South Asia UpdatePublished by MAC on 2007-03-01
South Asia update
1st March 2007
As Bangladesh enters a second month of "emergency" restrictions, imposed by an "interim" government, the former administration's agreement with Asia Energy continues to loom large. This is despite the fact that the UK company's contract is viewed by many as illegal, while Bangladesh's new energy policy has merely confirmed that the country's scarce coal resources can be exported , with companies paying a derisory royalty for the benefit of exploitation.
The UK government has been urging its Bangladesh counterpart to confirm the Asia Energy deal, despite the widespread revulsion against its operations which culminated in the unprovoked killing of six local demonstrators last summer. (The company has since followed the time-worn path of renaming itself "Global Coal Management", as if that would instantly transform its tarnished reputation).
Now, a Korean company is also lobbying for exploration rights to another coalfield although (like Asia Energy) it has no experience in the field.
As reported earlier, the Indian conglomerate, Tata, is also after access to Bangladeshi coal resources and planning to site steel and car plants in the country
A week ago, residents of villages around Lohandiguda, in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, demonstrated against a Tata-proposed steel venture, to be met by police violence. It was almost a carbon copy of the notorious official repression of a demonstration mounted just over a year ago, by local people at Kalinganagar, in the neighbouring state of Orissa. The death toll then was thirteen. Also last week, independent researchers into the likely impacts of this plant were hounded by pro-Tata "goons" and barely escaped with their lives.
As middle and upperclass Indians strive to make their country a leader in information technology an environmental group warns that 150,000 tonnes of e-wastes is being dumped each year, much of which is irreparably harming the health of the poorer castes and classes consigned to dealing with them.
Closely following on the heels of a report exposing the impacts of gold mining in Burma's Kachin state, the US NGO, EearthRights International lays bear the attrition caused by uncontrolled mining, loggin and dam building in the Karen region of this beleagured country.
Asia Energy lobbying for Phulbari coalfield
Dubious Korean company wants Dighipara field
by Aminul Islam, NewAge
28th February 2007
The controversial UK-based Asia Energy and a little-known South Korean investment company, Luxon Global, continued lobbying the interim government for the Phulbari and Dighipara coalfields respectively.
Officials of both the companies separately met the power and energy adviser, Tapan Chowdhury, on Tuesday and discussed issues relating to the progress of Phulbari coalfield project and exploration licence for the Dighipara field.
Asia Energy chief executive officer Gary Lye called on the adviser in the afternoon while a delegation of Luxon, led by its vice-president Sang Yeop Lee, in the morning.
After the meeting with Lye, Tapan told New Age that the Asia Energy executive officer wanted to know about the progress of the Phulbari coal project. 'I told them that there was no progress in the coal project,' he said.
Sources close to the Asia Energy claimed that the company had already got a 'green signal' from the interim government in its controversial development scheme on Phulbari coalfield.
Most officials of the energy and mineral resources division also favour Asia Energy for the Phulbari field, although a government-formed committee found that the Asia Energy's agreement is illegal and despite controversies surrounded over the proposed open-pit mining of the company.
Representatives of previous BNP-led government signed an agreement with protesters in Phulbari to scrap the deal with Asia Energy following the killing of three people by law enforcers when they were staging demonstration against the company last year.
The Luxon officials, on the other hand, submitted a proposal to the energy adviser to get an exploration licence for the Dighipara coalfield.
The state-run Petrobangla has already decided to apply for the exploration licence for the coalfield.
Luxon ,which claimed itself as an investment and development company and has no experience on operating a coalfield like Asia Energy, proposed that it would form a consortium with the Korean Coal Corporation to explore coal in Dighipara.
About Luxon's proposal, Tapan told reporters that he had apprised the officials of the Korean company that the government would consider its proposal in line with the proposed coal policy when it is approved.
When asked whether Petrobangla should get preference to get the licence, Tapan said, 'I personally feel that no foreign company should get hundred per cent ownership of any coalfield. The company can form partnership with Petrobangla under the ownership of the government.'
Coal mines may be leased to foreign firms after policy formulation in March: Tapan
The Daily Star, Dhaka
28th February 2007
Formulation of the coal policy will be finalised within March and then the caretaker government will consider leasing out the country's coal mines to foreign companies.
Power and Energy Adviser Tapan Chowdhury apprised reporters of the plans after separate meetings with the chief of the foreign oil-company Chevron and the representatives of foreign coal-company Luxon Global at his ministry yesterday.
