Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Energy resources and security: what Bangladesh government needs to do

By SM Shaheedullah* and Anu Muhammad**

NewAge, February 17, 2009

IN THE past, there has been little difference, if any, in the role of the governments, elected or unelected, in the matter of defending the national resources from usurpation by multinational capital. It is imperative that this situation change to ensure national development and energy security but this depends crucially on proper outlook and role of the present elected government with regard to national resources and national institutions. The physical resources of Bangladesh are limited but, given its proper utilisation, there should be no reason why people should suffer poverty, discrimination, malnutrition, unemployment and homelessness. In fact, our resources have become a source of danger of different kinds. Whatever meagre resources Bangladesh has, it is unprotected and lacks the people’s proprietorship over it and proper management. This is particularly true in the case of mineral resources.

The eastern region of the country is rich in gas while the northern region is rich in coal resources. The Bay of Bengal in the south is resourceful in gas, oil and many other minerals. The most prospective gas fields in the eastern region are under the grip and control of multinational companies. Though the maritime region in the Bay of Bengal has immense potential for oil, gas and other mineral resources, the maritime boundary of Bangladesh is still un-demarcated because of gross negligence on the part of past governments. Neither did the immediate-past interim government pay proper attention to the issue. The very sovereignty and national security is under threat as the uncertainty surrounding the maritime boundary persists.

The part of the Bay of Bengal under Bangladesh sovereignty is unprotected. This water body is traversed freely by military and civil officials and agents coming from the United States, India, Myanmar and other countries. There are also suspicious movement of their ships. These are too glaring to escape one’s notice. But for us, this sea also provides means of communication between Bangladesh and different countries. The sea is a field of vast resources, known and unknown, and the maritime area within legal limits under international law and rules and, under the proprietorship of the Bangladesh people, should carry the flag of Bangladesh sovereignty.

In such circumstances the maritime area has been divided into 28 blocks and bidding invited by the preceding interim government on the basis of a model production sharing contract which frustrates the people’s interests. It was a hasty move by the interim government to award contract for these blocks to multinational companies at their behest even before October 2008. Fortunately, the interim government failed to complete its plan because of stiff opposition from the people. However, the conspiracy of the international plunderers continues unabated.

A devastating project in the shape of Phulbari coalmine to guarantee plunder of coal resources in the northern region by a multinational company was pursued many years but this project has been foiled by the life-and-death struggle of the people. This very prospective coalfield was planned to be handed over to Asia Energy (now Global Coal Management), a multinational company. True, this sinister move has been quashed by the people’s resistance but the conspiracy lingers on. We may recall that in the face of the people’s uprising the then government had to enter into the seven-point Phulbari agreement. Notably, in the wake of the uprising Sheikh Hasina, then opposition leader and now prime minister, declared at a public meeting in Phulbari her full support for the Phulbari agreement and called for its immediate implementation. But so far this agreement has not yet been fully implemented. As a result, Asia Energy, which was due to be driven out of the country, has been engaged in nefarious activities involving corruption and crime, home and abroad.

A ceaseless economic haemorrhage of Bangladesh goes on, because of various anti-people contracts and usurpation in gas and electricity sectors. People are being fleeced to the tune of 30 billion takas per year on account of unfair agreements permitting the multinational gas and electricity companies to pocket unlawful bonanza. This amount will go up further if these trends continue. On the other hand, state-owned organisations are languishing for their own government’s deliberate denial of funds and patronage.
 Based on the above facts and factors and global experience, the government, we believe, needs to take the following issues into consideration when formulating energy policies.

Proprietorship and authority

PROPRIETORSHIP of all mineral resources lies with the people, according to the constitution. The governments in the past have violated the constitution and handed over – and, in fact, are still trying to hand over – the people’s property to different multinational companies through secret agreements. This practice must be brought to a halt. One hundred per cent proprietorship of the resources needs to be restored to the people. The contracts made thus far in respect of production sharing of gas, coal and minerals are all against people’s interests and are burdensome on the economy and have proved to be a threat to energy security. Therefore, all the contracts should be made public and reviewed by committees of independent experts. Those contracts which are prejudicial to national interest should be rescinded. Export of gas, coal and any product hereon should be prohibited by law to be enacted for the purpose.

