Saturday, June 6, 2009

Govt to have coal policy reviewed by "expatiate Bangladeshi experts"

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, June 6, 2009

The government will have the coal policy reviewed by a group of ‘expatriate Bangladeshi experts’ at an expense of around Tk 80 lakh, most of which will be donated by an organisation from a European country that allegedly campaigns for open-pit coal-mining.

Sources in the energy ministry and Petrobangla said that the four-day programme, from June 15-18, will include a brainstorming meeting at the Jamuna Resort in Tangail for thrashing out ideas and a visit to coal-fields in Dinajpur for gathering first-hand data before making any recommendations on the coal policy.

Apart from ‘expatriate experts’, members of the parliamentary standing committee on the power and energy ministry and officials of various government agencies, like the Geological Survey of Bangladesh and Department of Environment, might attend the discussions organised by Petrobangla.

Sources said that a European organisation that has sponsored a number of roundtables and seminars to promote open-pit mining, and the controversial Asia Energy’s Phulbari project, would provide around $1 lakh for the programme.

They said that so far nine ‘expatriate experts’, including one who vehemently supports Asia Energy’s proposed open-pit mining at Phulbari, have consented to participate in the programme. ‘All their air fares and other expenses will be paid by the organiser of the programme,’ said a source.

The ‘experts’ will review the latest draft of the coal policy, which was slightly changed by the interim government after an advisory committee, headed by the BUET’s former vice-chancellor Abdul Matin Patwari, finalised the draft.

Many energy experts, economists and rights activists, while talking to New Age, have expressed concern over the government’s move to review the policy, expressing the apprehension that the move has been taken to ‘legitimise open-pit mining and Asia Energy’s Phulbari coal project’.

Petrobangla’s chairman Muktadir Ali, however, dismissed the allegation that, by reviewing the policy, they were trying to favour any specific mining method or any particular company.

‘The motive of the move to review the draft of the coal policy by some so-called experts is clear. The government wants to legitimise open-pit mining and Asia Energy’s project through the coal policy,’ said a member of the Patwari committee.

He said that the Patwari committee’s draft was appreciated by almost all sections of experts in the country, apart from some foreign companies. ‘The committee also consisted of people with different opinions and the report was prepared after a prolonged debate that continued day after day,’ he said.

Professor Anu Mohammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, told New Age on Friday, ‘We think this is a ploy to legitimise Asia Energy’s project in Bangladesh. We have learnt that a European organisation that supports open-pit mining, and some of the so-called experts who campaigned for the Phulbari project, will review the coal policy. So we are very concerned.’

Muktadir, however, said, ‘The expatriate experts will just share their experiences with us on coal mining in different countries. It is the government which will ultimately decide which recommendations it will accept.’

‘Besides, the coal policy is in the final stage. There is no scope anymore to favour any company or any mining method. If any good suggestions come up from the experts, the government will mull them over,’ he said.