Saturday, May 23, 2009

Compensation for Barapukuria Subsidence: Miners, villagers strike deal

Sharier Khan, The Daily Star, May 23, 2009

Representatives of villagers affected by land subsidence caused by coal mining in Barapukuria have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd (BCMCL) for compensation and cooperation.

The BCMCL will pay compensation for loss of land at a premium price to around 2,400 affected people of seven villages around the mine, according to the MoU signed earlier last week.

The price of land may be fixed on the basis of that offered to affected people in Maowa for the Padma bridge project in the past years, and also taking into account inflation rate up to 2009. The price may be fixed also on the basis of the highest price of land in the affected Barapukuria area, or the higher price between these two options.

And the villagers will help the authorities ensure law and order in the mining area. The villagers however said if payment of compensation is delayed, it might not be possible for them to help maintain law and order.

Meanwhile, law and order has become an issue of concern for the mine authorities as some outsiders are fuelling conflicts among mine workers, the mine's Chinese operators and BCMCL officials and staffs.

“We have found that certain people of Phulbari have launched a negative campaign against Barapukuria mine. Their instigation caused anarchy in the mine earlier this month. They want the mine to be shut down, and they have other agenda in this region,” said an official.

Bangladesh imports poor quality coal from India worth more than Tk 2,500 crore every year. Many officials suspect that the importers may contribute to the negative campaign against coal mining in the country.

After the 'successful' movement in Phulbari four years back, this group of people is fuelling a negative campaign in Barapukuria for the last one year as land subsidence became quite visible in several areas, officials said.

As the government's mining project overlooked subsidence and compensation issues when it was approved in the early nineties, the negative campaign influenced the villagers and workers, they noted.

But the present Awami League government responded to this situation in late January. A committee was formed to look into the subsidence issue and recommend how to compensate the affected people.

The MoU signed on May 14-15 by BCMCL officials and affected people is the first step to solve people's negative impression about coal mining.

As per the MoU, both the sidess agreed on appointing a Property Valuation Advisory Team (PVAT) comprised of advisers and representatives of Dinajpur district administration. This team would specifically recommend compensation for crop land, commercial and domestic space and housing structures, livestock, school, college, religious structure, graveyard, forestry, road, canal, pond, Eidgah, bridges, electric poles, shallow or deep tubewells etc.

The BCMCL had proposed relocation of the families whose houses have developed serious cracks. But the villagers sought compensation and repair of their houses. The BCMCL will construct eight to 10 tin sheds in the high-risk area of Moupukur village.

They agreed on developing a mining city.

The affected people would be helped to form a cooperative and allowed to run modern fisheries in the subsided area. As the land would subside further, this could be converted into an attractive tourist spot, which would contribute to local development in future, sources.

The BCMCL would relax its rules to give priority to the affected people in offering jobs at the mine.

PDB eyes four power plants based on imported coal

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, May 23, 2009

The Power Development Board will soon send a proposal to the government to take steps for installation of four power plants, each with 500MW capacity, which will be powered by imported coal, said officials.

‘As there is gas shortage and uncertainty prevails over extraction of coal from the remaining coal-fields in the country, we will request the government to take steps as soon as possible to install four power plants powered by imported coal,’ said a high official of the PDB.

The planned power plants could be set up in Chittagong, Khulna, Meghnaghat and Madaripur, near the proposed Padma Bridge, as these locations have water transport facilities for carrying imported coal, said PDB officials.

They said that the PDB had already raised the issue with the parliamentary standing committee on power and energy early this month and the committee gave a positive response.

Officials said that around $2.5 billion would be needed to install the power plants.

They said that the government needed to install coal-based power plants immediately if it wanted to fulfil its pledge of increasing electricity generation to 7,000MW by 2013 from the existing 3,800MW.

As per the government’s Power System Master Plan, the current demand for electricity in the country is supposed to be 6,066MW if the GDP is 5.2 per cent or 6,567MW if the GDP is 8 per cent.

The country’s demand for power will be 8,364MW in 2013 if the GDP is 5.2 per cent at that time and 10,473MW if the GDP increases to 8 per cent.

The Awami League’s election manifesto says that it will increase the GDP to 8 per cent and electricity generation to 7,000MW by 2013.