Compensation for losses and penalty for crimes and irregularities

DUE compensation for losses in Magurchhara and Tengratila blow-outs should be realised from US company Chevron and Canadian company Niko. Penalty should be imposed for delay in payment of compensation and evading of payment on fictions or untenable grounds.

Two former prime ministers have been implicated on account of corruption in Niko contract. Similar measures should be taken against Niko. Cairn Energy submitted false and misleading information on the Sangu reservoir and submitted exorbitant statements of cost of production and thereafter revised the figures upwards time and again. Now they have been putting the government under intense pressure in different ways to raise the price of gas. For this reason compensation of lost money and other penal measures should be claimed against Cairn Energy and their local associates. Jalalabad gas field discovered by Bangladesh was handed over to Chevron unlawfully. Yet, recently another adjoining gas field has been given to Chevron. By allowing extraction of gas from Bibiyana well at a high rate exceeding the safe limit Chevron has exposed the gas field to a big risk as in the case of Niko in Sangu. Chevron has caused huge loss to reserve forest and its flora and fauna in Lawachhara, while carrying out seismic survey for gas in the region. Officials of Petrobangla including its chairman were reportedly involved in these unlawful activities. Necessary actions should be taken against them.

Maritime boundary and maritime resources

MARITIME boundary should be demarcated and proprietary rights and authority over the area established on a high priority basis. Separate ministry or directorate for the sea should be established. Model PSC stipulating exports of gas should be scrapped. For generating skill for oil and gas exploration in shallow and deep seas BAPEX should be compulsorily made principals in all joint ventures.

Protection and maximum utilisation of coal resources

ALL irregularities and corruption in the management of coalmine in Barapukuria should be eradicated. In order to arrest land subsidence on account of underground mining all measures including sand filling should be carried out. Losses to homesteads on account of land subsidence and cracks in buildings should be fully properly and urgently compensated. Asia energy should be driven out of the country immediately and the method of open-pit mining should be prohibited all over Bangladesh, in accordance with the August 30, 2006 Phulbari agreement.

National capacity building

IN ORDER to ensure people’s proprietorship of national resources, national institutions need to be fully developed. To this end, BAPEX, Petrobangla, Geological Survey and Bureau of Mineral Development should be adequately developed and the proposed Coal Bangla should be established and made operational immediately. More departments at university level and also research institutes should be established at national level to develop skilled manpower for mineral resources development and their best utilisation. For this purpose, the services of expatriate Bangladeshi experts and foreign experts, if needed, should be utilised.

A national energy policy should be framed with a suitable mix of measures required for ensuring national interest and energy security – both short and long term while conserving environment and public interest through development of renewable and non renewable energy resources. Necessary institutional framework should be built for proper implementation of the policy and its monitoring.


TREATING electrical energy as a mass consumer item, a policy framework should be laid down for establishing power plants in the state sector and supplementary power plants under private sector, owned by Bangladeshi nationals. The country should be unshackled from the current vicious policies, agreements and institutional provisions for purchasing electrical energy at an excessively high rate for the benefit of multinational companies and rendering electricity sector captive to the scheming multinational companies. Strict actions should be taken for corrupt practices of multinational companies and their local associates in the business of production and sale of electrical energy.


MINISTERS, bureaucrats, consultants and industrialists who were involved in the sinister conspiracy of siphoning natural resource in the name of exporting it through plunderous production sharing contracts and other contracts shall be brought to justice and exemplary punishment meted out to them.

Resistance struggle put up by the people of Bangladesh in the last decade against siphoning of gas to India and crippling of the national port in Chittagong and compromising with national sovereignty for the benefit of a private port to be operated and used by a private US company and against the devastating Phulbari coalmine project has won historical victories and are crucially important polarizer of future direction of the Bangladesh nation. The people of Phulbari have erected a permanent wall of collective human spirit against plunder, hegemony and siphoning of coal through sacrifice of lives and limbs. People’s verdict writ in blood declares that Bangladeshi resources must be for Bangladesh to use and utilise. The extraction and utilisation of this resource will be met for generation of electricity and industrialisation solely for the need and benefit of Bangladesh and its people. Needless to say, it is only a bunch of treacherous public enemies who can take a position against the people’s verdict.

