Saturday, May 31, 2008

Phulbari Coal Extraction: Open pit mining to affect food security in Dinajpur

Oil, gas protection body leaders tell meetings at Phulbari, Nilphamari

The Daily Star, May 31 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Leaders of National Oil, Gas, Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee said here yesterday the food security will be affected in the district if the coal in Phulbari is extracted through open pit mine method.

They said about 40 square mile land in four upazilas in the district will be damaged in the process.

The committee leaders were addressing a meeting titled, 'People's Demand and Phulbari Coalmine,' held yesterday at Rabeya Community Centre at Phulbari where three persons were killed during a carnage there on August 26, 2006. The meeting was presided by committee convener Md Saiful Islam Jewel.

The coalmine will bring numerous sufferings to villagers, they said. They said the coal will be utilized outside the country rather than using for domestic purpose.

The meeting expressed dissatisfaction as the government is yet to implement the 6-point demand signed after Phulbari carnage on August 30, 2006. They urged the caretaker government to implement the demand. They urged the people of the four affected upazilas to thwart any conspiracy of foreign investors in this regard.

Md. Saiful Islam Jewel, convener of Phulbari Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee told the meeting that nation will decide to utilize the underground resources of the country and Phulbari people will thwart any conspiracy against them with the Phulbari coal project, he added.

The speakers observed that a strong political will is needed to resolve the issue. In his address, Prof Anu Mohammad, general secretary of the committee said that the underground asset belongs to people who will decide their fate.

Among others, Prof Anu Mohammad, Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah and Haider Akbar Khan Rano of Workers' Party, Zunayed Shaki, Gano Sanghati Andolon, Prof Samsul Alam (member), Tipur Biswas of Gano Front and Advocate Abdus Salam spoke.

Earlier, the committee leaders held a press conference at 'Media House' in Nilphamari on Thursday, said our district correspondent. They said the countrymen won't not allow any amendment in proposed coal policy.

They said for coal extraction, the principle of utilisng mineral resources for betterment of people, not for making profit, should be followed. The coal also should be extracted by national organisations, they said.

Chaired by Sreedam Das, convener of the district unit of the committee, the press conference was addressed by Engineer Sheikh Muhammad Sahidullah, Prof Anu Mohammad and Noor Mohammad.

They said 'Asia Energy' is spreading corruption in order to establish their 'devastating' plan as a development project. They said the expert committee formed earlier termed the development plan of 'Asia Energy' as illegal and their project against the national interest. Prof Anu Mohammad alleged 'Asia Energy' is trying to divide public opinion by making some agents.

Phulbari bed reserves at least 572 million tonnes of coal. If Bangladesh Government signs any deal with a company then coal extraction will last for 30 years where about 50,000 people will be relocated, according to officials of Asia Energy.

Draft coal policy to be sent for law ministry vetting in 10 days: Tamim

NewAge, Dhaka, Bangladesh May 31 2008

The energy division has almost finalised the draft of the coal policy and will send it to the law mining for vetting within next seven to ten days, said the special assistant to the chief adviser for power and energy ministry, M Tamim, on Friday.

‘We have almost completed scrutiny of the draft policy submitted by the committee [advisory committee]. No major changes have been made in the draft. Only some structural changes have been made’, he said at a seminar on ‘Energy Security and Development: Perspective Bangladesh’, organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs and Bangladesh Heritage Foundation.

‘The draft policy will be sent to the law ministry for vetting in seven to ten days. The policy will be placed before the council of advisers soon’, he added.

Tamim said that the coal sector had to be developed for meeting the growing demand for energy. Coal will be used in power generation and the industries, fertiliser plants and CNG refuelling stations should get preference in gas supply.

He said that many of the projects of the energy sector were undertaken from political consideration although energy sector should be treated as a commercial business sector. ‘Many oppose a project for the sake of opposition. They oppose it on political ground while others support the same project for different political reasons. No one considers the merit of the project’, he said.

Tamim said he believed that around 15 trillion cubic feet of more gas could be explored from the onshore areas of the country but the exploration activities needed investment.

He said that they had started work on formulating a policy for installation of power plants by public-private joint initiative, in which the government would own 51 per cent of the plant and private entrepreneurs 49 per cent.

Professor Iajaz Hossain of BUET, who presented the key-note paper at the seminar, said that the present energy situation in Bangladesh was not bad considering the global context and the present price of crude oil of over $130 per barrel which had also worried the United States.

