Police action against marchers

September 3, 2009

Editorial, The Daily Star, 4 September 2009

Peaceful protests must not be subject to such brutality

IT is unquestionably bad practice to prevent people from asserting their democratic right to protest. And the practice gets worse when, in order to quell such protests, the law enforcers resort to a baton charge of the protestors. That precisely is what happened on Wednesday when a procession organized by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports was pounced upon by the police. As so often happens in such instances of harshness demonstrated by policemen, no fewer than thirty people were left with various degrees of injuries on their persons. Among these thirty were ten policemen. It has been given out that the marchers, who were trying to reach the head offices of Petrobangla in Karwan Bazar to register their disapproval of the lease of three offshore gas fields to foreign companies, ended up vandalizing quite a few vehicles as a result of the police action. Vandalism, of course, is always to be condemned. If some of these protestors resorted to violent action, we cannot but unambiguously tell them they did themselves no service.

That said, though, we must go back to the thought of why peaceful marchers must be impeded by the law enforcers every time they seek to draw attention to some grievances they might wish to voice in the national interest. Over the years, even during the period of some elected governments, it has been observed that the police have demonstrated a degree of vehemence and force while dealing with protestors that has left us all wondering about the responsibilities of the state to those who voice a contrary opinion. In the recent past, we have witnessed the police taking, on some crude and indefensible instructions from the powers that be, nearly everyone on the streets into custody on the assumption that everyone is an agitator. Now, even if there are reasons to feel that law and order could be threatened by a protest march, there are sophisticated ways of handling it rather than adopting a knee-jerk position. A fundamental point about the police handling protests is for them to remain absolutely cool in the face of any provocation. Unfortunately, what they did on Wednesday was anything but cool. Besides, the fact that the anti-lease march was peaceful and was led by a number of prominent citizens should have made the police think twice before taking such action.

The point here is not whether the stand of the marchers regarding the lease of the gas fields is right or wrong. It is one of the law enforcers, in these days of enhanced political and democratic sensibilities, needlessly wielding their truncheons on people who only have a point of view to be conveyed to the government. At a time when an elected government is in office, the sight of citizens beaten to the ground by policemen is nothing less than a scandal. We are then all left feeling ashamed

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PROTEST AGAINST OFFSHORE BLOCK DEAL 50 injured as police charge into demo

September 3, 2009

Countrywide protests today, march towards PMO Sept 10

NewAge, 3 September, 2009

More than 50 people, including the member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Anu Muhammad, were injured when police charged into marchers heading for Petrobangla headquarters in the capital midday Wednesday in protest against the government’s decision to award three offshore blocks to international oil companies.

About 1,000 leaders and activists of the committee gathered at Muktangan where they held a rally in the morning before marching towards the Petrobangla office at Karwan Bazar where the protesters were to lay siege.

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Policemen charge at economist Professor Anu Muhammd with truncheons as he fell on the road during a police attack on a peaceful procession of the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port which was marching to lay siege to the Petrobangla head office in Dhaka on Wednesday.New Age photo

The national committee announced the programme in protest at the government’s decision to award three blocks to two IOCs with a provision allowing them to export up to 80 per cent of gas. The committee feared such a move would threaten the country’s energy security.

Police swooped on the protesters and clubbed them indiscriminately after they broke through the barricades set up by the lawmen at Paltan crossing at around noon and tried to march towards the Petrobangla office.

Angry protesters fought pitched battles with police at Bijoynagar for about half an hour before dispersing. They attacked vehicles during the clash forcing traffic to make a detour.

Both legs of Anu Muhammad, also a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, were badly fractured in the police attack while a number of other left-leaning political leaders and activists, including Saiful Huq, Mushrefa Mishu, Jannatul Marium Tania, Montu Biswas, Srikant Samaddar, Biplab Mandal, Gazi Shafiullah and Sumi Akhtar sustained injuries.

Anu Muhammad interview from hospital. Interview by Shahidul AlamDrik

The injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and most of them were released after first aid. Professor Anu Muhammad was shifted to Square Hospital from DMCH.

Journalists trying to visit Anu Muhammad at Square Hospital were refused permission to see him. When contacted, the hospital management said it might have been done at the advice of the attending doctors.

Condemning the police action Anu Muhammad told reporters that their campaigns were aimed at protecting the natural resources of the country. ‘We are not against the government; we are against the move to export our natural resources. It is the government’s responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizens. I don’t understand why the police pounced on us,’ he said.

