Friday, August 31, 2007

Bangladesh Government is Legally Bound to Cancel Deal with Asia Energy

Govt is legally bound to cancel deal with Asia Energy, says Rabbani
Commitment that no open-pit mining will be allowed must be kept
Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 31, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The government is legally bound to fulfil the major conditions of an agreement between the people of Phulbari and the government, which was signed last year, for cancelling the deal with Asia Energy to mine the Phulbari coal-field, observed a legal expert, Justice Mohammad Golam Rabbani, on Thursday.

‘It has been proved that the government is a party to the agreement that was signed with the people to cancel a deal with Asia Energy as the government has already fulfilled two points of the agreement,’ said the retired judge of the Supreme Court at a discussion on ‘People’s Verdict and Phulbari Agreement’ at the National Press Club.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port organised the discussion to mark the first anniversary of the Phulbari agreement, which was signed on August 30, 2006 to oust Asia Energy from the country after the four-day non-stop demonstration against the company.

Three persons were killed and over a hundred were injured when law enforcers opened fire on the demonstrators on August 26, 2006.

Justice Rabbani said one could make the specious argument that the mayor of Rajshahi, Mizanur Rahman Minu, who signed the agreement was not in a government position and therefore did not represent the government. ‘This is an illogical argument as Minu was a ruling party MP. As a mayor he enjoyed the rank of a deputy minister. He was accompanied by a deputy minister, deputy commissioner and superintendent of police when he signed the agreement on behalf of the government,’ he said.

‘Besides, they announced in public that they were the representatives of the highest policymakers. The Prime Minister’s Office also backed them. The government’s local administration, on the other hand, has fulfilled a number of conditions of the agreement. This proves that the government is party to the agreement,’ he said.

Asia Energy’s four branch offices were withdrawn from Phulbari as per the agreement and the families of the deceased, injured and affected people were paid compensation, he said. ‘As per the Contract Act, if any party of the agreement fulfils any condition, the agreement becomes effective and that party is bound to fulfil the other conditions as well,’ said Justice Rabbani. ‘The other conditions can be made effective through the court.’ The major conditions of the agreement are to cancel the deal with Asia Energy and to ensure that no open-pit mining will be allowed in the country.

The committee’s convener, SM Shahidullah, demanded that the interim government make its position on the Phulbari agreement clear to the people. The committee’s member-secretary, Professor Anu Mohammad, said that although the government had signed the Phulbari agreement in which it agreed that no open-pit mining would be allowed in the country, the draft coal policy still has the provision for open-pit mining. ‘It will be a violation of the agreement if the coal policy allows open-pit mining,’ he said.

The discussants observed one minute of silence in remembrance of three protesters who were killed in Phulbari. Professor MM Akash, Dr Shamsul Alam, Syed Abul Maqsud and Ruhin Hosain Prince spoke on the occasion, among others.