"But, in all cases, government's highest emphasis is to protect the interests of the country… Even, in allowing the lessee to export coal, the local consumption will be looked upon as the first priority," he said.
Chevron is now operating a number of gas fields in the country while Luxon is interested to develop the coal mine at Dighipara.
Tapan Chowhury, however, said the issue of third- round bidding for exploration of oil and gas in the country is not on the caretaker government's top- priority list.
"This is a long-term issue... I think, an elected government will look into the matter. But, if we (caretaker government) get a long time, then we'll see the matter," he said.
The immediate-past BNP-led coalition government had initiated inviting international tender on deep-sea natural gas exploration, which is known as "third-round block bidding".
But the move remained pending with the law ministry, with the relevant file waiting for its vetting.
On the other hand, the past government took up a similar move to prepare a coal policy to lease out country's coal basins to foreign companies.
But now the caretaker government expedited the policy-formation move and a special committee at the energy ministry is now busy giving final stitches to the provisional coal policy.
Tapan Chowdhury said that any kind of leasing of the coal basins would be done on the basis of the new policy.
He noted that Chevron's new gas field would come into commercial operation in the first week of next month, with daily production of 150 million cubic feet (mmcf) gas. Later, the output will reach 200 mmcf.
He said that electricity of about 400 MW is now being saved across the country through the enforcement of power-rationing decision, which made it mandatory for the shopping malls to close at 7pm everyday.
"This step has been taken to ensure electricity supply to the irrigation pumps," he said.
Security intensified at Tata project after violence
1st March 2007
Police patrolling was stepped up in 10 villages of Chhattisgarh's Bastar region where angry protesters injured six policemen late Wednesday in an attack when police asked locals to call off a meeting convened to intensify protests against the Tata's upcoming steel plant, police said Thursday.
'Some local politicians are fuelling anti-Tata protests in the 10 villages of Lohandiguda and we have strengthened police presence there Thursday as the situation is very tense,' Bastar range inspector general R.K. Vij told IANS over the telephone.
He said the protesters attacked the state police team in the area Wednesday and injured five police personnel including an assistant platoon commandant of the Chhattisgarh Armed Police when the forces visited the area to 'maintain law and order'.
Lohandiguda is located some 32 km from Jagdalpur town, the Bastar district headquarters.
The Chhattisgarh government has assured the Tatas that it would provide 5,157 hectares -- a mix of private and government land -- in the Lohandiguda area to set up the plant and develop the township.
'The tribals are determined to cross any limits to save their ancestral farm land from going into Tata's hands. The police have ordered the locals to not convene any protest meetings and agree to a smooth land handover, which is not acceptable to them,' Chitranjan Bakchhi, a local Communist Party of India (CPI) leader, told IANS Thursday.
Tata Steel, India's largest private sector steel maker, is setting up a 5 million tonne per annum integrated greenfield steel plant in Bastar district with an investment of Rs 100 billion for which a written agreement was signed between the company and the state government on June 4, 2005.
The Chhattisgarh government has sent a recommendation to the Indian government for granting a prospecting license to Tata Steel for carrying out a survey in the 2,500-hectare area in Dantewada district's Bailadila hills in Bastar region.
Bailadila has huge world-class iron ore stocks that have been divided into 14 deposits. The public sector National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) has been excavating mines in three bigger deposits.
Tribals protest against Tata steel plant
Raipur, Feb 25 (IANS) Tribals in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region have launched a massive protest against a proposed Tata steel plant, alleging the administration and the company were forcing them to give up their land.
The police have arrested Manish Kunjam, a former legislator and a Communist Party of India (CPI) leader, for fuelling the protest and warned the people and elected local bodies members to not "take law and order into their hands".
"We made some precautionary arrests Saturday and are searching for others who seemed determined to disrupt peace," a police officer of Bastar told IANS over telephone Sunday.
Tata Steel, India's largest private sector steel maker, signed a deal with the Chhattisgarh government in June 2005 to set up a steel plant with an investment of Rs.100 billion in the iron ore rich Lohandiguda area, 32 km from Jagdalpur town in Bastar district.
The company promised a "dream package" to the 10 villages to compensate for acquiring about 4,500 acres of land.
"In July-August last year the district administration forcibly got the consent of villagers to acquire their farm land. Now the villagers have decided they will go to any extent to prevent the Tatas from setting up the plant on fertile land," CPI leader Chitranjan Bakchhi told IANS.