Later, the committee held a meeting at the office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh at Paltan.

The committee convener Sheikh Mohammad Shaheedullah at a press conference said that the police had charged baton on their peaceful demonstration because the government was desperate to protect the interest of international oil companies instead of national interest.

‘We strongly condemn the unprovoked attack. This has exposed the fascist attitude of the government,’ he said demanding immediate action against the police officers involved in the attack.

Shaheedullah warned that the government would not be able to foil their movement by resorting to repression. He vowed to continue the movement until the decision to allow gas export was scrapped.

The committee announced fresh programmes protesting at Wednesday’s police action. The programmes include countrywide demonstrations and a protest rally at Muktangan in the capital this afternoon. The committee will march towards the Prime Minister’s Office from Muktangan at 11:00am on September 10. Besides, it will hold rallies and processions in different thanas of Dhaka city and elsewhere in the country.

The committee will announce further action programmes, including hartal and siege, if the government does not refrain from leasing the offshore gas blocks, he said.

Shaheedullah, justice Golam Rabbani, Syed Abul Maksud, CPB general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim, Workers Party general secretary Bimal Biswas, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener, Haider Akber Khan Rano, Gana Front leader Tipu Biswas, CPB leaders Ruhin Hossain Prince and AN Rasheda, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal leader Bazlur Rashid Firoz and professors MM Akash, Shamsul Alam, Mesbah Kamal, Pias Karim, ethnic minority leader Rabindranath Soren and former state minister for power and energy Anwarul Kabir Talukder attended the Muktangan rally.

The speakers said that the prime minister’s approval of offshore oil and gas exploration deals in the Bay of Bengal with two international companies, ConocoPhillips and Tullow Oil plc, ran counter to her poll campaign pledges.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs, headed by the finance minister, on August 24 approved offshore oil and gas exploration deals with the two companies in three sea blocks in the resource-rich Bay, on condition that they would not operate in the disputed areas in the blocks.

At the rally, Shaheedullah said they demanded cancellation of the Model Production Sharing Contract 2008, approved by the last interim government, saying pressure from ‘colonialists’ had been behind it.

Anu Muhammad said the present government was not working as the true representatives of the people. ‘The energy ministry and Petrobangla are working for multinational companies,’ he said. ‘Till now three of 28 blocks have been allocated to international companies and gradually the rest will be given to them,’ he said.

Mujahidul Islam Selim said that Sheikh Hasina during her first stint as prime minister had told the then US president Bill Clinton in 2000 that Bangladesh would not export gas without ensuring a 50-year domestic supply. ‘After such a promise, this latest agreement is extremely treacherous,’ he said.

Different left-leaning political parties and organisations, meanwhile, condemned the police attack on the ‘peaceful’ march of the national committee.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh president Manzurul Ahsan Khan and general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim in a press statement termed the police attack fascist and contrary to democracy and basic rights of the people.

Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon and general secretary Bimal Biswas, condemned the police attack and called on the government to drop the plan to lease out the three offshore gas blocks to international companies.

Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal convener Khalequzzaman, Ganatantri Party president Mohammad Afzal, general secretary Nurur Rahman Selim, Democratic Revolutionary Party president Nirmal Sen, general secretary Mushrefa Mishu, Revolutionary Workers Party president Khandaker Ali Abbas, general secretary Saiful Huq, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ganasanghati coordinator Zonayed Saki, Jatiya Mukti Council president Badruddin Umar and secretary Foizul Hakim, Garments Workers Unity Forum, Anti-imperialist Students Unity, Nayaganatantrik Gana Morcha, Chhatra Oikya Forum, Bangladesh Khetmajur Samiti, Green Voice and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan leaders also condemned the police attack.


Phulbari Day Today

August 26, 2009

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 26, 2009

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Photo: Zakir Kibria

Different socio-political organisations will observe Phulbari Day today in remembrance of the demonstrations against Asia Energy’s planned open-pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur on August 26, 2006.

Three people were killed and many were injured when lawmen into protests against at the Phulbari coal field in August 2006.

Four days after the demonstrations, the then BNP-led government on August 30 signed a six-point agreement with protesters, spearheaded by the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port to expel Asia Energy from Bangladesh and ban open-pit mining.