‘All the power projects in the pipeline and the proposed projects are gas-based. With the projected supply of gas, it will be hard to increase the power generation even to 5,000MW by 2013. So there is no alternative but to go for imported coal as uncertainty prevails over extraction of coal from the country’s coal-mines,’ said another official.

The PDB runs a 250MW coal-based power plant in Dinajpur with coal from the country’s lone coal-mine in Barapukuria that produces around 3,000 tonnes of coal per day.

The decision to extract coal from the country’s four other coal-fields has remained shelved because of the dispute over the mining method. Environmentally concerned citizens are totally against open-pit mining which is cheaper and extracts more coal, but is ecologically destructive.

Officials said that an attempt to import coal from Indonesia and Colombia was failed during the interim government as it was found the price of coal was too high, around $120-$160 per tonne including transportation and other costs.

The government recently completed primary negotiation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency for conducting a Master Plan Study on Coal Power Development.

Sources in the Power Division said that JICA identified 14 locations, including the four mentioned by PDB, where coal-based power plants could be set up.

They said that JICA might provide the fund for installation of two 500MW power plants if government can persuade it to do so.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New face of an old campaign

Tanim Ahmed, NewAge, May 21, 2009

While the economics of an open-pit coalmine are ‘compelling’ compared to those of a shaft mine, neither the government nor any of the advocates have so far carried out a cost-benefit analysis that dismisses dissenters’ reservations and establishes a concrete case for open-pit coal extraction.

THERE is little doubt that Bangladesh’s power sector is in a grave situation. Frequent power outages in any part of Dhaka, and even the preferred and privileged residential areas, are enough to highlight the terrible state of electricity generation. Life outside Dhaka, especially in other cities, must have been downright unbearable during the spell of dry scorching weather. But electricity generation is not just a matter of civic comfort. It has become a necessity and a prerequisite for advancement and economic growth, especially industrial growth.

The mode of electricity generation has indeed been one of the key challenges for any government that was in office for the past few years, especially with the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government failing miserably. The following bout of a military-controlled interim government did not make things any better either. The bout of power outages, in the meantime, appears to break records every year and reach new heights, or rather new lows. Electricity generation was, therefore, at the forefront in the election agenda with the Awami League rightly blaming its archrivals for their inefficiency and corruption during the last term in office. The Awami League-led government has promised to increase power generation by 5,000 megawatts by the end of its tenure but there does not appear to be much effort to translate the promise into reality.

Closely linked to power generation is the matter of fossil fuel extraction since that is used as the energy source for generating electricity. Natural gas already contributes to a large proportion of electricity generation. But more recently gas fields have reportedly started to dry up with gas production falling, which naturally has a knock-on effect on power generation and further worsened the power crisis. Although at one point gas production was in excess of the country’s demand, it is now well short of the requirement, so much so that the government decided to suspend gas supply to urea factories in order for power plants to receive sufficient gas.

Given the context, discussion among experts and policymakers across party lines is quite needful. There was indeed such a discussion organised by an aptly named periodical that particularly focuses on power and energy. The speakers quite rightly included academics, experts, bureaucrats and policymakers. They made the right kind of noises too. The keynote stressed the importance of coal extraction for sustainable energy solution. The discussion paper reportedly claimed that Bangladesh’s two billion tonnes of coal deposits could provide for 50 years’ of energy requirement to generate 10,000 megawatts per year.

The speakers, mostly policymakers, on their part, urged people to consider the situation patriotically. While some references to opposition of open-pit coal extraction were veiled, there were others that directly mentioned the name of a citizens’ platform consistently criticising the attitude of successive governments’ deals regarding fossil fuel extraction in the country – the National Committee for the Protection of Oil, Gas, Minerals & Power and Ports.

One former state minister for energy referring to this platform satirically said it appeared people on this national committee were the only experts in the country in energy issues. He said it seemed that this committee was the only party that fully understood all the issues and there was not a single individual that knew better. According to this former state minister, the national committee’s opposition to coal extraction was not practical but merely for opposition’s sake. The chief guest of the discussion, a current state minister, called upon this committee for pragmatism.

This discussion, which brought together former and current policymakers, meaning individuals from both sides of the partisan political divide namely the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, appeared to end in a surprise consensus, a surprise because members from either party hardly ever manage to agree on any issue. In fact, when it comes to opposition for mere opposition’s sake, politicians of these two partisan camps are in a different league all by themselves. The verdict was resoundingly in favour of coal extraction for electricity generation.

