Friday, September 11, 2009

Mineral Resources is the Blood Flown in Our Vein : Interview with Anu Mohammad

Exclusive interview By : Audity Falguni

Dhaka, 11 September,

After the stern clashes between police and the demonstrators of the `National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports (NCPOGMPP) ' on September 2nd, around 50 student and youth activists of different left leaning groups and others were injured. Police launched lethal attack on the protestors who were marching forward to surround (gherao) the Petro-Bangla office protesting the recent cabinet committee approval on 24th August to lease three offshore gas fields to foreign companies. The protestors negated the government decision to award Ireland-based company Tullow Bangladesh shallow water block SS-O8-05 and US oil company Conoco Philipps South Asia New Ventures Ltd deep sea blocks DS-08-10 and 11 in the Bay of Bengal. They also raised the demand for the cancellation of around 12 'Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs)' of the Bangladesh government with different International Oil Companies (IOCs) and other relevant claims. Anu Muhammad, Professor of the Economics Department of Jahangir Nagar University and Member Secretary of NCPOGMPP got intensely hurt during the demonstration and was admitted to hospital. Here the excerpts of a brief interview with him is highlighted bellow:

Question: You are the member secretary of NCPOGMPP right at this moment. So, would you please tell us the particular cause behind the recent most demonstration staged by you on 2nd September?

Anu Muhammad: Demarcation of sea territory is one of the most glaring crises of Bangladesh. We have near about one lakh sq km land boundaries with our neighboring states. In terms of sea boundaries, the amount is just eight times higher. And, those sea regions are extremely potential in terms of mineral and other aquatic resources. Unfortunately, there are records of usurpation of these sea boundaries by neighboring countries like India and Myanmar. There are three gas blocks in the Bay of Bengal namely block numbers 5, 10 & 11. Two PSCs were signed at first phase of 2008 during the Caretaker government regime. Under the auspices of these two PSCs, one Ireland based IOCs namely CONOCO-PHILLIPS and another U.S. based IOC named TALLOW were given lease for oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal. When the caretaker government signed the agreement, we protested vehemently and the government could not implement it. This year the newly elected government has approved the PSCs. The cabinet committee of 'Economic Affairs' has okayed those on 24th August and so we called on for the demonstration on 2nd September. Meantime, our successive governments have signed 12 PSCs with different IOCs in recent years. These PSCs have conferred upon them ownership of around 80 percent of total gas explored and the rest 20 percent lies with our nationalized institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla. These multi-national oil giants deal with or regulate our 12 major gas fields in the Sylhet region. If you look at the atlas of Bangladesh and dissect it into east and west, you would notice that most of the oil fields are located at the eastern side or particularly in Sylhet. Now, the multi-national oil giants earn around 3,000 crore taka from these 12 gas fields. If we could spend just one-tenth of this 3,000 crore take to reshape and strengthen our nationalized oil and gas exploration institutions like BAPEX or Petro-Bangla, we did not need to depend any longer on foreigner consultants and imported machineries! Just imagine that because of irresponsibility and malfunctioning by two multi-national oil & gas companies namely Occidental in Magurchara, Sylhet during 1997 and NAIKO in Tengratila, Sylhet during 2006...around 500 billion cubic feet gas were simply burnt out or wasted! Around 87.50 acres of land in Magurchara were damaged with 176.97 crore taka losses in total. NAIKO drilled in the gas wells earlier declared by Petro-Bangla as unworthy for exploration purpose and caused the disaster. We owe to these two oil giants around 20,000 crore taka. Recently James F Moriarty, the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh, mentioned in a speech that U.S. oil giant company Chevron wants to develop Bangladesh through investing in oil and gas exploration, but the government can do nothing for certain quarters. Probably he mentioned us, the leftists! We say in return that honorable Ambassador, first pay us 20,000 crore taka compensation for the Magurchara and Tengratila blow-outs! This year the total budget allotted in the power and energy sector has been 4,400 crore taka. Compensation properly paid for the two blow-outs can fulfill our budget in energy sector for next five fiscal years.

Question: When the movement by NCPOGMPP first commenced and what are your major achievements since the formation of the committee?