India's Booming Economy Brings Toxic Hi-Tech Waste
26th February 2007
NEW DELHI - India's booming economy is producing mountains of toxic electronic waste like discarded computers and televisions, but there are no laws to regulate its disposal, a local environment group said on Friday.
Toxics Link said while the Asian giant's economy has been growing at eight percent annually over the last three years, it has also resulted in the generation of 150,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year.
An eight-month study by the group found that India's bustling financial hub of Mumbai was the biggest source of electronic or e-waste, generating 19,000 tonnes every year.
"Being the hub of India's commercial activities, the banks and financial institutions in Mumbai generate huge amounts of e-waste," Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link, told a news conference. "But like the rest of India, there are no laws for its safe handling and this will lead to serious health and environmental impacts."
Agarwal said the government had to regulate the management of e-waste by setting up a central authority to collect all discarded electronic goods and put in place laws to deal with disposal and recycling.
India's economic liberalisation that began in the early 1990s has seen hundreds of banks, financial institutions, electronics industries, information technology firms and call centres setting up operations across the country.
The booming economy has also led to a growing middle class -- estimated around 300 million -- which has more disposable income and an insatiable appetite for electronic products.
"When electronics like televisions, PCs and refrigerators are discarded, it is the informal sector made up of tens of thousands of people who collect it and then break it down and recycle parts of it which can be sold," said Agarwal.
"They extract toxic-heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium which are sold for other uses."
These metals harm the development of the brain, kidneys and some are carcinogens which enter the food chain through the air, water and soil.
Story by Nita Bhalla
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
New Report Details the Strategic Business of Human and Environmental Rights Violations in Burma
ERI Press Announcement
20th February 2007
EarthRights International released a 75-page report today documenting human rights violations and environmental degradation in Pegu Division, Burma committed by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and its business partners as they mine for gold, log forests, and construct a dam in Shwegyin township. The report, entitled "Turning Treasure Into Tears: Mining, Dams, and Deforestation in Shwegyin Township, Pegu Division, Burma" highlights the connection between human rights and environmental violations, increasing militarization, and business expansion in eastern Burma.
Based on field surveys and in-depth interviews that began in 2003 and were conducted by ERI in Shwegyin township, this report exposes a rise in land confiscation, displacement, forced labor, travel restrictions, arbitrary taxation, ethnic tension and violence. One Karen farmer noted, "We all suffer, but in different ways.Some people suffer from mining, some from damming, some from taxes and some from other oppression.What we once considered our treasure has now become our sorrow."
In 2006, during the writing of this report, these abuses were ongoing and the SPDC launched a major military offensive throughout eastern Pegu Division and northern Karen state, including Shwegyin township. Chana Maung, Director of ERI's SouthEast Asia programs, observes "as the SPDC expands militarization and strategic business interests in these areas, the abuses will only continue. Moreover, these problems are reflected in the entire country - whether it's the extraction of oil and gas, the construction of hydropower projects, or the mining of natural resources."
According to Ka Hsaw Wa, Executive Director of ERI, "the people are suffering unthinkable abuses while the ASEAN nations stand idly by. There's no progress; this is about controlling the land, natural resources and people, at any cost, and it manifests in gold mining, logging, and other extractive projects. Burma's treasures yield only tears."
Turning Treasure into Tears
I. Executive Summary
This report describes how human rights and environmental abuses continue to be a serious problem in eastern Pegu division, Burma - specifically, in Shwegyin township of Nyaunglebin District.2 The heavy militarization of the region, the indiscriminate granting of mining and logging concessions, and the construction ofthe Kyauk Naga Dam have led to forced labor, land confiscation, extortion, forced relocation, and the destruction of the natural environment. The human consequences of these practices, many of which violate customary and conventional international law, have been social unrest, increased financial hardship, and great personal suffering for the victims of human rights abuses.
By contrast, the SPDC and its business partners have benefited greatly from this exploitation. The businessmen, through their contacts, have been able to rapidly expand their operations to exploit the township's gold and timber resources.
The SPDC, for its part, is getting rich off the fees and labor exacted from the villagers. Its dam project will forever change the geography of thearea, at great personal cost to the villagers, but it will give the regime more electricity and water to irrigate its agro-business projects.