But this outcome should be put in context too. The discussion was organised by a fortnightly magazine that claims to avoid conflicts of interest focusing on power and energy issues. This magazine is widely perceived, at least among the better informed sections, as a publication endorsed and sponsored by companies involved in fossil fuel extraction. It is also because of such sponsorship that the publication is said to be an advocate for coal extraction, which would benefit the UK-based Global Coal Management. Asia Energy, a subsidiary of this company, has been a source of serious controversy regarding their dubious activities and false claims which at one point led to a public uprising at its proposed by site for open pit coal extraction in Phulbari, Dinajpur in 2006.

When law enforcers opened fire on a reasonably peaceful procession of 70,000 locals, it resulted in three deaths and many injured. Since then Asia Energy has also tried to create and prop up proxy citizens’ groups — an NGO association, a business forum of local chambers and a journalists’ association — that have become advocates for open-pit coal extraction. Although the company’s activities have been virtually suspended at the proposed mine-site due to strong local opposition, it still maintains and runs an office out of Dhaka besides branching out to other areas of investment.

One of the main reservations about open-pit coal mining has always been the environmental damage. The environmental damage would not be limited to the site itself. According to experts, the groundwater level, indispensable for irrigation in the fertile and heavily cultivated northern districts, would fall drastically for miles around the mine. The other reservation has been that almost 100,000 people would have to leave their homes, including several indigenous peoples. The proposed mine site also has a number of mosques, temples and graves that locals hold sacred. While the economics of an open-pit coalmine are ‘compelling’ compared to those of a shaft mine, neither the government nor any of the advocates have so far carried out a cost-benefit analysis that dismisses dissenters’ reservations and establishes a concrete case for open-pit coal extraction.

But none of the dissenters or the activist groups were invited to speak at the forum or refute the criticism directed at them, particularly by the former state minister for energy, who had to resign in the face of a scandal when newspapers reported that he was using a vehicle provided by Niko Resources, a Canadian firm claiming to specialise in abandoned gas fields. This firm was given permission to extract gas from Tengratila, which was at that time ‘deemed to have been abandoned’ although it was supposed to have about half trillion cubic feet of gas.

The current adviser for energy, a decorated freedom fighter and a former bureaucrat who had been in charge of the energy ministry’s secretariat, claimed to have lost a report on the Magurchhara blow-out in 1996 that recommended heavy fines for the operator. He was also rumoured to have been instrumental in ensuring that Niko acquired the permission to operate Tengratila as an ‘abandoned’ gas field. Mining companies across the world, especially those involved in fossil fuel extraction, have infamous reputations. They are accused with almost all kinds of misdeeds and crimes, including murder. It is not unusual or unreasonable then that the public are suspicious of people in the sector to be party to irregularities and corruption, given the mining companies’ regular practice of bribery.

It is also a rational conjecture then that the possibility of financial irregularities may have been among the reasons why this ministry is never delegated to anyone but the prime minister. Thus, it is also the successive prime ministers who have been responsible for terrible state of electricity production and all the dubious deals in the power and energy. There should be little doubt that politicians who have headed these ministries or the bureaucrats who run the secretariat have also been responsible for corruption that necessarily compelled them to compromise the country’s interest for personal gains. Successive governments have neither strived to make dealings in this sector transparent nor have they made themselves accountable to the public. It would be somewhat audacious for these people to preach patriotism and honesty.

There is little doubt that the country is hungry for electricity. There is little doubt that the amount of coal deposits in Bangladesh is significant enough to attract attention and investment. It will require a deliberated decision on which course to follow for increasing electricity generation. Whatever the decision, the government must make it based on opinions and debates among all the different quarters. If the government is really sincere about reaching its target of adding 5,000 megawatts, then the process should begin without delay.

Major decisions on coal likely within this year: Govt working on approval of coal policy, open-pit mining at Barapukuria, resettlement of affected peo

Sharier Khan, The Daily Star, May 21, 2009

Within this year, the government will take several major and thorny decisions on developing the coal sector, including approval of the coal policy, an open-pit mine in Barapukuria, resettlement of people affected by the existing mine and development of a mine city.