Anu Muhammad: NCPOGMPP was established in 1998 and thus it has already completed 11 years' of its journey. I would mention our major achievements one by one. In 1998, when the Awami League (AL) government was in power, the government was initiating to sign and conclude two agreements with the IOCs . The first agreement related to leasing of the Chittagong port to a U.S. Company for 199 years. We then organized a long march from Dhaka to Chittagong port and it largely owes to our movement that government could not avoid to probe in details into the company and then some major loopholes came out. The so-called U.S. Company first told our government that they have the paid-up capital of some thousand crores of taka but later it was found that they have the paid-up capital of only one crore taka. Again, it was not even a U.S.A.-based company and it was actually based in Barbadose. What is most important that even if it was a U.S.A.-based company, no patriot should agree to leasing out of any of his country's sea port for 199 years! The then Sheikh Hasina government yielded to our movement and the lease agreement, which was on the verge of being finalized, got cancelled. Second, two IOCs...the U.K.-based oil & gas exploration company Shell and the U.S.-based company UNOCOL drafted the design of installation of pipe-line from one of our pertinent gas field Bibyana, Sylhet to Delhi and the designing and lay-out were disbursed on web-site. But, the government was yet to finalize the proposal for gas export. A section of 'hired' consultants, bureaucrats, businessmen, media, U.S. Embassy, Indian High Commission, World Bank and ADB began stipulating Bangladesh is "floating on gas" and it was "best time to export gas." And, if Bangladesh misses the chance, later she might not get handsome price in ever-changing international market. They, in addition, opined that Bangladesh can construct her basic infrastructure including necessary components like education or health sector with the money obtained from gas export. NCPOGMPP then had to wage war at two levels. First, we had to theoretically challenge this propaganda by making people aware about the exact situation of real gas reserve scenario of Bangladesh, dynamics of internal use and demand etc. The IOCs exaggerated that Bangladesh had 100 trillion cubic feet of gas while we had only 12-13 trillion cubic feet of gas reserve in last several years the amount has reduced to seven to eight trillion cubic feet of gas reserve for internal use. Also, domestic need for gas has been multiplied four or five times in recent years. So, gas export could really doom us! Today the facility of CNG transport could not be availed off if we agreed to export gas. We proved, in addition, with facts and figure that even if we could earn around 1,000 crore taka in total by exporting our gas, we had to buy equivalent amount of oil or petroleum from foreign countries to fill-up the gap. In that case, we had to spend around 15-20,000 crore taka per year. So, NCPOGMPP mobilized people for another long march towards Dhaka-Bibyana, Sylhet. Thus, AL government could not sign the agreements with Shell and UNOCOL. BNP succeeded the AL government in 2001 and they also began playing on the same tune reciting there is no worth of keeping gas under earth. What we should do is to export it and earn money. But, we were firm on our movement and people stood on behalf of us. So, BNP government also failed like its predecessor.

Question: NCPOGMPP has also waged a war on the issue of Fulbari coal mine. Would you elaborate on it?

Anu Muhammad: Sure, that is another landmark of success. The then BNP government came to an agreement with the Asia Energy (AE) company validating the open pit mining in around 135 sq km area of Fulbari, close to the Bara Pukuria coal plant of Dinajpur district. If this agreement was implemented, around 10,000 hectares land of the adjacent areas including Nawabganj, Birampur and Parbatipur Upazilla were to be damaged at initial stage. Near about 656.33 sq km area was to be directly damaged. Installation of the physical infra-structure of the proposed coal mine by AE was supposed to commit eviction, damage and destruction of approximately 10,000 human habitats, factories, schools, colleges, religious institutions, railways, highways, vegetation, water reservoirs like ponds, canals and rivers. AE itself revealed that if the agreement was to be implemented, Bangladesh government was supposed to get from AE around 45,000 crore taka in 30 years while they were supposed to obtain 1,50,000 crore taka from us in the same time-frame. Fulbari is a densely populated area with several Bengali and santal indigenous villages, their arable lands, trees and water reservoirs. If we go for counting the environmental damage in terms of eco-system and symbioses within nature, you cannot simply evaluate the extent of damage in money. So, on 26th August of 2006 the activists of NCPOGMPP and local people went to surround the AE office in Fulbari and police fired on unarmed people. Three were died, one became permanently disabled and around 300 people were injured. The government signed a three-point demand treaty with us in Parbatipur, Dinajpur on 30th August. The government, however, only implemented some portion of the treaty but our number one demand to evict AE from Fulbaria on an emergency is yet to be fulfilled.

Question: NCPOGMPP has called upon to surround the PM's office on 10th September? What would be your major agendas for this immediate programme?