He claimed that Bangladesh had an existing gas reserve of 12 tcf which might take 18 years to exhaust if the demand did not increase and it might be used up in 10 years if the demand increased by six per cent.

He said he believed there was a potential of exploring 30 tcf of gas – 5tcf from the existing fields, 10 tcf from the new onshore fields and 15tcf from offshore areas.

Besides, he said, Bangladesh had a coal reserve of two billion tonnes which could generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity for 50 years.

Iajaz said that the open-pit coal mine should be allowed in Bangladesh as India met 80 per cent of its demand for coal from open-pit mines.

Speakers at the seminar stressed the need for establishing a regional power grid by inter-connecting neighbouring countries.

Among others military secretary to the president, major general Aminul Karim, Petrobangla chairman Jalal Ahmed and former Power Development Board chairman Qamrul Islam Siddiqui spoke at the seminar, presided over by BILIA director, Waliur Rahman.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Let elected govt decide on Phulbari coalmine: Leaders of national oil, gas protection committee say at Dinajpur meet

The Daily Star, May 27, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

Leaders of National Oil, Gas, Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee yesterday urged the caretaker government to leave the decision about Phulbari coalmine for next elected political government.

Emphasising extraction of the coal with domestic efforts, they urged the government to ensure its uses for domestic purpose instead of exporting.

The caretaker government should respect the will of Phulbari people about implementing coalmine project, they said at a discussion on 'Development of north using mineral resources and national interest'.

Dinajpur unit of National Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee organised the discussion at Dinajpur Natya Samity Auditorium.

The people of Phulbari are yet to recover from the shock they received during the Phulbari carnage on August 26, 2006 Asia Energy is still optimistic to extract coal from Phulbari, said Prof Anu Muhammad, general secretary of National Oil, Gas, Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee.

The nation will decide about utilisation of the underground resources of the country, Md Saiful Islam Jewel, convener of Phulbari Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee, told the meeting.

Phulbari people will thwart any conspiracy against them, he said.

He said open pit mining will damage 1,00,000 acres of cultivable land in four upazilas and displace about 50,000 people.

Gono Sanghati Andolon leader Junayed Saki blasted World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank for giving green signal to invest in Bangladesh for a project that would bring in 'humanitarian disaster'.

Gono Front leader Tipu Biswas observed that strong political will is needed to resolve the issue about Phulbari coalmine project. He also condemned the illegal steps of certain quarter to draw supports regarding Phulbari Coalmine mobilising hundreds people in the affected four upazila of Dinajpur.

Nur Muhammad criticised the role of Dr Tamim, special assistant to chief adviser, about Phulbari coalmine.

The government is facing trouble to tackle the recent disaster due to underground mining of Barapukuria Coalmine Company Ltd (BCMCL) and open pit mining is much more dangerous, engineer Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah, convener of National Oil, Gas, Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee, said.

Phulbari coalmine project, if implemented, will bring the government about Tk 25,000 crore while it will eventually lead to loss of Tk 1,00,000 crore, he said.

Md Mosaddeque Hossain Labu, convener of Dinajpur unit National Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee, read out the keynote at the meeting.

At least 572 million tonnes of coal is reserved in Phulbari coal bed. If Bangladesh Government signs deal with a company then the coal extraction will last for 30 years while about 50,000 people will be relocated, according to the officials of Asia Energy.

Haidar Akbar Ali Khan Rono of Workers Party and Chitta Ghosh also spoke at the meeting. Later the leaders of National Oil, Gas, Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection Committee answered questions from the audience.

Govt warned of slide in law, order situation: Advised to suspend Asia Energy activities

The Daily Star, May 27, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

An intelligence agency in a special report has suggested that the government temporarily suspend all direct or indirect activities of Asia Energy to avert severe deterioration in law and order around Phulbari coalmine.

In a report to the energy ministry, the home ministry has referred to a special report of the intelligence agency saying that in order to avoid such a situation, the government must formulate a policy on Phulbari coalmine that is acceptable to all considering national and local interest and on the basis of open discussion at national level.

The report also suggested that the government should motivate all local people in favour of the coalmine.

Sources say the energy ministry on May 15 reviewed the report and observed that Asia Energy has not been given any lease to develop Phulbari mine and the government has not taken any decision on open cut or underground mining.

Decisions on these matters may be taken after the draft coal policy is finalised.

