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 This contract should be rescinded, it’s the people’s demand, it’s everyone’s demand.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.