Lye skips Phulbari site trip

Asia Energy Executive Director Gary Lye on Tuesday was forced to cancel a visit to the controversial coal mining site at Dinajpur’s Phulbari and at two adjacent upazilas in the face of a huge resistance by hundreds of residents there.

Mamunur Rashid and Morshedur
Published : 29 Jan 2013, 09:39 AM
Updated : 29 Jan 2013, 12:35 PM

Lye contented himself with making a courtesy call on the district’s Deputy Commissioner at 12:30pm.

The DC and the district’s top police officials suggested Lye to not visit the coal mining site.

“Asia Energy’s Chief Executive had sought the district administration’s assistance for visiting Birampur and Parbatipur Upazilas and distributing quilts among people there,” DC Ahmad Shamim Al Raji told journalists.

“He has been suggested not to make the visit citing the tense situation prevailing in the areas.”

Al Raji added that they did not have any instruction from the government either to facilitate Lye’s visit.

Birampur Police Station’s Officer in-Charge Nasir Uddin Mondol could only say that the tour was cancelled.

A volatile situation prevailed at Dinajpur’s Phulbari, and its adjacent Birampur and Parbatipur Upazilas with the locals carrying sticks since morning.

The National Committee to Protect Oil Gas Mineral Resources, Power and Ports was also staging demonstrations over two days to prevent open-pit coal mining in the area.

A procession of about 250 motorbikes was taken out, led by the local municipality Mayor Manik Sarker against the visit. The riders carried sticks during the procession and kept patrolling areas stretching between Phulbari and Birampur’s Ratanpur.

Several hundred locals led by the National Committee’s local chapter’s Convener Saiful Islam Jewel marched down the streets carrying sticks from morning to afternoon.

The situation cooled down on the news that the visit had been cancelled.

At least three people were killed and over 200 others were injured as police opened fire on a demonstration by residents against open-pit coal mining in the area on Aug 26, 2006.

The incident outraged inhabitants of the entire district and the nation as well, forcing the government to sign a deal that included a number of points with the one of banning open-pit coal mining at the top of the charter.

The other demands were expulsion of Asia Energy, building a memorial for the martyrs, punishment to those who opened fire on the people and withdrawal of cases against the protesters.

Most of the demands have been put on the backburner since then.

The Prime Minister’s Energy Advisor Tawfiq-e Elahi Chowdhury and President of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Power and Energy Subid Ali Bhuiyan have been advocating open-pit mining.

The Awami League, then the opposition party which promised to stand by the demand of the locals back in 2006, has never clarified its stance on the issue since assuming power.

The government rather technically took an anti-local instance on Oct 14 when the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to the local administration to assist Asia Energy in more than one surveys.

The government letter stated that the company wanted to let people know about a number of its plans on management of underground water, environmental development, and ensuring agriculture potentials.

The letter said mineral resources investigation licence and mine lease entitled the company to get the job done.

The National Committee enforced a daylong shutdown in Phulbari on Nov 24 last year demanding withdrawal of the order.

The protestors said they would give the government until Mar 30 to roll back the order and remove Asia Energy’s local office.

Asia Energy declined comment when approached by journalists invited to cover the tour but it issued a statement later.

“We are committed to go ahead with the coal project,” read the statement that did skirted the issue of cancellation of the site visit.

It assured residents of the coal mining area that the project will ‘definitely improve’ their lives.

The correspondent travelling with Lye said quilts were distributed at Khanpur in Birampur though Lye could not be present there. Nor was the guest of honour at the venue.

The statement claimed that Lye had a meeting with the Upazila Chairman Khairul Alam Raju there.

However, when reached, Raju told, “It is out of question to go there. A lot of people of that area do not want the coal mine. Do you ask me to go there only to get assaulted?”

He alleged he was named the Chief Guest for the Asia Energy programme beyond his knowledge.

The other guests included municipality Mayor Azadul Islam Azad, who was also absent.