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Asia Energy makes new proposal for open-pit coal mining

Written by: 
The Daily New Age Staff Correspondent

This article was published on The Daily New Age

The government is considering ‘positively’ a new proposal of the UK-based Asia Energy which offered the government only 10 per cent stake in the Phulbari coal field for operating an open-pit mine, said sources in the government.

Besides, the government has also engaged the UNDP and German GTZ, which has supported open-pit mining in Bangladesh, for conducting a feasibility study for an open pit coal mine on the north flank of Barapukuria coal field, they said.

Asia Energy, which had submitted a controversial proposal for an open-pit coal mine at Phulbari in 2005, recently submitted another proposal to the energy and mineral resources division offering the government a 10 per cent share of the coal field without any government ‘investment’.

Besides, the company also proposed to install a 5,000MW power plant at Phulbari using the coal of the open-pit mine, said sources.

The company, which was formed centring on Phulbari coal field and has no previous experience in coal mining, claimed that it would provide the ‘best price’ for the land to be used for the proposed open-pit mine, they said.

‘The government policymakers have discussed the new proposal. There is every indication that the government is actively and positively considering the proposal of Asia Energy. The energy division will send a summary on Asia Energy’s new proposal to the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, shortly for a decision,’ said a source in the government adding that the company had recently started hectic lobbying for the proposed open-pit mine.

The company’s earlier proposal for the open-pit mine was shelved after violent protests by the people of Phulbari as they feared the planned open-pit mine would displace more than 40,000 people.

The company in its initial study said that it would extract around 15 million tonnes of coal from the field that has a reserve of 572 million tonnes of coal. It said the government would get only 6 per cent royalty for the coal as per the agreement while it would also export coal.

It had also proposed that the company would install a power plant at the mine-mouth.

Energy experts and rights activists have warned that such an
open-pit mine in the densely populated area and fertile land would badly impact the environment.

Besides, an expert committee formed by the government and headed by BUET professor Nurul Islam, termed ‘illegal’ Asia Energy’s agreement with the government for the coal field and viewed that operating an open-pit mine at Phulbari would not be viable.

Three people were killed and several others were injured when law enforcers opened fire on thousands of people protesting at Asia
Energy’s planned open- pit mine at Phulbari in August 2006. The
company was forced to leave Phulbari but has been lobbying successive governments to take over the coal field.

Sources in the government said Asia Energy became active as soon as the government of Awami League-led alliance took office.

The government, meanwhile, engaged the UNDP and GTZ for conducting a feasibility study to operate an open-pit mine in Barapukuria coal field, adjacent to Phulbari coal field.

‘A three-party study engaging the government, UNDP and GTZ will be launched soon to study whether it would be possible to operate an open-pit mine in Barapukuria coal field,’ said a source.

He said that on the basis of the study report, the government will finalise the coal policy.

When asked whether the study would be neutral as the GTZ had
already supported open-pit mining, a high official of the ministry said that it would be impartial as representatives of the government and UNDP would be there.

A number of ministers of the present government have already
visited some open-pit mines in Germany. GTZ arranged the visits.

Besides, the GTZ sponsored a number of seminars that recommended open-pit mining in Bangladesh.

Prime minister’s adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury and state
minister for power and energy Enamul Haque were not available for comments as they were in New York to attend a programme.