Anu Muhammad: Our four most urgent demands are cancellation of the PSC model 2008 for the gas fields in the Bay of Bengal which leased out two gas blocks to two multi-national oil giants, cancellation of existing 12 PSCs and re-modeling of them with hundred percent ownership of our national institutions like BAPEX and Petro-Bangla over the explored gas, proper demarcation of sea boundaries and to evict Asia Energy (AE) from Fulbari, Dinajpur and cancel open-pit mining.

Question: Would you involve the major opposition BNP along with you? Leader of the Opposition Begum Khaleda Zia has visited you in the hospital and mentioned she would be with this movement. So, what is your consideration now?

Anu Muhammad: No. The AL, BNP and the 'neutral' care-taker government manifested their willingness to export gas on a regular basis. In Latin American countries like Venezuela, Bolivia or Chilie the IOCs did not pay any profit to the respective governments on the pretext of failing to 'recover the production or exploration costs.' The IOCs have drilled for more than 20 years in Chilie and drilled a lot of their mineral resources but yet to pay any dividend saying that they could not yet recover their exploration costs. Thus the whole lot might turn into a deception for the poorer states. Hugo Chavez and other Latin American leaders are now fighting this issue. Amar desh er tel gas amar deher rakta! Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources of our country is the blood flown in our vein and we would simply die out if we cannot protect those.

Open Letter: We Condemn International Oil Companies in Bangladesh and State Violence against Bangladeshi Activists

On September 2, 2009, the members of a nationwide alliance in Bangladesh—the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports—were brutalized by the state police in Dhaka. More than fifty members were injured. The national committee was conducting a peaceful demonstration and march as part of an announced program to protest the Bangladesh government’s offshore gas and oil exploration deals with international oil companies. Such anti-people deals, according to the protesters, would enable those companies to explore, extract, and eventually own the country’s gas resources without the people’s consent. Indeed, those deals reveal how the ruling classes in Bangladesh operate in close class cahoots with corporations and imperialism.

The immediate reason for the protest in question was the Bangladesh government’s recent decision to award gas and oil exploration rights in the Bay of Bengal to international oil companies. The national committee announced the program in protest against the government’s decision to award three blocks to two international oil companies—the US-based company called ConocoPhillips and the UK-based company Tullow Oil plc—with a provision allowing them to export up to 80 per cent of gas. The protesters feared such a move would threaten the energy security of Bangladesh, and, by extension, the very sovereignty of the country. In fact, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports has long argued that the government’s drive for plundering its own people’s resources comes at a high price, and lacks forethought about how these resources might benefit the people of Bangladesh instead of multinational companies.

As the protesters were marching peacefully in Dhaka, the police charged on them, threw many of them to the ground, while brutally beating them with batons and kicking them with heavy boots. Over fifty protesters were injured, and a number of them even suffered serious injuries. Certain key members of the committee were clearly targeted. Among the seriously injured was the member-secretary of the National Committee—Professor Anu Muhammad. His legs were badly fractured by police batons. Anu Muhammad is not only chair of the Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University and the leading political economist in Bangladesh—whose work has proven immensely influential among the youth—but he is also internationally known for his committed political activism for democracy and justice, and against capitalism, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and many other forms and forces of oppression—local and global. We see the brutal attack on Anu Muhammad and his co-activists as an attack on democracy and progressive politics. Others injured included Saiful Haque, the general secretary of Biplobi Communist Party in Bangladesh and Biplob Mondol, the Chhatra Front leader, along with such activists as Mushrefa Mishu, Jannatul Marium Tania, Montu Biswas, Srikant Samaddar, Gazi Shafiullah and Sumi Akhtar.

As teachers, students, writers, artists, and activists—who also consider ourselves citizens of the world believing in peace, justice, and democracy—we declare the following:

a) We condemn the police brutality against the members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports in Bangladesh.

b) We condemn the international oil companies involved in exploiting the natural resources of Bangladesh. We think they should back out of any deals they have or wish to have with Bangladesh.

c) We demand that the Bangladesh government ensure the most appropriate and effective medical treatment of all who were wrongfully injured by the police.

d) We demand that the action plan and demands of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports be taken seriously rather than silenced through any form of brutality.

We express our deep solidarity with the people of Bangladesh who are struggling to protect their own national and natural resources from foreign companies. And we support the Bangladeshi people’s right to self-determination under any circumstances.