The committee, however, expressed its dismay at the non-implementation of the agreement as Asia Energy is still active in the country. The national committee and different left-leaning political organisations have chalked up programmes to mark August 26 as Phulbari Day.

The committee will place flowers at Shaheed Smritistambha at Phulbari and hold a rally there. The committee will also place flowers at the Central Shaheed Minar and observe the day in other places.

Jatiya Gana Front will hold a rally and bring out a procession in Muktangon to mark the day. The organisation in a statement said any move for open-pit mining in Bangladesh would be stopped. Samajtantrik Chhatra Front will also bring out a procession on the Dhaka University campus on the occasion demanding expulsion of Asia Energy from Bangladesh.

Further information:

Phulbari Resistance

Phulbari Resistance on Facebook


Tengratila blow-out victims demand full compensation

June 24, 2009

The Daily Star, June 24, 2009

Tengratila Dabi Aday Bastobayon Parishad at a press conference yesterday demanded payment of arrear compensation from Canadian company Niko for the massive damage caused by the blow-out at Tengratila on June 24 of 2005.

The blow-out took place when the Canadian company was conducting a relief well drilling at the remote location in Doarabazar upazila in Sunamganj district to seal the original one, which on January 7 the same year had suffered a huge blow-out.

“We will continue pressing the Niko to clear the arrear compensation to the villagers around. We also demand resuming activities in the gas field and establishment of a 50 MW power plant near the gas field,” said joint convener of the parishad, Nurul Amin, who read out a statement at the press conference at Sylhet Press Club.

The two separate committees formed by the government after the incident mentioned loss worth Tk 746 crore including Tk 85 crore in environmental loss but things have remained unsettled yet. The company did not even pay the total amount of agreed compensation to 616 poor families, who were forced out of their homesteads for months, goes the statement.

The parishad will form a human chain in front of the central Shahid Minar at Chouhatta in Sylhet city today (Wednesday) to press the ‘legitimate’ demands.

The June 24 blow-out at Tengratila caused destruction to huge gas and trees and croplands in the surrounding areas during the following weeks.

Thousands of people had to leave their homesteads as the huge fireball leapt 150 feet over the gas field.

The raging flames took about two months to go down totally.

Still bubbles due to gas emission are marked on the water bodies around and fish in the ponds often die due to the gas leakage, a number of locals said.


Shell in court over alleged Nigeria crimes

June 3, 2009

AlJazeera, June 2, 2009

Royal Dutch Shell is to go on trial in a US court over alleged crimes against humanity and exploitation of the oil-rich Niger Delta more than 10 years ago.

The Dutch oil giant is accused of sponsoring a terror campaign by Nigerian security forces that led to the death of activist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight others in 1995.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey reports.


Bangladesh’s untapped coal potential

June 3, 2009

Mark Muller* with Roger Moody** The Daily Star, June 2, 2009

THE Bangladesh Ministry of Power and Energy recently asserted that the country must more than double delivered power within the next five years (from around 4,000 MW to 9,000 MW per day). With the installation and operation of four new coal-fired power stations, it is claimed that the current daily gap between generation and demand would be reduced to 1,500 MW.

According to Bangladesh’s National Energy Policy 2004 (quoted in The Independent, May 9) total coal reserves are 2,527 million tonnes, contained in four fields: Barapukuria with around 300 million tonnes; Phulbari with 400 million tonnes; Jamalganj containing 1,000 million tons, and 450 million tonnes at Khalaspir. Of these resources, 492 million tonnes are estimated to be recoverable by mining.

However, the key questions are: how much of this coal, and of what quality, is actually usable; and when would it realistically be available to generate electricity? This is something that the proposed joint feasibility study between government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will hopefully address. But it’s not yet known how long it will take to complete this study. Nor can we anticipate any conclusions it might make concerning the economic, social and environmental costs contingent on hugely increasing Bangladesh’s dependency on coal over the coming years.

The mining recovery estimate seems highly optimistic. Mark Muller, as an experienced mining geophysicist, recently carried out an independent technical review of Bangladesh’s coal reserves. Based on existing surveys, he concluded that they amount to between 3,200 and 4,700 million tonnes, using the most optimistic figures found.

These reserves appear sufficient to close the gap markedly between current power generation and predicted requirements. However, coal-seam depth, thickness and separation are the primary geological factors that determine the appropriate extraction method. Many seams will not, in fact, be amenable to extraction at all using currently available mining methods.