Karen villagers in the area previously panned for gold andsold it to supplement their incomes from their fields and plantations. They have also long been involved in small-scale logging of the forests. In 1997, the SPDC and businessmen began to industrialize the exploitation of gold deposits andforests in the area. Businessmen from central Burma eventually arrived and in collusion with the Burmese Army gained mining concessions and began to force people off of their land. Villagers in the area continueto lose their land, and with it their ability to provide for themselves. The Army abuses local villagers, confiscates their land, and continues to extort their money. Commodity prices continue to rise, compounding the difficulties of daily survival.
Large numbers of migrant workers havemoved into the area to work the mining concessions and log the forests. This has created a complicated tension between the Karen and these migrants. While the migrant workersare merely trying to earn enough money to feed their families, they are doing so on the Karen's ancestral land and through the exploitation of local resources. Most of the migrant workers are Burman, which increases ethnic tensions in an area where Burmans often represent the SPDC and the Army and are already seen as sneaky and oppressive by the localKaren.
These forms of exploitation increased since the announcement of the construction of the Kyauk Naga Dam in 2000, which is expected to be completed in late 2006. The SPDC has enabled the mining and logging companies to extract asmuch as they can before the area upstream of the dam is flooded.
This situation has intensified and increased human rights violations against villagers in the area. The militarization of the region, as elsewhere, has resulted in forced labor, extortion of money, goods, and building materials, and forced relocation by the Army.
In addition to these direct human rights violations, the mining and dam construction have also resulted in grave environmental degradation of the area. The mining process has resulted in toxic runoff that has damaged or destroyed fields and plantations downstream. The dam, once completed, will submerge fields, plantations, villages, and forests. In addition, the dam will be used to irrigate rubber plantations jointly owned by the SPDC and private business interests.
The Burmese Army has also made moves to secure the area in the mountains to the east of the Shwegyin River. This has led to relocations and the forced displacement of thousands of Karen villagers living in the mountains. Once the Armyhas secured the area, the mining and logging companies will surely follow.
This report is based on field surveys and in-depth interviews conducted by EarthRights International (ERI) in the district since 2001. Most of the information presented here was gathered between 2004 and 2005 from Burmese of different ethnic backgrounds. Many of the individuals interviewed worked for the different extractive industries that operate in the district either as miners, dayl aborers, loggers, or in other secondary occupations related to the exploitation of non-timber forest products, such as rattan and bamboo. Additional interviews were conducted with internally displaced persons (IDPs) hiding in remote areas oft he district as well as former convict porters and soldiers who had defected from the Burmese Army.3
In the absence of significant political and institutional reforms in Burma, an end to the problems described in this report is unlikely. However, the following recommendations outline the main areas which need to be addressed and specify what domestic and international mechanisms can be used to induce constructive changes.
EarthRights International (ERI) calls on the following actors:
To the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC):
General Human Rights Abuses
.. To make changes to the 1974 Constitution so that civilians have more rights overthe land they occupy, including rights to obtain legal land title. The changes should also include provisions to enable civilians to be included in decisions abouthow their land is used.
.. To create clear mechanisms that state the conditions wherein land may be confiscated by the State. The mechanisms should alsocontain avenues of complaint for civilians against land seizure and provide clear punishments for State officials who violate these mechanisms.
.. To provide suffi cient food, salaries, and other material supplies to its soldiers and officers so that they are self-sufficient in the field and do not need to live off the population. Complaint and punishment mechanisms should be put into place to deter soldiers from the extortion or looting of villagers.
.. To institute safe complaint mechanisms for civilians to report human rights abuses by the military. Military personnel found guilty of these abuses shouldbe punished.
.. To fulfill its obligations under International Labor Organization Convention No. 29 (1930), which it ratified in 1955. Additionally, the SPDC should ratify International Labor Organization Convention No. 105 (1957) and implement the terms of this agreement immediately. The SPDC should actively enforce Order No. 1/99 (14 May 1999) and the Order Supplementing Order No. 1/99 (27 October 2000), which outlawed the use of forced labor in all circumstances and proscribed punishment for its use. Protectionshould be extended to civilians who report forced labor abuses.
.. To sign and ratify the following international human rights documents, including: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Optional Protocols; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICESCR); the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (CAT); the Geneva Convention (the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War and its Additional Protocol); and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
General Environmental Abuses
.. To replace outdated laws and replace ineffective environmental provisions to bring them into accordance with its 1994 Environmental Policy and the UN-supportednational action plan for the environment known as "Myanmar Agenda 21."