Concerned Teachers, Students, Writers, Artists, and Activists Around the World:

1. Dr. Azfar Hussain, Convener of the International Campaign against Oil Companies in Bangladesh, and Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

2. Rumana Hashem, Researcher and Lecturer, University of East London, UK

3. Melissa Hussain, DeVry University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

4. Nurul Kabir, editor, (daily) New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh

5. Dr. Joel Wendland, Editor, Political Affairs Magazine, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

6. Dr. E. San Juan, Jr., writer and activist, Philippines Cultural Center, Connecticut, USA

7. Dr. Bertell Ollman, Professor, Department of Politics, New York University, USA

8. Dr. Vijay Prasad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, US

9. Dr Gopal Balakrishnan, Associate Professor, History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA, and member, Editorial Board, New Left Review

10. Dr. Michael Lupro, North Carolina A&T, Greensboro North Carolina, USA

11. Aimee Nolte, Pomona, California, USA

12. Robin Witt, California State University Northridge, Los Angeles, California, USA

13. Faisal Rahman, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

14. Matthew Trease, University Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

15. Kenneth Tennyson, Northern Virginia, USA

16. Karin Barbee, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

17. Dr. Maria J. Estrada, Harold Washington College, Chicago, Illinois, USA

18. Dr. Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA

19. Dr. Carlos Adams, Green River Community College, Auburn, Washington, USA

20. Mahbub Sumon, Narayanganj, Dhaka, Bangladesh

21. Nasrin Siraj Annie, MA student, VU, Amsterdam, Netherlands

22. Zahirul Islam Kochi, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

23. Abdullah AL Mehdi , North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

24. Zakir Kibria, Director, BanglaPraxis, Dhaka, Bangladesh

25. Arup Rahee, poet and singer, Dhaka, Bangladesh

26. Nusrat S Chowdhury, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Chicago, Illinois, USA

27. Fatina Sarwar, Lecturer, English Department, Bangladesh University of Business and Technolgy (BUBT), Dhaka, Bangladesh

28. Rehnuma Sazzad, Nottingham Trent University, UK

29. Dr. Matthew Mace Barbee, Defiance College, Defiance, OH, USA

30. Dr. José Anazagasty Rodríguez, University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

31. William J. Emerson III, Siena Heights University, Detroit, USA

32. Maheen Sultan, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, Bangladesh

33. Anna Keenan, Youth Climate Advocate, Gordon Park, Australia

34. Dipankar Chakrabarti, Editor, Aneek, Kolkata, India

35. Chowdhury Golam Kibria (Jibon), Associate Professor and Ex-Chairman, Department of Business Administration, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

36. Elizabeth Siler, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, USA

37. Dr. Lamia Karim, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Oregon-Eugene, USA

38. Renato Redentor Constantino, Manila, Philippines

39. Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Research Initiatives, Dhaka, Bangladesh

40. Ratan Bhandari, Water and Energy Users' Federation, Nepal

41. Anuj Sitoula, Himalayan and Peninsular Hydro-Ecological Network, Nepal

42. Rabin Subedi, Nepali Policy Institute, Nepal

43. Rana Raihan, Samhati Publications, Dhaka, Bangladesh

44. Raihan Sharif, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

45. Faruk Wasif, journalist, writer and activist, Dhaka, Bangladesh

46. Hana Shams Ahmed, Journalist and Human Rights Activist Coordinator, CHT Commission, Bangladesh Secretariat, Bangladesh

47. Dr Rahul Mukherjee, Consultant Physician, Milton Keynes, UK

48. Salil Biswas, Retired Lecturer in English/Translator and Writer, Kolkata, India

49. Hasan Mehedi, Environmental and Human Rights Activist, Chief Executive, Humanitywatch, Khulna, Bangladesh

50. Dr. Sezan Mahmud, Associate Professor of Public Health, Florida State University, USA

51. Fardeen Ferdous, Freelance Journalist, Writer and Researcher, Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

52. Nikhil Neel, Shah Jalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet, Bangladesh

53. M Sohieb Murtuza, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

54. Meherun Minu, Lecturer in political science, Jatir Pita Bangabandhu College, Kaliakair, Gazipur, Bangladesh

55. M Yasin Bazli, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

56. Anisur Rahman, scholar and writer, Sweden

57. Tara MacKay, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

58. Izlal Moin Husain, North South University Alumni. Dhaka, Bangladesh

59. Soumitra Chakraborty, Department of Fisheries, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

60. Adrita Mulk, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

61. Khan Asif Imran, Department of Economics, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

62. Nasrin Khandoker, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh

63. Dr. Michele Ren, Assistant Professor of English & Women’s Studies, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, USA

