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You are here: Home / Statements / 2006 / September 10, 2006: Haider Akbar Khan RANO, Workers Party of Bangladesh: FULBARI COAL PROJECT AND PEOPLES MOVEMENT

September 10, 2006: Haider Akbar Khan RANO, Workers Party of Bangladesh: FULBARI COAL PROJECT AND PEOPLES MOVEMENT

Brief accounts of the coal mines and the contracts
There are five coal fields in the northern zone of Bangladesh.
1.Jamalgonj (in Joypurhat district)
2.Boropukoria
3.Fulbari
4.Khalsipara
5. Dighipara.
These four (no.2-5) coal fields are in the district of Dinajpur.
Biggest reserve is in the Jamalgonj field about one billion ton. However
it is lying three thousand feet below the surface. That is why technology
for mining is complicated and expensive. Mining process has already been
started in Boropukuria where a Chinese company is working as a contractor
for Bangladesh. Mining is done by underground process by digging hole (not
open pit process). There is no complain about it. Khasipara and Dighipara
fields have not yet been touched. Now let us discuss about Fulbari coal
field.

In 1994 government (during the period of BNP govt.) gave exploration
license to a Australian company namely BHP. At that time it was said that
there is reserve of 380million ton. Now it is estimated that there is
reserve of 572 million ton. In 1997 (during the period of next govt. of
Awami League ) BHP transferred the license to a British company namely
Asia Energy. At that time a new contract for exploration was signed. The
process of exploration continued and Asia Energy submitted its report to
the govt. in October 2005(in the mean time there was a change of govt. and
BNP led govt. came to power in 2001) Such contracts were never discussed
publicly, nor even in the parliament.

So details of the contracts are not known to us. However it is learnt that
, if the report is accepted, then Asia Energy would be given the right to
start mining by open pit process for 30 years till the extraction of the
entire reserve is completed. The company would be the sole owner of the
coal produced and have the right to export and sell. In return Bangladesh
would get a royalty of only 6% of the product .

The report submitted by Asia Energy is still under the process of
examination by our govt. So mining has not yet started. In the mean time
it was somehow disclosed that Asia Energy would be given the lease of coal
mine under above condition, which is very very harmful and against the
interest of Bangladesh. If the final leasing contract is signed, it would
mean that Asia Energy would simply plunder our natural resources, which is
comparable to the plundering by the East India Company two hundred years
ago.

Since then protest movement and agitation started mainly in the form of
campaign.

Reason for our objection

Our objection to the said contract is for two reasons.

1)To give right to a foreign company (even local company)the ownership of
the coal mine (in the name of lease) for only 6% royalty (or even more) is
simply not acceptable.

2)Open pit mining is not a correct decision for a densely populated
country like Bangladesh. More than 50 thousand people will have to be
shifted elsewhere. The area where the open pit mining will take place is
one of the most fertile lands of Bangladesh. There would be no
agriculture, no tree, no animal. All buildings will be demolished. Air
would be polluted. Even water of the nearby area would be polluted where
there would be no fish. There would be even more environmental disaster .
Between the surface and the coal layer there is an underground water
layer which causes the fertility of the land. This underground water layer
is to be pumped out and shifted to some where, may be nearby river. If the
underground water layer is pumped out for 30 years , then there would be
desertification in the entire northern zone of Bangladesh.

So our demand is as follows

1)Coal fields can not be leased to any foreign company. Bangladesh should
maintain its sole ownership and its product. 6% royalty (or even more) is
simply unacceptable. Some bourgeois intellectuals and imperialist agents
raise the question that we do not have the technological knowledge to do
mining by ourselves. Our reply is that , in such case we can wait for some
more years till our engineers and experts be trained and then Bangladesh
becomes the sole owner of the mine and its product .. Alternately we can
employ foreign experts as contractor (as in case of Boropukuria), keeping
the sole ownership of the mine and the product to Bangladesh.

2) Nowhere in Bangladesh open pit mining should be applied.

 

About Mining Act
There is a mining act in Bangladesh, made long back, during the colonial
period and it was valid till 1989. This act was imposed upon us by the
imperialist power in its own interest. According to that act mine field
can be leased to any company (foreign or local) for the extraction of the
coal with the sole right of the company over the product and for that
matter royalty is fixed as 6% for open pit mining and 5% for underground
mining. The act was amended in 1989 when royalty was raised to 20% (this
is also not acceptable to us). Then again in 1999 the royalty was
downgraded to 5% or 6% as before.

