After remaining inactive in the field for six years, Asia Energy has recently started a two-year survey in and around its proposed Phulbari coal mining area, which prompted the national committee on protecting oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port to start organising resistance against the survey.
The home ministry on October 14 instructed the district administration of Dinajpur to cooperate with the British company in conducting the survey.
The ministry said the company would carry out survey in Nawabganj, parbatipur, Birampur and Phulbari areas of Dinajpur district, having approval for conducting activities required for exploration of a potential coal mine. The company owns exploration licence and mining lease for exploration of mineral resources in the areas.
“The survey includes among others effectiveness of previous exploration, agricultural prospect, population, groundwater, environmental development and informing people about the proposed project which is in line with the licence and lease of the company,” the instruction said.
Upon discovery of 572 million tonnes of high quality coal in Phulbari at a depth ranging from 150 to 270 metres, Asia Energy in 2005 proposed to develop an open-pit mine to ensure maximum production. It also proposed building a coal-fired power project at the mine-mouth.
This proposal prompted some quarters, including the national committee, to protest as it would displace several villages.
On August 26, 2006, thousands of people of Phulbari led by leaders of the oil-gas protection committee staged a violent demonstration centring the coal mine issue. Police opened fire, leaving three persons killed. Ever since, Asia Energy had not been active in the field.
Talking to The Daily Star, Asia Energy Bangladesh's chief Gary Lye said that after 2006, they expected in 2007 that the government would make headway about the mining project. But till date, it has remained inactive on this issue.
In May, Gary Lye went to Phulbari and met with around 200 people. “I felt that people needed to know better about this project as they are left with a lot of misinformation,” Gary said. In Bangladesh, the impoverished regions are also the areas with least supply of energy. Districts that have higher energy had better economic condition, he noted.
“Coal is the most affordable solution for energy,” he asserted.
He referred to the government plans to build several power projects having a total generation capacity of several thousand megawatts, based on imported coal. But, he argued, it would have been more practical to tap the domestic coal for this than importing the resources.
“If the government gives a go-ahead on this mine project, it would take at least five years before we could supply the coal. Sitting on the decision is not helping,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials told The Daily Star that the Hasina-led government is unlikely to take any decision on Asia Energy's proposal or development of any new coal mine within its tenure as it involves displacement of a huge population. There are political risks, the officials noted.