Staff Correspondent, NewAge, April 6, 2009
The government has no mining agreement with Asia Energy for Phulbari coal field in Dinajpur, said adviser to the prime minister, Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury.
‘As far as I have learnt, there is no mining agreement with Asia Energy [for Phulbari coal field]. The issue of Asia Energy will be dealt with after the finalisation of the coal policy,’ Tawfiq told reporters on Thursday, replying to a query about what steps the new government would take on the Asia Energy issue.
Different rights and professional groups including the National Committee to Protect Oil Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port and the Bangladesh Economic Association have been demanding ouster of the controversial UK based company, which submitted a development scheme to the government in 2005 for operating an open pit mine at Phulbari.
Three persons were killed and many others were injured in August 2006 when law enforcers opened fire on protesters at Phulbari, who were protesting against the planned open-pit mine of the company saying that the environment of the area would be destroyed and they would lose their livelihoods and homes if the open-pit mine was operated.
Although the energy officials have claimed that the controversial UK-based company was only given the coal exploration licence and any decision on awarding the mining licence would depend on the government, Asia energy claimed that it was given the coal mining lease for ‘B area’ of the coal field in 2004.
The company has been waiting for a government decision on its coal field development plan, which was submitted in 2005 as the successive government failed to take any decision, although an expert committee, formed by the government, found in 2006 that the company’s agreement with the government was ‘illegal’ and that it would not be viable to operate the company’s planned open-pit mine.
The company’s chairman, Gary Lye on November 30, 2007, at a meeting with the members of the advisory committee to finalise the coal policy, claimed that after the mining lease was granted by the government, Asia Energy carried out a full scale exploratory drilling and conducted a feasibility study including the assessments of its impact on the environment and the society before submitting the development scheme.
‘There is the contract which contains an investment agreement and we have already invested a lot. The contract also covers the mining issue,’ he said.
The company claimed that it had submitted an application for the mining licence for ‘B area’ which contains 1921 hectares of land, in November 15, 2000 and got the licence on April 1, 2004, when it was given 24 months of time to submit a development scheme after completing the feasibility study.
The company said it also held the exploration licence for G area with 1447 hectares and H area with 2112 hectares of land. It had applied for the mining licence for G and H areas along with I area with 10,371 hectares, T area 1775 hectares and U area with 286 hectares of land, the company said.
Members of the expert committee which evaluated Asia Energy’s development scheme, however, said that the company wanted around 6500 hectares of land in total for coal mining.
‘There is vagueness in the letter which the government gave to Asia Energy in 2004 to allow it to conduct the feasibility study. The letter basically says that it would be given mining licence if its development plan was accepted. So if its development scheme is not accepted, the government can say “no” to Asia Energy,’ said a member.
As per the committee report, Asia energy’s Phulbari coal field development scheme should not be approved on any account — legal, technological, financial, environmental and institutional.