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.