MAC: Mines and Communities


Published by MAC on 2007-02-18


Controversial coal policy should be reviewed before approval

Editorial: NewAge

18th February 2007

The current military-backed caretaker government's suggestion that Asia Energy, a UK-based mining company, works towards building a good relationship with the people of Phulbari in Dinajpur indicates the government's intention to allow Asia Energy to resume its operations there although the open-pit coal mine project that the mining company had proposed was rejected by the people at large and more particularly the local populace at the end of August last year.

The people of Phulbari had risen in spontaneous protest against the project and demanded immediate withdrawal of the company after the police had opened fire n a reasonably peaceful demonstration and killed five people. A general strike was enforced by the locals for several days following which the government was compelled to sign an agreement promising to suspend all activities and operations of the company.

Even the Prime Minister's Office, during the previous political regime under the BNP-led alliance government, directed the relevant departments of the government to implement the agreement.

As reported in New Age on Saturday, the current government, besides being intent on giving a go-ahead to Asia Energy, which has since changed its name to Global Coal Management, is also looking into approving a coal policy, which was not only rejected by a number of experts saying it was threat to national energy security but was also controversial since two significant parties, Asia Energy and the Indian conglomerate Tata, both interested in mining coal , had reportedly intervened in the process to ensure that the policy favoured their interests.

We point out that any decision to allow the mining company to return to Phulbari would be against the popular opinion of the local people and a large section of the nation at large. Such a decision would also be contrary to a government pledge that an earlier administration had made to the people.

As for the energy adviser's comments to allow Asia Energy to compensate for the loss of lives with its investment, we stress that such an investment, which experts and economists have found harmful, must not be entertained simply to compensate for the loss of life or limb. The government should instead ask the company to pay compensations from afar without jeopardising livelihoods of thousands and threatening the ecology of the region that would surely be affected by an open pit mine spread over 17,000 hectares.

The coal policy, being controversial and presumably subjected to persuasive intervention from commercially interested quarters should be opened up for further review through a transparent and inclusive process, which may later be considered for approval. But the current draft cannot suffice as an acceptable policy since several quarters have pointed out that it does not serve national interest and in fact threatens the energy security of Bangladesh.

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