imperialism, and the ties of ruling class with multinational corporate but Phulbari experience made her understand that. In fact, she understands what is better and worse for Bangladesh. She understands dirty deal with Asia Energy.
'Salute Phulbari. We mourn August 26. We are proud of August 26'.