64. Santanu Chacraverti, Secretary, Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action, Kolkata, India

65. Dr. Partha Joarder, Scientist, Bose Institute, Kolkata, India

66. Moshahida Sultana, Lecturer, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

67. Dr. Susan W. McDowall, Central Community College, Hastings, NE, USA

68. Rabindranath Chakraborty, President, Hindu Muslim Friendship Association, Bangladesh

69. Dr. Jessica Maucione, Assistant Professor of English, Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, USA

70. Dr. Rosemary Briseno, Lecturer in English, The University of California-Merced, Merced, California, USA

71. Sufia Jamal Khan, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

72. Dr. Matthew Mace Barbee, Defiance College, Defiance, OH, USA

73. Maksudur Rahman, Dept. of Economics, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

74. Syed Jashim Uddin, Assistant Professor, Dept of English, Premier University, Chittagong, Bangladesh

75. Tarek Chowdhury, Dhaka, Bangladesh

76. Murad Khan, Birmingham, UK

77. Dr. Kelvin Monroe, Assistant Professor of Ethnic & Religious Studies, Metropolitan State University, Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA

78. Imran Saadat, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

79. Rifat Islam Esha, North South University, Dhaka, Bangladesh

80. Nabeel Hassan, Macquarie University Alumni, Sydney, Australia

81. Rifat ara Shova, BUBT, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

82. Parvin Sultana, Melbourne, Australia

83. Shehroon Ifteker, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK

84. Sky Wilson,Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, USA

85. Dr. Lisa R. Williams, Creswell, Oregon, USA

86. Ayse Asim, Kent, England

87. Sarah Bostock, Harcum College, Bryn Athyn, PA, USA

88. Rafiq Uddin, Dhaka, Bangladesh

89. Md. Manzoorul Kibria, Assistant Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Chittagong, Chittagong, Bangladesh

90. Abe Tarango, Golden West College, Huntington Beach, California, USA

91. Rubaiyat Aumi, development worker, Dhaka, Bangladesh

92. Abu Saeed Md Galib, South East University, Mirpur, Dhaka, Bangladesh

93. Dr. Taufiq Rahman, Cambridge University, UK

94. Rahman Siddique, cultural activist, Dhaboman Literary movement, Narayanganj, Bangladesh

95. Saif Ahmed, Ottawa, Canada

96. Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, Dhaka, Bangladesh

97. Musharrat Sharmee Hossain, Department of English, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

98. Sabera Ekram, University of East London, UK

99. Nishat Khan, UK

100. Hasan Tarique Chowdhury, Dhaka, Bangladesh

101. Melissa Baker-Boosamara, Affiliate Professor of Liberal Studies, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan, USA

102. Shantanu Majumder, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Dhaka University, Bangladesh

103. Soma Dey, AIT, Thailand

104. Paul V. Dudman,University of East London, UK

105. Jennifer Kalafut, Co-Director, International Accountability Project

106. Mehedi Hassan, political activist, Dhaka, Bangladesh

107. Callie Palmer, Instructor, Linn Benton Community College, Albany, Oregon, USA

108. Tomas A. Madrigal, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

109. Saydia Gulrukh, Department of Anthropology, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh

110. Dr. Tony Zaragoza, Associate Professor of Political Economy, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, USA

111. Dr. John Streamas, Associate Professor, Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Washington State University, Washington, USA

Saturday, September 5, 2009

People are now conscious of their ownership of natural resources

Anu Muhammad tells Shahidul Alam in an exclusive interview. Transcribed and translated by Rahnuma Ahmed

NewAge, 5 September 2009

IMMEDIATELY after Professor Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, was taken to Square Hospital, injured in police action on the committee’s protest march in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday afternoon, eminent photographer Shahidul Alam interviewed him on camera.

Watch the interview on YouTube (in Bangla)

Read excerpts:

Shahidul Alam: What was your protest against?