Bangladesh’s only operating coalmine, at Barapukuria, has so far delivered less than 3 million tonnes. This is despite the 1992 projection that it would be able to produce 60 million tonnes. Six years later, in 1998, and following severe flooding, that target was cut in half to 30 million tonnes.

As is well known, the mine’s impacts at the surface have been devastating. Land subsidence of between 0.6-0.9 m has been reported over an area of approximately 1.2 square kilometres; the water-table has dropped, leaving commonly-used reservoirs dry in 15 villages; and at least 81 houses have developed cracks. Untreated water (acknowledged by the mining company to contain phosphorous, arsenic and magnesium) is passing through canals in farming areas.

The Phulbari open-cast project is beset by heated debate over its likely impacts on local communities, its dependence on a foreign company, and by major doubts about its economic viability, particularly if the mine isn’t to rely on exporting most of the coal it produces. Last year, Roger Moody performed an in-depth critique of these aspects of the proposed Phulbari mine.

This leaves the hardly-investigated Khalaspir field, and Jamalganj, cited by the ministry as potentially the largest source of coal, comprising more than a third of the country’s “cache.” However, our research — now backed by an article in the May 21 issue of Energy and Power — strongly suggests that the majority of the Jamalganj resource is too deep to be mined: 96% of it is deeper than 700 m.

Moreover, given the lead-time required to bring any of these three deposits into commercial operation and start producing electricity from power plants, the claim that coal could reduce Bangladesh’s shortfall by around 3,500 MW within the next five years seems terribly over-optimistic.

This is not to say that coal should be abandoned altogether. On the contrary, our research has identified two potential sources of coal-generated energy that have four significant virtues. They are comparatively cheap, can deliver power to nearby power stations, are relatively clean in terms of pollution emissions; and they don’t necessitate the disturbances of land and people that are associated with conventional mining.

These technologies — Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) — have already proved viable in several countries, including the USA, Canada, China, Australia, South Africa and Uzbekistan, with pilot projects now underway in the UK, Spain and Belgium.

We don’t claim that CBM and UCG will solve all Bangladesh’s energy problems; nor that they are “trouble free.” They can have adverse impacts on land and water, interrupt agriculture, and be unsightly. There’s also little doubt that they deliver less energy than the coal seams from which they derive, if those deposits are efficiently mined. Yet the energy return from UCG can be as high as 75% of that delivered directly by coal.

Coal-seams not accessible by mining are well within reach of both CBM and UCG, and can add significantly to the recoverable resource. (Again, this conclusion is supported by the May 21 issue of Energy and Power). Their surface impact, and that on hydrology, is significantly lower than with mining. Loss of valuable agricultural land is greatly reduced. The need for solid waste-rock and coal-ash management on the surface is entirely removed. There is no subsidence risk at all for CBM, and little for deep-seam UCG (although the UCG subsidence risk for shallow seams needs to be carefully managed).

In addition, a CBM project could deliver electrical power output in half the time required for mining — as little as five years from starting a feasibility drilling program and study.

Apart from two studies — one carried out by M.B. Imam, M. Rahman, and S.H. Akhter in 2002 at Jamalganj; and the other at Barapukuria by M.R. Islam and D. Hayashi in 2008 — no concerted investigation has yet been undertaken into the potential of these two technologies for Bangladesh. Nor — despite the Asian Development Bank recently listing CBM as a “clean development” mechanism — are these methods currently being considered as part of the country’s future “energy mix.”

In conclusion, we want to emphasise that, even where Bangladesh’s coal reserves appear to be mineable, there are compelling reasons why the alternatives should now be urgently investigated. This should be done before hasty and irrevocable decisions are taken which expose citizens to further disasters like Barapukuria.

Read Mark Muller’s study, entitledHow coal may produce energy without being mined” 

Read Roger Moody’s critique of the Phulbari project: Phulbari Coal: A Perilous Project

*Mark Muller has a Ph.D. in geophysics and 20 years of mining industry and research experience.

**Roger Moody is an international consultant on the social and environmental impacts of mining.


A case of global proportions: Alaska village files suit against energy giants

May 27, 2009

AlJazeera, May 26, 2009

People & Power visits Alaska where Native American villagers have brought a law suit against energy giants, alleging one of the largest conspiracies in the world.

Download: Kivalina villager’s complaint for damages (PDF)