*SM Shaheedullah is convener and **Anu Muhammad member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port

Mine Subsidence: Coal city planned to rehabilitate victims

Sharier Khan, The Daily Star, February 17, 2009

The government is considering establishment of a "coal city" near Barapukuria which would provide housing and occupation to people affected by the coalmine and become the centre focus for mining related higher studies.

The idea stemmed from the fact that the government in the past had ignored land and water related issues while approving the Barapukuria coalmine project. But such problems are affecting livelihoods of at least 15 villages around the mine. In future, the problem would deepen, as the mine would cause 4.2 square kilometres area to subside by two metres.

The government is thinking of ways to address such issues in consultation with the locals, who are affected the most by such development projects, says Dr Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, energy adviser to the prime minister.

"Only through people's consultation can any project get peoples' cooperation," he said, adding, "Such projects should improve peoples' lives, not worsen it."

The size of such a city would not be big and the government would try to utilise Khas land in that area for this purpose. It would acquire agriculture land as little as possible, he said.

The prime minister is open to the idea, he added.

A special committee would be set up to spearhead the idea and the government would take up survey work and environmental studies, and study best examples of coal cities in other countries.

"Land and surface water are directly affected in case of both underground and open pit mining," Chowdhury noted. "It's immoral to keep people in the dark about such consequence. People have the first right to know if the project would affect their livelihood."

This city may have a mining university and school and home to new industries. The emphasis of this city would be ensuring the livelihood of the first generation settlers.

Chowdhury, Environment Minister Mustafizur Rahman Fizar and State Minister for Energy Shamsul Haq Tuku visited the Barapukuria mining area last month and held open meetings with the affected villagers.

Many houses developed cracks and some pieces of land have subsided by one metre, while the sub-soil water table has gone down beyond reach of normal tube-wells. During the meetings, the villagers were asked if they would like to voluntarily move to a safer place nearby.

It was decided with the villagers that a committee will be formed with two representatives from each village adjacent to the mine. The committee would talk rehabilitation and compensation issues.

"Some people in Barapukuria are living amid life risk. We are trying to find out what could be done to avert this situation. They may be temporarily rehabilitated to a safe area. We can offer them choices, but we would leave it up to the people themselves how they would like us to solve the problem," Chowdhury pointed out.

The idea of the city is also prompted by further mining prospects in the northern region. While controversies surrounding the Asia Energy coal pit mining proposal in Phulbari have stalled new decisions on tapping mines resources now, the country's ever increasing energy crisis would compel the government to take hard decisions.

Other than Asia Energy, the government has given Petrobangla a licence to explore Dighipara coal zone and the Hosaf group [which is responsible for corruption in the Barapukuria coalmine and power projects] to explore Khalashpir zone.

Meanwhile, the government has not yet reviewed the draft coal policy left by the caretaker government. Many people view the draft as an anti-investment document and the process of framing the draft policy is viewed as an excuse to delay development of the country's coal sector.

The country's lone coalmine in Barapukuria is presently producing 850,000 tonnes of coal, most of which is used for 250mw power generation at the mine site.

The country imports around three million tonnes low quality coal from India worth more than a thousand crore taka each year to cater the needs of brick kilns and various industries.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Local communities raise voice against coal policy draft

Correspondent, The New Nation, February 6, 2009

The dwellers of Phulbari in Dinajpur district, particularly those who would be affected if the open-pit extraction of coals from Barapukuria coal mine is approved, have rejected the draft national coal policy of the expert committee headed by Prof Abdul Matin Patwary.

They have also announced an action programme of staging demonstration in front of the gate of the coal mine project at Barapukuria on February 10 against the draft national coal policy and warned that they will go for a tough action programme. Deep resentment and tension have been prevailing among the dwellers of Phulbari and the affected people of the open-pit coal extraction at Barapukuria.

Talking to this Correspondent, leader of the Phulbari coal mine movement and chairman of the upazila, Aminul Islam Bablu said yesterday that the report of the Patwary Commission was like that of examining the quality of poison by swallowing the poison.