The government is already working on the mine city in Barapukuria by identifying areas to be acquired. This mine city will initially aim at providing livelihood and living facilities to 10,000 families and ultimately give room to one lakh families, says Towfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, adviser to the prime minister on energy.

Towfiq-e-Elahi pointed out that the government has signed a draft memorandum of understanding (MoU) with villagers who are affected by land subsidence around the Barapukuria coalmine area. "Their resettlement will be implemented in phases," he noted.

"Our bigger concern is to ensure these affected people their livelihood. We aim at giving jobs to the second generation of these affected people," he added.

A government committee has already recommended quick framing of a human resettlement action plan for the villagers affected by the Barapukuria coalmine in line with the one for the Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge project. Such a plan should be chalked out within a few months.

Till this plan of "international standard" is approved for action, the people should be immediately given a standard compensation package and alternative shelter, said a source quoting the committee's report submitted to the energy ministry late last month.

Deep grievances are brewing among several villages around the mine for the last two years. The mining project was implemented without recognising that the mine would cause land subsidence leading to loss of agricultural land, water supply and cause environmental damage.

For now, the government is addressing the water issue in the area by installing 600 deep tube wells (Tara Tubewells). The subsoil water level in around 15 villages in Barapukuria rapidly dropped as the mine is pumping out huge quantity of water for coal production. Towfiq said the work order for these pumps would be issued this month.

Identifying coal as one of the vital natural resources that needs to be developed for future energy security of the country, Towfiq said in the past the government had undertaken mining project without informing the people its consequences on the environment and agricultural land. The government had not even kept any allocation to address the environmental issues.

"But in future all such projects should be done in a transparent manner by informing and involving the people," he said.

The draft coal policy that the government did not approve in the last four years will soon see the light of day. "We are working on it. We hope to approve it within a few months. The main focus would be to ensure the best usage of coal," Towfiq said.

He noted the future of power would be dependent on coal as well as nuclear technology. "Seventy-five percent of power in France comes from nuclear power stations and one third of power in the USA also comes from nuclear power stations," he quipped.

Meanwhile, the eight-member committee headed by a joint secretary of the energy ministry recommended that a mining city be developed as per the Resettlement Action Plan. This city would provide amenities, shelter and livelihood as an alternative to the affected people.

As part of this action plan, the government should appoint a third party organisation--possibly a non-government organisation--to conduct a baseline survey in the affected area to assess the size of the population, their assets, cropland and livestock, schools and other educational institutions etc. If there is a slum in the area, it should also be assessed.

Till the plan is implemented, the villagers living in vulnerable structures should be relocated to the East Camp of the Barapukuria mine. The East Camp is a structure built during the project construction period, said the committee that was formed in January to look into the land subsidence of Barapukuria.

All future mine projects should be implemented after conducting a feasibility study, undertaking a resettlement plan and by acquiring the land necessary for the projects, it said.

The committee pointed out that land outside the mine area, which has subsided and will subside in future, should be acquired by paying premium to the owners. The base line survey should identify the lands that could be acquired by paying the premium.

It recommended jobs for the locals as per their merit in the Barapukuria coalmine. A social awareness committee should be formed with these people to disseminate information about the long-term impact of the mine.

The 2,500-acre underground mine area includes 650 acres of agricultural land on the surface. The mine is directly affecting the lives of about 2,500 people in seven to eight villages. "Rehabilitation of these people should not be very costly for the government," said a source.

Other members of the committee include director general of the Hydrocarbon Cell of the ministry, Dhaka University geology department Professor Badrul Imam, chiefs of the Bureau of Mineral Development, Barapukuria Coal Mine Company, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company and Geological Survey of Bangladesh.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

National committee blames energy state minister for siding with conspirators

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, May 19, 2009

The National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port on Monday blamed the state minister for power and energy, Shamsul Haque Tuku, for siding with the ‘conspirators’ who wanted to handover the country’s natural resources to foreign companies.

The committee convenor Sheikh Muhammad Shahidullah and member secretary Anu Muhammad in a statement also criticised Tuku for supporting the people, who were involved in the conspiracy and blaming the national committee for the current power crisis.

‘The state minister at a discussion, organised by the periodical Power and Energy published with the fund of Asia Energy and other foreign oil companies, on Sunday agreed with the former state ministers for power and energy, who were accused of corruption, on shifting the responsibility of power crisis to national committee,’ they said.

