In Phulbari, 350 kilometers northwest of the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, local communities have come together to raise their voices against the proposed Phulbari open pit coal mining project. On November 23, 2012 the authorities had imposed Section 144 banning gatherings of more than four people indefinitely in effort to stop the demonstrations. Thousands of people took to the streets defying the ban and today is the second day [bn] of general strike in Phulbari.
Bangladesh is sitting on a considerable amount of coal and gas reserve and in 1997, when the Phulbari coal reserve (572 mill tonne) [bn] was discovered, it caught everybody's attention. The licensee of the mining project Asia Energy PLC from UK chose the open pit method, a polluting method of surface mining, which promises 80% extraction. The project, if implement fully, will acquire more than 100 villages within a 59 sq. km radius and relocate hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.In 2006, protests started against the project and three people died and scores injured as the security forces opened fire on an uncontrollable agitation [bn] by the inhabitants of Phulbari. The government mediated and diffused the situation with some promises that include compensations for the victims, and revoking the license. The project was stalled when the regime changed and emergency rule was imposed in Bangladesh in early 2007.
In 2011 it emerged that Global Coal Management (GCM) Resources, formerly Asia Energy, started talks with the Bangladesh government to reconsider the open pit coal mining project. Meanwhile they are back in business with a two-year survey in and around the proposed Phulbari coal mining area.Journalist and blogger Prabir Kumar Sarker writes [bn] why the project is detrimental to the local population:
ফেব্রুয়ারির ২৮ তারিখে জাতিসঙ্ঘের মানবাধিকার বিশেষজ্ঞরা ফুলবাড়িতে উন্মুক্ত কয়লা খনির পরিকল্পনায় আশংকা প্রকাশ করেন। এই প্রকল্প শুরু না করতে তারা সরকারকে অনুরোধ জানায়।
On February 28, 2012 United Nations independent human rights experts warned about the perils of construction of an open-pit coal mine in Phulbhari. They had requested the Bangladesh government not to start the operations.
According to the expert's statement:
On 22nd of February, 2012 the London Mining Network and International Accountability Project mentioned in a report that:
The proposed mine would immediately displace an estimated 50,000 to 130,000 people, with up to 220,000 potentially being affected over time as irrigation channels and wells dry up.
In addition, the project would reportedly extract 572 million tons of coal over the next 36 years from a site covering nearly 6,000 hectares, and destroy some 12,000 hectares of productive agricultural land.
Efforts to formulate and approve a new national coal policy in Bangladesh have repeatedly been impeded by controversy over whether it will include a ban on open-pit coal mining. Proponents of a ban point out that the nation’s coal reserves are located in an extremely densely populated region, which means that open-pit mining would have an enormous human cost.
The report also explains how developing countries are losing by slashing taxes and royalty rates to attract capital investment and they benefit from tax holidays and exemptions.
The International Accountability project has a timeline of events which shows the latest developments in Phulbari:
May 7, 2012: Police attack and beat demonstrators calling on the government of Bangladesh to halt the Phulbari Coal Mine and pursue renewable energy, injuring 15 people…more>>>
August 26, 2012: Thousands of people join Phulbari Day rally more>>>
November 9, 2012: National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports calls on government to ban open-pit mining & implement agreement to expel GCM from Bangladesh. more>>>
November 13, 2012: Thousands of people march in Phulbari demanding withdrawal of an order from the Home Ministry instructing local administrations & law enforcement agencies to assist Asia Energy, GCM's subsidiary, to conduct surveys of coal deposits in Phulbari…more>>>
November 23, 2012: Thousands of people brave police barricades to demonstrate in Phulbari, defying government ban on public gatherings, and the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports announces a daylong general strike in Phulbari for Saturday, 24 November more>>>
November 24, 2012: Several thousand people break through police barricades and take to the streets in Phulbari to defy government ban on public gatherings. more>>>
November 24, 2012: Protesters rally in Phulbari, and trains are halted, roads blockaded, and schools and businesses are closed. The general strike will continue tomorrow more>>>
Activists are also protesting poor coverage of the news in mainstream media. Professor Anu Muhammad complained [bn] in an interview at Unmochon.com that despite the press conference by National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, the mainstream media is almost ignoring this issue.
They are also irked by the recommendations by a government expert's committee who opined that “open pit mine” is a reality. BBC Bangla [bn] reports that the government is ready for talks with the protesters as the strikes continued for the second day today.