The process to frame the coal policy was initiated by the energy ministry since August 2005. This process slowed down apparently due to disputes surrounding the proposed Phulbari coalmine and Asia Energy.

The ministry also felt that the Bureau of Mineral Development (BMD) should ask Asia Energy to refrain from all activities under its own name or other names.

Later, the ministry decided not to say anything to Asia Energy.

Asia Energy's activities in Phulbari came to a halt following violent protests, in which six people were killed in August 2006.

The protests were organised by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port. The key factor of the protests included fear of displacement of more than 200,000 people and losing huge arable land.

After the Phulbari protests, the government officially did not say anything to Asia Energy, while the British company routinely filed applications enquiring about the status of its proposal for the mine.

On March 7, 2007, the BMD wrote to Asia Energy for the first time saying the company would have to wait till the coal policy is finalised. The BMD sent a second letter on November 5 reiterating the same position.

Though Asia Energy made a visible presence in 2002, it did not draw national attention till it submitted a feasibility study and a scheme of development in 2005.

The company in its study shows the mine has 572 million tonnes of high quality coal and 90 percent of it can be extracted through an open pit mine.

Asia Energy's proposals included building a 500MW coal-fired power plant at mine site at an estimated cost of $476 million.

The company was scheduled to start the mine development from late 2006 with first coal in 2008. Full production was expected to be achieved by 2013.

Asia Energy entered the coal mining scenario in 1998 by buying the mining contract originally given to international coal giant BHP on August 20, 1994.

Supporters of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port say Asia Energy was given the exploration licence unfairly by compromising national interest. They add that the company had no mining experience and that open pit mining will harm the environment.

Petrobangla experts however differ with the Committee, especially on the question of open pit mining, saying Bangladesh lacks energy security and its coal can provide a great solution.

Sixteen million tonnes of coal can generate 5,000MW power for one year. Coal can also be transformed into synthetic petroleum and a host of other useful chemicals.

The Asia Energy debate is holding back all decisions regarding other prospective coalmines.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Intimidation, pressure alleged in Phulbari coalfield area

May 6, 2008, NewAge, May 5, 2008.

National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Sunday alleged that some army men were creating panic among the people of Phulbari in Dinajpur in the name of taking opinion on the controversial open-pit coal project.

It also alleged that the British government through its high commissioner in Dhaka was continuing lobbying in favour of Asia Energy in Bangladesh and creating pressure on the government to allow the company for coal mining.

‘We have recently come to know that some members of the army wearing military uniforms have been visiting different areas of the coalfield zone in their vehicles and asking people whether they will agree to leave the village in exchange of compensation,’ said the committee’s member-secretary Anu Muhammad at a press conference in the city.

‘If the government really wants to conduct survey on the coal project to take people’s opinion, it can do that. We are also ready to extend support. But it is similar to take consent by intimidation, if any army man with arms conducts public opinion survey,’ he said.

Anu also condemned such activities and demanded immediate end to such move.

Replying to a question on whether the army was supporting the Asia Energy’s proposed open-pit mine at Phulbari, Anu said, ‘We do not know anything about it. We do not know why the army is there. We also want to understand what the army is doing there. We request the government to clear its position in this regard.’

When contacted, an official of the Inter Service Public Relations, however, said they were not aware of any allegation made by anyone regarding to any study. He declined to elaborate.

Anu said Asia Energy had engaged some lobbyists, comprising former bureaucrats, consultants and journalists, in pressing ahead with the devastating project. The company was also campaigning in northern districts that it was a ‘development project’, he added.

He called upon the British government and lending agencies like Asian Development Bank to stop lobbying in favour of the devastating project of Asia Energy which would destroy the environment in the northern region and push thousands of people on streets.

Anu demanded immediate scrapping of the Phulbari coal project and ouster of the company from the country as per the agreement signed with the people of Phulbari in 2006.

The committee convenor Sheikh Md Shahidullah said the people of Phulbari had given their verdict against the coal project, and there was no need to conduct public opinion survey.

When asked what the committee would do, if the government did not scrap the project, he said, ‘We are protesting against it and we will continue with our protest.’

Three persons were killed and few others injured at Phulbari on August 26, 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on the people who were staging demonstration in protest against the planned open pit mining project.

Professor Hossain Monsur of Dhaka University, Professor Shamsul Alam of Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology and left leader Ruhin Hossain Prince were, among others, present at the press conference.