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Seilm says govt. don't care about environment and are determined to use open-pit mining in Phulbari

Dhaka, June 20 (bdnews24.com)– Ruling Awami League MP Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim has spoken out strongly in favour of coal extraction regardless of any environmental damage it may cause.

The senior leader also criticised those protesting coal extraction, especially through open-pit method, and said extraction was necessary to boost power generation.

"There are some quarters, perpetually opposed to coal extraction, who claim that it will lead to environmental destruction," he said in the parliament on Sunday.

"But here the people's needs come first. Environment is not a big deal."

He asked the policymakers for immediate formulation of a coal policy.

There have been protests from different groups against open-pit coal mining, which was proposed for Phulbari in Dinajpur.

UK-based Asia Energy had been set to implement the open-pit coal mining project, which the company estimated would result in the displacement of over 100,000 people in the area.

However, a government committee in 2008 found that the number of directly affected people would stand around 150,000 if the project was implemented.

Moreover, it is claimed that the fertile land, which produces up to four crops every year, and water-bodies in the area would lose their fertility due to the project.

Following protests of local people along with the experts across the country, the then BNP-led alliance government was compelled to enter into an agreement with the people of Phulbari on Aug 30, 2006.

The agreement stipulated that the government would stop all Asia Energy operations in Bangladesh and ban open-pit mining in the country.

Three people were killed on Aug 26, four days before the agreement was inked, as the BDR opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of 70,000 people.

More than 150 people were also injured.

At that time, the then opposition leader and current prime minister Sheikh Hasina echoed the sentiments of the protestors and vowed to meet the demands raised by the locals once she went to power.

The draft coal policy however proposes activities to bring mass awareness regarding open-pit mining and the implementation of a pilot project at Barapukuria, the country's only coal mine, adjacent to Phulbari.

If the project is found economically viable, the government would then allow open-pit mining in Phulbari as well.

Selim on Sunday echoed government officials and parliamentary standing committee on energy and power ministry, who also stressed immediate coal extraction, saying that it was needed for increasing power generation by installing more coal-run plants.

The AL presidium member said, "The surrounding area affected by a coal mine is a specific area. The whole country would not be affected."

"What is the benefit of keeping coal under the ground?" he questioned.

In the five-year plan to increase power generation by around 9000 megawatts, only 2725MW is expected to be added from three coal-fired plants.

There is only one 250MW (currently running at 220MW) coal-run plant at Barapukuria, situated near the mine.

The mine has a reserve of around 390 million tonnes of coal, whereas Phulbari has 572 million tonnes.