Thursday, November 8, 2007

Draft Coal Policy to allow one open-pit mine as test case

NewAge, November 8, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The advisory committee, formed to finalise the draft coal policy, on Wednesday included in the draft a provision for developing one open-pit mine in the country as a test case.

‘No one in the country has any real experience in open-pit mining. So at first one mine should be developed by using the open-pit system to gather hands-on experience, and to assess the effect on the environment,’ said the provision included in the clause on Mining Method in the draft.

The first open-pit mining project will be experimental, and Bangladesh will gather data on the impact of water extraction on the environment, the impact on the underground through simulation, protection of the environment, resettlement of the evicted people and the socio-economic impact, and assess the success of re-injection of water into the underground and land reclamation and fertility.

‘If the result of the open-pit mining method is satisfactory, the method can be used in other coal-fields for commercial extraction of the coal,’ said the provision.

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Port and Power in the last two days demanded that the coal policy should not include any provision for open-pit mining, not even an experimental one.

The advisory committee, headed by former vice-chancellor of BUET Abdul Matin Patwari, felt that it would not be appropriate to exclude open-pit mining because of the looming energy crisis.

The committee decided not to recommend the coal-field which will be developed by using the open-pit method as it should be decided after conducting a feasibility study.

After a heated debate on who will develop the mine by using the open-pit method, the committee decided that either the proposed state-owned Coal Bangla or a public-private joint venture under the management of the government would develop the coal-field.

The partner of the joint venture will be selected through competitive bidding, the committee decided.

Regarding underground mining, the policy said that necessary measures would have to be based on the experience of underground mining (in Barapukuria).

If any company wants to develop a coal-field, it has to carry out socio-economic and technical feasibility studies and submit reports on both open-pit and underground mining, and a government committee will choose the mining method, said the policy.

The committee also decided to fix a security deposit for environmental damages, which will be 2 per cent of the estimated project cost. The deposit will be in addition to the existing deposit of 3 per cent of the project’s cost as stated in the mining rules.

The draft policy said that a representative group, comprising elected local representatives and local civil society members, would be formed, which would be involved with a coal project for observing environmental and social impacts and hear the complaints of local people.

The committee’s convener, Professor Patwari, told reporters that they were trying hard to finalise the policy by December.

‘The committee is holding meetings every week, with each meeting lasting about five hours. We cannot finalise the policy in a hurry nor can we afford to make any delay. We are trying our best to finalise the draft as soon as possible,’ he said.

Other committee members — University Grants Commission chairman Nazrul Islam, BUET’s Professor Nurul Islam, senior journalist Ataus Samad, Dhaka University Professors Badrul Imam and Mustafizur Rahman, chief engineer of the Bangladesh Army major General Ismail Faruque Chowdhury, Petrobangla director Maqbul-E-Elahi and chief executive officer of IIFC Nazrul Islam — were present at the meeting.