‘Although the prime minister blames the former state ministers for making the disaster in power sector through looting, the state minister is holding us responsible for the power crisis agreeing with the former state ministers,’ they said.

The committee leaders said, ‘Our main fault is that we are demanding ban on disastrous open-pit coal mining and implementation of the six-point demand, including the ouster of Asia Energy from the country.’

They said, ‘Our other fault is that we oppose the ‘secret deal’ on handing over the offshore gas blocks to the US company ConocoPhillips’.

The current power crisis has not been solved for handing over the gas blocks to foreign companies in the name of resolving the electricity problem, they observed.

They have invited the state minister to a dialogue at any where if he fails to understand the role of the committee against the conspiracy to handover the country’s natural resources to foreign companies.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Resignation of energy adviser, scrapping of unequal deals demanded

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, may 17, 2009

The national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port on Saturday called on the Awami League-led government to take effective steps to resolve the ongoing energy crisis. The committee in a protest rally at the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka also demanded immediate resignation of the energy adviser, Toufiq-e-Elahi-Chowdhury.

The rally, also joined by left-leaning political parties, was organised as a part of the programme marking saving energy resources day. The committee convener, Sheikh Muhammad Shaheedullah, said the government had failed to take any effective step to solve the problems of power, gas and coal sectors. He demanded trial of the people involved with the unequal production and sharing contracts signed with multinational companies.

Toufique was the energy secretary during the signing of the contracts which caused huge losses to the country, Shaheedullah said. Now the energy adviser was trying to extract the coal of Phulbari mine in open pit method by the Asia Energy Company which would be contrary to our national interests, he said.

The Workers Party of Bangladesh general secretary, Bimal Biswas, said the present Awami League-led government in its election manifesto had promised to use the national wealth for the development of the country.

The Jatiya Gana Front convener, Tipu Biswas, called on the government to cancel all the unequal PSC deals signed with multinational companies for gas exploration.

The Democratic Left Alliance coordinator and Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal central leader, Bazlur Rashid Firoj, urged the government to refrain from the open pit method of coal extraction.

The Democratic Revolutionary Party general secretary, Mushrefa Mishu, urged the government to take immediate steps to save the country’s oil, gas and coal.

Ganasanghati Andolan coordinator Zonayed Saki said the government was planning to lease out the offshore gas blocks to the multinational companies on the basis of the unequal agreements.

Ganatantrik Majdur Party leader Abdus Salam, Communist Party of Bangladesh central leader Sajjad Zahir Chandan, Samayabadi Dal central leader Harun Chowdhury, National Awami Party leader Ismail Hossain, Workers Party of Bangladesh (reconstituted) leader Abdus Satter, Revolutionary Workers Party of Bangladesh leader Mostaque Hossain also spoke in the rally.

The member secretary of the national committee, economist Anu Muhammad, conducted the rally followed by a protest procession which paraded different city roads.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Army deployed at Barapukuria coal mine

The Daily Star, Dinajpur. May 13, 2009

Army personnel have been deployed at Barapukuria Coal Mine Company Ltd (BCMCL) to prevent any untoward incident at the coalmine site.

Sources said at least 180 army personnel led by a lieutenant colonel arrived at the BCMCL Monday morning and started supervising coal extraction. However, another source of BCMCL claimed that the army personnel would leave the site within a day or two.

According to mine official sources, the army was deployed Monday morning, to prevent any attempts of the miners to create unrest at the mine.

Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh Zheng Qingdian met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina following the unrest at BCMCL on May 5. During the meeting, the ambassador expressed his concern over the unrest and urged Bangladesh government to arrange for precautionary security measures for CMC officials, Chinese miners as well as Petrobangla officials.

BCMCL, Petrobangla and CMC officials and miners are worried about their security. The officials and staffs of BCMCL brought out a silent procession at Barapukuria on May 8 demanding punishment for those involved in the May 5 unrest.

They also wrote to Petrobangla recently asking for additional security measures and urged to declare the BCMCL site a "key point area", sources said.

On May 5, miners vandalised a number of rooms of Petrobangla officials and CMC miners and officials to realise their demands, which include arrear wages for the months of February, March and April.