.. To strengthen the National Commission for Environmental Affairs (NCEA) by empowering it to enforce existing laws and other regulations regarding environmental issues. The NCEA should be provided with sufficient human and fi nancial resources to accomplish this task.
.. To reform the system for administering and enforcing environmental laws, which is inefficient and narrowly defined by sector. In most cases, the laws are concerned with licensing requirements (by ministry) and refer to environmental protection in vague terms where they are mentioned at all.
.. To revise and enforce penalties for violating environmental laws. Fines and other deterrents should be adjusted to account for the differences in comparative wealthof individuals, Burmese companies, and foreign companies. This will help prevent situations where it might be more cost-effective to damage the environmentinstead of preventing the harm in the first place.
.. To offer financial and other incentives to state-owned enterprises and private sector actors to manage the country's natural resources in a sustainable way.
.. Any new dam projects should follow the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams.
.. To ban and take immediate legal action against individuals and companies using ecologically damaging techniques, such as: 1) hydraulic mining, a practice thathas been outlawed throughout the world; 2) "deep trenching," which involves cutting deep trenches across the farmland; as well as 3) the indiscriminate use of mercury, cyanide, sulphuric acid, and other chemicals to leach precious metals and minerals from extracted ore.
.. To enforce Section 12(a) of SLORC Law No. 8/94 which contains language requiring that: a) all applications to the Ministry of Mines conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) prior to receiving official approval to extract minerals, gems, and precious metals; and b) to investigate whether the environment, flora and fauna, highways, religious property, and/or items of cultural heritagewould be negatively affected by mining activities. Laws and regulations in boththese areas should be strengthened.
.. To create an independent agency to conduct future social impact assessmentsand environmental impact assessments in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
.. To repeal the section of the SLORC Law No. 8/94,which states that no mining company is liable to prosecution or fines.
.. To promulgate laws that permit citizens whose health and/or livelihoods are harmed by mining activities, including downstream pollution, to file lawsuits and receive adequate compensation for their injuries.
.. Governments should encourage the SPDC to unilaterally declare a cease-fire against all groups and begin demilitarizing areas inhabited by non-Burman ethnic nationalities.
.. Governments should exert pressure on the SPDC to step down and install a democratic government that also includes ethnic nationality representation.
.. Governments should continue to pressure the SPDC to engage in meaningful and substantive discussions with the National League for Democracy and representatives of the country's many non-Burman ethnic nationalities.
.. Governments should maintain existing economic sanctions and continue to withhold international aid to the regime until significant improvements in the human rights situation are independently verified by the UN Special Rapporteuron the human rights situation in Myanmar and other monitoring groups.
.. Governments should demand that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi be released from "protective custody" so that she may resume her normal activities as head of the political opposition.
International Organizations and NGOs:
.. The International Labor Organization (ILO) should strengthen existing resolutions on Burma to require the ILO's constituents (governments, employees, and labor) to take concrete actions to eliminate trade with and assistance to the regime that is contributing to the practice of forced labor.
.. UN agencies and other international environmental organizations should abstain from providing funding or other technical forms of assistance until serious steps are taken by the SPDC towards meeting its existing international treaty obligations regarding the environment.
.. The Asia-Pacific Center for Environmental Law and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) should pressure theSPDC to honor the terms of "Myanmar Agenda 21," which they helped author.
.. NGOs should continue to develop the capacity of indigenous groups to documenthuman rights and environmental abuses and advocate for change in relevantregional and international forums.
To Private Sector Actors:
.. Private sector actors should refrain from investing in or providing technical support for extractive industries in Burma until the companies adopt internationally recognized best-practices to protect laborers and to safeguard the environment.
.. Major importers and distributors of gold should eliminate their tacit support ofthe SDPC by refusing to import these products from Burma, refrain from purchasing Burmese gold through third countries, or through smuggled or illegal shipments.
To Opposition Groups:
.. Provide for measures in any future constitution which will protect the environment and create mechanisms for the enforcement of those measures.
.. Put in place a moratorium on all new large-scale development projects, i.e. dams, mining, logging operations, until a new constitution and political structure is inplace.
.. Develop a comprehensive resource development strategy based on the principle ofecological sustainability.
.. Develop a strategy to deal with land conf scation.
.. Any new dam projects should follow the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams. EarthRights International
The report can be downloaded at: