Open-pit mining option should be explored in context

NewAge, November 9, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The advisory committee formed to prepare the draft coal policy, as reported in New Age on Thursday, has included the provision for allowing one open-pit mining operation as a test case to judge the viability of open-pit mining in our country. Before going into the details of open-pit mining, we want to state that we are pleased that the much-talked-about draft coal policy appears to be in its final stages of completion. We have repeated on several occasions in the past that a proper coal policy, prepared by relevant experts in consultation with the different stakeholders, is necessary for us to be able to best serve our national interests regarding energy. Especially at a time such as now, characterised as it is by the shortage of supply and the high price of energy, we eagerly await the adoption of a well-thought-out policy that would ensure that our national and energy interests are protected while allowing us to reap maximum economic and social benefits out of however much coal reserves our country has.

As we have suggested before, however, any definitive policy decision on open-pit coal mining necessitates the undertaking of an extensive cost-benefit analysis that takes into account every aspect of and every consequence of such a venture. While we are aware that open-pit mining has been done successfully in other countries, we have to point out that the phenomenally high population density of ours and the huge dependence on agriculture for income and livelihoods sets us apart from those countries. So, instead of basing decisions on how well this method of extraction may have worked out in other countries, we have to be satisfied that it is the right method of extraction for our context and our unique characteristics. It is extremely unfortunate, in our view, that those who support open-pit mining as well as those who reject it outright do so without any real empirical basis on which to take such fundamental positions.

Therefore, we strongly urge the authorities in our country to commission an independent study, preferably much before open-pit mining is done even as a test case, that would not only compare the financial benefits of extracting coal from open-pit mining with the costs associated with such a project, but take into account all economic, social and environmental costs of open-pit mining. These would include, for example, the costs of relocating and rehabilitating large populations, the loss of agricultural output for many years from large areas of fertile land, proper compensation for the loss of the livelihoods of those dependent on agriculture on those lands, the increased health risks as a result of any damage that may be done to the environment, compensation for the loss of heritage of the indigenous communities of those regions, etc. If the results of such a study makes a strong enough case for open-pit mining, or even if it makes the idea of a pilot project to further examine the effects of this method an attractive proposition, we will, of course, support the implementation of the provision in the draft coal policy for an open-pit mine as a test case. However, we reiterate once again that before we take a certain position on the matter, and more importantly before our government takes policy decisions on methods of coal extraction, it is extremely important that an extensive study is completed which serves as the basis for such decisions.

Further resources:

Read previous entries on the debates on open-pit mining in Bangladesh.

Visit Phulbari Resistance for regularly updated information about the community resistance against the Phulbari Coal Project.


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