Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why Is Phulbari Burning?

It is ridiculous what is happening in Phulbari!

The government as usual handled the situation wrongly. But then people got all frenzied up by the false rhetoric of some extreme left elements!

For those who are not in the know – recently the police opened fire on a bow’n’arrow carrying demonstration at Asia Energy’s (AEC) Phulbari Coal Mine in Dinajpur killing multiple protestors and Bangladesh’s business friendly image! And I fear started a movement in the mould of Kansat.

Rubber bullets or high-pressure water hose are not terms our civil obedience forces know or care to know. Given the abundance of people around everywhere around us, I think we don’t value a human life! One of the persons killed was a 10 year old. How very sad!

At the same time we need to explore the reasons for the protests and the subsequent bloodshed. A group of mostly left leaning economist, environmentalists and politicians under the banner of National Committee for Protection of Oil-Gas-Port is under the mistaken belief that they are intellectuals and are delusional about the depth of their knowledge! Some how we don’t learn from our past and believe anyone who says that they are as big as they are full of hot air!

These so called “intellectuals” are against foreign investment claiming it to be a neo-imperialist tool. I presume they are not in touch with their counterparts in China or West Bengal! Their basic gripe against AEC is that they will export away all the coal that they can dig up. Hmmm - so no one has spoken to them about energy basket diversification I presume! Keeping the coal under ground my friend will not get us anywhere! They are in one hand complaining that the government machinery can’t give us the electrical power we demand and on the other that using natural gas to produce electricity (it accounts for majority of our natural gas usage) is not exploiting the potential of that natural resource; - you cannot stop the country from trying to find other energy sources!

The environmentalists are up in arms about the black soot that will cover North Bengal and about the disaster of “open pit mining” (as opposed to deep shaft mining). Unfortunately they are even further behind the times than our economist friends. Technological advances and environmental impact mitigation strategy (e.g. green belts, specially treated air control system, and water based dust controls) have brought the coal mining industry to a standard that open pit is now a preferred method of mining even in “Green” countries like Germany and Australia.

I personally have had the good fortune of visiting some open pit mines in West Bokaro in India recently. As the video shown on ATN and Bangla Vision will prove me correct, we saw absolutely no environmental issues. Paddy fields and villages side by side next to the quarry sites, both surviving in mutual harmony. Mines, properly managed, allow the environment to flourish and man to prosper. Techniques such as land reclamation make mine areas cultivable again. I stood there in midst of one of the loveliest park with big trees and blooming flowers – can you believe it just a few years back it was a coal pit?

Open pit mining gives us better yield. (Almost 90% versus 20% for deep shaft). There is hardly any loss of human lives (we only have to look at the Chinese mine disasters to see otherwise). And most of all it creates employment and wealth. So what does anyone have to complain about?

Okay let’s see. Do the communist politicians have anything against the fact that open pit mining will make the Chinese Baropukuria mines look unsafe? Do they actually subscribe to an isolationist foreign policy? Are they just ignorant? Or do they just don’t want Bangladesh to progress? Some questions we need to ask folks. And we need to stop paying heed to the raving of lunatics!

Awami League is wrong in supporting tomorrow’s hartal. It keeps bringing out am image my friend Talat keeps reminding me about. In the mid-90s Bangladesh termed as a “tiger” economy was holding a roadshow for investors in Dhaka. Awami League President sat outside the Sonargoan with a placard that shouted, “Don’t invest in Bangladesh”. Forget the populist banter of the past. Business and the profit motive alone will get us out of the runt we are in. Business is no longer the enemy – they are a vital part of the solution to our problem.

Mrs Leader of the Opposition, we don’t believe that the current government will be able lead us out of the mess we are in. But then you are not doing anything to show your leadership, your vision! Please do not take the nation backwards. And certainly do not listen to some misguided egoists who have no clue about economy, politics, environment or development.


Tasneem said...

I am no big advocate of FDI but when we talk this in BD and take it as an exciting fact what are we achieving by forcing TATA or Asia Energey out of the show when Saudi Princes and Middle Eastern lords are buying in Banks and Telecoms? Why nobody takes that into account? Very confusing.

Salam Dhaka said...

The people in Phulbari went on a rampage not because of environmental concern or because Asia Energy was not giving enough royalties to Bangladesh.

They did not want to let go of their ancestoral land and property. That's it.

What you have to realize is that people did not buy into the proposition that they would be rehabilitated.

Nazim Farhan Choudhury said...

People of Fulbari went into a rampage because they were told that they will be thrown off their land without compensation.

This is not true at all. AEC has only been given an exploration license and not mining rights as yet. The nature of the coal mine, roylaties to be earned by Government, rehabilitation criteria, environmental impact mitigation and export of coal has NOT been decided as yet. That will be part of the National Coal Policy that is being prepared with the inputs from experts and other stakeholders.

The extreme left and other vested interests are spreading blatant lies and rest of the country is fanning the fire and closing our minds to simple logic.

Nazim Farhan Choudhury said...

And also wanted to add that there might be a few people who might not want to leave their ancestoral land. I feel for them. But we must do greater good for greater number of people. The Coal under the land is a national treasure and is better utilized for the benefit of the nation than emotion of a few.

Just as is the case during land acquisition in case of other national projects (e.g highway, bridges, dams, power plant etc) the Government is well within their right to commendeer the land.

BUT of course goes without saying the rehabilitation of the people in the land need to happen equitably. They need to be compensated for the land and building they give up. They need to be given a proper job. They need to be given skill sets that they can use earn a more than decent living. The future of their children need to be secured.

Every citizen of Bangladesh are owners of the mineral and natural resources that Allah has put under our grounds (and in the water and air) it is not an individual right.

Tasneem said...

You may find Zafar's post on this interesting:


Salam Dhaka said...

21 February 2006
21 February 2006

Cambrian Mining Plc (CBM LN) surged 14 pence, or 12.8 percent, to 123.25 after the investment company said fiscal first-half profit surged 13-fold following the sale of stake in Asia Energy Plc. Net profit for the six months to Dec. 31 rose to 23 million pounds ($41 million) from 1.7 million pounds a year earlier.