Kongkon Karmakar, Dinajpur and Sharier Khan in Dhaka, The Daily Star, March 6, 2009
Just when Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd (BCMCL) was dreaming about making profit for the first time, its coal production became uncertain due to resistance against mining by villagers and retrenchment of at least 800 miners yesterday.
While villagers stopped the company from mining coal from a new area since February 18 demanding compensation for loss of arable land, the mine's Chinese operator CMC-XMC yesterday served notice to retrench 800 miners. The CMC-XMC paid the miners and told them not to attend work from today.
This prompted miners to protest and bring out a procession inside the mine against the CMC-XMC decision. Later, the BCMCL authorities quelled the agitating miners and requested CMC-XMC to extend their deadline for resuming coal mining to Sunday. Sources said CMC-XMC agreed with BCMCL.
The CMC-XMC had given a deadline that expired yesterday to BCMCL to resume coal extraction.
While the company incurred a loss of Tk 156 crore between 2005 and 2008 due to poor coal production and excessive production cost, its performance drastically changed from June-July last.
With an increased coal production, the BCMCL sold around 1.5 lakh tonnes of coal to private buyers--mostly brick kilns--at $110 per tonne. This sale alone fetched around $16 million till February giving the company the hope of making profit. The remaining coal, more than four lakh tonnes, is being sold at $70 per tonne to the Power Development Board (PDB) to run its 250 megawatt power plant at the mine site.
Now, as the mine could not continue coal production as per schedule, its Chinese operator is threatening to leave Bangladesh. The mine's inventory now has about one lakh tonnes of coal to cater the needs of PDB's power plant. This is not enough for the BCMCL to sell coal to the brick kilns and make enough money to pay damages to villagers.
Production in this first underground coalmine in Bangladesh is done in different parts and in different "Faces", each of which allows extraction of a few lakh tonnes of coal.
On February 18, the BCMCL finished coal extraction from Face-1104. It was preparing to begin coal production from Face-1114 from February 25.
Face-1114 is close to village Jhigadari.
As many parts of Kalupara and Moupukur villages have already subsided due to the mining, the villagers of Jhigadari resisted drilling of a borehole there for mining purpose. They said each time a borehole is drilled, the land around it subsided. This should not go on, they added.
The villagers want the BCMCL to pay damages to villagers of Kalupara and Moupukur first. If the payment is satisfactory, then they would allow mining under Jhigadari.
This situation developed after three minister-level leaders visited Barapukuria to discuss with locals how they want the compensation. They went there following reports of large-scale land subsidence. A committee was formed with representation from villages to determine the amount of damages.
The BCMCL, meanwhile, told villagers that since policymakers have already assured them of damages, it would be provided and the villagers should give the government a few months' time. They said the locals should not resist mining work.
"We told the villagers that if mining is resisted, the mine's Chinese operators will leave. The workers will be retrenched and it will cause unrest. The mine's structure will be damaged. The PDB will no longer be able to generate power. And eventually, the villagers will suffer tremendously during the irrigation period. The BCMCL's financial health will also suffer and may not be able to pay the compensations," said an official.
"But the villagers are sentimental and do not want to listen to anything," he added.
General Manager (mining) of BCMCL Md Mir Abdul Motin told The Daily Star that they formed a technical committee to resume coal production from Face-1114 without sealing off existing boreholes. They were optimistic about starting coal extraction from Sunday.
Sources said the BCMCL paid Tk 24.22 lakh as food-grain damages to owners of 60.76 acres of land that subsided since 2006.
BCMCL sources said a high-level meeting was held in Dhaka Tuesday. This meeting recommended paying villagers the damages and convincing them to cooperate with coal production. This decision has to be implemented quickly or it would become difficult to motivate locals to cooperate.
Besides, the payment of damages required huge capital.
The authorities are yet to make any assessment for damages but sources in the Barapukuria coalmine said whatever the damages are, at present the mine does not have enough money to pay the villagers without help from the government.
Source said Tuesday's meeting was headed by Adviser to the Prime Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury. State Minister for Power and Energy Shamsul Haque, State Minister for Forest and Environment Mostafizur Rahman, Energy Secretary Mohammed Mohsin and senior officials of Barapukuria project were also present in the meeting to review the present crisis of BCMCL.
At the meeting, Towfiq-e-Elahi and Shamsul Haque directed the committee, which is preparing a list of the affected villagers, to submit its report immediately, sources said.
Mostafizur Rahman is scheduled to visit the coalmine site Saturday to talk with agitating villagers.