Anu Muhammad: The gas resources which Bangladesh has, both in its gas fields and in the deep sea, is limited but if Bangladesh was able to utilise it, it would help the country be rid of its electricity crisis, it would enable greater industrialisation, it would help solve many problems, problems in the educational and health sectors. For the last two decades, Bangladesh’s control over its gas fields has passed over to multinational corporations through contracts which have handed over the control of blocks to these companies. Bangladesh has its own organisations, there’s BAPEX [Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production Company] and other organisations as well which can lift gas but instead of exploring that option, we have handed over the control of gas fields to the multinational companies. And now what has happened is that the vast resources which Bangladesh has in the deep sea are being secured by foreign companies.

Recently, three gas blocks have been leased out to foreign companies, two to an American multinational, ConocoPhillips, and the other to an Irish firm, Tullow, with the opportunity to export 80 per cent of the gas produced. But we conducted our own study which reveals that they will own, and be able to export the full 100 per cent. And even though we are being told that this is being done in order to solve the gas crisis, to solve the electricity crisis, but actually, in reality, none of the gas produced — according to this contract — will enter Bangladesh. We will not agree to such a deal. There is absolutely no question that we will agree to a deal which deprives the people of Bangladesh. To a contract that threatens the nation’s future. This contract should be rescinded, it’s the people’s demand, it’s everyone’s demand.

We had organised a protest today demanding that the government cancel its decision, we had organised a siege of Petrobangla because Petrobangla has turned into a den of these multinational corporations. It’s no longer a Bangladeshi organisation. Our protest rally was very peaceful, we were proceeding steadily and very calmly when, as we had walked a couple of hundred yards, the police suddenly turned on us and began attacking us. They lathi-charged us, they used their boots, they kicked us, they punched us, regardless of who it was, whether it was a man or a woman. They were brutal, they were all over the place. More than fifty of us were wounded, some of them very severely, some of these lives are at risk.

So what we want to say is, since this movement concerns everyone, since it is in the interests of all, and since everyone is united behind us, nothing can stop this movement. Neither brutality nor repression, nor trickery nor any attempts to hoodwink us.

Who else besides you was attacked today?

About fifty of us were injured, this includes Saiful Huq, one of the leaders, and many activists. Among the students, Jewel and Tania, they suffered head injuries. And two women students who, when the police tried to hit me on the head and in my abdomen — very targeted attacks — they ran forward to protect me. These two women activists were very badly injured. They are all in hospital now.

We often speak of democratic governments. So, what do you think of the manner in which this government is behaving, is it any different from other governments?

You know, we tend to think that there has been a change in the government, but now I think that that’s an illusion, that we live within an illusion, a maya, which makes us believe that there has been a change in the government. Whereas in reality, the government does not change because power, and interests, particularly, the interests of imperialism, the interests of multinational corporations — whether it’s the Awami League or the BNP [Bangladesh Nationalist Party], and all other governments which were in power, in principle there is no difference amongst any of these governments. There is no difference in principle, and to protect their interests they can exert the greatest possible force, they make use of all possible avenues — their army, their police, their legal system, their thugs, to protect the interests of the MNCs, of the imperialists. And in exchange for protecting those interests, they get paid off. In exchange, they are given some material benefits.

So what role should the people play now?

I think, I believe, and also, I speak on the basis of my experience in the movement, that once the people recognise, once they understand that this is their resource, that they are its owners, then it’s impossible to take it away from them. And people are, generally speaking, very conscious now. And it’s not just deep-sea gas, it’s the whole of Bangladesh. It belongs to the people. People are now increasingly conscious of this, and the greater the consciousness the better. The more they realise this, the more inevitable becomes the defeat of these anti-people forces.

Apology to count only if govt revokes offshore deals

Editorial, NewAge, 5 September 2009

AMIDST condemnation and criticism of Wednesday’s police excesses against members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports intensify, the government on Thursday termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ and promised legal action against the law enforcers if they were to be found guilty of having overstepped their limits. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Friday, three ministers and two advisers of the Awami League-led government also visited Anu Muhammad, member secretary of the committee and professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University who was among some 50 people seriously injured in the police attack and is now under treatment for fractures in both his legs, to express their ‘regret and sympathy’. It is indeed assuring that the government has acknowledged the monstrosity of the police action on the members of the citizens’ forum, and was quick to regret the incident and seek apology, albeit not in so many words. However, the issue at hand has more to it than the police excesses on members of the national committee, as the citizens’ forum is popularly known.