 

About Asia Energy
It is learnt that two banks Morgan and Barkley are financing
Asia Energy for Fulbari Coal Project. Though Asia Energy has not yet got
the mining right, they have already , through various publication claimed
to have the sole ownership of Fulbari coal field by which they have
manipulated to raise the stock value in the stock market in England.

Though their task of submitting report has been completed by
the October 2005 and have not yet officially got the permission for mining
, they are still maintaining a big office in Fulbari and trying to bribe
some local people, as well as influential persons inside and outside and
outside govt., Bangladesi experts (who are supposed to give approval to
their report for mining lease on their term), politicians, bureaucrats and
media. A very important politician Dr. Kamal Hussain works as their legal
advisor. Most probably some influential quarter within the govt. had
already assured them that they would be given the mining right.

Asia Energy is already involved in all sorts of nasty games,
bribing, killing etc. According to a report published in London based
Gardian(Sunday issue known as Sunday Observer) on 3 September 2006, Asia
Energy is suspected to have murdered Mrs. Nasrin Haq, country director of
a British NGO, namely Action Aid. She was killed by a car accident in
front of her house. The report claimed that it was not an accident, but
murder and held Asia Energy as responsible for the murder. Nasrin was
active against Asia Energy and had contacted British legal experts
pleading for the cancellation of the contract with Asia Energy. She said
that the contract was highly illegal. The news paper report further said
that the British aid giving agency "Department for International
Development"(DFID) asked her (even threatened) not to move against Asia
Energy which she boldly refused. (Action Aid is a British funded NGO).

It is interesting to note that Mr.Mahmudur Rahman, Energy
Advisor of the govt with the rank of a minister, in a press conference in
the last March said that the contract with Asia Energy was against the
interest of Bangladesh and demanded punishment for those who signed it on
behalf of Bangladesh. He blamed Awami League for signing the contract.(It
is true ,because it was signed during the period of Awami League regime in
1997).

Next day Dr.Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, ex minister and prominent
leader of Awami league also said that the contract was against the
interest of Bangladesh , but blamed BNP for it. (It is also true, because
initial contract with Australian company BHP was signed by the then BNP
govt. in 1994)

However both the leaders of two major bourgeois parties said
that contract once signed can not be cancelled, because according to them,
that would discourage the foreign investors to invest in Bangladesh. In
fact, both the leaders and both the bourgeois parties serve the interest
of imperialism.

 

 

Movement

In spite of bourgeois tricks, false propaganda and bribing by Asia Energy
protest and demand for cancellation of the contract was developing. Mainly
left forces were active in it. Left parties and groups took initiative to
form a broad based committee for the protection natural resources (from
imperialist plunder) and sea port (there is conspiracy to hand over
Chittagong port to a US company). Under the banner of this committee
propaganda and agitation movement continued with the demand for the
cancellation of the contract with Asia Energy.

As a part of the movement , on 26 August more than 50 thousand people
gathered at the municipality center of Fulbari and marched toward the
office of Asia Energy. People were very much militant and undaunted. There
were clashes with police and para military forces who fired upon the
people killing five and injuring many others. Staffs of Asia Energy had
already fled away from Fulbari under police protection even before26
August.

Next day state administration in Fulbari completely collapsed. It was a
real peoples insurrection. People put barricade on the road, attacked
local office of Asia Energy, demolished properties and structures made by
Asia Energy (including special telecommunication structure exclusively for
the use of the company), attacked houses of the agents of the company,
etc. It was a peoples rule where peoples safety was guaranteed much more
than normal time. Every day thousands of people were on the street,
holding meetings, procession etc..99% of those people were poor toiling
mass. Participation of women in the meetings, demonstrations, clashes with
police etc. was significant. Bourgeois parties were totally absent.

On 30 August govt. was compelled to sign an agreement with the committee
leading the movement. Two ministers signed the document on behalf of the
govt. which was immediately announced before the press. The government
announced that Asia Energy would be withdrawn from Fulbari and all the
contracts with Asia Energy is cancelled. The government agreed to meet
other demands such as compensation for the deaths, wounded persons, their
treatment etc.

It was a historic peoples victory . For the first a foreign multinational

company had to suffer a defeat in our country. However it is only an

initial victory. We have to go a long way to defeat imperialism.
Literature

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