Sunday, August 26, 2007

Phulbari Day Press Statement

Phulbari Day and the Coal Policy
by Anu Muhammad and SM Shaheedullah
The Daily NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh. August 26, 2007

The coming day of 26 August this year will mark the first anniversary
of the memorable mass resistance waged collectively by all people, -
young and old, men and women, Bangalees and aboriginals against the
infamous Phulbari Coal Project characterized by fraudulence and
rule-bashing designed to plunder natural resources under people's
ownership, simultaneously causing devastation of human life and
environment. This day, last year, nearly eighty thousand people
rallied for demanding abandonment of the perilous project for the
benefit of a multi-national company Asia Energy owned by British
Australian and German interest and ouster of the company who freely
indulged in bribery, corrupt practices, swindling through fraudulent
accounts and false propaganda.

The day's program was concluded after cordoning of Asia Energy Office,
raising demands for 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 rally, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR)
opened fire on them. Three teenagers Tariqul, Amin and Salekin were
killed on the spot. Among over two hundred wounded were ten victims of
gunshot among whom three were 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 traumatized and distraught. It
is circumstantially apparent that government forces opened fire
without any provocation possibly under Asia Energy's prodding with the
aim of striking terror to quell the movement.

This scheme of Asia Energy failed as it should.

Once people embrace a cause in their bosoms nothing can stop them.
Following the carnage of 26 August afternoon, BDR, Police, and
government terrorists created a regime of terror throughout the area.
It was the women and children who were the foremost to come out in the
streets in protest. They gathered in large number and initiated a
strong resistance which gradually grew into a mass uprising. Hundreds
of thousands of people from six sub-districts took up ceaseless
programs displaying unforgettable unity and solidarity. When people
all over Bangladesh took up the cause and started action programs, the
movement transformed into a national movement.

Eventually the (previous) government had to bow to people's power and
most compliantly signed an Agreement on 30 August 2006 with the people
steering the movement. Life returned to normal after this event.

Terms of 30 August Agreement
Following are the clear undertaking of the government made in the Agreement.

The six point demands raised by the National Committee for Protection
of Oil-Gas and Mineral Resource, Electrical Power and Port, Phulbari
Branch 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, any where in Bangladesh.
Other method(s) to be employed for coal production shall be subject to
people's consent.

b. Each of those who were killed on 26 August 2006 in the hands of the
law enforcement agency will be given a financial compensation
amounting to Tk. 2,00,000.00 (Taka two lac).

c. A sum of Tk. 9,00,000.00 (Taka nine lac) 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 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 26
August 2006 and to submit a report thereon. 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

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 have fully implemented items 'b' and 'c'
of the Agreement. People have driven out Asia Energy from out of the
four sub-districts including Phulbari but the company is still engaged
in hatching various conspiracies. 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.

Propaganda by Asia Energy in favour of open cast mining method
The overthrown company Asia Energy is busy making all sorts of
endeavours for wining the favour of the media at the very time when
the Review Committee recently formed by the government has been
working to finalize the policy for production and utilization of coal
resources. The main target of the company 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 organized a grand tour of a good
number of journalists of the press and the TV channels to a coal mine
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 suggestion how Bangladesh can gain
by replicating it. Clearly such reports are dedicated to promotion of
Asia Energy's Phulbari Coal Project.

These reports only embodies the brief of officials of RHE Company, an
associate of Asia Energy. It is not hard to imagine why the views of
those organizations 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 give a lie to
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
precludes use of open cast mining method.

2. The density of population of Bangladesh is too high for comparison
with Germany's. 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 fast spreads 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 in Germany. Again, the area of land in Bangladesh which
will be dehydrated and desertified on account of continuous pumping of
water at a very large rate required due to high permeability of soil
will be much larger than in Germany where the soil is nearly
impervious 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 homegrown. On top, the
total ownerships of the mine is not vested in the company.

In Bangladesh the entire mine, save 6% 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 inspite of 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 method of coal 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 US has resisted an open cast coal mining in Canada at a site near
their common border on the ground that the mine would wreak a
permanent havoc to the US population adjacent to the border. During
last one year, Argentina and Costa Rica have banned the open cast
mining method. Again in consideration of adverse effect on population,
environment, life and livelihood, open cast method of gold mining by a
Canadian firm in Peru had to be abandoned on the basis of 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.

Frame work of coal policy

Our government has formed a committee for finalizing 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 a
part of an integrated energy policy. In developing a policy for or
taking a decision on oil, gas, coal or energy that is, mineral
resources the vital points laid down below must be borne in mind.

1. Mineral resources are non-renewable. Wrong decision once taken can
not 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, and

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 the
throne of the 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 out for escaping the vicious circle of poverty and
crime except ensuring of people's ownership of natural resources and
saving the resources from being looted by plunderers, homegrown or

Remembering these facts and on the basis of experience all over the
world, the following principled position is essential for formulating
Energy Policy.

1. This is common property and since total security is dependent on
it, 100% ownership of people over this property that is full
proprietorship and authority of the people over it has to be

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 banded 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 coal mining
shall be such as conserves, as best as possible, the environment,
land, employment, water, life and livelihood. After scrutinizing of
all the relevant factors viz. dense population, high price of land
use, the surface water and underground water, existing make up 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 utilization 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 production of coal
and ensuring maximum utilization 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, memoranda 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 to ouster Asia Energy
associated with various irregularities and fraudulence.

Phulbari Day

The day 26 August has become a symbol of unique struggle, for the
people of Bangladesh. The government now faces on one front 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 front, the
government 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
sacrifice-bearing event is a source of inspiration for not only
Bangladesh people but for all peoples of 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 programs can not be taken up on account
of Emergency Rule in Bangladesh. In the days beginning 26 August till
30 August - the day of the signing of the Agreement, our limited
program will include laying of wreaths in memory of the martyrs,
rallies of grief, exhibition of photographs, indoor memorial and
prayer meetings etc.

We expect the government will extend full cooperation in this matter
and also to observe the day officially to honour our people's struggle
for protection of national resources and against corruption and

We strongly feel that if the government is in real earnest to fight
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 blood-letting Asia Energy,
exponent of corruption, plunder and fraudulence, and mobilization 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.

National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port
17 August 2007