Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Govt report which terms Phulbari deal illegal goes missing

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, March 10, 2009

The energy division has ‘lost’ the report of a government-formed expert committee which found that the Asia Energy’s agreement with the government for Phulbari coal field was illegal and an open pit mine at the field would not be viable, sources in the division said.

The division found the report missing from the file on Phulbari coal field a few days back when the Prime Minister’s Office asked the division to send a position paper on the Phulbari coal project and Asia Energy.

Sources in the division suspected that the report might have been intentionally taken away by some quarters loyal to the Asia Energy as the company would never get any chance to take the Phulbari coal field if the government implemented the recommendations of the committee.

The convenor of the 12-member committee, Professor Nurul Islam of BUET submitted the report to the then energy secretary, AMM Nasir Uddin on September 24, 2006, after scrutinising the Asia Energy’s development plan for operating an open pit mine at Phulbari coal field.

After the division found the report missing, Professor Islam provided the division with a copy of the report as per the request of the division, said energy officials.
 When contacted the energy secretary, Mohammad Mohsin told New Age on Monday that they had found the ‘original’ report of the committee missing from the file when they were preparing the position paper for the prime minister.

The then secretary Nasir Uddin received the report and the report was sent to the relevant desk. We suspect the report has been missing from the desk,’ he said.

‘Although the original copy was missing, there is a photocopy of the report. But the photocopy is very hazy. But luckily Professor Islam had a copy of the report,’ he said.

When Mohsin was asked if anyone had intentionally removed the report, he said, ‘It might have happened. We have warned the concerned desk to handle such files carefully.’

Professor Islam, however, expressed his disappointment over the issue. ‘We have prepared the report after going through thousands of pages of the development plant submitted by the Asia Energy. But for the last two years no action has been taken to implement the recommendations. Now we hear the report is missing. It is disappointing,’ he told New Age on Monday.
 He observed that the removal of the report might be part of a ploy to hide irregularities that had taken place in the contract with the Asia Energy and to award the Phulbari coal field to Asia Energy for operating open pit mine.

As per the committee report, Asia energy’s Phulbari coal field development scheme should not be approved on any count — legal, technological, financial, environmental and institutional.

The committee said the proposed open-pit mine of the company would bring environmental disaster in the area while the development scheme of the company proposed mining in an area of 6,500 hectares although as per the rules it should have proposed mining in an area of about 400 hectares.

The report said that Phulbari the agreement, which was originally signed with BHP in 1994 for three years, was handed over to the Asia Energy in 1998 in violation of the mining rules as the exploration licence with the BHP expired in 1997.

The company did not submit the guarantee money of about Tk 2,000 crore with the development scheme that the company submitted to the government in 2005 although as per the rules it was supposed to deposit three per cent of the development cost.

The UK-based company carried out a two-year feasibility study before submitting the development scheme in the middle of 2005 proposing open-pit mining in the field.

Three people were killed in Phulbari on August 26, 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on demonstrators protesting against the planned open-pit mining by Asia Energy and demanding ouster of the company from Bangladesh.