He said there would be an acute scarcity of water in the area and there might be a situation of acid rain like that of Costa Rica after emission of methane gas from the ground table which would have a catastrophic effect on the environment.

Bablu reminded that while visiting the area on September 6 in 2006, Sheikh Hasina, the then opposition leader, had expressed solidarity with the Six-point anti-Asia Energy movement of Phulbari people that claimed many lives on August 26 in 2006. "It would be a betrayal and bluff with the Phulbari dwellers if the incumbent Prime Minister implements the proposal of the Patwary Commission now," he said, reminding that it was mentioned in the six-point that open-pit extraction of coal could not be carried out anywhere in the country.

Syed Saiful Islam Jewel, Convener of Phulbari unit of the National Committee for protection of oil, gas, power, port and national resources, said the arable fertile lands could not be ruined in the name of extraction of natural resources to ensure food security.

He threatened that they would go for a tough action programme if the government went for implementation of open-pit extraction of coals from Barapukuria coal mine Wazed Ali of Kalupara village, Ruhul Amin of Banshpukur village, Moyen Uddin of Badiyanathpur, Mushfiqur Rahim of Shibkrishnapur and other affected villagers categorically said that they would not move to other places from their ancestral homes by taking compensation and they would fight for their right till their death.

Expressing their anguish over the dubious role of state minister for Forests and Environment and Awami League legislator Advocate Mostafizur Rahman Fizar from Dinajpur-5 constituency, they claimed that the minister was tempting the affected people of Barapukuria coal mine of allocating them flats in the city's Uttara Model Town

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let not Barapukuria turn into another Phulbari

Editorial: NewAge, February 4, 2009

THE government looks set to develop an open-pit coalmine at Barapukuria in Dinajpur after underground mining triggered land subsidence, so says a report published in New Age on Tuesday. The government, according to the report, has already asked members of parliament and local government representatives in Dinajpur to motivate people in favour of an open-pit operation at the Barapukuria coalfield. The report also says the local people have been advised to propose resettlement, rehabilitation and compensation packages.

Open-pit coalmine has been a sensitive issue ever since Asia Energy, a UK-based mining company, proposed to develop an open-pit coalmine at Phulbari in Dinajpur. Three persons were killed and several others wounded in August 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on a procession, brought out as part of a sustained campaigned by a citizens' platform called the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port. There are a number of other organisations, including the Bangladesh Economic Association, and sections of citizens who are opposed to development of an open-pit mine.

Critics say open-pit mining causes long-term and severe environmental damage. The effect can be felt not just in the area around the mine but also from miles away as toxic waste drain into the natural water system. Groundwater for miles around the mine sees a drastic fall. Considering that this northern part of Bangladesh is very fertile and produces a substantial amount of cereal every year, which is crucial for the country's food security. Environmental damage, besides resulting in potential crop losses, would also affect public health. Even after the mine has been filled and land returned, it is unlikely that the soil would instantly regain its fertility.

It should also be noted that typical sites of open-pit coalmines around the world are located in areas where population density is far below than that of Dinajpur and thus risks affecting the livelihoods of many more than practical experiences—instances from China, Germany or Australia—might indicate. Although the draft coal policy—which is yet to be adopted—allows the provision of one open-pit mine on a limited scale to gauge its effect on environment, other thorny issues like coal export and resettlement plans still unresolved. Also, there is yet to be a comprehensive mining or energy policy governing the extraction of fossil fuel or other minerals. While all this time there have been raging debates about the merits and demerits of a coalmine, neither the government nor any of the organisations opposing open-pit method has conducted a thorough cost-benefit analysis of open-pit mine.

We urge the government to commission a thorough analysis of the potential costs involved, including environmental damage, foregone production of crop, loss of livelihood for at least the duration of mining, loss of forests, timber and biodiversity, costs for rehabilitation, resettlement and compensation of the local people, infrastructure expenditure and establishment of rail link from the mine site. These costs should then be compared against the potentially realistic benefits to find out if open-pit mining has an economic rationale in the first place. Only then could we have a sound basis for substantive argument for or against coalmining methods.