Residents of Phulbari apprehensive of coal policy

NewAge, January 9, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh Residents of Phulbari said the interim government was ignoring the sentiments of the locals and betraying the spirit of their movement which led to an agreement in 2006 even as the government goes about preparing a coal policy.
   Although the draft coal policy being considered by the government prohibits exports, it does however allow open-pit mining as a pilot project, which according to insiders could well be the Phulbari coal mine.
   ‘I will fight again if people come here for open pit mining. It is a question of uprooting us from the birthplace of our forefathers,’ said Bablu Roy a rickshaw van driver, who had been critically injured and crippled for life. Bablu had been at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed for almost a year.
   He said open pit mining would destroy the livelihoods of thousands in the area as it would destroy arable land. Bablu said, ‘Such destructive projects must be resisted and sent packing.’
   ‘While we expected that the government would abandon this project it is rather making ways for the British mining company to destroy our locality uprooting us,’ said Hafizul a grocery shop owner at Phulbari, a sub-district in Dinajpur.
   Manik Sarker, general secretary of the Phulbari Merchants Association, said it was an anti-people act of the government to advance a national coal policy unilaterally. ‘The government has not consulted with at least the inhabitants and probable victims of mine areas.’
   Manik who led protesters in Phulbari in August 2006, vowed to initiate movements against open pit mining if the government allowed it.
   ‘Although it has not dared to come back to Phulbari, Asia Energy remains active,’ said Manik. Several others, along with Manik were disturbed to find out that Asia Energy had begun media propaganda in favour of open pit mining.
   In end-August 2006 Phulbari saw a people’s movement protesting against a planned open-pit mine that would affect at least 17,000 hectares across four sub-districts displacing at least 3,50,000 people.
   Three persons died in police firing on the day while hundreds were injured among a crowd of some 50,000 people. Several days of continued unrest and demonstration by the locals followed, bringing the small town to a halt blocking a major highway that passes through it.
   The government eventually signed an agreement with the people on August 30 pledging to withdraw Asia Energy, the British mining company, and prohibit open pit mining in Bangladesh.

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