First of all, the police action, as it is highly unlikely to have taken place without some sort of clearance from the home ministry, tends to betray what could very well be the inherent intolerance of the government to dissent. That some key members of the government termed the police action ‘unexpected and sad’ could very well be construed as the Sheikh Hasina administration’s efforts to wash its hands off the atrocities, and make the police department the scapegoat. The apologetic posture that the government has taken would thus be perceived as genuine only when it demonstrates, not only in words but also by deed, its willingness to accommodate dissenting views in the political arena as well as across society.

Most importantly, the government needs to realise that it is its decision to award three offshore blocks to two multinational companies under what appears to be an anti-people production sharing contract, which allows exports of up to 80 per cent of the natural gas the companies will find, that is the bone of contention here. Regrettably, the power and energy adviser and the state minister for power and energy are reported to have tried to convince Anu Muhammad that the provision in the model production sharing contract has been formulated in a way that gas export may not be needed, and that the export provision was incorporated to woo investment in hydrocarbon exploration. In other words, the government may still be unwilling to revise, let alone revoke, its decision.

To reiterate, the government needs to realise that its apology for the police excesses on the protest march of the national committee will remain in the realm of rhetoric until and unless it is followed up by action that demonstrates its willingness to accommodate dissenting views and, crucially still, revocation of the decision to award the offshore blocks to the multinational companies under questionable production sharing contracts.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Police excesses betray govt’s intolerance to dissent

Editorial, NewAge, 4 September 2009

WHEN members of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port, a citizens’ platform, brought out a procession on Wednesday in protest at the Awami League-led government’s decision to award three offshore blocks to international oil companies, they were only exercising their democratic right to register protest, which is enshrined in the constitution of the republic. Hence, the ensuing police excesses on the protesters, which resulted in grievous injuries to nearly 50 people, including the committee’s member secretary Anu Muhammad, amounted to impingement on the protesters’ constitutional rights. Crucially still, the police excesses tend to indicate what could very well be the inherent intolerance of the ruling quarters to dissenting views. The conscious sections of the citizenry have rightly condemned the police excesses, which were not only unacceptable but also incongruent with the Sheikh Hasina government’s promise for change.

The national committee, supported by most left-leaning political parties, staged a protest rally and brought out a procession towards the Petrobangla offices on Wednesday. Reportedly, about 1,000 protesters had gathered at Muktangan from where a procession was scheduled to march towards Petrobangla offices in Karwan Bazar and lay siege to it. The national committee, as it is often called, organised this particular event to protest against unjustifiably allowing foreign oil companies to export up to 80 per cent of the natural gas they find in the offshore blocks that have been recently awarded. This provision, according to reports, would be included in the new generic production sharing contract that is generally the primary tool of agreement between the oil companies and Petrobangla. Thus far the production sharing contracts prohibited gas exports through pipeline implying mandatory value addition, and thus potential foreign investment, employment generation and technology transfer. The contract also stipulated Bangladesh’s first right of refusal in case of gas sales.

But it appears from reports that despite a rising demand for natural gas in the local market the Bangladesh government decided not to buy gas from the foreign companies. This would evidently allow foreign companies to sell their product abroad to third parties for a higher price than that offered by Petrobangla. In doing so the government would also have to change the provisions prohibiting direct gas exports without value addition, and thereby absolving the foreign oil companies of their obligation to make substantial investment in production of liquefied or compressed natural gas. The current provisions, as the government has decided to amend, have all the advantages for the foreign companies but there are almost no discernible benefits to the country. Thus the reason for allowing gas exports, or Petrobangla’s refusal to purchase gas from the foreign companies, thus allowing them to export, must be questioned. That is what the national committee sought to do but ended up being severely beaten for having done so.

One of the many people who visited Anu Muhammad, admitted to a hospital with fractured legs, was Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and former prime minister. Her gesture and condemnation should be appreciated but with a pinch of salt because, like all previous governments, her government also sought to secure individual interests at the cost of the country’s natural resources. In fact, it was during the Khaleda Zia government that these new generation production sharing contracts were drawn up and it was also during her tenure that the law enforcers also swooped on the national committee for protesting against the proposed open-pit coalmine at Phulbari. One would expect that Khaleda’s newfound concern in this regard would go beyond political mileage-taking into actual commitment to the cause the national committee espouses.

However, it should not be left up to the opposition political parties alone to protest against and effectively resist such an anti-national move by the government. Patriotic individuals and social forces must also rally around the national committee and the cause it stands for.